House votes to extend insurance coverage for children with developmental disabilities

The House has voted to require insurance companies to cover therapies for developmentally disabled children in Missouri, which would expand on a 2010 law that required coverage for therapy for children with autism.

House Bill 399 would prohibit companies from limiting coverage in fully insured plans for physical, cognitive, emotional, mental, or developmental disabilities.  That is less than one-third of the existing plans in the state, covering somewhere between 1,800 and 6,000 children.

The legislation is sponsored by Rocheport representative Chuck Basye (R).  He said for children to be able to continue treatments when they are young could help them avoid long-term needs and issues later in life.

“Speech therapy can prevent a child from needing a [gastrostomy] tube or from aspirating and getting pneumonia; physical therapy can prevent very expensive orthopedic surgeries and lifelong issues; and occupational therapies can prevent a child from injuries,” said Basye.

One of the driving forces behinds Basye’s interest in the issue is his relationship with a constituent, 9-year-old Nathan, whose mother Basye met during his campaign for reelection.   Nathan is one of the children who could benefit from the passage of HB 399, if only indirectly.

“Nathan and I have this connection through our dogs and he found out I’d lost one of my dogs very unexpectedly last July, and a couple of days later we were at this fundraising event for another candidate and he learned through his mother that I’d lost my dog, and he made an attempt on his own to go get me a little balloon animal dog and came over and gave it to me,” said Basye.  “I thought that was pretty cool.  I’ll never forget that moment.”

Kirkwood representative Deb Lavender (D) is a physical therapist.  She said often, children will start therapy but insurance will cover a limited number of sessions.

“So many complications can occur after that.  They don’t fully maximize their physical ability, mental abilities, capacities, and so being able to extend this therapy is so critical for these children at that time in their life,” said Lavender.

St. Louis Democrat Steve Butz called the bill well-thought-out and a good compromise between parents who were advocating for a change, and the insurance industry.

“These therapies are medicine for these developmentally disabled children.  They are medicines that improve the quality of life, help these children attain goals they could never attain, and the costs of the therapies are quite inexpensive when compared to other experimental drugs and other pharmaceuticals that, say, a child with leukemia might need for his or her survival,” said Butz.

HB 399 would not cost the state anything.  It is projected it would increase premiums for holders of fully insured plans by about 39-cents per member, per month.

The House voted 129-5 to send the bill to the Senate, which last week passed its version of this legislation.

House votes to prevent jailing of Missourians for failing to pay jail bills

The Missouri House has voted to keep judges from putting people back in jail for failing to pay for the costs of keeping them in jail.

Representative Bruce DeGroot (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 192 would keep a person’s failure to pay a jail for housing that person, from resulting in more jail time that would result in additional housing costs.  Instead, a local sheriff could attempt to collect such costs owed through civil proceedings, or a judge could waive those costs.

The legislation is sponsored by Chesterfield Republican Bruce DeGroot, who worked closely with Liberty Democrat Mark Ellebracht.

HB 192 has broad, bipartisan support, as members of both parties agreed that being jailed for failing to pay so-called “board bills” only created a cycle of debt that some Missourians have been trapped in for years.  Legislators gave examples of individuals who had stolen items like makeup or candy, and years later owe tens of thousands of dollars to the local jails that had housed them.

“It just seems so contradictory that I can’t pay a $1000 bill, so you put me back in jail, so that when I get back out of jail now my bill is $1,500.  It just seemed to keep going for forever,” said Representative Deb Lavender (D-Kirkwood).

“In my opinion the goal of the criminal justice system … if you do something wrong, you should be punished.  On the other hand, once you’ve completed your punishment, once you’ve served your time in jail, man, the goal ought to be to get those people back out into society [to] be productive of society, paying for their families, rather than have them in jail dodging warrant servers, and get them back on the tax roll,” said DeGroot.

Ellebracht stressed that these “board bills” are not the same thing as court costs or fines that might be assessed against a defendant.

