Effort lead by family of MODOT worker killed by driver results in new license revocation law

The family of a highway worker killed at a job site hopes a law signed this month will keep others from facing the same tragedy.

Lyndon Ebker was killed in an April, 2016 crash while he was working in a MODOT work zone near New Haven. The driver who hit him was allowed to continue driving for more than two and a half years, and Ebker’s family and MODOT workers said that was wrong.

The driver who struck and killed Lyndon Ebker in a work zone near New Haven more than three years ago had impaired vision, but was allowed to keep driving until this past November when his license was revoked for life.  Ebker’s family and the Department of Transportation said that driver put others in danger and he should’ve been forced off the roads more quickly.

House Bill 499 would require the Department of Revenue’s Director to revoke a driver’s license if a law enforcement officer reports that the driver’s negligence contributed to a worker or emergency responder being hit in a work or emergency zone.

Ebker’s daughter, Nicole Herbel, pushed for the legislation, which was signed into law this month by Governor Mike Parson (R).

“I just want people to think about it when they’re seeing the cones or the orange flags, even the trucks, I want this law to make them stop and think, ‘That gentleman was hit and killed because somebody didn’t slow down,’ or even just to remember that they’re humans that are standing there,” said Herbel.  “Awareness really is the biggest thing for us.”

The accident that killed Ebker happened in Representative Aaron Grieshemer’s (R-Washington) district, and he sponsored HB 499.  He said he was concerned with how long the man who killed Ebker was allowed to keep driving while his case moved through the courts.

“I have heard stories from some MODOT employees that worked with Mr. Ebker that feared for their lives because knowing that this gentleman was out there driving still,” said Griesheimer.  “I’d heard another report that he had almost hit somebody else in the City of Hermann, so it was definitely a safety factor involved in this.”

The legislation was a top priority for the Department of Transportation this year, so much so that MODOT Director Patrick McKenna testified for it in a House committee.  He told lawmakers it was needed to help protect the agency’s workers.

“We try to keep our roads primarily open while we’re working on them.  It’s a considerable challenge, but we have to do it safely so we can honestly look at our employees and say the way that we’re structured will guarantee you the ability to go home every single day after shift to your family and friends, every time throughout your entire career,” McKenna told House Communications.  “We have a memorial here just about 100 yards from where I’m sitting right now with the names of not only Lyndon Ebker, but 133 other MODOT employees that through our history have lost their lives providing public service on behalf of Missouri.”

Representative Aaron Griesheimer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

McKenna thanked all those involved in getting HB 499 through the legislative process and into law, including Rep. Griesheimer, Governor Parson, the Ebker family, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, and Justin Alferman, Parson’s legislative director who also filed the legislation when he was a state representative.

Herbel said though her family suffered a tremendous loss, they didn’t back HB 499 out of seeking revenge.  She said they were doing what her father would’ve done.

“If he saw someone doing something that was going to hurt themselves or hurt other people he did not hesitate to speak up, and that’s why this law is so fitting because if he had lived through this accident he would’ve done something to keep people safe.  He would not have just taken the injury and went on.  He would’ve turned around and fought for something to change.”

If a driver’s license is revoked under the new law, the license holder can seek its reinstatement by taking and passing the written and driving portions of the driver’s test, or petitioning for a hearing before a court local to the work zone where the accident occurred.

HB 499’s language is also included in Senate Bill 89, which has also been signed by the governor.  Both bills effect August 28.

Another provision in HB 499 increases the fees licenses offices can charge for state services, such as issuing driver’s licenses and license plates.

Earlier stories:

House proposes tougher license revocation laws for those who hit workers, emergency responders

Family of MODOT worker killed in work zone asks lawmakers to toughen license revocation law

House proposes increase in state aid to sheltered workshops

The Missouri House has voted to increase state financial support to sheltered workshops.

