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House committee to decrease government size wraps up first day of hearings

ST. LOUIS — The House Downsizing State Government Committee started its three-day listening tour Tuesday morning in Clayton, Mo., where the four members who were able to attend listened to citizens express thoughts and concerns about state government.

About a dozen citizens testified to the Committee, which met in the St. Louis County Council chamber, leading just up to the one-hour mark when Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, called for adjournment. After their St. Louis hearing the Committee had to travel to Cape Girardeau and later Poplar Bluff, Mo.

Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific
Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific

“I am extremely pleased with the success of the first hearing and the level of participation we saw from such a large group of citizens who are obviously passionate about finding ways to make our government leaner and more efficient,” Curtman said in a statement Tuesday. “If the turnout at the St. Louis hearing is any indication of what we can expect at the stops on the rest of our tour, the committee is going to benefit from a diverse range of outstanding suggestions from Missourians from all walks of life.”

The roundabout 40 attendees spanned gender, age, race and career, and for the 12 or so that spoke, their opinions about priorities for downsizing government also spanned the realm of principles.

Medicaid expansion came up multiple times during the hearing as citizens urged the representatives to continue the legislature’s fight against expansion. Among those who explicitly discussed their Medicaid qualms was former Sen. Jim Lembke who now works for United for Missouri.

“I encourage you to not think twice about expanding a Medicaid program that is broken in this state,” Lembke said to the panel before encouraging the consideration of a “10 percent haircut” to every state department.

Only four representatives from the 13-person Committee were at the meeting: Reps. Curtman, Mike Kelly (vice chair), Chrissy Sommer and Paul Wieland. None of the four Democrat representatives who sit on the committee were in attendance. Curtman said many of those who were absent were stuck in traffic.

Another issue that came up twice during the hearing was the decriminalization of marijuana. Executive Director of the Show Me Cannabis campaign, John Payne — a 2005 Washington University graduate — spoke in support of the areas in the state that have already decriminalized marijuana, and said urged them to support legislation that would implement statewide legalization next year.

A second Show Me Cannabis advocate, Gary Wiegert, also spoke in favor of “downsizing charges of marijuana,” which he said is an alternative phrase he prefers to decriminalization. Wiegert, a St. Louis police officer, said the money it would save the state and police departments to issues a summons instead of the current penalties would be, essentially, worth everyone’s while.

The critiques went on from ethics reform to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s negative audit, as well as criticism of the International Revenue Service that drew an audible “amen” and applause from the crowd.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, took the opportunity to speak — along with Rep. Rick Stream — after the testimonies about House Bill 253, the tax cut bill.

“We have an opportunity in September to downsize state government in the veto session,” Schmitt said about HB 253. “Generally, through the appropriations process we spend what we have. For us to be able to return what we have will inherently help reduce the size of government.”

The Downsizing State Government committee has two more days of their hearings across the state and is live-streaming each one via Curtman’s UStream.

Curtman also is asking provide additional questions or suggestions via Twitter using the #DownsizeMOGov hashtag, which appears to be garnering quite a bit of commentary.