“When somebody gets thrown in jail, their time is their punishment.  That’s the point of it … but the money that’s accrued for your care – for your food, your clothing, the shelter over your head that the county’s providing – that’s money owed for a service provided incidental to your punishment,” said Ellebracht.  “So, the sheriff has every right to collect that money … they just don’t have a right to keep bringing you back to court and throwing you in jail, thereby accruing more board bills to do so.”

DeGroot said he doesn’t fault the judges in the state who have been jailing individuals over board bills.

Representative Mark Ellebracht (photo; Tim Bommel, House Communications)

“The judges in the counties that practiced this way, I think, are all trying to reform themselves now because they know that not only [the legislature] but the Supreme Court has an appetite right now for curbing this kind of behavior,” said DeGroot, “but they were just, in my opinion, just using the tools that they had available to them.  They didn’t know how else to collect, because the threat of jail time is much more severe than, ‘We’re going to take your stuff.’”

HB 192 would do away with hearings in which the court requires a defendant to show why he or she shouldn’t be jailed for failing to pay board bills.  Lawmakers heard that defendants are often required to appear monthly for such hearings and a warrant is issued for them if they fail to appear.

The bill is supported by a number of groups including the Missouri State Public Defender, the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

The House voted 156-1 to send the bill to the Senate for its consideration.

House approves ethics reforms for local officials, open records exemption changes

The Missouri House has voted to enact a number of ethics reforms for local  officials, but support for the bill was tempered by an amendment that creates exemptions to the state’s open records, or “Sunshine,” law.

Representatives Nick Schroer (left) offered an amendment adding exemptions to Missouri’s open records law to a bill sponsored by Representative Shamed Dogan that dealt with ethics reform for local officials. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 445 extends to local officials the ethics policies that state lawmakers and statewide officials are now subject to.  It would bar lobbyists from making expenditures for local government officials, superintendents, or members of school boards or charter school governing boards.  Such expenditures could also not be made for those officials’ staffs or specific members of their families.

The bill would also keep elected or appointed local officials from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving office.  It would limit to $5 per day the amount a gift to such officials can cost, and cap at $2000 any campaign contributions for municipal, political subdivision, and special district office races.

Bill sponsor Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) has proposed that language for several years, based on how he saw local officials being lobbied while he was a city councilman in Ballwin.

“This is simply making sure that that same ethical standard to which we hold ourselves is also going to apply to our local elected officials, who have the same level of public trust, who are also trusted with taxpayer dollars, and who we also expect not to profit from their public service,” said Dogan.

A previous year’s version of Dogan’s bill received 149 votes when the House sent it to the Senate.  This year’s version passed out of the House on Thursday, 103-47.  Democrats said the lessening of support was due to an amendment to Dogan’s bill that they say “guts” Missouri’s open records law that has been in place since 1973.

“I appreciate [Representative Dogan] and his quest to make Missouri a better place and also improve the perception that people have and the confidence that folks have in their elected officials,” said Kansas City Democrat Jon Carpenter.

“But at the same time I’m going to vote against House Bill 445 today because unfortunately it doesn’t just do those things.  It also upends almost five decades of open records and transparency law in this state.  In fact almost unquestionably, when this bill passes it’s going to be the most radical undermining of open records and transparency law in state history,” said Carpenter.

The amendment, offered by Representative Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon), would add to exemptions from the Sunshine law any personal cell phone numbers, social security numbers or home addresses; records of constituent case files including any correspondence between an elected official and a constituent; and any document or record “received or prepared by or on behalf of” an elected or appointed official “consisting of advice, opinions, and recommendations in connection with the deliberative decision-making process of said body.”

“I took a massive interest in trying to protect the integrity of our positions,” said Schroer.

Schroer discussed with Representative Steve Helms (R-Springfield) incidents in the news that he said are the types of things he wants to prevent.

