Missouri special session possible to undo cuts to disabled

Missouri special session possible to undo cuts to disabled
Posted at 11:08 PM, Sep 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-08 00:08:43-04

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers are working on a potential special session plan to reverse recent budget cuts affecting services for thousands of people with disabilities, the state's top senator said Thursday.

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard said the funding proposal for Medicaid nursing and in-home care services could be considered next week. Richard said he also plans to offer a resolution next week to expel St. Louis-area Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal for making a social media comment hoping for President Donald Trump's assassination.

The state constitution requires lawmakers to convene Wednesday to consider overriding gubernatorial vetoes. The Republican-led Legislature isn't expected to undo any of the five vetoes made by Republican Gov. Eric Greitens in his first year in office. But since lawmakers must come to the Capitol anyway, the timing is ripe to take up other matters.

The budget that took effect July 1 cut Medicaid-funded personal care services, such as bathing and grooming assistance, for about 8,300 people with disabilities. One of the bills that Greitens vetoed earlier this year would have avoided those cuts by authorizing Greitens' administration to sweep $35 million out of various special funds to pay for the services. Greitens called it "an unconstitutional, one-time fake fix to a real problem."

But lawmakers now are working on an alternative plan. One possibility is to cut a tax credit for low-income seniors and disabled residents who live in rental housing and divert the savings to the personal care program — an option already endorsed by House members during the regular session.

Richard said lawmakers hope to show Greitens a plan soon and ask him to call lawmakers into a special session.

"If the governor doesn't, I'd be willing to try to call ourselves in," said Richard, a Republican from Joplin. "I think the Senate believes that throwing these people out is unacceptable, and we're looking for a fix."

For people whose services have been cut, "it literally could be a life and death issue that we may be wanting to take up," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, a Jefferson City Republican.

Missouri's constitution allows a governor to call lawmakers into an extraordinary session. But for lawmakers to call themselves into a special session requires the signatures of three-fourths of the members of the House and Senate — a high hurdle that would require support from both Republicans and Democrats.

House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty said Democrats likely will try to override Greitens' veto, and she said Democratic support for a special session depends on what is proposed. She also reiterated opposition to cuts to tax credits for low-income seniors and disabled residents, which Republican House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick said he's been researching as a potential fix.

Fitzpatrick said "Democrats' support would be necessary," in part because Senate Democrats could filibuster to block a vote. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Gina Walsh did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Parson held a news conference Thursday urging lawmakers to address both the disabled care budget and to oust state Sen. Chappelle-Nadal during a special session next week.

Richard said he would offer a resolution to expel Chappelle-Nadal, either during the veto session or in a special session if one is called. The state constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate to expel a member.

Chappelle-Nadal wrote "I hope Trump is assassinated!" on her personal Facebook page in August, though she deleted the post that same day and later apologized. The Democrat from suburban St. Louis has refused calls to resign while explaining that she made the remark out of frustration with Trump's response to a white nationalist rally and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, for which the president said "both sides" shared some blame.

State Rep. Warren Love, R-Osceola, also has faced calls to resign for a Facebook post expressing hope that whoever vandalized a Confederate monument in Springfield would be "hung from a tall tree with a long rope." He has apologized but has declined to step down.

House Majority Leader Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee's Summit, said he's not aware of any effort by colleagues to discipline Love. But Beatty said House Democrats are looking at both trying to expel him and submitting an official complaint against him with the House Ethics Committee, which is led by Cierpiot.