Jeanette Mott Oxford for State Representative 2010

Friday, May 25, 2007

JMO4Rep Update - Legislative Session Wrap Up 2007

Friends, Constituents, and Allies:

This JMO4Rep Update will be longer than my norm as it is my annual
Legislative Session Wrap Up for 2007. I'd like to thank the many
constituents and allies who wrote or called me about a bill or an issue
this Legislative Session. I am disappointed that little happened this
Session to truly improve the quality of life for Missourians, but I do
believe that worse things would have happened if justice advocates such
as myself had not been on the floor during the debates, raising key
questions and trying to get the truth out through the media.

I recognize that you may find the information I am sharing discouraging
or disturbing, yet I feel an obligation to tell it as I see it. We need
transparent and ethical government if we are going to tackle the many
challenges that lie before us as a society: global warming, affordable
and high quality public education, healthcare for all, civil rights for
those who are denied needed protections, measures that lift workers out
of poverty and create a safety net for those unable to earn an adequate
living through labor or savings, and so much more. As Bill Bradley says,
"An administration bold enough to tell the truth will find an audience
ready for bold solutions."

The 2008 elections offer us a wonderful opportunity to make some needed
changes. Please urge your friends near and far to truly engage in the
electoral process in 2008. Attend a candidate forum. Study candidates'
track records and positions. Work for candidates you trust and support.
I continue to feel honored to have the opportunity to serve the 59th
Missouri House District and the State of Missouri. In the words of the
South African freedom song: "We shall not give up the fight; we have only

Background Description of Legislative Session 2007

The Legislative Session began on Jan. 3 and ended on May 18. When I was
first sworn in as state representative in 2005, the Republicans held 97
of 163 Missouri House seats. In the 2006 elections, the Democrats had a
net gain of five seats, to trail the Republicans 92-71 in seats. There
were slight drops in the numbers of women and People of Color in the
Legislature following the 2006 elections.

Very little happened during the month of January as Speaker of the House
Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill) tinkered with the committee structure in ways
that gave the Democrats less proportional representation on committees
than we hold in the House overall, which became a point of much
contention as you might imagine. Jetton also eliminated some committees,
while adding many others and declaring these "Special Committees" instead
of "Standing Committees." The Speaker was entitled by rules to control
membership on the Special Committees, undercutting the minority caucus
floor leader's traditional power to influence which minority caucus
members served on which committees. Many of Minority Floor Leader Jeff
Harris' suggestions were turned down, keeping legislators with needed
expertise from appropriate committee roles.

The increased number of committees provided new fundraising opportunities
for the majority party. Special interests have long contributed heavily
to the campaigns of chairs and vice chairs of House and Senate committees
(yes, when Democrats held the majority too I'm sad to say). One GOP
committee chair disclosed in 2005 that $300,000 had been raised for
Republican campaigns in Missouri through that one chairmanship. The rumor
this year was that GOP members who wanted to chair committees had to
commit to raising at least $20,000 for the party.

I continue to be very troubled by the power of money in politics and to
look for meaningful forms of campaign finance reform. Some say campaign
contributions are a form of free speech and must be protected, but I say
that campaign contributions are a megaphone, giving a much louder voice
to some than to others. In a healthy society, diverse voices must be
heard and appropriate responses made, especially to our neighbors who are
suffering. Hearing only the voices of the super-wealthy is dangerous to
the common good.

If I counted correctly, less than 140 of the approximately 2000 bills
introduced in the MO House and Senate were passed this year. That
includes more than a dozen budget bills that had to be passed by the
Friday before adjournment to meet the requirements in the MO
Constitution. Gov. Blunt may not sign each one of these bills to make
them law, but most will be signed. A list of all bills that were Truly
and Finally Passed is available at:

The Budget

I voted no on all the budget bills except House Bill (HB) 1 (public
debt), HB 8 (which included the next phase of a multi-part raise for the
highway patrol and new staff for veterans' homes), and HB 13 (leasing).

