By Sara Wiercinski
On a sunny Saturday morning in the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City, about two dozen people turned up at Happy Bottoms to hear from second-term State Representative Patty Lewis.
Lewis, a Democrat, has represented the 25th House District since 2021. She was born and raised in Kansas City, and observes that she is the only registered nurse in the Missouri general assembly.
Lewis began by highlighting three active bills from her committee work. She serves on four: Health and Mental Health Policy, Professional Registration and Licensing, Rural Community Development, and Healthcare Reform, on which she is ranking minority member.
- House Bill 285 would include Missouri in an interstate license agreement for physicians, which Lewis said will expedite the registration process for doctors wishing to practice in the state.
- House Bill 354 would expand postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to one year. The bill has bipartisan support. Lewis noted that Missouri ranks among the worst states in the country in maternal mortality.
- House Bill 1162 would require the Department of Health and Senior Services to fund a grant program to create more primary care and psychiatric residencies in Missouri.
“Outlandish things happen there”
Lewis spoke frankly about the extreme partisan environment in Jefferson City. The current Missouri House is made up of 111 Republicans and 52 Democrats.
“If it’s any indication, we kicked off our brand new session with an amendment telling women what to wear,” said Lewis, referring to January’s house resolution that updated its dress code for women.
Lewis said that Democrats have introduced several amendments, but they are all voted down along party lines. “It’s like ‘push the button, fall in line’. It’s what we see a lot of down there.”
When Rep. Deb Lavender (D-Manchester) introduced amendments to increase base pay of teachers and home care workers who help people with disabilities, neither one passed. Lewis noted that Missouri ranks near the bottom for teacher pay and public health services, but still the votes were cast along party lines.
“There’s a budget, but we left $6 billion on the table, and they won’t touch it,” said Lewis. “This is money we have right now, in the coffer.”
Anti-LGBTQ and Anti-DEI Efforts
Lewis described her recent week in Jefferson City as “my hardest down there yet.” She is embarrassed that Missouri is leading the nation in the number of anti-LGBTQ bills.
This past week, the House passed its budget and banned funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs at schools and universities, and also affects how the state contracts with corporations with their own Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policies.
Lewis stated her opposition: “Every school has DEI resources. This will essentially defund schools. Businesses won’t want to come here because of the hateful things we are doing.”
She expressed her dismay at hearing a “racist speech on the House floor” from Rep. Doug Richey (R-Excelsior Springs), who supports the new budget.
“I hope the Senate will fix this, but there’s no guarantee. We are at risk of losing the Big 12 and other major sports events. They will leave our state if this passes.”
The House budget removed $4.5 million in funding for public libraries. Lewis told audience members to contact her and Senator Greg Razer, along with the budget chair, to express concerns.
Lewis said there are currently several common sense gun bills in the house, but warned that “they are not moving, and not going to move.” She hopes her moderate Republican colleagues are willing to compromise more, in light of the recent shootings in St. Louis.
House sends 86 bills to the Senate
Lewis highlighted several bills which passed in the House and will be voted on by the Senate:
House Bill 301 would allow state control of the St. Louis prosecutor’s office. “This bill was presented as public safety,” said Lewis. “But all the Democrats’ ideas were stripped out. The target is the St. Louis prosecuting attorney [Kim Gardner].”
House Bill 702 would allow state control of the St. Louis police. “If this was such a great model, we wouldn’t have such high rates of crime in Kansas City,” said Lewis.
House Bill 660 would eliminate Missouri’s corporate income tax. The current rate of 4% is one of the lowest in the country. According to Lewis, “We have evidence that this will not work. Look at the Brownback years in Kansas. It hurt their infrastructure, schools and essential services. There’s no evidence that it will bring in new businesses.”
House Joint Resolution 43 would increase the threshold required to ratify the Missouri Constitution to 60% instead of a simple majority. “The initiative petition is like ‘holy grail,’ it allows citizens to have a voice,” said Lewis. “If this passes, nothing will pass. Think medicare expansion, recreational marijuana.” She is against the resolution, which brought audience applause. Lewis: “This is the number one priority for Republicans, and though it’s stalled in the senate, several other bills like it will come through.”
House Bill 909, the “Landfill Bill,” would extend a one-mile buffer requirement between landfills, effectively quashing the proposed and widely opposed one in the south part of the Kansas City metro area. “I had a lot of emails about that. It’s not in our district but it affects our friends and neighbors,” said Lewis.
Audience members came ready with questions about ranked choice voting, gun violence, right to counsel for people who are evicted, rural healthcare and nursing home staffing shortages. Some people expressed anger over the abundance of anti-transgender and anti-DEI policies coming out of the capitol.
With six weeks left in the legislative session, Lewis plans to hear more about gun laws, LGBTQ issues and more anti-DEI standalone bills.
“It’s sometimes tough, but it fuels me to keep going.”