From Ferguson to Jefferson City, action for criminal justice and Medicaid reform in Missouri

Posted by: Gordon on 1/9/2015
Die in at Missouri Capitol Jan 7
Speaking up for criminal justice and Medicaid reform, advocates held a die in on the floor of the Missouri Capitol Jan. 7

Missouri’s new House Speaker John Diehl can declare that the Legislature will avoid Medicaid reform and block plans for a “Ferguson Agenda” until he’s blue in the face. Advocates from organizations across the state who orchestrated a die-in and protest on the Legislature’s opening day Jan. 7 put newly-elected and veteran lawmakers on notice that they have a different set of expectations.

Progress Missouri reported that Missouri Rural Crisis Center and St. Louis Jobs with Justice convened a group that also included Organization for Black Struggle, PICO affiliate Concerned Citizens Organization, Missouri Faith Voices, Gamaliel affiliate Metropolitan Congregations United and others for a news conference and actions on the first day of the new session.

Diehl had said in the media the week before the Legislature opened that the heavily Republican House and Senate would not even look at Medicaid reform for Missouri, even though most hospitals and the Chamber of Commerce have joined advocates in support of change. Missouri has some 300,000 uninsured residents who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for subsidies under offered by the Affordable Care Act. Groups including MCU have pushed for reform to "close the gap" for several years.

"That was Diehl's shot across our bow," says  MCU health care task force leader Kevin Gritzke, who developed a heart condition during a brief interval when he was between health insurance coverages and ended up with a million-dollar healthcare bill from a local hospital he's still negotiating to pay due to being on a fixed income. "Our response was, 'you know buddy, it's just beginning. We’re back."

Wednesday's event started with a procession in which community leaders carried three coffins, symbolizing people who died with no health insurance during the past two years when the Legislature failed to act and a third commemorating Mike Brown, Kajieme Powell, VonDerrit Myers and others. Many turned out to the action to press for reforms of criminal justice in the state.

Leaders from Organization for Black Struggle delivered demands for a Quality Policing Initiative, which will address recruitment, training, deployment, accountability and advancement of law enforcement officers in the state.

Gritzke said the group got the sense they had had an impact. He noted that a woman who witnessed the die-in spoke up at the group's debrief (hosted by the Missouri legislative black caucus) to say that in may years as a lobbyist in Jefferson City, she had rarely seen a group have the same kind of impact on legislators.

Missouri Lieutenant Governor Pete Kinder would probably agree: he posted a photo on Twitter of his gavel and pad he hammered on to try to get order on the floor during the protests. It was broken in two pieces
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