Representative Rory Rowland’s has a son, JP, who has Down syndrome and loves working in a Kansas City-area workshop. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

House Bill 2644 would increase from $19 to $21 dollars the amount the state pays to workshops for every six-hour or longer day worked by a handicapped employee. Backers say the boost would give those workshops and their employees more financial stability, while reaffirming the state’s support for them and the work they do.

HB 2644 is sponsored by Representative Rory Rowland (D-Independence), whose son JP has Down syndrome and works in a Kansas City-area workshop.

“I want to thank everyone in this body for your kindness and support of this,” an emotional Rowland told his House colleagues. “This means so much to my family [and] my son.”

Many lawmakers spoke while HB 2644 was before the House about the workshops in their districts and what those mean to their communities, and their employees.

Representative David Wood (R-Versailles) has been on the board of directors for a workshop in his district for more than 30 years. He said the employees of that workshop would rather be there than have a day off even on holidays.

“You see these workers not grumbling about being there. They want don’t want to take off. They want to be at work. They want the socialization. They want to feel a worth,” said Wood. “When you’re packaging something that they can go to Wal-Mart and see on the shelf and say, ‘Hey, I packaged that. I did that work,’ it gives them a feeling of self-worth that nothing else can.”

Representative Richard Brown (D-Kansas City) is the parent of a daughter with cerebral palsy who died at the age of 15.

Representative David Wood has been on the board of directors for a sheltered workshop for more than 30 years.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

“As a parent I often wondered, ‘Where would my child be able to go to work?’” Brown told his House colleagues. “A lot of the kids that she went to school with, they work at a sheltered workshop in my district called Southeast Enterprises, and when I look at kids like Dwayne Bell or Tiffany Johnson I see the joy that comes from their heart from going to work every day and having the ability to maintain a job and having a sense of purpose and a sense of self-worth from doing a job each day.”

Hermann Republican Justin Alferman said the value of workshops doesn’t only come from what they mean to their employees. He spoke about a component for air conditioner compressors that is made at a workshop in his district.

“It’s not just about giving these individuals a job. They are huge economic drivers of our communities,” said Alferman.

Wood said because of a combination of lagging state support and a pencil producer moving its operation from his district to the country of Mexico, the workshop he sits on the board of had to cut 45 of its employees.

“The state aid is extremely important. This is an extremely important program to the State of Missouri. They do work that you wouldn’t believe,” said Wood.

Rowland and other lawmakers thanked Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) and House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) for their support of the legislation.

HB 2644 goes to the Senate with less than two weeks left in the legislative session, but Rowland is optimistic that because of its subject matter it will receive enough attention to pass before the session’s end.

Earlier story:  Effort to reaffirm House support for sheltered workshops led by lawmaker whose son works in one

Budget proposal maintains House’s steep cuts to DHSS after dispute over virus data

House and Senate conferees have agreed to a budget that would make significant cuts in the Department of Health and Senior Services’ director’s office.  House members say that department is needlessly withholding information about a virus outbreak that killed two people in Missouri, including one state employee.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (in foreground, right) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Dan Brown (foreground, left) speak to Senator Jamilah Nasheed while House Budget Committee Vice Chairman Justin Alferman (top, center) speaks to Senators Dan Hegeman (top left) and Kiki Curls during a break in the conference committee hearing Monday. Those senators had concerns about Reps. Fitzpatrick’s and Alferman’s intentions to cut money that amounts to the salaries of several people in the Department of Health and Senior Services’ Director’s office, including the director. (photo; Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

The conference committee agreed to cut money equal to the salaries of eight positions in the director’s office, including the director.

House Budget Committee Vice Chairman Justin Alferman (R-Hermann) is one of several lawmakers who have asked how many people in Missouri have tested positive for the antibodies to the Bourbon virus.  The House has also subpoenaed the Department seeking that information, and the Department still hasn’t provided it.

The Director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, who had not appeared before the House Budget Committee for any of its public hearings, did appear before the conference committee between House and Senate members that met Monday night to agree on a budget proposal for both chambers to vote on this week.  Dr. Randall Williams maintains he can’t release what Alferman and others are asking for.