Representative Jon Carpenter and other Democrats said the changes HB 445 would make to Missouri’s open records law go too far. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications

“The Huffington Post ruined an entire family for one person’s tweets, doxing them,” said Schroer.

“So you mean the Huffington Post printed private, personal information out on social media because they disagreed with a tweet that one of the family members made?” asked Helms.

“Correct,” said Schroer.  “They accessed personal information just like I am trying to protect here.”

Democrats were largely unmoved by the concerns Schroer cited.

“I believe [Representative Schroer] protests way too much,” said Representative Deb Lavender (D-Kirkwood)“I don’t think the statute we have currently in place allows half of what he’s just told us is sunshineable … I don’t hand out people’s social security numbers.  I won’t give addresses.  I’m covered in the law that we have today.”

Dogan said he felt the provisions offered by Schroer regarding constituent information were necessary.

“I am concerned about people’s e-mail addresses, phone numbers, other personal information being a part of the public disclosure and us not being able to redact that information really is concerning,” said Dogan.  “With that said I’m not sure about the portion that has been the most controversial where it’s talking about all communications.  I think that might have been an unintentional kind of overreach, so I’m a little bit concerned about that section and I would be willing to work on toning that language down somewhat.”

Several Republicans voted against HB 445.  Dogan said most or all of those were likely opposed to campaign finance limits, which many Republicans believe limit free speech.

Today’s vote sends the legislation to the Senate, where several lawmakers in both parties said they expect it will undergo further revisions.

House votes to outline lengths guards can go to, to protect Callaway nuclear plant

The Missouri House has approved a bill aimed at increasing security at the state’s only nuclear power plant.

Representative Travis Fitzwater (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 1797, called the “Nuclear Power Plant Security Guard Act,” would create the offense of “trespass on a nuclear power plant, and make it punishable by up to four years in prison.  The bill also allows armed guards at the plant to use or threaten physical or deadly force if they believe it necessary to protect themselves or others protects them from civil liability for conduct covered in the bill.

Representative Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit), whose district includes Ameren’s Callaway Energy Center, proposed the Act.

Fitzwater called the plant, “a very unique spot in our state, a very unique asset to our economy.  It just gives [guards] statutory authority to protect that facility.”

The bill had bipartisan support, including from Representative Bob Burns (D-St. Louis) who recalled touring the plant when he was first elected to the House 6 years ago.

He said the state can’t do enough to protect the plant, “Particularly with what we’ve been hearing for the past couple of years about our electric grid.  Things like Callaway, those are targets for terrorists, and if something happened to Callaway it wouldn’t just hurt Callaway, it would hurt our whole state and our region.  I mean it could make Chernobyl look like a firecracker.”

The bill passed 134-8.  One of those 8 “no” votes was cast by Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender, who said guards at Callaway already have the authority the Act would allow, including authority to use deadly force when there is a “reasonable belief” that it is necessary.

“We already have measures in place that protect this plant.  I don’t think this plant is fragile.  For those of you who don’t know, we hire a SEALS team to attempt to break into Callaway once a year.  They have never been successful,” said Lavender.

The Act now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

House votes to allow production, interstate imports of industrial hemp

The Missouri House has again endorsed getting the state into the industrial hemp industry.

Representative Paul Curtman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House voted 141-4 on Thursday in favor of House Bill 2034, which would exempt hemp from state law governing controlled substances and create a pilot program for hemp production.

“Missouri used to be one of the leaders in the growth and the cultivation of industrial hemp.  This is a huge cash crop.  This is not something that people use for narcotic purposes.  This is simply something that people use for manufacturing purposes,” said bill sponsor Paul Curtman (R-Pacific)“This is a substantial step in the direction of economic freedom and also property rights as it relates to what our farmers can and can’t grow or what they choose to grow.”

HB 2034 would also allow Missouri manufacturers to import hemp from other states where it can be grown.  Currently they must get it from other nations because of laws that prohibit transport across state lines.

The bill would allow the cultivation of hemp with less than .3-percent THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis.

