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General Assembly ends session

May 18, 2001
By: Matt Williams
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 302, HB 762

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's General Assembly wrapped up this year's session Friday, swiftly passing two major bills while failing to address proposals on roads and prescription drug coverage.

State leaders from both parties trumpeted the session as a success, but Gov. Bob Holden has said he will call a special session to address issues that failed in the waning hours of debate.

Holden's plan to fund prescription drug coverage for seniors failed to get Senate approval Friday, prompting him to ask legislators to consider the issue during the fall veto session.

"We can't afford to let this issue wait until next session," Holden told reporters. "I want to solve the problem now."

On the last day of debate, lawmakers were able to agree on two of Holden's priorities for the session -- drunk driving and women's health coverage, as well as dozens of other minor proposals.

Capping several years of attempts to stiffen the state's drunk driving laws, the Senate voted to lower the blood alcohol threshold to .08 percent from the current .10 percent. The measure will head the governor, who has made issue is one of his main priorities.

If passed, Missouri will join 20 other states that use the stricter standard and receive an extra $3 million a year in federal highway funding. States who don't adopt the standard by 2003 face losing even more federal money.

Later in the afternoon, the House and Senate approved a compromise plan aimed at improving women's health coverage. The bill would give women direct access to their obstetrician/gynecologist as well as prescription coverage for birth control.

Supporters said the bill will address a gender gap in insurance coverage that currently favors men. Some insurance plans currently pay for Viagra while excluding contraceptives from coverage for women.

The bill would not require insurance plans to pay for abortions unless the mother's life is at risk, and exceptions can be made for patients who have moral or religious objections.

The proposal will affect more than 2.7 million people covered by HMOs and regular insurance plans, according to the Department of Insurance. The changes would go into effect starting at the beginning of 2002.

Holden has listed the proposal among his priorities and is expected to sign the bill.

The day caps a session tied by budget constraints, split control of the legislature and a freshman governor.

Lawmakers successfully passed a $19 billion budget for the next fiscal year, but did not include pay raises for state workers. The legislature also approved a plan to redraw the state's congressional districts following the 2000 census.

Holden's biggest priority of the year, fixing what he calls a crumbling transportation system, died in the Senate, where Republicans objected to the plan's cost.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, who led opposition to Holden's plan, said he would work for a compromise and bring up the issue next year. Flanked by GOP leaders, Kinder said he would take the lead.

"We believe that the leadership in this room are the people who are the people who can bring all the parties to the table," he said.

Republicans said they will study the issue more and focus on new ways to pay for the plan. House Minority Floor Leader Catherine Hanaway said she is proud that lawmakers didn't force tax increases on the people.

"We think it's good that we didn't impose the $747 million tax increase," Hanaway said of the governor's funding plan for transportation.

It was clear that many lawmakers were anxious for the session to end. House members threw their papers in the air shortly after Speaker Jim Kreider struck his gavel to close the session.

Rep. Cindy Ostmann, R-St. Peters, said the failure to act on important issues made the session very frustrating.

"It's always harder not to accomplish something," she said.