The 2018 regular session is in the books! AARP was there throughout the session working hard for our members and all Missourians. Read the highlights (and lows) below of what was a truly memorable year!
CARE Act Passes the General Assembly!
In the final day of the Missouri Legislative Session, Senate Bill 718, which contained the CARE Act, passed the Missouri General Assembly.
On Monday, Brian Colby, government relations director for the Missouri Budget Project and a member of the AARP Action Council, met with Representative Martha Stevens (D-Columbia) and found that the CARE Act had been removed from the Conference Committee Report. An error in the General Assembly tracking system didn’t show that Senate Bill 991, the Senate version of the CARE Act, sponsored by Sen. Scott Sifton (D-St. Louis County) had been heard and passed unanimously by the Senate Committee on Seniors, Children and Families.
Fortunately for family caregivers around Missouri, the chairman of that committee, Senator David Sater (R-Cassville), sat on the conference committee. When the issue came up, he informed the committee that there was no opposition to the bill and that his committee had thoroughly vetted the issue and passed it unanimously.
The committee agreed – again unanimously – to add the CARE Act back into the report.
Both bodies of the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve SB 718, including the CARE Act.
There are so many people who have contributed to this effort over the last three years, but we must thank our sponsors: Former Senator Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City), the late Representative Cloria Brown who championed the issue last year and continued to urge passage even as she battled cancer, and of course, our amazing and diligent sponsors this year, Representative Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton) and Senator Scott Sifton (D-St. Louis County).
We still need the governor to sign the legislation, so we will be doing one last push.
MO Rx Restoration
In 2017, the General Assembly voted to restrict the MO Rx prescription drug program to only those enrollees who were eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare. This move essentially lowered eligibility from 185% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 85%, cutting 64,000 Missourians off the program.
Senate Bill 563 was the first bill to move through the Missouri Senate this year with only one senator voting against the restoration of MO Rx.
In the House, the bill was less well received. The House Budget Committee was reluctant to hear the bill until the funds to pay for the restoration had been added to the appropriations bills.
While the MO Rx language in the House version of the Budget included language that would restrict access to dual eligibles, the Senate version took the language out, but did not include adequate funding for expansion of the program.
In the final conference committee substitute the House version won out. At the end of the Legislative Session, the House Budget Committee quickly added a provider tax for managed care organizations (MCOs) to SB 563 breathing new life into the legislation. Unfortunately, it was too little too late and the legislation failed to make it through the process before the end of the session.
AARP Missouri will continue to work to restore the MO Rx program specifically and work to lower prescription drug prices for all Missourians.
Early in the session, several legislators were targeting the Circuit Breaker Tax Credit for Seniors as a potential source of funds to increase the reimbursement rate for nursing home providers.
The bill, Senate Bill 567, sponsored by Senator Mike Cunningham (R-Rogersville), would have lowered the allowable property tax credit from $1,100 to $750 for homeowners and $750 to $450 for renters as well as making other changes to the program to limit the number of people who could claim the credit.
The bill stalled, but the idea of cutting the Circuit Breaker continued. In the House, when Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield) introduced House Bill 2540 to lower taxes on individuals and businesses, it included elimination of the Circuit Breaker Tax Credit for Renters.
While the House passed the legislation with the cut to the credit, the Senate was unwilling to see the cut without wider tax credit reform. The Senate stripped out major parts of the bill and replaced it with a corporate income tax rate cut paid for with a change in the way that corporations calculate their income for taxes.
In the end, the tax cut bills no longer included reductions to the Circuit Breaker.
Throughout the session, it was clear that the General Assembly had a strong desire to reduce taxes on individuals and businesses in the state. Unfortunately, Missouri has already been cutting taxes for decades, including a tax cut passed several years ago that is not yet fully implemented, making it difficult to fund essential state services.
After an early push for a state version of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that would provide tax relief to low-income working families, and a push for broad tax cuts without a “paid for”, legislators came around to offsetting any tax cuts with revenue increases elsewhere.
