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Nixon, Senate leader signal opposition to House panel's plan to cut health coverage for the blind

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 8, 2012 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has made an exception to his usual no-comment on ongoing legislative matters by repeatedly going public this week with his objections to a House Budget Committee’s action to eliminate the state’s longstanding health care coverage for the blind, in order to shift more state money to public colleges and institutions.

And Nixon may have an ally in Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter.

A spokeswoman said that Mayer has told reporters that he doesn’t believe the Senate will go along with the  proposed cut, based on what he has heard from other Senate leaders and Republican caucus members.

The spokeswoman also emphasized that the full House has yet to vote on the proposal, which would be part of the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It’s likely to be April before the Senate gets the House’s final budget plan, the spokeswoman added.

Meanwhile, Nixon has issued two statements this week decrying the proposed cut. The first came after he met with leaders of the Missouri Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind.

The second statement was issued Wednesday after the House committee’s vote:

“As I have throughout my time as governor, I will continue to make the tough decisions necessary to balance our budget and hold the line on taxes. But slashing health care from more than 2,000 needy blind Missourians simply isn’t an option. Full funding for this program is the only way to ensure that needy blind Missourians have access to the critical health care services they need.

“For decades, Missouri has provided vital health care services for needy blind people across our state. Strict eligibility requirements ensure that these services help blind Missourians with the greatest need. This is an efficient and compassionate program that truly saves lives.”

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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