Legislature called back for extraordinary session to consider Southeast Missouri jobs issue

State lawmakers will return to Jefferson City next week for a special legislative session.  Governor Eric Greitens (R) is calling them back to address an economic development issue in Southeast Missouri.

Representative Don Rone (at microphone) (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Don Rone (at microphone) (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The legislature did not pass in its session that ended last week language that backers say could allow one company to proceed with plans to reopen the Noranda aluminum smelter at Marston; and another company to build a new steel mill at New Madrid, both in Southeast Missouri.

Both companies hope for lower utility rates that would allow those facilities to be profitable.  To consider lower rates the Public Service Commission (PSC) says it needs the legislature’s approval.

Representative Don Rone (R-Portageville) attached that language to several bills in the final days of the session, but it did not become law.  He said people in that region are in desperate need of jobs, especially after Noranda closed last year eliminating nearly 900 jobs.  He said these two projects could create more than 500 new jobs.

Greitens wants legislators to come back and focus on that one issue.

“I cannot thank the governor enough for the people of Southeast Missouri – all of Southeast Missouri,” said Rone.  “I can’t tell you what it means to these people here to have hope, and the governor saw fit to give us hope by calling a special.”

The House voted for Rone’s language 148-2, and its support in that chamber is expected to remain high, but at least one senator who Rone said blocked it in that chamber – Senator Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff) – remains opposed to the proposal.

Rone said he believes the bill can get through both chambers and to Greitens.

“[Senator Libla] can keep his position.  We’ve never asked – in the many conversations I’ve had with him and his people – we’ve never asked him to change his vote.  We’ve always asked him just to allow it to come to the floor and let the people in the Senate vote,” said Rone.  “All we’re wanting to do is let democracy work, let the 34 senators take vote their conscience, and see where it takes us.”

Rone said the entities behind the two facilities are expected to decide soon whether to give up on progressing with their plans for those two sites.  He said if the legislature can quickly pass his bill he is confident those companies will postpone their decisions until they can meet with the PSC.

“I would think that [Governor Greitens] was well aware of the timeline and how critical it is,” said Rone.

The call for the special session comes one week after Rone called attention to the issue in a passionate floor speech in which he called out Libla and two other senators, saying they were, “heartless,” “selfish,” and “egotistical,” in rebuffing his proposal.

The House and Senate will begin the extraordinary session at 4 p.m. Monday.


With Senate prescription monitoring plan close to passage, House remains focused on its member’s version

The Missouri Senate appears prepared to endorse a prescription drug monitoring program.  The House, however, remains focused on a plan proposed by one of its members who said the Senate bill won’t do the job.

Representative Holly Rehder has proposed for several years the creation of a prescription drug monitoring program in Missouri. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Holly Rehder has proposed for several years the creation of a prescription drug monitoring program in Missouri. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Backers of PDMPs say they help fight prescription drug abuse.  They are intended to catch people in the act of “doctor shopping;” visiting multiple doctors in an attempt to get their hands on as much as they can of prescriptions commonly abused.

The Senate has given initial approval to a Senate Bill 74 sponsored by Senator Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph), meaning another vote could send it to the House for consideration.  Schaaf has blocked advancement of earlier PDMP bills saying they would invade Missourians’ privacy by creating a database of their prescriptions.

His plan would let doctors submit a patient’s name to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.  It would then give that doctor access to the patient’s medical records only if the Bureau determined the patient is a potential abuser.

Sikeston Representative Holly Rehder (R) has sponsored PDMP legislation in the House for several years.  She said neither her nor Schaaf are willing to budge on their approaches to a plan.

“He would allow physicians to see what their patient is doing if a red light comes back.  Well, you know, that’s after a problem has already been discovered and we’re already down that road,” said Rehder.  “Physicians need to be able to have full understanding of what their patients are on and what they’re doing so that they can make those best clinical decisions.  I’m not able to give on that point because to me that’s the most important part to help this epidemic that we are in.  That’s the way to decrease overdoses.  That’s the cornerstone of this legislation.”

Missouri is the only state without a PDMP.  Other states allow doctors to access their patients’ prescription information through a secured database.  Rehder said such a database gives doctors quick access to information they are already authorized to view.

“They just have to call around and get it from kind of doing the phone tree – calling the pharmacies and other doctors,” said Rehder.  “This just allows a one spot place that the physicians can go, that pharmacists can go to make sure that they’re not prescribing something that’s harmful, that’s going to counteract with other medications … this a huge opportunity for physicians to be able to spot the signs of addiction early and to help get that person on a manageable path back to a healthy lifestyle.”

As for Schaaf’s concerns about privacy, Rehder said the prescription drug database would be encrypted.

“If somebody were to get this information they wouldn’t be able to read it,” said Rehder.  “[Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] laws – our federal laws – really cover this area very well, which is why we have electronic medical records, and this is just another portion of that.”

Rehder says Schaaf’s bill is also so expensive it might never be implemented.  Legislative researchers estimate that if passed, SB 74 would cost more than $1-million dollars in Fiscal Year ’18 – similar to the projected year one cost of Rehder’s legislation – but in Fiscal Years ’19 and ’20, Schaaf’s bill’s projected cost each year is greater than $6.5-million.

Rehder believes the actual cost of her bill would be less than $1-million dollars, and said with grants and other funding sources it would pose less of a challenge to fund.

Rehder took up the PDMP issue in response to her own family’s issues with prescription drug abuse.  Her daughter, Raychel, became addicted to an opioid pain reliever after an emergency room visit when she was 17.  She went on to abuse other substances including methamphetamine, but has been clean for going on two years.  Other members of Rehder’s family have also struggled with abuse issues.

Rehder’s PDMP legislation in past sessions has passed out of the House with overwhelming support only to be stalled in the Senate, where opposition was largely led by Schaaf.  House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) said even with Schaaf’s bill close to coming to his chamber, the focus of the House is going to remain on Rehder’s efforts.

“Representative Rehder has been the thought leader on prescription drug monitoring here in the House for some time and for good reason,” said Richardson.  “We’ll continue to allow Representative Rehder to stay in the driver’s seat on that bill and we’ll see if we can work through the differences with the Senate.”

Rehder’s legislation, House Bill 90, is nearly ready for debate by the full House.