State lawmakers from south county offer differing views of 2005 session
June 08, 2005 - Missouri lawmakers left Gov. Matt Blunt in Jefferson City to draw the pen to a wide range of legislative topics, perhaps the big-gest being a new method of distributing education funding.
Several other legislative suggestions got stuck in the pipeline, however, including several from south county lawmakers, who batted .093 this year, introducing 43 proposals and getting just four adopted.
Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, wanted to ease the burden of the vehicle emissions tests by exempting new vehicles for four years and seniors 65 and older who drive less than 5,000 miles each year.
Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, took a hand at equalizing assessment practices across the state to funnel more education money to south county. He also attempted to give hold-harmless school districts like Lind-bergh and Mehlville cost-of-living in-creases to their state aid.
Rep. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood, tried to perk the benefits of his fellow soldiers.
Rep. Sue Schoemehl, D-Oakville, tried to repeal the supermajority requirement for school bond issues.
Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis, also took aim at school funding, among other issues.
The measures failed, but the ideas still are percolating. And despite the low approval rate for south-county sponsored legislation, some lawmakers still call the 2005 legislative session a success.
"It's not always about legislation because if you don't have implementation, you don't have anything but a piece of paper," Kennedy told the Call.
"It's customer service, making sure the laws on the books are doing what we intended," he said, referring to meetings with state departments, particularly with the Missouri Department of Transporta-tion to ease the burden of intersection re-pairs at Lindbergh Boulevard and Lemay Ferry Road. He also helped set up a south county caucus to press south county issues in the Legislature.
"We did a lot of good things for Mis-souri," Bivins told the Call. "If I took the education funding (formula) out of the (legislative session), I would give (the Legislature) an A minus ...
"We're increasing jobs throughout Mis-souri," he said. "(Tort reform) should make Missouri more attractive to businesses, particularly doctors. We worked to strengthen unemployment compensation requirements ... If employers find employees have been taking drugs, for example, those people wouldn't be eligible for it."
Lawmakers approved tort reform legislation to cap awards in medical malpractice lawsuits. Bivins said the measure would attract more doctors and improve health-care accessibility in turn.
Kennedy also noted legislation that if signed by the governor will allow citizens and corporations to donate to military families by checking a box on their tax bills.
And in some cases, he said, legislation that wasn't adopted will be beneficial to Missouri taxpayers.
Lawmakers spared the First Steps program for disabled children, for example, though families will pay more out of pocket. Blunt had suggested cutting the program to save cash.
Schoemehl, however, couldn't find the positive in this year's legislative session. She introduced a measure to allow a simple majority in elections for school bond issues. She's introduced the legislation every year, but has never had a committee hearing on her proposal.
She said she felt left out of the discussion on other issues as well, particularly school funding.
"I just would like to see more respect for people because we've all earned our way to Jefferson City," she told the Call. "Let's all be acknowledged. All I could do was show up. I felt left out of the discussion. There's so many things that were left off the table. I just hate for Missouri to be left behind in schools (and) jobs."
Rep. Pat Yaeger, D-Lemay, agreed with Schoemehl.
"I think some of the issues that were pushed to help people are not actually going to be helpful when the dust settles," she told the Call, referring to tort reform and school funding.
Lawmakers approved legislation revamping Missouri's method for funding schools.
The Lindbergh and Mehlville school districts only see minimal, nearly non-existent gains, however, and south county lawmakers have chastised the new funding formula.
The measure awaits Blunt's signature, who has praised the measure.
"... This is the right approach. We need a formula focused on the needs of a Missouri school child, not on a formula based on the taxing capacity of the school district ...,'' the governor stated in a recent news release.
"I think people are really discouraged with how this (November) election went, what they were promised and what they got," Schoemehl said. "I don't think I could even give (the Legislature) a C. I guess I'd give it a D. I don't have anything off the top of my head that I'm proud of. I know there were some positive things. I just can't think of any offhand."
"I would give it a C because there were some good and some bad," Yaeger said. "I don't want to indicate that (lawmakers) didn't work hard though."
Not one south county lawmaker supported the education funding overhaul and most said school funding still will be the hot-ticket issue next spring.
"For the state, there was a benefit in school funding, but for our schools, we don't get anything," Bivins said. "I'm go-ing to be brainstorming with (superintendents of local school districts) to come up with something that would give funds in-crementally as they become available ...
"I'm going to continue to try to get more funding for hold-harmless schools in south county, in all of St. Louis County for that matter,'' Bivins added.
"We can't keep going back to the taxpayers to fund schools," Yaeger said. "I represent a lot of seniors and they can't afford it. That is the No. 1 issue."
On the heels of Medicaid cuts, lawmakers cited health care as another issue facing Missourians.
"That may not be the most important issue, but it would certainly be second on the list based on accessibility and cost," Kennedy said. "What concerns me is the 90,000 that will be booted from Medicaid. I am in agreement with getting rid of waste, but I fear the cuts were too deep."
Other issues south county lawmakers in-tend to push when the Legislature meets next January include insurance reform, vehicle emissions testing, job creation and equalized assessment practices.
Lembke and Avery were unavailable for comment before press time.