A fruit basket of legislation

The 2016 legislature is now fully history with the completion of the veto session that saw a baker’s dozen bills passed despite Governor Nixon’s vetoes.  The end result is kind of like the fruit baskets that some hotels put in the rooms of important people when they check in.  Apples, oranges, bananas, cheeses, crackers—stuff like that.

So let’s check our 2016 veto session basket and compare some of the apples, the oranges, and other goodies that have been left for us.

As one friend put it last week, the legislature passed bills that make it easier to get a gun but harder to vote.   However, you will still have to pay a sales tax on the gun that you can take to your yoga lesson or your dance class, which won’t be able to charge you a sales tax.

(Hmmmm.  This situation obviously cries out for legislative correction next year.  If something as benign as a yoga or a dance lesson cannot charge a sales tax, why should something as essential to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the AR-15 you can take to those lesson to protect yourself against the threat of violence from people learning yoga—a non-Christian discipline brought here, no doubt, by IMMIGRANTS—and the fox trot—invented by a man who once appeared in a play with the suspicious name of “Mr. Frisky of Frisco”—require a sales tax payment?)

The legislature corrected what seems to be the politically-incorrect “Indian giver” policy that the government that giveth disaster payments can taketh part of those payments back in income taxes. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? Governor Nixon didn’t think so. The legislature did.

(We are aware that some consider the phrase “Indian giver” quite offensive and we apologize for its use.  We could not think of a less offensive, widely-understood, phrase that fit the situation.  NPR has looked into the history of it: http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/09/02/217295339/the-history-behind-the-phrase-dont-be-an-indian-giver.  We don’t know if it lets us off the hook for using it, but reading the story is informative.).

While the legislature has given tax breaks to those who can afford yoga or dancing lessons, it has passed the bill that Nixon said would run up the costs of health care for Missourians who have trouble paying for healthcare.  Among the numerous provisions in Senate Bill 608 are ones that would charge low-income Missourians eight dollars if they seek help at an emergency room when somebody decides they’re not really having an emergency, and to fine people who are in the Medicaid (MOHealthNet here) program who for whatever reason miss an appointment.  No other appointment is allowed until they’ve paid a penalty that can reach $20, not a small sum for those covered by Medicaid.

After the veto session, Nixon announced he was withholding $59 million dollars appropriated in the spring session for several programs because the tax cuts approved in the veto session would leave the state short of money to fully fund those programs. Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe’s blistering critique of the withholds says Nixon’s claim is “absolutely false and is a poorly camouflaged attempt to hide personal pride and political retribution behind the guise of a policy decision.”  Three observations about that:

  1. We have noticed that the bill setting up fines for Medicaid patients who miss doctors’ appointments does not seem to indicate where that fine money would go.  Perhaps legislative leaders who have bemoaned the withholdings might think of passing a bill putting those fines into the state’s general revenue account, thereby lessening the need to reduce programs by $59 million.
  2. In July, Nixon announced he was withholding $115.5 million because projected state income did not appear likely to be enough to support those appropriations.
  3. Just two years ago, voters approved the legislature’s request to let it reinstate in the budget money withheld by the Governor, in effect overriding the withholds. While legislators criticized Nixon for withholding the $59 million, they passed up chances to override any of the $115.5 million in withholdings he made in July, hardly a show of confidence in the power they sought and got.

But it sets up an interesting situation to look forward to in January when supplemental appropriations requests are usually filed that seek to fund some programs that will run short of money before the end of the fiscal year.  By then, Nixon’s term in office will be measured in days. The legislature could consider about $175 million in appropriations that wouldn’t be approved until he’s gone—if the legislature has the confidence of Kehoe’s convictions that at least some of those funds shouldn’t have been withheld.  The attitude of Nixon’s successor could play a role in that process but the legislature nonetheless will have an opportunity to exercise its traditional and its new spending authority.

And we and it will be watching to see if Kehoe’s assertion that Nixon will by then have released some of those funds to “go into the bottomless pit of entitlement growth, mostly likely in the form of additional Medicaid,” as Kehoe claims Nixon has done before, diverting the withheld funds “away from children, schools and roads” to increase entitlements.

But if the legislature is as confident as Kehoe is that the withholdings are unnecessary, why did it do nothing about the spring withholds during the veto session?

The yoga, dancing, Medicaid fines, and seemingly contradictory attitudes and actions on withheld funds might be the cheese and crackers in this basket.

The Medicaid fines are another example of the Missouri legislature telling the federal government to “go fish.”  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, federal agencies, say those missed-appointment fees are not allowed. Oh, well, as has been said too often in the General Assembly, just pass the bill and let the courts figure it out.

The legislature has not been averse in recent years to suggesting the feds take rod and reel and go away.

It’s been seven years since the Missouri legislature put its thumb to its nose and told the federal government it was not going to play along with the Federal Real ID ACT of 2005.  The tolerant TSA has said Missourians can still use their state drivers licenses to get on airplanes or get into federal courthouses and hospitals, although only until January 22, 1918. (We’ll see who blinks first.) But you better have an alternate ID (a passport is good) to get into nuclear power plants and military bases. The legislature passed a law in 2009 that bans the state from complying with the Federal Real ID law.  Some lawmakers are at least talking about the wisdom of that move.  Or the lack of it.

You understand the logic in this, don’t you? The legislature wants Missouri voters to present a photo ID to vote for people seeking federal office but doesn’t think that photo ID should meet federal standards that would let those voters visit their children at federal sites such as Fort Leonard Wood.  We’re not sure if we’re talking about two kinds of apples or whether we’re talking about a pear and a cumquat.

Regardless, voters will have the final say in November when they decide if they want to make it harder to cast their ballots in the future by having to show a non-federal compliant photo ID card.

There are other items in the fruit basket but these seem to be the ones on top. There’s one more but it seems to be a meat and potatoes type of thing, (well, meat) not a fruit basket issue. However—

House Bill 1414 seems to say that information gathered by the state under a federal law on animal disease traceability will have to be kept secret by the state agriculture department.  Furthermore, whistleblowers can be sued for as much as $10,000.  In fairness, we note that your observer did not observe any of the committee testimony or hear any of the debate, but we’re probably going to have more uncertainty in the future when we stand in front of the grocery store meat counter or consider processed meat meals in the frozen food section because this veto was overridden. And we might ponder as we stand there wondering what we are not allowed to know about the food before us how the Missouri legislature could tell someone in the state agriculture department that exercising their free speech rights in the interest of the public health and welfare might cost them $10,000.

Has our legislature put a lemon in the fruit basket?

Let me know what you think......