“Missouri law and HIPAA are very clear that if I provide information that can identify you in a small sample size, [that’s a violation],” said Williams.

The Department’s General Counsel, Nikki Loethen, told the committee, “The issue here is that there is already significant information already available regarding who was tested and with all of that information that’s already available, for us to disclose the information that [lawmakers are asking for] could lead to the identification of individuals.”

Alferman said the Department’s argument that the information could lead to the identification of individuals is “ridiculous.”

Some senators on the conference committee wanted to restore what they called “drastic” cuts to DHSS, but Alferman and House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) did not want to back down.  Alferman had already agreed to reverse another of his amendments in response to the situation that shifted control of the state health lab from DHSS to the Department of Public Safety.

“I don’t know how I’m supposed to negotiate with someone who doesn’t come to the table,” said Alferman about the Department.

Fitzpatrick noted that Williams was once before at the center of a controversy with serious implications for public health.

In 2016 Williams, while the public health director for the State of North Carolina, joined another state official in rescinding a “do not drink” notice regarding well water potentially contaminated by coal ash.  The state’s toxicologist at the time said North Carolina was telling people the water was safe when it knew it wasn’t, and went so far as to accuse other state officials of “playing down the risk.”

“It would just seem to indicate that there’s a pattern of behavior that Dr. Williams has made a controversial decision in the past,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I just don’t think that allowing that to continue to happen in Missouri is a good idea.”

Democrats who opposed the cuts to DHSS noted the positions cut in the Director’s office would include the lawyers who interpret for the Department how it must act to comply with state and federal laws.

“I do find it concerning that when we ask the Department to interpret laws, both federal and state, and then they interpret it, if we disagree with their interpretation that we’re then going to cut their funding, of the very people who makes those interpretations,” said Springfield representative Crystal Quade (D)“We’re dealing with very sensitive information and very dangerous, life-threatening things, often, with these viruses, and it’s important that we are following the law accordingly so that we can make sure people are protected, so it was concerning to me that was the decision of the committee.”

Fitzpatrick noted that the cuts would remove 8 people from a department of more than 1,700 employees.

“I doubt those eight people are going to make it impossible for the mission of the Department of Health and Senior Services to be met.  I think if anything, several of those people were part of obstructing the General Assembly from finding the information that I think [it’s] entitled to,” said Fitzpatrick.

Backers of the cuts said they are concerned about the safety of the public, and that includes Missourians knowing whether they should be concerned about a bourbon virus outbreak.

“I can’t go home and confidently tell my constituents that I believe that the state department of health is working on their behalf when they shut me out and shut all the members of the House out completely,” said Alferman.

The House and Senate are expected to vote Wednesday on the budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.  The deadline for the legislature to submit a budget proposal to the governor is at the close of business on Friday.

Fitzpatrick said he would consider restoring the money for those positions if the Department gives the House the information it has asked for, but the next opportunity to do that would likely not come until work begins on a supplemental budget bill in January of 2019.

Earlier story:  House Budget Committee adopts stiff cuts to DHSS over Bourbon virus data dispute

House budget committee adopts stiff cuts to DHSS over Bourbon virus data dispute

House Budget Committee leaders have proposed deep cuts to the office of the Department of Health and Senior Services’ director because the Department has not provided data on a recent virus outbreak that left a state employee dead.

Representative Justin Alferman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House communications – click for larger version)

Committee Vice-Chairman Justin Alferman (R-Hermann) said prior to last week’s budget markup hearing that he would make such cuts if the information was not provided.  The Department continued to stand by its argument that it cannot release the requested data without violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Alferman’s proposal would cut more than $239-thousand in state revenue and another $925-thousand in federal funds from the director’s office.  That represents the salaries of seven attorneys in the director’s office, the director, the assistant director, and the legislative liaison.

“We have very little resources at our disposal in order to put checks in with some of these departments, and one of the checks and balances is the power of the purse, and we are absolutely using it right here to get information for the six million Missourians who live in the state,” said Alferman.

