Legislative Column for the Week of March 30, 2015

Senate Passes Several Healthcare Measures Following Return from Mid-Session Recess

This week, the Senate Majority Caucus sent a letter to the president expressing our deep concerns regarding announced budget cuts to Medicare Advantage (MA), a popular program which covers seniors through private HMO and PPO plans. This newest round of budget cuts will only intensify the problems our seniors are already experiencing: higher medical costs and fewer choices.

Currently, MA insures more than 15 million seniors across the country, with over 30 percent of Medicare recipients utilizing the program. A recent analysis assessed that the new budget cuts could cost each member between $40 and $120 per month. In addition, officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have estimated that as many as 7 million senior citizens insured through MA could lose their coverage by 2017.

As lawmakers, we must do everything we can to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens, our seniors. In our letter, my colleagues and I urged the president to work with Congress to reverse these harmful cuts and develop a solution that ensures our seniors can keep the healthcare plans that have met their needs for so many years. Our seniors have earned this, and they deserve a Medicare Advantage program that works for them.

Legislative News

With the Senate’s passage of Senate Bill 63 this week, Missouri is now one step closer to joining the other 49 states in establishing a prescription drug monitoring program. These programs have shown themselves to be an incredibly effective and useful tool in preventing prescription drug abuse and addiction. While previous attempts to pass similar measures have failed amid patient privacy and database security concerns, SB 63 contains a number of compromises that greatly improve its chances of making it to the governor’s desk. SB 63 will now go to the House for further consideration.

Another healthcare-related measure passed by the Senate this week, Senate Bill 322 would expand Medicaid eligibility to individuals with disabilities by raising the MO HealthNet asset limits from $1,000 to $2,000 for single Missourians and from $2,000 to $4,000 for married couples. Those caps would increase yearly until 2019, at which point the limits for individuals and married couples would be $5,000 and $10,000, respectively. Missouri’s asset level hasn’t been raised since 1968 and is the lowest in the country. This has created the unintended consequence of keeping individuals with disabilities from achieving greater economic independence.

When compared to their non-disabled counterparts, twice as many persons with disabilities, ages 18 to 64, live in poverty. By raising the asset limit, these individuals will be better able to plan for their future and save for unexpected emergencies, as well as have a way to pay for services that aren’t typically covered by Medicaid. In turn, this will allow them to become more financially stable and achieve greater economic self-sufficiency.

By a vote of 34-0, the Senate also passed Senate Bill 93, legislation establishing the Campus Free Expression Act to protect free expression on the campuses of public institutions. Under SB 93, any individual may freely engage in non-commercial expressive activity so long as their conduct is not unlawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the institution’s ability to function. The measure, which simply clarifies what our courts have already determined, aims to provide campuses with clear guidelines to guarantee that speech is protected, while also ensuring the education goals of our institutions of learning are protected.

Shown above, Sen. Richard with the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Joplin Class at the Capitol on April 1.


In other legislative news, delinquent Missouri taxpayers could see their first opportunity in over a decade to pay back their taxes without facing penalties. On Wednesday, the Senate gave its initial approval on House Bill 384. Under the measure, Missouri taxpayers must apply for amnesty; pay their unpaid taxes in full between July 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2015; and agree to comply with state tax laws for the next eight years. If passed, HB 384 is expected to bring in approximately $60 million for Fiscal Year 2016.

Finally, I was pleased to once again host the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Joplin Class at the Capitol for their annual Joplin Day. They hosted a “Sweet Treat Reception,” providing everyone at the Capitol with cupcakes, brownies, cookies and more. It was a fun event and a great way to showcase the City of Joplin.

Area Conservation News and Events

Many do not know this, but the trees lining the streets of our community, providing shade in our yards and adding beauty to our parks make up what is called the community forest. In an effort to assist communities with the financial costs of managing their community forests, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) created the Tree Resource Improvement and Maintenance (TRIM) program. TRIM is a competitive cost-share program designed to provide seed money for the management or care of Missouri’s community forests. I’m very pleased to announce that both the Carthage Tree Board and Joplin Parks and Recreation each received $10,000 in grant funds to put toward their community forests; this money should go a long way in keeping our communities vibrant and green.

Also, in April, MDC is hosting a free archery workshop to help citizens learn the fundamental skills and safety of archery shooting:

  • Introduction to Archery

Location: Walter Woods Conservation Area (Just five minutes from Wildcat)
Date: Saturday, April 18
Time: 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Youth across the state are participating in school archery competition as interest in archery continues to grow. Join in the fun as you discover the basics of archery, how to hone your skills and start to enjoy this lifelong activity. For more information or to register, call (417) 629-3423. Reserve by April 17.

Located in the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center in Wildcat Park just south of I-44, the Joplin Conservation Office is your local connection to Missouri’s fish, forests and wildlife. Stop by for a fishing/hunting license, and stay for a nature program, go for a hike, enjoy a picnic or access Shoal Creek.