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Emerson addresses highways, meth, health care

Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, R-8th, made her second official visit this week in St. Francois County, speaking at the monthly Desloge Chamber of Commerce meeting Friday.

Emerson addressed a number of topics, including the elimination of at-grade crossovers along U.S. 67 in the county.

Emerson said she has marked $28.5 million strictly for the construction of interchanges and eliminating the crossovers in the county. The money may be included in a federal highway bill, which Senator Kit Bond, R-Missouri, will sponsor next year, according to Emerson.

While it is a good idea to work toward the upgrading of the highway to interstate status, the congresswoman said she would like to see the highway widened to four lanes first.

“As an ultimate goal, that’s an excellent goal to have,” Emerson said.

Of course, one of the obstacles to improving U.S. 67, Emerson said, is funding. She highlighted an obstacle encountered during the expansion of U.S. 60, between Sikeston and Springfield, to four lanes as one example of issues which cost a significant amount of money.

An extra $15 million was tacked onto the U.S. 60 project, according to Emerson, to accommodate a request from environmental groups for the construction of tunnels under parts of the highway to provide a place for black bears to mate.

Emerson’s example drew laughter from the crowd, but her point was made.

“Now, I have to remind you that in the last 10 years, we’ve seen three black bears in that area,” Emerson said.

It costs an approximate $1.5 to $2 million per mile to widen a highway from two lanes to four, Emerson said.

In keeping with transportation, Emerson said it is important for Farmington to expand their airport to accommodate corporate jets, which would benefit the entire county.

Companies are not willing to locate in areas where it is hard to travel to, Emerson said, and the extension of airport runways in Farmington would help to create “a climate where businesses want to come.”

Health care is also a good way to ensure businesses will locate in the county, according to Emerson. The Congresswoman said she and her constituents in Congress were able to pass a bill which will standardize Medicare reimbursement rates, for tests such as CAT-scans, between rural hospitals and small urban hospitals.

Rural hospitals were being reimbursed 15 percent less than large city hospitals, Emerson said, and while the bill did not raise the bar to the level of a hospital the size of Barnes-Jewish in St. Louis, it did raise it somewhat.

Another aspect of health care is prescription drug benefits, and Emerson said people in this country pay two and three times more than people living in other countries, such as Canada and Germany.

“We are subsidizing the rest of the world,” Emerson said.

Despite 623 lobbyists and the spending of $30 million dollars for pharmaceutical companies, according to Emerson, the House of Representatives was able to pass a prescription drug benefit. In order for the bill to become law, however, the Senate must give its approval.

Emerson asked those in attendance at the meeting to pressure their senators to pass the bill “in the language” of the bill which the House approved.

Also present at the meeting was Sheriff Dan Bullock, who Emerson spoke to before her address concerning the major problems Bullock confronts in St. Francois County.

Emerson said the sheriff told her methamphetamine production and domestic violence were the two pressing issues his department deals with.

“We could multiply you (Bullock) by 100 and we still wouldn’t get it all (methamphetamine production),” Emerson said. “And that’s a sad, sad thing to say.”

The congresswoman said she will continue to work to find federal money to assist local law enforcement officials. Emerson said meth may be the biggest problem in her district, but there have also been many successes in combating the illegal drug.

“I don’t like having the distinction of representing the district with the most meth labs,” Emerson said.

Another topic Emerson hit on was making the United States less dependent on oil from other countries.

“It’s really time we become less dependent on foreign countries for our energy,” Emerson said.

Emerson said she is working to increase investments in ethanol-fuel research and is hoping to require a renewable fuel standard of at least 10 percent ethanol in gasoline, as well as bio-diesel fuel.

On Monday, Emerson addressed a crowd of FFA and 4-H members at the St. Francois County Fairgrounds as part of her annual farm tour. The congresswoman will be back in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 2 and has no more scheduled events this month in the county.

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