Alferman and House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) say the information they want – the number of people in Missouri who tested positive for the antibodies to the Bourbon virus, indicating they have had it – would not include specific patient information that would violate HIPAA.

A department spokesperson on Wednesday night told the House Budget Committee two people in Missouri have tested positive for Bourbon virus, but did not offer information on how many have tested positive for the antibodies.  The superintendent of eastern Missouri’s Meramec State Park died last year after contracting the virus from a tick bite.  Alferman said he wants to know whether there is a risk to public health from the tick-borne illness.

“All of the released information up until this point, 40-percent of all cases of the Bourbon virus have happened in Missouri, so for a state parks worker to pass away from this disease, I don’t think it’s an unrealistic expectation for us … we know testing was done.  We want the results of that testing to know … we’re policy makers.  Do we need to make a policy change in the state of Missouri to combat this virus?  We don’t know because we’re not getting any information back from the Department,” said Alferman.

He said the Department’s rationale is that releasing the number of people tested could allow someone to question park employees about whether they were screened and use a process of elimination to identify who was and was not tested – something Alferman called a “ridiculous” interpretation.

Representative Peter Merideth (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

Democrats on the budget committee said while they might agree with Alferman about whether the Department should release that data, they don’t agree with cutting the department’s funding.

St. Louis Democrat Peter Merideth said the proposed cut could result in the firing of people in positions which work to enforce laws protecting Missouri’s seniors.

Merideth told a DHSS spokesperson, “I know that [Representative Alferman] has said that he is not trying to be punitive with this but it strikes me as that is all this is.  It is punishing you for something that you did that you shouldn’t have done … Maybe there is a very real complaint here that we should have gotten more information from you on a timely basis, but I don’t see how this cut to your budget actually helps address the problem and it looks to me like all it actually does is hurts the people of our state.”

Other Republicans, however, agreed with Alferman.  Representative Don Rone (R-Portageville) told the DHSS spokesperson that with as long as this issue has been developing, the DHSS’ director should have been in front of the committee and not a spokesperson.  The director was instead in the nation’s capital that night.

“There’s nothing can be, in Washington D.C., any more important than letting the citizens of this state know that if there is a problem … we’ve got a job to do here and that is protect the people of the state of Missouri, and it’s not right that the director is not here, sitting here, taking these questions,” said Rone.

Alferman’s proposed cut was adopted as part of the committee’s budget proposal, which the committee has voted to send to the House floor.  It will be debated there next week when lawmakers return from spring break.

House votes to send latest lobbyist gift ban proposal to Senate

The Missouri House has for the third straight year proposed a ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators and other elected and appointed officials.

Representative Justin Alferman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House voted 134-12 Wednesday to send to the Senate House Bill 1303, sponsored by Hermann Republican Justin Alferman.  The bill would bar lobbyists from giving gifts to government officials – things such as meals or tickets to concerts or sporting events.  It would allow lobbyists to pay for gifts at events in Missouri when all members of the legislature or all statewide officials are invited at least three days before the event.

“We’re trying to alleviate the one-on-one interactions that sometimes have personally consumable items given to individual legislators in the State of Missouri,” said Alferman.  “I think it’s important … that we as legislators tackle these tough issues and show the State of Missouri and its citizens that we are capable of handling complex issues like ethics reform.”

The bill specifies what elected and appointed officials could still receive.  That includes things like entrance fees to events at which they are participating in a ceremony; flowers or plants as expressions of condolence or congratulations; and plaques or awards.  It would also eliminate the requirement that lobbyists report having given such gifts.

Representative Peter Merideth (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Democrats wanted to restore those reporting requirements.  They also proposed that the bill should include penalties for lawmakers who violate it.  Their proposed amendments were rejected last week, though the bill still received broad bipartisan support.

“I do wish that we had included in the bill some provisions of transparency with regard especially to the new exemptions for allowable expenditures that are for individual legislators,” said St. Louis representative Peter Merideth (D)“I also do wish that we had added provisions to make ourselves accountable under this bill … However with that said I still think this is an improvement from current law and so I will be supporting it.”

