The Missouri House has given first-round approval to next year's state budget -- after spending most of Tuesday on amendments to the FY 2015 budget, including two attempts to expand Medicaid. Both failed, and both were sponsored by state Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur.
"Ladies and gentlemen, when rural hospitals close, (your) actions here today will be remembered," Schupp said. "I have a list of over 100 organizations from communities all over the state – the Chillicothe Chamber of Commerce, the Kennett Chamber (of Commerce), the Sedalia Area Chamber of Commerce, the Missouri Optometric Association, the Dental Association, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the list goes on and on – these are all the groups that say, 'it's time to expand Medicaid.'"
State Rep. Sue Allen, R-Town and Country, said that the budgets they've crafted will help lots of Missourians with critical needs without increasing the state's future debt.
"We have added more funding for people with mental-health (issues), the developmental disability population, (and) we're going to be able to impact the community mental-health centers, the Children's Division," Allen said. "We have accomplished significant reform."
The GOP majority also beat back an attempt to strip $6 million from the budget of the Department of Natural Resources. The money had been set aside to operate a potential new state park if the current Ozark National Scenic Riverways is transferred from the National Parks Service to the state. Democrats backed the amendment, saying that the National Parks Service would do a much better job of preserving the environment along the Current and Jacks Fork rivers.
"Our national riverways (have) suffered serious problems in recent years, including overdevelopment, expanded access, and miles of unauthorized horse trails," Schupp, the amendment's sponsor, said. "Facing problems of this magnitude, you would expect something different than a proposal that further jeopardized the state and the riverways."
State Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, vehemently argued against Schupp's amendment.
"It's not treasonous to stand up against the tyranny of a government trying to over-regulate our natural wonders, to where we can't even enjoy (them) anymore," Elmer said. "We heard testimony...from droves of people from (the area adjacent to Ozarks National Scenic Riverways), and they talked about the economic devastation if the federal government continues down this road...(Let's) stand against this amendment and tell the federal government to stay out of our business here in the state."
The amendment failed, meaning that the $6 million is still set aside to operate the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways as a state park if Missouri ever wins back control of the site.
Democrats were, however, able to strip out an earlier amendment passed by the House Budget Committee that directed the Conservation Department to spend money on eradicating river otters and the multiflora rose. State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, argued that the language violates the state Constitution because the commission that oversees the Conservation Department is funded separately from the revenue that goes to the General Assembly.
"Even if you disagree with me and think that the otters are an aggressive menace in the state of Missouri, you still have to overcome the constitutional problem," Kelly said. "We cannot do this under our law."
Another amendment that would have de-funded charter schools in Missouri was also defeated. Democrats also attempted, but failed, to remove language from the Higher Education budget that would ban in-state tuition from going to college students found to be "unlawfully" in the United States.
Another round of budget votes is expected Thursday, after which the state budget moves over to the Missouri Senate.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport