Crowell highlights legislative session to area business leaders

Sunday, June 3, 2012
State Sen. Jason Crowell speaks Friday, June 1, 2012 at the First Friday Coffee. (Fred Lynch)

In what basically amounted to a farewell address, Sen. Jason Crowell on Friday discussed his 12-year career as a Missouri lawmaker and highlighted accomplishments from the most recent regular legislative session -- one that also happened to be his last.

The Cape Girardeau Republican, who served two terms each in the Missouri House and Senate, spoke to a room full of business leaders at the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce's First Friday Coffee.

During his half-hour talk, Crowell argued against the notion of a do-nothing Missouri legislature, pointing to several items accomplished this year -- from securing permanent funding for Missouri veterans homes to adding cellphones to the state's no-call list.

Missouri also passed a budget, which may seem routine to some. But Crowell noted that the U.S. Senate hasn't passed a budget in three years and other nearby states such as Kansas and Illinois are struggling to do so.

"In Missouri, we've been able to do things that are now just emerging as national issues on a statewide level," Crowell said. "We've been able to address tort reforms in lawsuits. We've been able to address workers' compensation, pension reform, funding issues within the budget by reforming Medicaid. We are looking at many other areas that other states are just now starting to look at."

But Crowell also talked about points of pride -- and regrets -- from his political career that began when Crowell was elected to the Missouri House in 1999, serving from 2000 to 2004 before serving two four-year senate terms.

One major accomplishment cited by Crowell was his involvement in Southeast Missouri autism funding. Since 2006, $1.4 million in funds have been awarded to the Tailor Institute in Cape Girardeau. Crowell also worked with Gov. Jay Nixon to reinstate $2.6 million for the construction of the Southeast Missouri Autism Center.

A close second, Crowell said, was keeping Cottonwood Residential Treatment Center. In 2004, then-governor Bob Holden excluded funding for the center from his budget proposal. Crowell and others worked out an agreement with Holden to keep the center open.

As for regrets, Crowell said he certainly wishes he could change one vote -- the one he cast to repeal the limits on campaign finance. He did so, he said, because he thought it would make the system more transparent. Instead, he said, the repeal has created a disconnect between political candidates and the people they intend to represent.

"This is insane, folks, and I'll be the first one to admit it," Crowell said. "Now there are individuals who seek office that never talk to the people that vote for them. They only want to get the $25,000, the $100,000 donors."

He also encouraged lawmakers to pick up his fight for tax credit reform -- a frequent sore point for Crowell. Last year, the Senate passed changes to Missouri's tax credit system that Crowell has said would eliminate more than $1.5 billion in such credits over 15 years. The bill would have eliminated tax credits that did not provide a return on investment and put all tax credits under the review of the legislative appropriation process. But the House leaders that year blocked the measure. Crowell again Friday pointed out that Missouri will dole out $700 million this year in state tax credits.

With both candidates who want to replace Crowell in the audience -- Reps. Ellen Brandom and Wayne Wallingford -- Crowell also called for a reform of the criminal code to drive down the cost of housing inmates to the tune of $20,000 a year apiece. One such item that was debated but not passed was a reduction of the current five-year mandatory parole to fewer years based on good behavior. Crowell also suggested that offenders shouldn't be sent to prison for a crime as light as driving on a revoked license.

"They're not sexy issues," Crowell said. "But we're talking millions and millions and millions of your dollars," Crowell said.

Following the meeting, chamber president John Mehner said he thought Crowell did a good job summarizing a long political career in a short time. Mehner could also tell that Crowell cared about the issues.

"People that have worked with him in the past know what he's been passionate about and what he's been focusing on," Mehner said. "It's obvious the autism thing was a big deal. And Cottonwood, too -- It's obvious that disadvantaged kids are a priority for him."

smoyers@semissourian.com

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Pertinent address:

1333 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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