Two local state legislators say they see a chance for progress this year on some issues in the Missouri General Assembly, which convened this week.
Independence state Reps. Bill Kidd, a Republican, and Rory Rowland, a Democrat, outlined their ideas at an Independence Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Friday.
Kidd said he’s optimistic that legislators will take significant action on funding for roads and bridges. Gov. Mike Parson is asking for a second year of funding – from general revenues, not the gas tax – for a limited number of added projects around the state.
“We really need to raise the gas tax in the state. … It’s been long overdue,” Kidd said.
“I don’t think anything will be done this year. … And the reason is because it’s an election year,” he said.
Otherwise, Rowland and Kidd found themselves in agreement on many issues.
Both said it looks highly likely that expansion of the Medicaid program will get on the ballot this fall and win, but Kidd said the state’s initiative petition process has significant flaws. Those ballot measures are often amendments to the Missouri Constitution, and legislators cannot rewrite them. Any unintended consequences or other problems that turn up have to be fixed by going to the voters again – often an arduous process.
“And there’s always unintended consequences in legislation – always,” Kidd said.
“So,” he added, “be very careful when you support initiative petitions.”
Most states have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, accepting federal money to add health insurance for millions of low-income people. Missouri has not, and advocates of expansion have cited that as a cause for some rural hospitals closing and for other gaps in the state’s health care system.
“There’s a whole host of poor people in the state who are not getting health care because of it,” Rowland said.
Some at Friday’s breakfast said the state’s Medicaid policy causes problems at the local level.
Independence City Council Member Scott Roberson pointed out that Eastern Jackson County now has no mental-health crisis centers, putting a strain elsewhere on local services.
“The jails end up being the places where they (police) take mental health problems,” he said.
That parallels the situation with services for those with developmental disabilities, Rowland said.
“This is a classic example of what smaller government looks like,” he said.
He urged the families of those affected by inadequate services to go to Jefferson City to make their voices here.
“You can make a difference,” he said.
Kidd and Rowland also touched on other bills:
• Kidd has a bill to let school districts opt out of tax-increment financing agreement, a once-popular incentive to direct the new taxes from a development directly back to roads and similar work that directly benefit that development. Kidd’s bill would let schools see the gains of a widened tax base immediately rather than waiting several years. He said he’s optimistic that will pass.
• Rowland is again working on Blair’s Law, a reference to a local girl killed several years ago by random Fourth of July gunfire. The bill toughens penalties for that, and Rowland said he’s optimistic about at least getting the bill to the House floor.
• Kidd, glancing through the chamber’s legislative agenda, noted its support for letting school districts carry 20 percent of their assessed property valuation as bonded debt instead of the current 15. In other words, they could issue more bonds for facilities. Kidd said that’s a needed change.
• Cities for several years have been trying to reverse a state law that greatly limits their ability to enforce traffic laws. Kidd said he rode along with a police officer and encountered a woman with eight outstanding warrants for failure to appear in court, and the city can’t legally can’t do much about it. “We’ve got to fix that one, too,” he said.
• Missouri 7 north of Pink Hill Road. “It needs to be widened, obviously,” Kidd said.
Rowland noted the frustration over the state’s continued refusal to place a crime lab in the metro area after Independence closed its lab several years ago due to high costs and then plans for a state lab fell through.
“It just amazes me,” Rowland said, “that it continues to get caught up in a meat grinder that is Jefferson City.”