The vote came a year to the day after the House last voted to send a gift ban proposal to the Senate.  Neither that bill nor the one the House approved in 2016 were approved by that chamber.

Missouri House again fast-tracking ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators

Missouri House leadership is working to again make a proposed ban of gifts to lawmakers the first bill of the session to leave that chamber.

Representative Justin Alferman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Justin Alferman (R-Hermann) is sponsoring House Bill 1303 which is based on the gift ban proposal passed out of the House in 2017.  That bill, HB 60, was the first sent out of the House in 2017 but was never voted on in the Missouri Senate.

On Monday two House Committees held hearings on, and voted to pass, HB 1303.  It is expected to be debated Wednesday by the full chamber and could be sent to the Senate on Thursday, in keeping with House Speaker Todd Richardson’s (R-Poplar Bluff) statement on the opening day of the session that he expected that bill to be voted out this week.

House Democrats questioned several provisions in the legislation including one that aims to restrict the cost of gifts that would still be allowed under the legislation – things like plaques and awards.

Representative Tracy McCreery (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Louis Democrat Tracy McCreery was concerned that the language of the bill would lead to fewer items falling under mandatory reporting by lobbyists, instead being included in legislators’ personal financial disclosures.  She said those disclosures by legislators are less accessible by the public.

“What I’m trying to do is make sure by fixing one thing we’re not opening up another opportunity for abuse where all of a sudden things are considered to be awards,” said McCreery.

“Honestly, Representative, in dealing with this type of ethics reform it’s always going to be whack-a-mole,” Alferman told McCreery.  “Anyone who is decisively trying to circumvent ethics laws is already an unethical person and it’s really hard to be able to think about every which way those type of individuals are going to circumvent the law.  I’m trying to capture the 98-percent of problems that will be alleviated with this bill.”

Amendments offered by McCreery and other Democrats were voted down along party lines, but the bill was passed out of the Committee on General Laws 12-0.  One Democrat said that even without the changes they wanted to see, the bill would still be an improvement over current law.

HB 1303 would still allow lobbyists to make expenditures to the entire General Assembly – things like a dinner to which every member of the House and Senate are invited.  Members would have to have at least 72-hours’ notice before such an event, and it must be held in-state, so that all lawmakers would have the opportunity to attend.

“I just don’t want us to get into a ‘gotcha’ moment for going to something like a Missouri Chamber dinner or something of that nature that we’ve all been invited to.  I don’t think anyone’s going to say that there’s an influence being levied at those large events.  You don’t have the one-on-one interaction like you do if a lobbyist takes you out for a dinner where 100-percent of their focus is on you,” said Alferman.

Last year’s legislation, HB 60, was passed out of the House 149-5.  Alferman expects similarly strong, bipartisan support for HB 1303.

House budget committee names first target in tax credit reform: wine & grape producers tax credit

The House Budget Committee has taken the first step in what could be a longer, broader process of tax credit reform.

Representative Justin Alferman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The committee must annually clear state agencies to authorize tax credits.  When it met this year, it recommended that issuance of the wine & grape producers tax credit not be continued.

Vice-chairman Justin Alferman (R-Hermann) described the decision as a “test run,” because some believe that when the legislature chooses to end a tax credit, it will likely be sued by someone who wants to get the involved credits.

“What does happen?  We’re going to eliminate this.  If a year goes by and we say, ‘Look, we eliminated this one and everyone respected the legislature and their choice here,’ then maybe we can start going after some of these bigger ones like low-income housing, like historic tax credits; some of the ones that are causing the biggest strain on our budget,” said Alferman.

The wine & grape producers tax credit offers a break on income taxes equal to part of the purchase price for equipment used in making wine or growing grapes.  In each of the past two years between $14,000 and $17,000 worth of the credits have been issued, and more than $14,700 was waiting to be redeemed at the end of Fiscal Year 2016.  More than $575-million was redeemed across all tax credits in Fiscal Year 2016.

