The second half of Missouri's 2014 regular session is underway. Leaders in both chambers and from both parties remain focused on crafting a state budget and on easing the burden of the state's student transfer law — but they remain divided on expanding Medicaid.
Medicaid expansion a 'nonstarter'
The Missouri House is spending this entire work week debating and passing the 13 bills that make up the fiscal year 2015 state budget, which takes effect July 1. The bills will then go to the Senate, which will also pass them, but not before either adding or subtracting the amount of money in next year's spending plan. Both chambers have until May 9 to send the final version to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk. At this point, the only certainty appears to be that Medicaid will not be expanded in any form, after a group of Republican senators said Monday that the issue is a "nonstarter" in their chamber. In the House, Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, says reforming Medicaid without expanding it may be the only possibility.
"All of the health-care providers I speak to say that we have a multi-billion-dollar, broken Medicaid system, and some reform would go a long way to fixing that system and would help create more access and would help create more savings, and you'd have more money in the budget," Jones told reporters Monday. "Perhaps reform (without expansion) is the way to go."
Criminal code overhaul stalls in Senate
The wide-ranging bill to revise Missouri's criminal code also appears to be in trouble. Senate President Pro-tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, says Nixon's chief of staff told him that the governor would not sign the bill because of its 1,100-page size, preferring instead that it be broken up into smaller bills, dealing with individual classes of crimes.
"Until the sponsors of the criminal code bill, the governor's office, and the prosecutors get together and agree on a path forward, we are not going to be bringing the bill back up on the Senate floor," Dempsey said.
A substitute version of the bill has been introduced that's around 400 pages shorter, but Dempsey told reporters Monday he doesn't think it will satisfy the governor's concerns. Minority Floor Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, is sponsoring the criminal code bill. She said breaking it into several smaller bills is not an option.
"It is a consensus document," Justus said. "There are pieces in the consensus document that prosecutors hate, (and) there are pieces in the consensus document that public defenders hate … The reason they are willing to go along with it is because they were able to give and take, and they came up with a bill that they actually all were OK with … If we break it up, you're not going to have that consensus any longer."
Student transfer law fix
The outlook appears to be a bit rosier for lessening the impact of the state's student transfer law. The Senate version was passed in late February, and the House version is expected to be voted out of committee the first week in April, with floor debate possible the following week. State Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, sponsors the House version.
"They're similar in many ways, but there are differences that we're going to have to resolve," Stream said. "We're actually working on both vehicles to see if we can come to some good compromise and consensus of the ideas and get to a point where we feel like we can come up with a bill that will be passed through the House and the Senate."
Missouri's discrimination definition
Another bill that could see some increased attention would expand Missouri's definition of discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The proposal passed the Senate on the final day of the 2013 session, but was not taken up by the House. Justus, the sponsor, says her bill still hasn't received a public hearing.
"There was a hearing on the House side on their version of the bill," Justus said. "There is for the first time ever really broad bipartisan support, not just minimal, but broad bipartisan support … So my hope is that because of that mix of folks who are interested in it that we can craft a bill that can actually make it to the governor this year."
Leaders in both chambers and from both parties are also expected to pass legislation to pay for construction of a new state mental hospital at Fulton. GOP leaders in both chambers are expected to push for restoring caps on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, but they may have a harder time finding common ground on tax credits.
The 2014 regular session ends May 16.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport