This was moving week in the Missouri House. With only five weeks left in session, bills are nearing the de facto deadline whereby they must pass the House to have a chance to clear the finish line. If a bill has not passed through the sponsor’s chamber by the end of next week, it’s nearly dead. Two bills I sponsored passed the House this week.
Medicaid Modernization Act
House Bill 319, the Medicaid Modernization Act, was sent to the Senate by a vote of 152 to 2. Private sector health care providers have long used tele-health and store-and-forward technology to improve access to care and save money. In the oldest example, the results of a diagnostic test like an MRI can be digitized then forwarded to a specialist for review.
Medicaid has been slow to adopt these practices. House Bill 319 specifically directs the Department of Social to Services to adopt tele-health and store-and-forward technology for appropriate medical practices in Medicaid. This will increase access to health care services in rural Missouri and in schools. After necessary upfront expenditures for technology, I anticipate it will save significant taxpayer money in the long run.
A similar bill passed the Senate this week, which I hope to handle in the House.
Senior Savings Protection Act
The House also perfected House Bill 606, the Senior Savings Protection Act. This bill would allow financial industry professional to place a temporary hold on transactions for which they have a good faith belief involve fraud or financial exploitation.
Employment Discrimination and Whistleblower
For the fifth consecutive year, I voted no on efforts to change Missouri’s law on employment discrimination and the protection of whistleblowers. Under current law, Missouri has a zero tolerance policy for employment discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, disability, or religion. Indeed, we have the strongest anti-discrimination law in the entire country.
I don’t believe this was an accident. In researching this bill, I discovered that Missouri has had a mixed bag of fame and shame in the Civil Rights movement. From the 1820s until the 1850s, Missouri law essentially said that once a slave set foot on free soil, that he was free forever. Once free, always free. Unfortunately, due to political pressures on the Missouri Supreme Court, two activist judges in 1852 declared that Dred Scott was not free even though he had lived on free soil.
Missouri’s next big legal precedent on racial discrimination was Lloyd Gaines v. University of Missouri. Gaines was a high school valedictorian and an honors graduate from Lincoln University in 1936. With those credentials, he wanted to go to Mizzou law school but was denied because he was black. He took his case to the United States Supreme Court, and won. The university was told it either had to admit him or provide an equivalent education somewhere else in the state. Tragically, Gaines never got the chance. He was murdered before he set foot on the Mizzou campus.
Against this backdrop, the General Assembly first took up and passed the Missouri Human Rights Act in 1959 – several years before the federal government passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The men and women in Missouri government in 1959 knew the history of our state’s legal system, and chose to adopt a zero tolerance policy for discrimination in our state.
House Bill 1019 would weaken this standard. Rather than attempting to change it, I believe we should hold it up as an example for other states. We should be proud of the fact that our state has the strongest anti-discrimination law in the country.
The other major change in House Bill 1019 concerns whistleblowers. Under current law, whistleblowers receive protected status. The reason is simple: we do not want to discourage Missourians from reporting criminal activity, particularly fraud against taxpayers.
HB 1019 exempts middle and upper-management employees from whistleblower protections where the unlawful act reported “concerns matters upon which the person is employed to report or provide professional opinion.” In the real-world what this means is that a middle manager for a health care provider committing massive Medicaid fraud has no legal protection if they report the fraud to either a government agency, law enforcement officer, or just their own supervisor.
I believe that’s the exact opposite of the approach we should take for those willing to report fraud against taxpayers. Instead of removing protections for them, to help protect taxpayers, we should pass state legislation similar to the False Claims Act signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, which provides financial compensation to whistleblowers who save taxpayers money.