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Lawmakers return for second half of session

Lawmakers returned to Jefferson City on Monday for the second half of this year’s legislative session. Monday started off with a bang and we didn’t slow down until the gavel fell on Thursday. The session will end on May 17, which is relatively soon. Although we’ve taken many steps this year to address our state’s most pressing problems, there remains a lot of work to do before we’re finished.

On Thursday, the House approved its version of this year’s budget. Next week, the Senate Appropriations Committee will begin reviewing the House’s markups of the budget bills. Crafting the state’s budget is the only task we’re constitutionally required to complete. It’s also one of the most difficult as we try to balance the priorities and concerns of 34 separate senators and 163 members of the House.

One of the major issues regarding this year’s budget is the proposed Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Under the law, states can increase the eligibility of Medicaid to include thousands of additional citizens. It’s estimated expanding Medicaid here in Missouri would add around 300,000 new people to the system.

The problem with this proposal is that it does nothing to address the current troubles in our Medicaid system. We need reform much more than expansion at this point. Medicaid has become an inefficient way to provide healthcare to our citizens. It’s also quickly becoming unsustainable, with the cost growing exponentially every year. Before we consider expanding the program, we need to fix it.

Another popular argument for expansion is the promise of billions of federal dollars coming to the state that will result in job creation and economic development. What’s important to note, though, is that Missouri already receives the same amount of money as what’s promised to us if we expand Medicaid. The federal government is basically just rebranding the money currently going to states. We have to be wary not to fall into this trap. If we don’t reform Medicaid, in real, concrete ways, we’re simply taking money once used for other means and pouring it into what is a broken and inefficient Medicaid system.

Although nothing has been considered on the Senate floor, lawmakers have discussed the issue extensively this session. It’s unlikely that any measure dealing with the expansion and Medicaid reform will pass this year, but inaction will only bury Missouri deeper in the trenches of Obamacare – it’s important for us to be proactive. Missouri has the opportunity to draft a proposal that will allow us to negotiate with the federal government over Medicaid expansion and return sovereignty to our state once and for all.

On Thursday, the Senate gave first-round approval to Senate Bill 188, legislation I sponsored this year. The bill requires the local prosecutor to receive a copy of the petition for the conditional release of a sexually violent predator in his or her jurisdiction. A number of officials and law enforcement personnel are already notified when sexually violent offenders are released; this would simply add local prosecuting attorneys to the list. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

This report is filed at the end of each week during the legislative session. This report was filed at the close of business last week.

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