That earned the bill support from legislators with a law enforcement background, including Galen Higdon (R-St. Joseph), who is a retired Buchanon County deputy sheriff.  He said it has no value as an illegal drug.

“In our rural areas a lot of what we call ‘ditch weed’ just grows wild, and people from out of state that don’t know this go and harvest that and bag it and sell it and end up getting themselves in trouble with the people they’ve sold it to,” said Higdon.

Representative Allen Andrews (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Higdon said he’s learned that at one time seven different farms grew hemp in his county.

“There was a rope manufacturer, there was a burlap bag manufacturer; and those plants were grown and cut until the federal government banned marijuana throughout the United States,” said Higdon.

During debate several lawmakers raised the question of whether Curtman’s legislation should be tied to legalization of marijuana.  Others, including St. Louis Democrat Deb Lavender, said the topics should be kept separate.

“It is a different plant and I would love to see [hemp] in.  I’m not opposed to [marijuana] either, and I think there’s tremendous financial aspects that the state could benefit from, but for this purpose I think we need to get this up and going for the good of our state, for the good of our farmers,” said Lavender.

Grant City Republican Allen Andrews was one of the four “no” votes on HB 2034.  He said the state Highway Patrol opposes it and said other law enforcement consider hemp as a first step toward legalization of marijuana.

“Our own state Highway Patrol told me two days ago in a meeting that the legalization of industrial hemp will be difficult to police and even more difficult to control, requiring more manpower than is currently available, and will prove to be a detriment from the other patrol safety concerns that they have,” said Andrews.

Curtman said the Patrol is neutral on his legislation.

Farm groups have said that adding industrial hemp to a crop rotation can lead to an increase in yields.  Hemp also grows well in poor soil, including land not suitable for more typical crops such as corn or soybeans.

The bill goes to the Senate where in past years similar legislation has been passed out of a committee but has not been passed by the full chamber.

Westchester Elementary students reject mock legislation to eliminate recess

An attempt to eliminate recess in the Westchester Elementary School was unanimously defeated today in the Missouri Capitol, by a legislative committee made up of members of its 4th grade class.

Students Keaton Bradshaw (left, holding base of microphone), Jacob Whitson, and Keaton Coldwater testified against a mock bill that would have eliminated recess at their school, Westchester Elementary, while 4th grade teacher Brigette Ryan (left) listens.

The class held a mock hearing on the proposal, giving its students a chance to learn more about how the legislative process works.

The hearing was chaired by Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender, whose district includes Westchester Elementary.

“How many of you were upset when I told you there had been a bill filed to take away recess?” Lavender asked the students, who all put their hands up in response.  “And even when I told you I was just kidding you were still a little upset because it might be true, right?”

Lavender explained that sometimes people come to the Capitol to testify on real bills that they have a concern about, just as students today testified about this made-up legislation.

The students had prepared in the weeks leading up to the mock hearing learning how the legislative process works and preparing to make their case against the banning of recess.

The mock bill was introduced by 4th grade teacher Jeni Ono, who presented the arguments for this made-up proposal.

“According to an article in Education World, students need to prepare by spending more time on academics in order to perform well on standardized tests, and we need those test scores to be as high as possible,” said Ono.  “To be successful in life children need academic learning.  Trimming a few minutes off of recess or even eliminating it altogether won’t hurt children at all.  They get a lot of time at home, after school hours to get physical activity in the day.”

No one spoke in favor of eliminating recess except Ono and her fellow 4th grade teacher Brigette Ryan.

Children argued that recess gives them time in sunlight during which they are exposed to healthy Vitamin-D, that it gives them time to interact socially, and that studies have shown that children need time for unstructured play in order to thrive.

4th grader Keaton Coldwater said sometimes kid need a break just like adults.

“When you’re in class sometimes it gets uncomfortable, and you just want to get outside and do something other than just sit in class, so it reduces stress.  If you’re stressed about something you just get outside and play,” said Coldwater.

