By Susan Redden
CARTHAGE, Mo. —
The proposed Medicaid expansion, and measures involving right-to-work and prevailing wage, were among the issues on the table Friday when area lawmakers reviewed work under way in the Missouri General Assembly at a Carthage gathering.
Sen. Ron Richard and Reps. Tom Flanigan, Charlie Davis, Bill Lant and Bill Reiboldt addressed a crowd of about 75 people at the first “eggs and issues” brunch of the legislative session that started in January. The Carthage Chamber of Commerce was host for the event at Grace Pointe Assembly of God Church.
Gov. Jay Nixon is working hard — including a trip to Joplin earlier in the week — to line up support for his proposal to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. The move would add 300,000 to the state’s Medicaid rolls, with no costs to Missouri in the first three years. The plan by the Democratic governor has the backing of hospitals and business groups, including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.
Local lawmakers, all Republicans, who touched on the issue said the expansion could leave the state with huge costs after that first three years.
The $25 billion budget proposed by the governor includes $1 billion for Medicaid expansion while that spending is absent in the $24 billion budget introduced by the House budget committee, said Flanigan, of Carthage, who is vice chair of the panel. He said he expects the Medicaid expansion proposal to dominate budget discussion.
Under the expansion plan, costs to Missouri would kick in at 10 percent in the fourth year, and increase gradually after that. Flanigan said he’s not counting on the state share staying as low as is promised.
“What if there’s a change of heart in Washington? What if they decide they want the split to go to 50-50? When you think about the fact that 46 cents of every federal dollar spent is borrowed, I don’t think we can count on anything,” he said. “As a state, we have to worry about what we can afford.”
Davis, of Webb City, said most of the emails he gets from constituents are on two issues — urging him to protect gun rights and to oppose Medicaid expansion.
“They know we can’t afford it,” he said.
Reiboldt, of Neosho, agreed: “Our primary job is to pass a state budget and make sure it’s balanced.”
Legislation involving right-to-work and prevailing wage issues is being debated by the Workforce Development and Workplace Safety committee chaired by Lant, who said hearings have gone well, despite the strong opinions held by opposing sides. Debate on the first right-to-work bill attracted between 700 and 800 people, but crowds have been far smaller at subsequent hearings, he said.
“If you give people an opportunity to be heard and make sure there’s an exchange of ideas, it goes OK,” he said.
The committee has heard proposed bills that could lift prevailing wage requirements for school projects in smaller cities and counties, and in disaster zones. Lant said he believes a bill addressing prevailing wage issues will be passed this session, though he doubts wage requirements will be eliminated.
Richard said it appeared early on that right-to-work would not be considered in the House. And, he said he is pleased with the amount of legislation being handled in the Senate, where he serves as majority floor leader, managing how bills are handled once they leave Senate committees and reach the floor for debate.
Davis, chair of the House Veterans Committee, said he’s hopeful several bills to help veterans will get passed this session. He said the Senate on Thursday had passed a bill that would protect the child custody rights of veterans when they are deployed, calling the safeguards “the No. 1 issue for states by the Department of Defense.”
“I sponsored it last year; it went nowhere,” he said.
Reiboldt, chair of the House Committee on Agriculture Policy, reviewed a bill that he is sponsoring that would add to the state constitution guarantees to protect the right to farm in Missouri. The measure will go on the ballot in 2014.
State Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, was absent from Friday’s session after undergoing surgery on Thursday.
Other “eggs and issues” sessions will be held later and sponsored by chambers of commerce in Joplin, Webb City and Neosho.