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Richard creates three committees for interim

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard announced Wednesday three new interim committees for 2015. Various senators will return to Jefferson City this summer and fall to serve on the Senate Interim Committees on Utility Regulation and Infrastructure Investment, MO HealthNet Pharmacy Benefits, and Long-Term Care Facilities.

Richard told MissouriNet Wednesday that the three committees are designed to investigate issues with ratemaking and utilities, lower the cost of drugs obtained through Missouri’s Medicaid program, and improve conditions at Missouri’s long-term care facilities, especially veterans’ facilities.

Sen. Ed Emery and Sen. Ryan Silvey will be the respective chair and vice chair of the utility regulation committee, Sen. Mike Cunningham and Sen. Jeanie Riddle will fill the same role for the long-term care facilities committee and Sen. David Sater and Sen. Dan Brown will act as chair and vice chair of the MO HealthNet committee.

The three topics that will be addressed by the committee attracted attention from the legislature this past session, especially with regards to utility ratemaking. Emery and Silvey both carried legislation in the Senate from Rep. Rocky Miller, the chair of the House Energy and the Environment Committee, that would change how electric utility companies charge consumers.

“The regulatory structure is not the best for our current situation,” Emery said. “It was developed during a time of dramatic growth and we’re seeing the opposite of that now. The structure is going to have to change.”

While Emery, Silvey and Miller called the measures streamlining to bypass regulatory lag caused by an “increasingly bureaucratic” Public Service Commission. The supporters of the 21st Century Grid Modernization and Security Act said it would create caps to ensure that price increases did not get out of control, but Sen. Gary Romine organized a filibuster of the legislation with a handful of other senators to kill the bill. He wanted more oversight on what is essentially a legalized monopoly.

The appointment of Emery and Silvey to indicates that Senate leadership would like to see similar legislation make it through the chamber next year, which Emery says is essentially the directive from Richard.

“It’s really almost an extension of what we were trying to do during the legislative session but were not successful in completing,” Emery said. “I actually felt like the legislative packages that were presented this year were as good as we have been able to develop over my period of time in the legislature. So, some of this is going to be just working together to figure out where there are questions that have been unanswered, make sure those questions are answered and that there are ways to improve what was proposed this year.”

The Long-Term Care Facilities Committee will address the possibility of receiving federal waivers for the nearly 2,000 veterans currently waiting to get into one of Missouri’s seven veterans homes. The waivers would allow those veterans to get care at other long-term nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

The Committee on MO HealthNet Pharmacy Benefits will determine how to cut costs from the the state’s Medicaid pharmacy program. Budget leaders, like outgoing Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Kurt Schaefer, have decried the steep rise of Medicaid costs to the state. The figure has risen from just under $1 billion to $1.8 billion since 2010.

Updated – 3:45 p.m. May 26, 2016: Added comments from Emery