Lawmakers Dawdle with Blind Missourians and Veterans

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JEFFERSON CITY - As state lawmakers debate Missouri's $24 billion operating budget, funding for veterans and the blind remains uncertain.

House dumped a plan on the Senate to raise $31 million for the veterans' homes by switching casino revenue away from early childhood programs, which would in turn be funded by a penalty against national tobacco industries.

But in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, the Senate failed to approve the House plan. The Senate shutdown debate after an 11.5 hour filibuster led by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.

House leaders, including Budget Chair Ryan Silvey, said Monday that unless the Senate approves the House's plan to fund veterans, the House will be forced to make cuts to other programs, which may include funding for the blind health care program. The program assists blind Missourians who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. 

And while members of the Senate spent the daylight hours Tuesday off the chamber floor and in closed-door negotiations, Persian Gulf War veteran Bill Fairbairn headed to the state capitol to fuss about the Senate's inaction on the veterans issue.

Fairbairn has been on a hunger strike for 6 days, and says he won't stop until lawmakers commit to funding the state's veterans homes. His diet has consisted of two protein shakes per day and water.

Meanwhile Nick Whitney, who is blind, has been lobbying at the state capitol in support of funding the blind health care program. Whitney himself has relied on the program for nine years to help pay for his skin cancer treatments.  

"Just last Thursday, I had treatment on my hand for skin cancer. I would not be able to purchase the treatments that I need for this. I'll have to cut back on other things" said Whitney. 

The General Assembly has a constitutional deadline of Friday May 8 to send the finalized budget to Governor Nixon.