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Schmitt: Pro-health care, pro-historic tax credits, pro-Missouri court plan

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 2, 2009 - New state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, made clear Thursday night some of his differences with some fellow Republicans as he endorsed Missouri's existing plan for choosing judges, and came out in favor of expanding access to health care.

Schmitt outlined such comments to several dozen people attending a town-hall forum at Webster University sponsored by the college Republicans.

During the 90-minute session, Schmitt fielded a number of questions about the state's approach to health care and whether some of the 2005 cuts in Medicaid coverage will be reversed.

Schmitt pointed to this week's GOP-controlled Senate vote in favor of a plan that would create a program called Show-Me Health Coverage. According to a Senate explanation e-mailed Thursday, "The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, would first cover 35,000 Missourians and ultimately provide private health insurance to up to 200,000 of Missouri's 700,000 uninsured. The measure would pay the premiums for health insurance for working parents who earn up to the federal poverty level, or $22,050 for a family of four."

The idea is a counter proposal to that pushed by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, in conjunction with the Missouri Hospital Association. Under Nixon's plan, the state's hospitals would pay added fees to the state, which would be used as leverage to obtain more federal Medicaid dollars. The plan would extend Medicaid coverage to 35,000 more uninsured adults without raising taxes.

Republican legislative leaders have generally balked at the idea, in part on philosophical grounds. They don't want to expand Medicaid in the state, saying that would commit Missouri taxpayers to possibly paying for more coverage down the road.

Schmitt said the proposed Show-Me plan is a lot like the defunct Insure Missouri plan developed by former Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican. Schmitt added that he supported some expansion of health care coverage in the state, because the alternative is state coverage of sicker uninsured people who show up in hospital emergency rooms.

Schmitt indicated that Nixon's proposal to add 20,000 Missouri children to the federal State Children's Health Insurance Program -- which appeared to be killed in the House -- may be resurrected later this session.

Schmitt also made clear his support for the state's historic tax-credit program which has been popular in rehabilitating older urban neighborhoods. Some Republicans want to cap the program at a fraction of its current level. Schmitt explained that "a lot of (opponents) view it as subsidizing people for flipping houses. I disagree."

Earlier, he played down talk that the Legislature will approve some sort of statewide ballot proposal to revamp the state's nonpartisan plan for selecting judges. Conservative critics say it isn't nonpartisan and gives too much clout to the Missouri Bar, deemed to prefer Democratic-leaning judges.

A Senate panel OKed a proposal Thursday that would:

-- allow governors to oust from the selection panels the members who had been appointed by previous governors;

-- oust Supreme Court judges from the selection panels;

-- give the Senate the power to approve or reject a governor's judicial selections.

Said Schmitt: "I don't think there's any serious concern that we would throw the nonpartisan court plan out."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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