I believe Missouri is making an inadequate investment in key areas like
elementary and secondary education, higher education, health, mental
health, and social services, and that this actually harms the business
climate in our state. Quality of life issues highly impact on where
businesses choose to locate (more than tax rates do according to a
variety of sources), so the lack of investment may be damaging our
economy. Inadequate investment in the common good definitely makes our
communities less safe, less healthy, and less stable. For example, with
inadequate community mental health services available, many troubled
persons self-medicate with illegal drugs, leading to high crime rates and
violence within families. The costs in terms of human suffering,
incarceration expenses, and lost productivity is very high in Missouri.

In addition to my concern about inadequate investment, some bills
contained items that I believed were corporate welfare or otherwise
unethical line items. For example, HB 6 (the Agriculture bill) contained
odor abatement funds for corporate hog farms. I believe those who
financially profit from such farms have the responsibility to clean up
environmental hazards and odor problems instead of asking the taxpayers
to do so.

In the budget debate, it became clear that there was adequate money in
the budget to restore healthcare to the 170,000+ who had lost coverage
since 2005, but the GOP majority voted down all amendments that tried to
do so. This was a big disappointment. Since inadequate funds had been
cited as the reason the Medicaid cuts were "necessary," many of us
thought healthcare would be restored to at least some of our neighbors.

However, Gov. Blunt insisted on retaining a $200 million "surplus"
instead of restoring healthcare or investing in other places in the state
budget where there are profound needs. (Surplus is not an accurate word
when the funds in question have resulted from inadequate investment in
basic human needs.) In addition, we have lost over a million dollars in
federal matching funds since 2005 by not investing in healthcare.

Medicaid Reform - "No HealthNet" (and the bargaining chips that led to
its passage)

Although viewed by all involved as the top issue of the year, House
leadership did not set up debate on the Medicaid reform bill, Senate Bill
(SB)577, until the very end. Three hours of timed debate was allowed on
May 11. The bill's final version was negotiated in secret during the
session's final hours and rammed through with one-hour of debate just 40
minutes before the Legislature's 6 p.m. constitutional deadline for
adjournment. House Speaker Jetton put the Senate on notice that the House
would not pass the Medicaid bill until they passed two controversial
measures that had already cleared the House (unfortunately).
One of these controversial bills was HB 1055 which puts greater stress on
school districts opting to follow the federal "Abstinence Only" program
when offering sex education (a program proven to be ineffective). It also
may mean that access to safe and legal abortions is limited to only one
of the three Missouri sites that had been providing them.

The other controversial measure was House Joint Resolution (HJR) 7, a
proposed constitutional amendment which will be put on the ballot of the
November 2008 election. If approved by voters, English would be required
as the language for all "official proceedings" in Missouri, that is,
those public meetings covered by the Sunshine Law.

The sponsor of HJR 7, Rep. Brian Nieves of Franklin County, admits that
no such public meeting in Missouri has ever been held in any language
except English, but he still is insistent that this should become part of
the Missouri Constitution. A variety of immigrant advocacy organizations
are now asking Rep. Nieves to change his name to Rep. Snow (since Nieves
is Spanish for snow). The mayor of Nashville, TN, recently vetoed an
English only proposal in that city and in doing so said such legislation
would make Nashville a "less safe, less friendly, and less successful
city." Hopefully Gov. Blunt will have similar wisdom about HJR 7 which is
a thinly disguised bone thrown to bring out "the bigot vote" in the 2008
general election.

Debate on HB 1055 and HJR 7 was shut down in the Senate by use of the
controversial procedural move called "moving the previous question,"
nicknamed "PQ." Only after both passed in the Senate did House leadership
call for a vote on SB 577, the healthcare bill. All Republicans voted Aye
on SB 577. All Democrats except one (who has voted fairly consistently
with Republicans throughout the year) voted No on SB 577.

I dedicated my no vote on SB 577 to two of my friends who have been hurt
terribly by changes in Medicaid that were passed by the majority party in
2005. Only a few thousand of the 170,000+ Missourians who have lost
Medicaid coverage or had services cut since 2005 had their healthcare
restored by SB 577 which is why many of us call it "No HealthNet" instead
of Gov. Blunt's name for it: "MO HealthNet."

