JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As the legislature’s annual veto session draws closer, Democrats across the state are pushing for an override of perhaps the most contentious bill to pass through the legislature this past session: HCB 3.
What began as the controversial “circuit breaker” bill morphed through the final weeks of the session as the General Assembly worked to find a solution to provide care to a group of more than 8,000 low-income seniors, veterans and people living with disabilities and minor health care issues. The eventual version of the bill, titled HCB 3, sought to address the proposed cuts in funding in Gov. Eric Greitens’ budget by pulling $35 million from various state funds into general revenue as a one-time payment.
In a rare moment of bipartisanship shown this past session, members on both sides of the aisle – and from both chambers – came together to put together the version passed by the Senate with a 27-5 veto-proof vote.
That bipartisanship did not seem to have the same effect in the Missouri House of Representatives, where it sat untouched for four days before it was taken up once again. Several representatives, including Rep. Justin Alferman, the vice-chair of the House Budget Committee, had expressed concern that the Senate had completely changed original purpose of the bill.
But HCB 3 was finally passed in the last minutes of the legislative session with a final vote of 83-67. The total, however, was more than 25 votes short of a veto-proof majority.
The bill passed to Greitens’ desk, where it was eventually vetoed, with the Governor calling the legislation a “budget gimmick.”
That has not stopped a number of Democrats from trying to spread the word and bring awareness to the bill, calling for it to be brought up once again during the upcoming veto session in an effort to address those proposed cuts.
But the controversy the bill brought during the final weeks of the legislative session means it could be the most hotly-debated item if brought up, and the question now is whether HCB has become too partisan to succeed.
And just like all bills during a veto override, it must be brought up by the original sponsor of the bill – in this case, Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. Fitzpatrick stood as a firm opponent of the version passed by the Senate, a completely re-worked piece of legislation when compared to the House’s original version. Indeed, Fitzpatrick played the pivotal role in its passage in the final minutes of the legislative session, even though he did not vote in favor of the bill.
A number of Missouri Democrats took to social media over the last month calling for HCB 3’s veto to be overridden, including freshman Reps. Peter Merideth and Crystal Quade.
“We need to reach out to the Republicans across the aisle who will listen to this and let them know that these are real lives at stake, real dollars at stake, and real jobs at stake. It’s time for us to override this veto and show the Governor that we will not balance our budget on the backs of our most vulnerable seniors and folks with disabilities,” Merideth said in a Facebook video.
That same duo penned a letter that was published in the Springfield News-Leader and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, once again urging for the override of the veto.
“Here’s why this matters. When seniors and folks with disabilities are able to afford support in their homes, it saves the state money and empowers these Missourians to live independently. It provides them the freedom to work and the ability to participate in our communities and economy. It allows people to maintain their dignity. The governor’s cuts would kick over 8,000 people out of their homes, and leave them unable to support themselves independently,” they wrote. “As our population is aging, health care costs are only growing. But that doesn’t mean the solution is to cut services that help people live independently. It means supporting alternative approaches that reduce long term costs. We have to think creatively in looking for solutions, not simply look to the quickest ways to shrink this year’s budget.”
On Wednesday, several members of the minority party gathered in Columbia for a panel discussion about the bill, speaking about the impact the Governor’s veto would have on senior citizens and those living with disabilities in Missouri, urging for Missourians to encourage their lawmakers to take up the bill once again.
Fitzpatrick has stated several times since the end of the session that if HCB 3 were to be passed into law, it would require $35 million in restrictions, which would make things tighter with the state budget. While working on the previous year’s budget, lawmakers have already noted concerns about the FY 2018 budget.
Whether the bill is too partisan may not be the real question so much as whether HCB 3 is the answer needed to address in the in-home care cuts.
Other lawmakers highlighted concerns about the cost if HCB 3 or some other solution is not found. Rep. Deb Lavender expressed her concerns about the cost to taxpayers, as those losing service instead turn to emergency rooms for care. It’s a sentiment Rep. Jean Evans also is concerned with.
“I don’t think there’s going to be an override to HCB 3, but we do have a problem to address in 8,000 seniors losing service,” she said on this week’s #moleg podcast. “What I’ve been hearing from my constituents and businesspeople in my area is that the seniors who are in Medicaid beds, who no longer qualify under the points system, are being sent to the hospital in ambulances because Medicaid is not paying for the bill. So now, Medicaid is paying for the hospital visit and ambulance, which is substantially more money. From a humanitarian aspect, I don’t know what will happen to them. From a fiscal aspect, it’s going to hurt us more than if we fixed the point system.”
But even if the bill sponsor were to bring up the bill, then the question becomes whether the minority party is able to swing some of the 67 “No” votes.
At this time, several legislators tell the Missouri Times that nothing has been decided when it comes to the veto session, including if or which bills could potentially be brought up for an override.
But legislators could potentially have another option. Under state law, Missouri’s legislature can call a special session of their own. The President Pro Tem and House Speaker can call a 30-day special session on behalf of the lawmakers if 3/4 of both chambers petition them to do so.
Evans says that a special session would allow the chambers to work together to try to start from scratch and focus on that one particular item instead of the rush of legislation that comes at the end of every session.
“What I would like to see is a special session. I think what we all want is a good solution,” Evans said. “So that’s what I hope: that we’ll call a special session during the veto session and knock it out.”
Lawmakers return to the Capitol for a veto session on Sept. 13.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.