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Legislators review two proposals to end budget stalemate


By CARL HENDRICKSON

For the Call

With the May 9 budget deadline fast approaching two proposals emerged as potential remedies for the state's revenue shortfall.

The Senate Appropriations Committee alternately worked on a proposal that would slice $587 million in spending and another that would increase agency budgets by $200 million.

Senate Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, proposed removing the $500 loss limit on gaming boats and increasing the casino taxes. He also wants to give the state quicker control of "unclaimed property" and end special tax breaks such as the one enjoyed by yacht buyers.

Even if his proposal passes the Senate, it faces a fight in the House.

Opposition by special interests already has been raised to some of these proposals.

House members last week approved bills that address a crisis in the state's foster care system. These bills are House Bill 679 and House Bill 396. The chief architect of foster care reform legislation is House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods. The changes in child abuse law were sparked by the death last August of a two-year old foster child.

"We have been working hard this week on passing a couple of bills that deal with improving the ability of our state's social workers to effectively serve Missourians," said Rep. Walt Bivins in a press release last week.

Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, in a news release explained that the bills would make the Division of Family Services employees accountable for their compliance with state law and policies. He said that the legislation will "cut down on the number of illegitimate cases by making the people who determine which cases are pursued accountable for their actions."

But no piece of legislation is perfect.

"I would have to agree with Speaker Hanaway that the foster care bill is a 'work in progress,'' said Rep. Pat Yaeger, D-Lemay. "I anticipate that improvements will be made in the Senate."

Nevertheless, Yaeger supported the bill, as did Rep. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood, Bivins, Lembke, and Rep. Sue Schoemehl, D-Oakville.

Rep. Michael Vogt, D-Affton, was among those who did not support the reform. Nevertheless, the measure passed 121 – 14.

House Bill 470 aimed at restricting the manufacture of methamphetamine has been passed on to the Senate.

"This legislation prohibits the sale of more than three packages of over-the-counter drugs that contain ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine,'' said Lembke. "It would also limit the sale of more than two packages of any product that lists one of these as the sole active ingredient."

"This bill is a step in the right direction to controlling this dangerous drug,'' Bivins said. "It will not harm everyday consumers, but it will increase our ability to track and control this dangerous narcotic."

Area representatives Avery, Schoemehl and Yaeger also supported House Bill 470. Yaeger, however, expressed concern that "the legislature was micro managing business."

Vogt voted against passage of the bill. He told the Call that the legislation is "a lot of window dressing ... but does nothing to solve the problem." He expressed concern that retailers, who are innocent of any wrongdoing, will be adversely affected by the legislation. "Retailers are not the problem but will suffer consequences as a result of this legislation."

Senator Anita Yeckel, R-Sunset Hills, told the Call that she supported taking steps to control methamphetamine production. "I am the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill."

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