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Special Session Could End Soon Following Passage of Drug Bill

September 13, 2001
By: Nicholas Rummell
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's legislature is positioned to finish its two-week special session today after a day-long Senate session finished with the bill to establish a prescription drug program for the elderly.

A House-Senate conference committee is expected to iron out the details for a final version that legislative leaders hope will be presented to both chambers later today.

Most importantly, a Medicaid provision, which was originally opposed by many Republicans, was added to the bill in an astounding 25-9 vote.

The provision, which takes out $13 million from the staggering $100 million prescription drug bill, would phase in increases to the poverty line for Medicaid acceptance over a three-year period, making it gradually easier to draw upon the program.

Arguments were made that the bill's budget, more than double what the governor requested originally and seen as unruly by many Missouri lawmakers, needed further review by the budget control committee, a move that some believed would effectually kill the bill.

Senators John Schneider (D) and Dave Klarich (R), both of St. Louis County, heatedly debated whether the bill would need to be reviewed again, after an original, and more expensive version, was already approved.

"Not one senator in this room can say how much this [version of the] bill will cost right now!" said Klarich.

Ironically, a renewed fiscal note evaluating the bill's cost was presented right before the bill would be sent to the budget control committee for official review.

However, the bill was passed overwhelmingly without the use of the fiscal note.

Procedural nit-picking and seemingly never-ending amendments filled the Senate, despite the recent victories for the bill in previous session in the House and Senate, and almost threatened to kill the bill.

Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, said that "crafty Senators" created these amendments, which were "designed to triple the cost and defeat the program."

But other legislators, among them John Russell (R), who chairs the Appropriations Committee, pushed to pass the Senate's version of the bill and debate it in conference between the two houses.

"Let's build on it from there," said Russell.

With the passage of this bill into conference, all three issues confronting the special session could be victories for the governor, who had come under recent attacks for his budget withholdings and management.