The two bills that became the main vehicles for tax reductions were House Bill 2540, sponsored by Representative Elijah Haahr and Senate Bill 674, sponsored by Senator Andrew Koenig. The House bill was broad-based tax reform, including a fix to the “LLC Loophole” that was passed previously in response to the elimination of taxes on LLCs in Kansas. The Senate bill focused on cuts to the corporate income tax with a change in the way that corporations calculate their income for taxes.
By the end of the session, the General Assembly had approved a cut to corporate income taxes – from 6.25% to 4% – and an acceleration of the reduction to the personal income tax that was included in Senate Bill 509 several years ago.
The final result of all the tax changes should actually be an increase in state revenues of nearly $40 million – a huge improvement over legislation offered earlier in the session.
Early in the session, the Rural Electric Cooperatives approached AARP Missouri to support measures that would lead to expansion of access to high-speed internet into unserved and underserved areas of the state.
The FCC Broadband Progress Report shows that 20% of Missourians, nearly 1.25 million, don’t have access to high-speed Internet. The majority of those citizens reside in rural communities.
Lack of access to high-speed internet can leave communities behind as commerce and social interactions become more connected to the internet. Also, advances in tele-health, which can give rural patients access to healthcare professionals around the state, are only available in areas with high-speed internet.
Originally, rural broadband advocates focused on House Bill 1880, sponsored by Rep. Curtis Trent (R-Springfield) that would allow rural electric cooperatives to use their current electric infrastructure to build out fiber optic lines to rural communities. Soon, however, House Bill 1872, sponsored by Delus Johnson (R-St. Joseph), a bill that established a grant program for expansion of broadband for unserved and underserved areas, began to move through the process.
In the final days of the session, both bills were passed by the General Assembly, and both are expected to be signed by the Governor.
Electric Rate Hikes
This year, monopoly utilities were pushing harder than ever to get legislation passed that would increase rates on their customers. They have seen how other states have implemented surcharges and rate enhancements to allow their counterparts to increase their profits and the return to their shareholders.
In Missouri, we have seen lower rates and greater reliability than in the rest of the Midwest, and monopoly utilities are still seeing double digit profits. In fact, Ameren Missouri alone has been spending over $800 million per year on upgrading their infrastructure to build a smarter grid. It’s clear that our current system of setting rates has worked well.
Now, however, the monopoly utilities have pushed through a new accounting system, called Plant In-Service Accounting (PISA), as a way to increase rates faster now, avoid having to pass on tax savings to their customers, and then after the initial five to ten years passes, they will be able to raise rates even more.
Senate Bill 564, sponsored by Senator Ed Emery (R-Lamar), was filibustered for hours on the floor of the Missouri Senate by a small group of senators who have long stood for consumers: Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-St. Louis County), Sen. Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff), Sen. Gary Romine (R-Farmington), Sen. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph), and Sen. Jill Schupp (D-St. Louis County). In the end, the senators were convinced to sit down and let the legislation pass when they were threatened with a “previous question” motion, often called the PQ or “nuclear option”, that would force and end to debate. The PQ threat was not only for SB 564, but also for a slew of other anti-consumer legislation.
It turned out there wasn’t actually support for the previous question motion, however. They had been misled.
Since the passage through the Senate had been based on faulty information, the House of Representatives agreed to pass a different bill, House Bill 2265, sponsored by Representative T.J. Berry (R-Kearney), that would include the same provisions, but give the Senate a second chance at finding compromise, but they also made it clear that if compromise was not reached, they would pass SB 564 as it was – avoiding a second chance for the senators to filibuster.
Negotiations fell apart quickly since the monopoly utilities were assured of a bill that would be better for their bottom line as long as the Senate didn’t pass a more pro-consumer bill.
Now it is up to the Governor to veto SB 564 that is assured to raise rates on electric customers throughout Missouri.
JOIN FOR JUST $16 A YEAR