SIKESTON - Having passed a 2005 budget, state representatives from the area are pleased with the results of the 2004 legislative session which wrapped up Friday.
"My goal was not to pass a whole bunch of legislation," said Rep. Peter Myers Sr., District 160. "My goal was to pass a balanced budget and necessary legislation.
"My primary thinking is we got the budget done," Myers continued. "The economy helped...and we made some intelligent decisions. ... We funded education fully, over what was requested by the governor." He said the budget reflects an increase of about $104 million over last year's education funding.
"The big thing is the superintendents know how many dollars they have to work with so they can make an intelligent budget," Myers said.
"I think by the time the smoke clears and people have time to evaluate what's happened you'll find out we had as very productive session," said Rep. Lanie Black, District 161.
Black said there were some severe cuts in some departments, but many of them consisted of unfilled positions. While cuts "will cause the departments some trouble without question," he said, citizens are reluctant to raise taxes. "I think we've done a pretty good job."
Myers said he was pleased to have helped secured a raise for Missouri State Highway Patrol officers as part of the budget. "We did prevail on that," he said. "It was very contentious last year and was very contentious this year."
Myers said the Patrol was losing officers to urban departments that can pay more after spending money training them. "We're short on patrolmen right now," he said.
In addition to working with the Patrol's leaders, there was a bipartisan effort in the budget committee which included three Republicans and two Democrats. "They all were solidified in asking for this increase," Myers said.
Myers credited the budget chairman and the vice chairman for their work in getting the raise. "I think its very important for the state," he said. "We need to pay them a decent living wage."
Both of the local representatives were pleased with a change in economic development that will take money from repealed tax credits to fund a program called "Jobs Now" proposed by the governor's office.
"It should provide economic stimulus for legitimate businesses both large and small," Myers said.
"I think that's a pretty good bill," Black agreed.
Voters will get to decide whether or not to legally recognize same-sex marriage despite resistance in the Senate.
"I was a bit disappointed in the filibuster on the last day," Black said, describing it as a deliberate "attempt keep Missouri citizens from voting on their definition of a marriage."
The Senate's version would have asked voters to decide to offer legal recognition of marriages only involving "one man to one woman" but was talked to death, Black said.
In the end, the state House was able to get their version passed, with the wording "a man and a woman."
"I think that's kind of an important issue," Black said. "I think the people of the state should decide that, not the judges."
The proposed constitutional amendment will probably be on the November ballot for voters, Myers said.
"It's not against the marriage, per se, we just won't recognize it," Myers said. "The only marriage we recognize legally in Missouri is between a man and a woman."
In other highlights of the session according to the local representatives:
* A critical bill dealing with unemployment was passed with compromises from both sides of the aisle, but Missouri businesses will have to pay more into their unemployment fund than in the past.
"If we had not done it this year it would have been a whole lot worse next year and I hope people will understand that," Black said.
* Although they did not accomplish all the Myers hoped for with Medicaid reform, "we kept all children from low-income families on Medicaid, and all the disabled people," he said.
Those with incomes between $40,000 to $45,000 may also remain in the program. "They stayed on but they have to make a small premium and a small co-pay," said Myers.
* Myers said he personally handled a major agriculture bill in the house which made some technical adjustments.
The most significant change was enabling value-added co-op stockholders to redeem tax credits quarterly instead of just once per year, making it easier to resell them.
* A bill proposed by Myers and passed by the legislature "will put some discipline in DNR's rule-making process," he said. "We're hoping it will benefit business and even individuals and still take care of the environment, which is very important."
Before the bill, Department of Natural Resources officials sometimes issued permit "with no basis for the issuance," Myers said.
One last session this year will be held in mid-September for any veto override attempts.
Along with the veto session, the legislature may possibly address any special legislation proposed by governor at this time.
The next full session will take place in January with the winners of the November election.