Alferman, whose district includes numerous wineries, said it is an important credit to eliminate.

“It is a great example of a tax credit that has worked but has long outlived its usefulness in our state,” said Alferman.  “I believe all tax credits should have a sunset … regardless of if it’s doing good things for our state or if they are simply pork barrel spending, which I believe a lot of them are nothing more than pork barrel spending.”

Alferman said the credit was created to help build the state’s wine industry, and that’s been done.  He said now there are people using the credit but creating subpar wines that hurt the industry as a whole, or using imported juice or grapes that would not grow here yet labeling the products as Missouri wines.

He hopes after this the legislature can proceed with more reform of tax credits, which he said have “run rampant.”

“Representative [Don] Rone did a great job of going through and analyzing along with our budget staff.  We have over $1.5-billion – with a ‘B’ – of tax credits that have been issued but have not been redeemed.  Well what would happen if those all got redeemed in one year?  We get just under $10-billion of general revenue taxes in the State of Missouri every year.  If those all, for whatever reason, got redeemed in one year, that’s 10-percent of all of our state revenue for GR.  That would devastate the state,” said Alferman.

Meanwhile, Governor Eric Greitens (R) created a committee to look at the state’s tax system, including tax credits, and recommend changes.  Alferman is hopeful the legislature will be able to work toward tax credit reform along with that committee.


House budget plan would save program to get low-income youths into workforce

The single biggest change the House made during floor debate of its budget proposal this week would continue a program that aims to help low-income youth enter into the workforce.

Representative Bruce Franks (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Bruce Franks (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Louis City Democrat Bruce Franks, Junior, saw that Governor Eric Greitens (R) had proposed cutting all funding to the Summer Jobs League within the Department of Economic Development.  Franks proposed taking $6-million from unused funds in two programs within Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to restore it, and the House voted to accept Franks’ proposal.

The Summer Jobs League gives 16- to 24-year-olds from low-income homes in the St. Louis or Kansas City areas the chance to work in a business in a field they’re interested in.

“It’s really a comprehensive approach to youth violence prevention,” said Franks.  “We serve the underserved:  the highest crime rate areas, highest poverty within the city.”

The largest portion of the state’s appropriation to the Summer Jobs League will pay the salaries of the youth participants – up to $8.50 an hour for up to 240 hours.  Franks said that is part of the incentive for businesses to participate.

“The jobs and the small businesses really benefit from having extra employees that they don’t have to pay that payroll, or that salary, so it really helps the small businesses when they can get three or four youth, teach them a great program, how to work, how to own their own business,” said Franks.

Participating businesses often hire the Summer Jobs League youths after their League term has expired.

Franks said Summer Jobs works in conjunction with other programs such as Prison to Prosperity, which helps youth in the St. Louis region transition out of prison.

“Now we’ve got youth that are getting out going straight to a job, straight to financial literacy, financial empowerment.  Summer Jobs doesn’t just offer summer jobs.  It offers 24-hour mentoring, behavior modification, job readiness training; all these different things to get you not only ready for the workforce but to continue on within the workforce,” said Franks.

Franks’ proposal earned praise from Republicans including Versailles Representative David Wood, who called it a better use of TANF dollars, “to catch the youth, get them into summer job programs, and teach them how to work early on.”

House Budget Committee Vice Chairman Justin Alferman (R-Hermann) said Franks, “worked extremely hard to find the funding for this program.”

House Democrat leader Gail McCann Beatty (Kansas City) said her law firm participated in Summer Jobs, and she worked with several young people through it.

“It is a great opportunity to work with these students, and sometimes you are the most positive influence that they have,” said McCann Beatty.

Franks thanked Alferman as well as House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R), Budget Committee member Representative Crystal Quade (D-Springfield), and others, for helping him find money for the League.

Many of Franks’ fellow lawmakers commended him on being a freshman member of a superminority who secured a large change in the state’s budget, but Franks said that’s not what he felt good about.