The student committee held a vote and the mock bill to eliminate recess was defeated 11-0.  Lavender noted this was the third year such a proposal had been offered and defeated, and she expects it will come up again for future students to consider.

House does not override any vetoes; aims for new plan to help disabled, elderly

The Missouri legislature did not act to override any of Governor Eric Greitens’ (R) vetoes of its legislation in the veto session that began Wednesday at noon.

Representative Deb Lavender came up with an earlier version of a “fund sweep” plan when the House was working on a proposed state budget. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House was asked to consider overriding one veto; that of House Committee Bill 3.  That bill would have reduced cuts to reimbursement rates for nursing homes and in-home care providers by taking $35-million from surpluses in multiple state funds.  Governor Greitens called the proposal unconstitutional and a one-time fix to a long-term issue.

House and Senate leadership confirmed Wednesday those chambers would work together to create within three weeks a new funding solution to preserve care for the more than 8,000 Missourians who would be impacted by those cuts.

The House voted not to overturn that veto, 49-106, with most Republicans voting to sustain.

Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender was the chief architect of the idea of a “fund sweep,” as called for by HCB 3.  She made the motion to overturn the veto.

“With the unnecessary veto of House Committee Bill 3, the governor took away independence from these 8,000 individuals, stripped $34.5-million out of our local economies, and threatened the care provided by our nursing homes to our elderly,” said Lavender.  “By the stroke of his pen the governor ignored a hard-found, bipartisan compromise intended to ensure that the disabled and elderly individuals continue to get the care they need.”

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick is charged with representing the House in developing a new funding plan to preserve services for more than 8,000 disabled and elderly Missourians. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Republicans said voting to override the veto wouldn’t accomplish anything because the wording of HCB 3 gives the Greitens’ administration the option of sweeping those funds, so he could still elect not to do it even if the bill were passed.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said the House should instead focus on the effort to create a new, long-term plan to maintain services to those 8,000 Missourians.

“Do I think that it’s possible to get to a place where we can put something on the table that can pass?  I think it’s absolutely possible,” said Fitzpatrick, who was asked along with Senator Mike Cunningham to work with their colleagues to develop a plan.

If they are successful, the legislature would next be asked to consider voting to call itself into special session to consider that plan.  That would require approval by at least three-fourths of the legislators in each chamber.

Democrats were not convinced that the answer is to wait for a new plan to be developed.

“We’ve had all summer to work on this and no one even saw that it was important enough to pull together,” said House Democrat leader Gail McCann Beatty (Kansas City).

The House adjourned with no motions having been made to consider overrides on any other vetoes.  The Missouri Senate did not send the House any veto overrides to consider.

House endorses new abortion provider regulations; sends bill to the Missouri Senate

The Missouri House has passed a Senate bill that proposes new restrictions on abortion.  The House made several changes to the bill, so it goes back to the Senate for consideration.

Representative Diane Franklin carried Senate Bill 5 in the House during the legislature’s second extraordinary session of 2017. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The bill would allow the attorney general to prosecute abortion law violations without first involving local prosecutors; repeal a St. Louis ordinance that bars discrimination in housing and employment against women who have had an abortion, use birth control, or are pregnant; and require annual, unannounced state inspections of abortion facilities, among other provisions.

“The bill that we received from the Senate, we thought, was a good framework but it did not really specifically meet the governor’s call, so we re-put in provisions that helped to provide for the health and safety of women,” said Representative Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton), who carried Senate Bill 5 in the House.

Democrats argue the legislation is not about women’s health and safety, saying it is about making it more difficult for women to get abortions in Missouri.

“For the entire last week the only word I’ve heard was, ‘abortion,’” said Representative Deb Lavender (D-Kirkwood)“It’s actually a scam that we think – we’re saying – that we’re protecting women when actually all we’re doing is putting additional hurdles in their way for them to access healthcare.”

