House candidates field questions on disability issues

The forum attracted approximately three dozen audience members.
Candidates for the Missouri House of Representatives Mary Wynne and Paul Quinn converse during a debate held at the Columbia Public Library on Wednesday afternoon. Candidates spoke on issues concerning home care, disability issues and family resources.

Candidates for Boone County’s districts in the Missouri House of Representatives heard from some of their constituents Wednesday, as they took questions and listened to concerns from Columbians during a forum hosted by the Columbia Disabilities Issues Coalition.

The candidates at the forum included those running for House seats in the 21st, 23rd, 24th and 25th districts. Columbia is mostly situated within the latter three districts. MU's campus falls within the 25th district.

Columbia disability advocate Max Lewis said the forum was an important one because the decisions made in the House would likely affect many county residents.

“Boone County has a large population of persons with disabilities whose benefits are at stake,” he said. “It’s really important that the citizens be informed which candidate supports employment, independent living and the prospect of supporting not-for-profit programs.”

Lewis said he is concerned the state’s deepening budget crisis will make legislators reluctant to allocate money to programs for the disabled and more likely to cut funding for personnel and equipment.

“This climate is really shaky, and what’s at risk here are people’s very freedoms,” he said.

Lewis moderated the discussion at the Columbia Public Library along with Aimee Wehmeier, executive director of Services for Independent Living. Both peppered the candidates with questions about where they stood on several issues and how those stances would change as the next fiscal year’s budget is hashed out.

Among those issues is whether to accept state funding for vocational rehabilitation, treatment that teaches patients skills they can use in the workforce. Some candidates, such as incumbent Democratic Rep. Chris Kelly, who represents southern Columbia in the 24th district, felt the state should continue taking federal aid because the return on that investment is too great to cut away.

“It’s hard to find anything as effective as vocational rehabilitation,” he said.

Other candidates, such as Kelly’s Republican rival, Second Ward City Councilwoman Laura Nauser, felt the state should be more hesitant to accept federal dollars because continued state requests would worsen the federal government’s fiscal condition.

“There is just not enough money to continue to add federal spending,” she said.

Several candidates blamed an anti-federal sentiment in the general assembly for the failure of a bill that would have brought in more federal dollars by changing how different types of care are recognized. The bill had the support of Gov. Jay Nixon and the state Senate, but failed in the state House — a result that incumbent Democratic state Rep. Stephen Webber said was disappointing.

“It was one of the more frustrating things I’ve seen,” he said.

Other candidates talked about ideas to raise revenue from within the state through increased excise taxes.

Former state Sen. John Cauthorn, a Republican who is now running for the 21st district House seat, said he would consider raising the state’s cigarette tax.

“I’ve spoken with people within the industry and it’s seven for and three against, so maybe the people need to decide and vote on this,” Cauthorn said.

Missouri’s cigarette tax is $.17 per pack and the lowest in the nation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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