EAST PRAIRIE - While the Area Agency on Aging's Silver Haired Legislators may elicit images of wheelchairs and canes for those who have never seen them in action, the reality is much different.
June Majors of East Prairie, who attended the SHL's 30th annual legislative session Oct. 22-23 as one of the SHL's representatives for the Southeast Region, was pleasantly surprised to find "a bunch of energetic, hard driving individuals."
"I am brand new - this is my first year in office. I started in May," Majors said. "I've been associated with AAA, the Area Agency of Aging, for about seven years."
The SHL is non-partisan, but is only for those age 60 and over.
"We have a very loyal and dedicated group," said Loretta Schneider, the Cape Girardeau delegate and chair for the Southeast Region. While they are "advocates for the senior citizens," Schneider said, "many of our bills affect the entire population."
The SHL has developed a solid rapport with office holders over the past 30 years. "They really do look to us for the recommendations and information we give to them," Schneider said.
"Some very good legislation, especially for senior citizens, has come out of this group," said Majors. Recent examples include the Circuit Breaker Tax Relief Bill which enables seniors and the disabled to recover state property tax; and a nursing home bill. "It requires better inspection of nursing homes, sets standards for administrators and established penalties for violations," Schneider said.
This year delegates debated and voted on 21 separate bills during sessions at the Ramada Inn and House and Senate Chambers at the state Capitol.
"We spend two full days in the state legislature. We start at 8 a.m. and go until 4 p.m.," Majors said. "We actually take their seats while they're not there."
After electing officers, the SHL addresses all the proposed issues submitted by the different regions.
"These are fully discussed on the floor - anyone can speak. They're really thrashed out, then we take a vote," said Majors. "We narrow it down to five bills."
The prioritized list of proposed bills are to be presented for consideration during the 2004 session of the Missouri General Assembly.
"Number one was continued funding for Meals on Wheels for the elderly," Majors said.
The SHL is asking for an additional $1 million for the Department of Health & Senior Services' budget for the program which brings home-delivered meals to the elderly.
Second on the list is a request for the Legislature to appropriate more funds to enhance access to transportation for the elderly and disabled Missouri citizens.
Property tax relief for seniors appears third on the list. "They would freeze them at age 65 - they would never get any higher, no matter what happened to the economy," Majors explained. The exemption from increases in property taxes would be in effect as long as they own and live on the property.
The fourth item seeks a permanent line item for SHL in the Department of Health & Senior Services budget. "That was taken out of the state budget last year," said Majors.
The fifth issue would provide for safeguards to be written and implemented to protect elderly people from unscrupulous lenders. "That is like these pay day loans and title loans," Majors said.
While she was pleased by the results in the top two slots, which she also voted for, Majors questioned the order of the other three and would have preferred to see another issue on the list instead of the Predator Lending item, which Majors voted against. "I think that's being taken care of in other areas," she said. "I think they're going for younger people there."
Majors would have preferred to have had the Grandparents as Foster Parents item on the list instead. "That was one I felt very strongly about," she said. "That was one that came from our caucus but didn't survive."
The bill would change it so grandparents who are foster parents for their grandchildren would receive reimbursement even though they are family members.
While there were disagreements, Majors commended the cooperation among delegates. "They talked it out until they came to a solution," she said. "I was really, really impressed with the camaraderie."
Schneider said it would be nice to be able to present all their issues to the Assembly, and that some of the legislators request information on all the issues brought to the SHL floor for discussion.
SHL delegates also heard presentation from Gov. Bob Holden; Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell; and Budget Director Linda Luebbering.
Other delegates attending from the Bootheel Region were Margie Elam, SHL senator, Dexter; Betty Derby, SHL representative, Campbell; Paula Polen, SHL representative, Malden; Lorene Thomason, SHL representative, Dexter; and Mariedda (Lou) Atherton, SHL representative, Dexter.
For further information contact Ruth Dockins, Public Information Director for the SEMO AAA, at 573-335-3331.