Franklin said a key provision for her is language that would require that all tissue removed after an abortion is sent to a pathologist, rather than a sample as is required now.  A pathologist would have to account for all tissue and note any issues.  The Department of Health would follow up any inconsistencies with an investigation.  It would also report annually to the legislature all information it gathers regarding fetal tissue handling.

Franklin has carried various forms of such language going back several sessions, after a series of videos emerged alleging that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue after abortions.

“I think that especially important that I worked on have been the fetal tissue portion of that – the tracking of that – so that we have the assurance that it is indeed going where it should be going and that our department is able to keep track of that,” said Franklin.

The bill also aims to bar laws that would interfere with the operations or speech of alternatives to abortion agencies.  Representative Hannah Kelly (R-Mountain Grove) says those agencies do a lot to help pregnant women.

“They offer pregnancy testing; ultrasounds – I’ve heard many, many, many stories directly from young mothers who … were in a place where they didn’t have any other options.  They needed alternatives and they needed help, and coming back to me, in particular, and saying, ‘I saw my baby.  I saw my baby move,” said Kelly.

Democrats are critical of information given out at alternatives to abortion agencies, saying it is medically inaccurate and skewed toward discouraging a woman from having an abortion.  Republicans say the agencies give women information with which they can form their own decisions.

Representative Cora Faith Walker offered an amendment that would have required quarterly reporting from alternatives to abortion agencies, but it was voted down. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Ferguson Democrat Cora Faith Walker also questioned the effectiveness of those agencies.

“In total there are about 70-plus alternatives to abortion agencies that exist here in the state of Missouri and yet we still have issues with infant mortality rates and maternal mortality rates that surpass national averages,” said Walker.  “In specific areas of Missouri where there seem to exist several alternative to abortion agencies that are supposed to be providing healthcare and other services to women as an alternative to abortion, we still have these very, very high infant mortality rates.”

The legislature returned to Jefferson City in a special session to consider abortion legislation at the call of Governor Eric Greitens (R).  Democrats used debate of SB 5 to criticize the governor for what they said was a stunt meant to help him politically.

“Make sure we’re not letting a governor bring us back to special session for political gain,” said St. Louis City Democrat Bruce Franks, Junior“I know how passionate you (Republicans) all are about this issue.  I would never take that away from you.  I know how passionate we (Democrats) are.  But we’re not paying attention to how we’re being played … Now just because this is one of our particular issues that we feel so strongly about doesn’t mean it’s right that we’re here.”

Republicans called the session an important opportunity for the state to reaffirm a commitment to protecting unborn children and making sure women receive proper care from abortion providers.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff), when asked about lawmakers’ attitudes toward the governor, said, “I think we’ve been focused here in the House on issues, and I think the issues that we’ve worked on back in regular session and through these two special sessions are issues that are of particular importance to the House, and they’re of particular importance to members of the Senate as well, so the fact that we’ve got a governor that’s willing to engage on these issues has been positive and helpful.”

Representative Jay Barnes (left) talks with House Speaker Todd Richardson. Barnes offered several amendments that contributed to the final form of Senate Bill 5. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Democrats note courts have ruled against laws that placed similar restrictions on facilities that provide abortions, and say this legislation will likely be thrown out as well.

“You already know this is going to straight to litigation once it goes into effect, and you also know the [financial cost to the state of defending it],” said St. Louis Democrat Stacey Newman.

Richardson believes if the bill the House passed is challenged in court, it will be upheld.

“This is obviously a very highly litigated area of the law.  It will continue to be a highly litigated area of the law in every state, but I’m very confident that the state of Missouri, if this law is challenged, will prevail,” said Richardson.

The state Senate is expected to debate the House’s changes to SB 5 in the coming days.

Legislature’s budget follows House lead; fully funds K-12 schools for first time

The state legislature has passed a budget proposal that for the first time fully funds the current form of the K-12 education funding formula.  The $27.7-billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 would pump $48-million more dollars into the state’s public schools, providing them with nearly $3.4-billion.