Who is restored? SB 577 restores small numbers of workers with a
disability and some children in the SCHIP program. It allows about 1000
youth aging out of foster care to be insured by Medicaid until they are
21, and it provides limited women's health services to uninsured women
with incomes under 185% of FPL. (For example, women may have cancer
screenings, but if you're under 35 you can't have treatment if cancer is

According to the Missouri Budget Project (you can find a full analysis at

"SB577 makes a lot of promises. It promises a focus on prevention and
best practice. It instructs various groups to undertake a number of
studies and creates several powerful oversight committees. It requires
plans to raise provider reimbursement rates and plans to financially
sustain Medicaid. SB577 also restores dental and vision services, but
only is they are medically necessary AND if funds are appropriated for
them. These restorations could well be empty promises.

"The things that are left out are perhaps more important than what is in
the bill. Along with the tens of thousands of workers with a disability
and children who will not benefit from the limited restorations, SB577
leaves the very poor working parents who lost eligibility in 2005 out in
the cold. Nor does it help the tens of thousands of people with a
disability and elderly who pay large amounts for a monthly premium to
"spend down" their incomes to be eligible. Critical rehabilitation
services and therapies are notably missing."

Other Harmful Legislation That Passed

The Legislature also voted to sell a significant portion of the Missouri
Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA) to pay for campus construction.
The plan places in jeopardy MOHELA's ability to fulfill its mission of
providing low-cost student loans and offering loan forgiveness.

Several unwise policy decisions were made regarding taxation. Speaker
Jetton proposed exempting all Social Security income from state income
tax through HB 444, which may sound like a good idea on the surface, but
in truth, lower income seniors already pay no income taxes on their
Social Security. Almost all of the benefit of Jetton's plan would have
gone to higher income seniors. Other retirement income exemptions were
piled on to HB 444 until the fiscal note to the state was over $300
million of lost revenue. I argued on the floor, in interviews with
reporters, and through letters to the editor that sound tax policy bases
tax rates on the amount of income, not the type of income. In the end a
compromise was negotiated on the Senate side that caps income levels at
which exemptions will be given. This cut the cost somewhat, especially
before fully phased in, but the tax principle involved is still unsound.

A huge mishmash of tax credits passed as an "omnibus economic development
package." Several of the tax credits in HB 327 strike me as unwise or
unneeded, and one looks to be a sweetheart deal for a land speculator.
The distressed areas land assemblage tax credit would offer $12 million
per year for eight years to a developer who manages to assemble 75-100
acres of property in areas with high poverty rates. One St. Louis area
developer that stands to benefit has given over $100,000 to the campaign
committees of the governor, lieutenant governor, and key House and Senate
leaders since the beginning of the year. Because of this, HB 327 did not
pass my "sniff test," so I spoke against it on the floor and voted no.
The bill passed anyway, and I encourage you to ask the governor to veto

Missouri may become the hail-damaged vehicle capital of the nation if
Gov. Blunt signs SB 82, the salvage title bill. Consumer protection
advocate Rep. John Burnett of Kansas City borrowed from the title of a
popular children's book to proclaim SB 82 "a terrible, horrible, no good,
very bad bill." Unfortunately it passed 99-59 in the House to be Truly
Agreed and Finally Passed.

The 2007 session will perhaps be best remembered for the unprecedented
chaos in the legislative process as the General Assembly spent much of
the last week trying to repeal or amend bills it had forwarded to the
governor just days earlier. I think we have an obligation to get it right
the first time, and I'm proud that I voted no on all the bills that were
later discovered to need "fixes." You can read more about this at:

Helpful Legislation and Baby Steps to Improvement That Passed

I fought alongside many allies to prevent gutting of the new minimum wage
law that 76% of Missouri voters approved in November. We were successful
in keeping raises for tipped employees and cost of living adjustments in
the law. Unfortunately a bill to fix a problem related to overtime pay
for police and firefighters was withdrawn during debate. Many
municipalities say that overtime costs may bankrupt them.

