Low Income Nursing Care a Focus of Veto Session

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.--Missouri lawmakers will reconvene next week in Jefferson City for their annual “veto session”, where the biggest issue on the table will be a measure to fund in-home nursing and nursing home care for low-income seniors.  It’s the most debated subject matter of the eight pieces of legislation Governor Greitens chose to block from becoming law.

In late June, he vetoed a bill that finances the nursing care by pulling excess money from other state departments.  He said the move was unconstitutional and a “last-minute budget gimmick”.  The legislature will now decide if it wants to try and override the veto, which leaves more than 8,000 people without the coverage.

Greitens, in his original budget proposal for the current fiscal year, cut costs by raising the bar to qualify for the nursing care, which removed 20,000 people from its rolls.

The Missouri House restored state funding for the Medicaid program in its version of the budget by doing away with a property tax break for about 100,000 low-income seniors who rent their homes.

The Senate and House reached an agreement to reinstate nursing care for all but the 8,000 people.  The plan reinstated the property tax break with money coming in from lawsuit settlements.  But Democrats in the upper chamber complained that the remaining cut to the nursing care was unfair.

An idea floated by House Democrat Deb Lavender of Kirkwood to sweep surplus funds from various state agencies was taken up in the upper chamber.  The Senate then passed a budget plan which fully funded the nursing care program by directing the Office of Administration to sweep $35 million from state accounts controlled by professional licensing boards and commissions.

In literally the last minutes of the legislative session, the House passed the Senate’s plan by one vote.  To override Governor Greitens veto in the upcoming session, a two-thirds majority is required in each chamber.  Reaching that benchmark could be a heavy lift for the House.

But Democrats, including Lavender, have been trying to drum up support for a vote.  She says there are huge stockpiles of excess funds to draw from.

“We have 469 funds that have $3.6 billion in reserves,” said Lavender, who sits on the House Budget Committee.  “I call them piggy banks or savings accounts that we have a significant amount of money, just sitting in these accounts all around the capitol.”

Republican Budget Committee Vice-Chair Justin Alferman of Hermann says he was the deciding vote to pass the funding measure during the legislative session.  He thinks Lavender’s efforts are commendable but doomed to fail.  He notes the bill itself force the governor to transfer the funds but simply gives him the option.

“It says may, not shall,” said Alferman.  “The governor’s already stated that he thinks this bill is unconstitutional.  In what world do they think that the governor will make those transfers and direct the Commissioner of OA (Office of Administration) to make those fund transfers if it’s overridden.  It simply will not happen.”

Lavender is not moved by the argument Alferman is making.  She says the governor would be acting highly inappropriately to try and battle a legislative override.

“I understand that the governor is not necessarily interested in this, that he vetoed it.  I don’t understand why he would actively go against what the legislature has requested, especially if we’ve overturned his veto.”

Lavender says the legislature should move quickly to override the Governor because people receiving the nursing care are being reassessed and will be impacted at the same time the veto session takes place.  She thinks lawmakers could quickly agree on where to draw funding for the services because the level of surplus money inside various departments is so high.

“This is truly, kind of the same as looking for coins in your couch and in the backseat of your car,” Lavender said.  “We’re talking about one percent of the reserves the state has, which I feel we could very easily come to a consensus on, where we find that one percent in the reserves that we have.”

Alferman is so convinced that Governor Greitens wouldn’t feel bound to make the transfer that he’s offering a different approach.  He’d like to see a special session called during the veto session to pass new legislation to cover the nursing care costs.  And he thinks Greitens would be willing to order such a call.

“I think the governor’s office is open to (the idea) if the House and the Senate can find a solution that’s not going to break the bank, and also not going to be unconstitutional.  I think that the governor’s office would absolutely be open to that.”

According to Alferman, discussions are now taking place to come up with a measure both chambers can agree on.  “If we can find a plan now, if we could put the pieces together, then when we come in for that one day of veto session or that week, it’ll sail right through,” Alferman said.  “So right now is the time to be focusing on that, and actually doing the work behind the scene before we go into session.”

He said some form of the original House bill, which would still draw money away from the property tax break for senior renters was the plan currently getting the most attention.  Alferman acknowledged that even with discussions of a possible special session, there’ll still going to be a strong push from Democrats to override the governor’s veto.

Another issue that could gain some attention during the veto session is Greitens decision to block a bill to partially fund construction of a University of Missouri-Kansas City arts campus.

The session begins Wednesday, September 13th at the state capitol.

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