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The inclusion of full funding of the formula was a personal win for House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob).

“It was the number one thing I was going to figure out how to do when I released the [earliest version of the House’s budget proposal], was to fully fund the formula,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I made that decision early on.”

House Democrats including Representative Deb Lavender (Kirkwood) say they are pleased with the funding increase, but point out that the legislature passed last year a bill reinstating a cap on how much the formula can grow year-to-year.

“Yes we’re fully funding the foundation formula – at a rate of $450-million less than what the foundation formula would have been a year-and-a-half ago,” said Lavender.  “So, are we fully funding that?”

Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Democrat Leader Gail McCann Beatty (Kansas City) said the budget included a “phantom fully funding of the formula.”

Republicans said reinstating that cap meant the formula would not continue to grow beyond what the legislature could appropriate.

“When the General Assembly took that cap off in 2010, starting at that point the formula has never been funded.  They tweaked the formula in a way that made it unfundable,” said Fitzpatrick.  “My contention would be that the formula that was agreed to in 2005, that everybody got in a room and worked out, is fully funded.”

The legislature’s proposal would also restore funding for school transportation, which Governor Eric Greitens (R) had proposed cutting.

The House and Senate voted to send that budget to Greitens Thursday, one day ahead of the constitutional deadline, and one day after selected House and Senate conferees finalized a compromise between each chamber’s proposals.

House budget proposal attempts to strengthen defunding of abortion providers

The budget proposed this week by the Missouri House attempts to strengthen an attempt started last year to defund abortion providers.

Representative Robert Ross (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Robert Ross (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The current fiscal year’s budget includes language that intended to keep all money appropriated by it from going to hospitals or clinics that perform abortions.  Yukon Republican Robert Ross proposed that prohibition, and said it needed to be strengthened.

“Despite that being a simple amendment last year, apparently [the Department of Social Services] was confused, and has chosen not to implement until recently … in this last month,” said Ross.

The House voted to adopt language offered by Ross for this year’s budget to use the definition of “abortion services” found elsewhere in state law.  Republicans including Sonya Anderson of Springfield said they hope this will clarify to the Department the legislature’s intent.

“Time and time again we have heard from our constituents that they do not support their tax dollars being used to fund abortions.  Last year we thought we had put a stop to this … yet here we are again a year later and Missouri is still sending taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood, an organization that is the largest abortion provider in Missouri,” said Anderson.

House Democrat leader Gail McCann Beatty called the amendment a “continued attack on women.”

“I think that amendment, while its target may be Planned Parenthood, this is going to cause some issues to our hospitals as well,” said McCann Beatty.

The statutory definition of “abortion services” includes not only performing abortions, but encouraging or referring a patient to have one.  Raytown Representative Jerome Barnes (D) said that means facilities besides Planned Parenthood could lose money.

Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Talking about abortion and providing fact-based information is not the same thing as providing abortions.  While the amendment maker may indeed target one particular provider, I am very concerned that any women’s health provider could be swept up in this amendment,” said Barnes.

Kirkwood Representative Deb Lavender (D) said the healthcare of women statewide could suffer under the prohibition.

“We are now in this amendment saying if you refer somebody for an abortion out of your facility, we’re not going to pay.  This now affects federally-qualified health facilities,” said Lavender.  “Make no mistake:  you think infant mortality in the Bootheel is high today?  Wait until you pass this amendment because you are going to prevent women from getting healthcare.”

Democrats also argue that tax dollars are already prohibited from being used to pay for abortions, but Republicans including Anderson say that isn’t enough.

“The taxpayers’ money is still going to fund Planned Parenthood.  It may not just be specifically for abortion but Planned Parenthood does offer abortion services in Missouri, so they do benefit from those taxpayer dollars,” said Anderson.

Ross’ amendment was adopted 115-35.  It is now part of the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that the House has sent to the Senate for its consideration.  The Senate will begin its work on that proposal next week.