Now Two Weeks Remaining
It was a busy week in the Missouri Senate. With less than three weeks remaining in the session, each day was focused on tackling complex issues, while still trying to move as many bills forward as possible. There was also the matter of the state budget, which must be approved by 6 p.m. on Friday, May 7.
One of the most closely-watched pieces of legislation before the General Assembly this year came up for initial debate in the Senate chamber on Tuesday. Senate Bill 39, otherwise known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act, would exempt Missouri from federal laws that restrict our right to keep and bear arms. This bill has generated more calls and emails from the district than any other issue this year. The individuals calling about this bill have shared their impatience with passing this legislation, and I’ve heard concerns from law enforcement officials who are worried that the bill could limit their ability to effectively do their jobs. My goal is to protect law enforcement officials as they do the job asked of them and pass this very important legislation.
Another bill occupying our time on the floor was Senate Bill 98, a comprehensive package of legislation related to gambling in Missouri. This bill has three major parts, one outlawing one form of gambling and two others that expand gaming opportunities in Missouri.
On one hand, SB 98 addresses the proliferation of electronic gaming machines in our state. These devices produce zero state revenue and, in fact, divert dollars away from the Lottery, which helps fund Missouri schools. Although there’s many who believe these so-called “grey” machines are already illegal, the bill removes any doubt, and imposes stiff penalties for businesses and organizations who host them. Operators of these machines could lose their liquor license and forfeit their right to sell Missouri Lottery products.
While the bill outlaws the illegal machines, it grants the Missouri Lottery authority to develop a system of video lottery terminals, which could be placed at truck stops, bars, fraternal lodges or veteran’s halls. Another provision would allow Missourians to place bets on sporting events, either in-person at one of the state’s excursion gambling boats or over the internet. Fees collected from these activities would be earmarked for education. As a former teacher and school administrator, the prospect of increased funding for education is enticing, but I’m not comfortable expanding gaming in our state. I have concerns about locating gambling devices in bars, and I don’t like a provision that limits the right of communities to determine if they want to allow the devices. I also don’t believe the push to expand gambling is consistent with the traditional values of the 33rd district. For this reason, I supported a proposal to add a referendum provision and put the gambling question on a statewide ballot. Senate Bill 98 was eventually tabled, but it’s possible the bill could come up again this year.
The biggest issue before the Senate remains the budget. Passing a balanced budget is actually the only thing the General Assembly is required to do under Missouri’s Constitution. As one of only two freshmen senators on the Appropriations Committee, I take my role seriously, and I think I’ve gotten some good work done. So far, I’ve secured funding for career and vo-tech centers, including $1 million for an advanced welding lab in West Plains, set aside money for volunteer fire department workers compensation premiums, as well as epi-pens for rural fire districts and provided support for character development pilot programs at nine public schools. All that’s good work, but we have more to do. On Wednesday, we began voting on the Senate budget bills. The differences between the budgets produced by the House and Senate will be sorted out in the coming days.
Several hours of debate have been dedicated to a very high-profile and contentious issue of funding Medicaid expansion, which was passed by voters in August of last year. I spent lots of time working with folks on both sides of this issue. I am sympathetic to the needs of hard-working people who do not have insurance coverage and will continue to work to improve job creation and opportunities. I am also dedicated to representing the voice of the people from the 33rd district, which overwhelmingly did not pass Medicaid expansion, and my vote reflected our district’s vote. A troubling aspect of this issue is that the ballot measure did not contain a funding mechanism. Even though the Department of Social Services continues to work as if they are “going live” July 1 (the start date to enroll newly eligible Missourians), these new expenses are not currently included in our budget. It is a time of unknowns, as we continue to work through this issue. Either way, this will most likely end up in the courts, which is of great concern.
Amid all the activity on the floor, we still had time to welcome visitors this week. Kim Rich from Coastal Energy in Willow Springs stopped by to say hello and express her support. Also Cowboy Rick and Bev Hamby out of Caulfield brought their 1880s stagecoach to the Capitol. Joined by community leaders and school children from back home, they displayed the relic from the Butterfield Stage Line and the early days of Silver Dollar City near the south lawn of the Capitol and shared stories of their travels with visitors. Rick and Bev drive the coach and a team of four bay horses throughout the West and Southwest, carrying letters from school children. Schools across America participate in The Journey Stagecoach pen-pal program. It’s a neat historical lesson for children and, this week, I was able to postmark a couple of letters that Rick will carry to elementary schools in Texas.
It is my honor to serve the residents of Douglas, Howell, Oregon, Ozark, Ripley, Texas, Webster and Wright counties in the Missouri Senate, and it’s always a pleasure to hear from friends and family back home. If I can help you in any way, please call my Capitol Office at 573-751-1882, or my District Office at 417-596-9011. You can also visit my webpage at www.senate.mo.gov/mem33, on Facebook: @SenatorKarlaEslinger, or follow me on Twitter: @seneslingermo.