Another busy and productive week. It's hard to believe that summer is nearly over with schools reconvening and Labor Day just around the corner! Soon the combines will be running and farmers will be putting their grain in storage. If you're like me, you look forward to fall, but I will enjoy one more cookout before I officially proclaim the end of summer!
Before I recap the events of the week, I'd like to thank Speaker Todd Richardson, Speaker Pro-Tem Denny Hoskins, Majority Floor Leader Mike Cierpiot, and Representative T. J. Berry for attending the Missouri State Fair and taking time to view the Trails End monument on the northeast corner of the Fairgrounds. Also, congratulations to the Missouri Holstein Association for 100 years of service to the Missouri dairy industry and agriculture in general. I was honored to present House and Senate resolutions to the organization during the Fair.
Missouri Agriculture Tour
A group of Missouri legislators left the State Fair last Thursday afternoon and began a tour of agricultural facilities in the western part of the state. Organized by Senator Brian Munzlinger, the tour began at the Tyson processing plant in Pettis County. It then moved to southern Kansas City to the Boys Grow Farm.
Boys Grow is a non-profit organization that allows young urban males to participate in agriculture. At the farm they grow their own produce, package goods from the produce, and sell them to local retailers. They also construct facilities to assist in growing these crops. They are working with local school districts with this hands-on curriculum and plan to expand its offerings in the near future. Seems like a perfect match with STEM learning (science, technology, engineering, and math).
The ag group stayed overnight at the KC Downtown Marriot and restarted the educational tour early on Friday. The group had a breakfast briefing about UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and agriculture, an opportunity and challenge for the future. From there, the group traveled to Union Station for an update from the KC Animal Health Corridor which supports many veterinary-based businesses in Missouri and Kansas. Finally, the group traveled to Edgerton, Kansas to visit the new BNSF Railroad container switchyard to view this high-technology facility. DeLong Grain has a facility on the site that moves a lot of Missouri and regional grain overseas. It was truly a fascinating trip, and I was very happy to be a part of the group.
Education Appropriations Committees Meet
On Wednesday, I attended the meeting of the education appropriations committees to discuss Missouri Lottery education funding. Lottery Executive Director May Scheve Reardon recapped the past few years of Lottery revenue, and its impact on education funding.
The Lottery supplies several millions of dollars for education each year, but the revenues have reached a plateau in recent years. Some promotions, such as Margaritaville, and varying price points have increased sales, but other areas remain untested. One area is the mobile application to purchase tickets. This method is just being tested in other states, and the Missouri Lottery is closely following the results.
Also, Michael Price, House Appropriations Director, addressed the committee to further fill in the blanks concerning the Lottery and education funding. He emphasized that the Lottery has supplemented regular General Revenue funding from the legislature, but has fallen short of projections in recent years. This gap is based on the plateau reality that has resulted in recent years.
The interim allows committees to explore specific topics in-depth and without the time restrictions faced during session. A large crowd attended, showing interest in the future, and funding, of Missouri education.
Task Force to Examine Managed Care Model for State's Medicaid System
During the 2015 legislative session the House and Senate approved a state operating budget that will shift the state's Medicaid system to one that utilizes managed care for delivery of health care services. The plan calls for the state to make the change by June 1, 2016 and also creates a task force of legislators, providers, payers, and consumer groups to develop a strategy for the implementation of the change. Recently, Speaker Todd Richardson appointed members to the task force and charged them with beginning their work on this initiative.
Currently, about 440,000 Medicaid recipients in 53 counties and St. Louis receive their health care under a managed care model. The budget approved by the General Assembly will move another 200,000 recipients in Missouri's remaining 61 counties into managed care plans by next year's deadline. The elderly, blind and disabled are excluded from this managed care requirement in effort to address their specific needs. Supporters of the measure assert that managed care puts a focus on preventive care which cuts down on costly emergency room visits.
The task force will now begin its work to look at the logistics of transitioning Missouri's Medicaid enrollees into managed care plans. The group also will look at other health care delivery models in an effort to determine the best path forward for cost effective Medicaid in Missouri.
House Committee Examines Importance of Missouri Ports
In another effort closely linked to Missouri agriculture, an interim House committee recently met at the state capitol to discuss the importance of Missouri's ports, and to look at ways to continue to support these trade hubs. Members of the Interim Committee on Development and Improvement of Missouri Ports heard testimony that the state's port system accounts for 441 direct jobs, and has a positive economic impact on communities within a 75 mile range of each port. Also, the state's ports represent a return of between $7 to $10 in private investment for every public dollar contributed.
Despite the economic benefits of the state's port system, funding for ports has been erratic. During a 10-year period from fiscal years 2004 to 2014 the system received only $11.7 million in funding, often in inconsistent amounts. Witnesses testified that the funding issues have made it difficult to upgrade and repair the state's waterway infrastructure. This is despite the overall benefits of moving goods by barge. The state transportation department's freight and waterways administrator noted the ports represent an environmentally efficient way for businesses to transport their products. More traffic on Missouri's waterways can help alleviate the load on the state's roads and bridges, which have seen funds for repair and improvements dwindle.
The committee plans to meet again in September when members will likely suggest actions to better invest in Missouri's waterways infrastructure and port system. As a member of the Missouri River Caucus, I will keep a close eye on this committee and its final report.