“It feels great because I was able to help the underserved.  It feels great because I was able to work across party lines and we were able to come together to serve my community,” said Franks.  “All too often the community that I serve has felt like they’ve been left out, and to have representatives on both sides truly care, truly vote in the interest of the people, that matters more than anything.”

The House’s budget proposal has been sent to the State Senate, which will propose its own changes.  Once the two chambers agree on a spending plan, it will be sent to Governor Greitens.

House advances budget plan using money from repealed renters tax credit

The state House is poised to propose a Fiscal Year 2018 budget that includes money based on the repeal of a tax break for low-income seniors and the disabled.  Budget planners used the money that would be saved by that repeal to support in-home care for the elderly and disabled.

The repeal was first proposed a few years ago by former Governor Jay Nixon (D), based on the recommendations of a bipartisan commission that recommended changes to Missouri’s tax structure.  The legislature passed a bill based on language Nixon had prepared, but Nixon later vetoed the bill after groups spoke out against the proposal.

The plan was brought up again this year as part of Republican budget makers’ response to diminished revenue and the need to reduce spending.

Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender proposed pulling money from three locations in the state budget to restore money for that tax break. Lavender said Missouri is in a budget crisis because the legislature has granted tax cuts to corporations.

“I cannot understand that the first tax cut we want to remove is one that benefits our seniors and people with disabilities living in poverty,” said Lavender.

Lavender said her proposals would buy time for the seniors benefitting from that tax break, so the state could spend the next year developing a more comprehensive tax credit reform plan.

“We were told three weeks ago there was a bipartisan tax commission from 2010 that had recommended this tax credit for our poverty seniors be removed,” Lavender told fellow lawmakers.  “We were not told that all members did not vote for those amendments and that there were 27 other tax credits that were recommended to be removed or altered.  Why is this the one that we went after?”

Republicans credited Lavender with working hard to find money to support that credit, but said she didn’t find enough.

“It does not equal the same amount that was reappropriated under House Committee Bill 3,” said Representative Justin Alferman (R-Hermann), referring to the legislation that repealed part of the renter’s tax credit.  He said the difference would mean there would not be enough money to maintain the in-home care program at its current level.

Lavender’s amendments were rejected.

The House is expected to vote Thursday to send that budget proposal to the Senate for its consideration.

The House Bill that would repeal that portion of the renters tax credit is still in the Senate.  If it does not become law, the money that supports that credit would not be available for the in-home care program.

House budget proposal: no state dollars to tolling Missouri roads

The state House’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018 would bar the use of General Revenue dollars for anything associated with collecting tolls on interstates running through Missouri.

Kansas City Republican Kevin Corlew proposed lifting that prohibition.

“We’ve got a funding issue that we need to deal with and I think it’s not wise for us as a body to completely remove one of the options from even consideration and discussion,” said Corlew.

MODOT had asked budget makers for money to conduct a third study of tolling in Missouri.  Republicans including Representative Bart Korman (High Hill) said no more state money should be spent on yet another study.

“That’s a waste of a lot of money that could be used to build a bridge or two,” said Korman, who added, “Tolls are a double tax.”

Some, including Hermann Representative Justin Alferman, said MODOT has only shown interest in tolling I-70 and none of the other interstates in Missouri.

“I don’t want to fund the entire state’s transportation infrastructure on those districts that only hug the I-70 corridor.  I think it is incredibly disingenuous of MODOT to be only pushing forward with I-70,” said Alferman.

Corlew also argued that Congress and the administration of President Donald Trump (R) are preparing an infrastructure package, and Missouri should keep all options open to be able to take advantage of it when it is released.

Korman was also unmoved by that argument.

“[President Trump’s] first deal is going to be repeal and replace Obamacare and we’re waiting for that, yet,” said Korman.  “Congress needs to work through [creating an infrastructure plan.]  By the time Congress gets it all done, our [Fiscal Year ‘18] budget will be expired anyway and we can revisit this next year.”

The transportation budget is laid out in House Bill 4.  The House is expected to vote Thursday on whether to send that and the rest of its proposed state budget to the Senate.