I kind of fell into this story.
Typically, Thursdays are slow at the Capitol. Representatives are tired after a long three days of continuous legislating, only wanting to wrap things up and go home.
For a journalist, Thursdays are usually pretty slow. Stories sometimes are hard to come by.
Today, however, was different.
Poplar Bluff Representative Gayle Kingery (R-Poplar Bluff) made a promise to me that he will raise funding to $150 million for higher education scholarships by 2014.
But how will he go about doing that, I wondered.
His reply: Through appropriations from the general revenue, NOT from any tax or fee increases.
Granted, this is a plan is still tentative.
It is contingent on a number of different things, not the least of which being that the economy will turn around in the next four years.
Also, Kingery would face intense opposition from his counterparts on the other side of the aisle.
In a conversation with Independence representative Paul LeVota, the Democrat voiced his disapproval of the bill.
He said Kingery's plan would be almost impossible, even if the economy does get better because "substantially, we don't have the money to do that."
But, to be sure, we won't be certain if Kingery's plan is plausible until 2014.
For the first time during this legislative session, I did not come down to the State Capitol twice a week.
Instead, I stayed in Columbia covering the city's mayoral elections and, more particularly, the decision on the controversial Proposition 1-a plan which allows the Columbia police chief to put as many cameras in the downtown district as he would like.
The proposition passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote, but not without controversy.
Since the ordinance first entered the consciousness of Columbians, debate has raged with rhetoric steadily becoming more vehement and outlandish.
On one side: Those who felt the cameras would make a significant improvements to civic safety.
The other: Those who felt the cameras would take away their civil liberties, a la George Orwell's "1984."
Regardless, the proposition is now law.
The plan's sponsor Karen Taylor says she will meet with Columbia's police chief next week to make further decisions.
I promised Tuesday to keep you up to date on the progress of the legislation creating Missouri's FY 2011 budget, and I have not forgotten.
Today, the House passed bills 2001-2013, which outlines the way Missouri's ailing budget will operate next year.
Next, the bills go to the Senate where questions, of course, remain. Senators must decide how best to handle to things: how to deal with primary and secondary education funding and the $300 million due to Missouri from the federal stimulus package.
Procedural questions, I realize, but important nonetheless. I'll keep you up to date.
On a more interesting note, the passage of the bills in the House was not without its share of drama.
Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, and Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, got in an argument that almost came to punches.
While debating the budget, Jones became so incensed he raced across the House floor, pointing at Roorda and saying "You're a liar."
Jones' mic was turned off immediately. Roorda and Jones were escorted from the House floor.
Jones later apologized on Twitter--for raising his voice, not for arguing with Roorda.
The incident was the one climactic moment in an otherwise anti-climactic Thursday at the Capitol.
The Missouri House of Representatives convened today, but the rhetoric rarely shifted toward the federal health care passage as I thought it would on Sunday.
Instead, members chose to focus on an issue just as pressing and far more localized: the huge budget deficit (the ball park figure is north of $500 million) facing Missouri right now.
House Budget Chairman Allen Icet released his arsenal of his carefully constructed budget bills, in the hope of eventually balancing the rickety state budget.
Amendments flew from the mouths of legislators. Some were successful, many were tossed aside like yesterday's garbage.
One of the successful one's belonged to the long-time Republican representative from Ozark Maynard Wallace.
Wallace's amendment, which Columbia Democrat Chris Kelly touted as "courageous", cuts $105 million from secondary and elementary schools in Missouri.
More accurately, it cuts the "foundation formula": the complex math formula that grades schools based on performance and then allocates a certain amount of state monies.
Wallace was adamant, saying the amendment is a necessity and will actually help school administrators when planning for state funding.
The amendment passed fairly narrowly, with--not surprisingly--all Democrats except for Kelly and Rachel Storch of St. Louis City voting against it.
One point to mention: All amendments cutting from specific programs like Career Ladder or Vocational Education were shot down by most members.
Budget cuts hurt everyone, apparently, not just the chosen few.
There are still 12 more bills to be worked, re-worked, and re-re-worked before the actual budget is set.
I'll try my best to keep you posted as I wade through this mass of legislation.
Today, after months upon months of political wrangling, back door negotiations, and impassioned opinions from seemingly every major public figure in modern culture, a bill establishing health care for every man, woman and child in the United States passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. Although the legislation still faces passage through a deeply divided Senate and the pen of President Barack Obama, most feel this bill will become law.
And with the stroke of his pen and a probable large grin on his face, the President will give health care to 32 million more Americans and potentially cut the federal deficit by $138 billion in the next ten years. From the beginning this legislation was Obama's cross to bear, a monster piece of politics that has been debated on sense the days of Roosevelt--the first Roosevelt, that is.
Now before I go any further I'd like to point out that, as a journalist, I am not at liberty to divulge my opinions on this matter, but I can write what I observe. That being said: like his forebearers, Obama faced and still faces staunch oppostion from GOP and other conservative leaders. But the president proved today that he is capable of using his political clout to get things done.
I agree with Mark Mardell, the BBC's North America editor, when he wrote on his blog today: "This is the most significant victory for Obama since he took office. The cool professor has been bloodied in battle, earned his spurs. But at what cost ? What price will he pay?"
The battle has only just begun for the Leader of the Free World and the questions surrounding his next moves are fascinating.