I was proud to vote yes on HB 583 sponsored by Rep. Connie "LaJoyce"
Johnson of St. Louis City. This makes improvements to a number of laws
affecting victims of sexual and domestic violence, including offering
domestic violence victims a way to keep their addresses confidential.
Some progress was made on on fire safety in nursing homes, as prompted by
a fire at the Anderson Guest House in Joplin that killed 11 people a few
months ago. More remains to be done, and it is not a simple problem to
solve. Fewer than 40 percent of the residential care facilities that
currently do not have sprinkler will be required to do so through HB 952.
Yet many administrators of exempted nursing homes say they cannot afford
to make the needed changes due to low rates of reimbursement for care
from state and federal government.

I served as the ranking minority member on the Special Committee on
Energy and Environment this year, and I was pleased that some modest
gains were made on environmental issues. (I was also pleased that some
bills that could harm the environment did not pass.) SB 54 makes it
possible for retail electrical suppliers to make "net metering" available
to customers. This should encourage homeowners to invest in solar and
wind power generation. Renewable energy targets were also set in the
bill. I would have preferred mandates, given the threats posed by global
warming, but the business community in Missouri strongly resists any
mandated requirements and thusfar has been able to control any movement
toward this in the Capitol.

Good Ideas That Didn't Pass

I had many good ideas that deserved debate in 2007, but House Speaker Rod
Jetton refused to assign even one of my bills to committee. You can see
the full list of bills I sponsored or co-sponsored at

Among bills that did not pass that I wish had:

- comprehensive safe schools legislation to prevent bullying;
- the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act - the number of co-sponsors does
continue to rise - 59 in the House and Senate this year;
- updating the income eligibility guidelines for subsidized child care
for low-wage workers (we were at about 150% in 1991 but fell to 50th in
the nation since then) ----even though my bill and other bills on this
did not pass, the Department of Social Services did raise the guideline
from about 110% of the federal poverty level to almost 130%, and I
believe my advocacy on this has made a difference;
- caseload standards for social service, health, and mental health jobs
working with vulnerable children, persons with disabilities, and elders;
- individual income tax reform to create a system that would be fair,
adequate, and sustainable (write me at this address if you would like
details on how such a bill would work);
- House Concurrent Resolution 55 which detailed problems with the No
Child Left Behind law during this year when Congress will be debating
reauthorization; and
- a percentage of income utility payment plan to reduce transcience in
St. Louis Public Schools (three out of 10 SLPS students will be homeless
during some portion of each school year)

There were so many more that deserved discussion. I'm hoping for a more
bi-partisan and productive 2008!

Good News From the 59th: On Saturday, April 28, St. Elizabeth Academy
musicians participated in the Music in the Parks National Music Festival
at Six Flags in St. Louis. Nineteen other schools representing nine
states participated in this nationally adjudicated musical competition.
St. Elizabeth Academy's high school women's choir placed first with an
excellent rating. Their high school jazz ensemble placed second with an
excellent rating. And the girls' high school full orchestra placed first
with and excellent rating and earned a trophy for overall Outstanding
High School Orchestra. Senior Thrissa Skala received the Solo Citation
Award for her drum performance. Congratulations to all.

Sad News for All of St. Louis: Marti Frumhoff passed away at her home in
Tower Grove South on May 16 at the age of 50. Marti was probably best
known as the founder of the Rehabbers' Club, but was a part of so many
positive efforts to build a united and revitalized city. She agreed to
pose with me for campaign advertisement photos during my 2004 campaign
and tried to help me any time I called her. My condolences go to her
family and friends. My thanks go to her friends who found homes for her
dogs and cats, a kindness that Marti would really appreciate given her
love for animals. Much information about Marti can be found through the
links at:

Volunteers Needed: Dutchtown South Community Corporation is seeking
volunteers to help with the Vector Control Program on Tuesday, June 12,
2007 (morning and evening times will be available). Mosquito poison
packets will be dropped in sewers around the Dutchtown neighborhood. The
Vector Control Program is sponsored by AmeriCorps. If you would like to
volunteer or would like more information please call DSCC at