Legislators return to work after break


For the Call

Legislation designed to help keep senior citizens in their homes as well as make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors is among the pending bills to be considered by the Missouri Legislature as it returned to work this week.

State legislators returned to work Monday in Jefferson City after a week off for spring break and found the clock ticking as the legislative session is scheduled to adjourn at 6 p.m. Friday, May 16.

In the House, legislation sponsored by Republicans Jim Avery of Crestwood, Walt Bivins of Oakville and Jim Lembke of Lemay is designed to help keep senior citizens in their homes by holding the line on property taxes by limiting increases in assessed valuation to 5 percent on primary residences owned by seniors 65 years old and older.

House Bill 517, the Missouri Homestead Preservation Act, also would lower the rebate for generic drugs for pharmaceutical manufacturers participating in the Missouri Senior Rx Program from 15 percent to 11 percent for drugs sold after July 1 of this year. This clause was added to the bill with the hope that more drug manufacturers will participate in the program for Missouri’s senior citizens.

“There is no income test to qualify although one had been proposed during debate on this legislation,” Bivins told the Call.

Legislators backed away from a proposed $39,000 income cap proposed by Ferguson Democrat Matt Muckler.

To qualify, one must only satisfy the age requirement and the home-use requirement.

“This bill will lend stability to our neighborhoods by keeping seniors in our state and attracting seniors from other states,” Lembke said.

Democrats were bothered by the potential loss of revenue.

“I support the portion of the bill to assist senior citizens through improvements in the Missouri Senior Rx Program, but I have serious concern about the effect the 5-percent cap will have on local taxing authorities,” Rep. Pat Yaeger, D-Lemay, told the Call.

Several other pieces of legislation of interest to local legislators also are pending.

Sen. Anita Yeckel, R-Sunset Hills, co-sponsored a bill that would create a performance-based budget system for state departments and agencies.

“People have developed the sense that government is no longer working for them,” Yeckel said in a news release. “They sense that government is putting its own agenda before doing the work of the people of the state.”

Yeckel’s idea is that each agency will develop goals and objectives as a method for evaluating programs’ effectiveness against planned outcomes.

Rep. Sue Schoemehl, D-Oakville, told the Call that her bill to assist teachers was voted out of committee.

House Bill 602 would authorize the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to create a program to provide grants in the form of supplements to full-time teachers of $3,000 per year for no more than four years in priority schools.

A priority school is one situated in an un-accredited school district or a school that is academically deficient or deficient in student performance.

“We want Missouri children to get the best possible education and that starts in the classroom,” Schoemehl said.

The measure must be approved by the full House before being sent to the Senate for consideration.

Another effort receiving bipartisan local support would require State Auditor Claire McCaskill to audit the state’s automobile emissions testing program – the Gateway Clean Air Program.

A resolution sponsored by 23 House members, including Michael Vogt, D-Affton, Bivins, Avery and Lembke calls the program “costly, ineffective, wasteful and lacks accountability.”

“The program is not well-received by the public,” Vogt told the Call. “There are complaints about the lack of a testing station in our vicinity, about long waits at the testing site and about damage to automobiles.”

Vogt said he welcomes an audit by the state auditor to determine whether the program is solving the problem of dirty air.