How will his actions affect his already beleagured Democratic Party? Could it make them the national villians, or will history view their current reign over Congress as successful? Could this passage help Obama in 2012, when the fallout from this bill passage will be put under the most critical microscope? Ultimately, will this define Obama's time in office?
And from a conservative point of view, will this bill lessen the quality of physicians in the U.S? Will so many people partake in this new health care system that costs end up soaring?
These are all questions that only time will answer.
I personally can't wait to get back to the office in Jefferson City this week. Health care is something discussed constantly in the corridors of the Capitol and the reactions from both sides of the aisle will make for fascinating reporting.
Here in Missouri, where conservatives hold the big stick, will GOP members continue to tow the party line or move on to a different topic? I think the former, but you simply never know.
Either way, I expect a busy week.
On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce committee met to discuss a bill that would prevent health care providers from telling their customers what drugs they can and cannot take.
The bill, sponsored by the very active Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), was backed by a parade of lobbyists and experts from the medical field.
Schaefer himself even recounted the troubles he had with the health care industry when trying to get medication for his six year old son suffering from acid reflux.
But one woman complaining of insurance companies methods managed to strike at the heart of the matter.
Her name was Tracy Joyce. A legislative assistant to Rep. Bryan Stevenson (R-Joplin) at the Capitol, Joyce recounted how one ulcer led to a nightmare run through the health care system.
After complaining to her doctor of pains she was given specific medication. But after receiving the prescription, Joyce learned from her insurance company that she had to take entirely different drugs.
As a result, Joyce said, she endured six ulcers and intense, continual pain.
Joyce fell victim to a process that Schaefer's bill would try to eradicate: "step therapy." Step therapy is when a patient is put on the cheapest and safest drug possible and continually moved toward more expensive and risky drugs as need be.
Many health care companies employ this process, citing their cost effectiveness.
These companies sent their own to testify to the Commerce committee, too. The golden chestnut from the opposition?
Health care company representative David Rouch called step therapy criticism "Frankly absurd."
And round and round we go on health care legislation.
Jeff Smith's still getting his voice out to the public.
The controversial and now incarcerated former State Senator Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, is twittering.
That's right, he's using a former aide to put e-mails on his Twitter account.
Not that any of the messages are highly news-worthy. Most of the alloted 140 characters usually have to deal with the mundane activities of prison life, mainly chess and basketball.
But the occassional tweet offers an insight into the mind of the man. Upon entering the prison in Manchester, KY Smith tweeted how he was starting to find hope for a new life.
But while the act is itself seems harmless, there is still a debate over the legality of it all.
Officials from Smith's prison say it violates the The Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System or "TRULINCS," an e-mailing program where prisoners choose a select group of people to message while jailed.
One official said twittering e-mails could result in the deletion of Smith's e-mail account.
However, a spokesperson for the Federal Prison Bureau said it was in no way a violation of TRULINCS.
She said the Federal Prison Bureau is not responsible for e-mails once they reach the recipient.
This week I did the following:
1) Covered a House Jobs committee hearing on a bill giving tax breaks to small businesses who hire teenagers during the summer.
2) Stayed awake for the majority of that meeting.
3) Learned to stay for the entirety of a committee hearing, because you never know what you're going to miss.
4) Covered a press conference at the Governor's Mansion.
5) Got my way into the Governor's Mansion.
6) Asked a question to Nixon.
7) Learned that I need to always ask a follow-up question, no matter the situation.
8) Found out how two heads are better than one on many stories.
Productive week, I feel.
Today, I interviewed Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, on an autism bill the Senate Fiscal Oversight committee is wrangling with. The bill, which deals with insurance coverage for the autistic in Missouri, is something people in Jeff City have been dealing with for some time.
A similar bill raced through the Senate last year, only to meet a swift demise in the House. And it has raised collective legislative voices. Supporters say it gives aide to autistic families who cannot usually afford to pay for high insurance premiums. Dissenters say the bill hurts small businesses.
Rupp, who currently sponsors a whopping 25 bills, is not new to such debating and said the bill looks in good shape to pass this time around.
"We're very close with the House on an agreement and anyone that's speaking to the demise of this bill has probably not been privy to the progress that's been made," he said.
Money, as always, may still be the overriding issue preventing the bill's passage.
Senate Fiscal Oversight committee member Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, had a motion passed today to keep the bill in committee until next week.
Committee member Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said they needed more time to discuss an increase in the bill's fiscal note to $28 million. However, Schaefer said he supported both this bill and last year's attempted legislation.
The bill's road to law is still long and winding.
If the bill gets through committee, it will then move onto a formal vote in the Senate, then to the place of it's cousin's death, the Missouri House of Representatives.
But to the caustic eyes of the ten journalists silently typing away stories in this cluttered newsroom, a small blue and yellow bag means so much more.
Namely, coercion by lobbyists on (supposedly) unbiased media. Think Pres. Barack Obama giving a birthday cake to Helen Thomas--but on a much smaller scale.
Phill Brooks just laughed, thinking back to the day when the Jeff City press corps had to ask lobbyists to stop giving them cases of beer.
Or, very simply, could it be a kindly gift from the well-meaning folks at the Autism lobby in Jeff City?
As for now, I think we'll simply think of the candy as we stamp out (hopefully) illuminating stories on the rather mundane and confusing day-to-day activities of Missouri politics, dreaming of every delicious bite as we discuss the ethical grey areas of journalism.
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