Feb 26, 2015 – Weekly Capitol Update

HIGH COURT CONSIDERS VALIDITY OF BALLOT MEASURES

The Missouri Supreme Court on Feb. 25 heard arguments in two cases separately challenging the validity of constitutional amendments ratified by voters last August expanding gun rights and establishing a right to farm. The plaintiffs in both cases claim the General Assembly crafted unfair and misleading ballot language for the measures, thus calling the election results into question. The court will issue rulings at a later date.

The St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and other plaintiffs attempted to challenge the ballot language for the gun measure, Amendment 5, prior to the Aug. 5 primary election. Due to the unusually short timetable between when the measure was certified for the ballot in June and Election Day, however, the litigation was unable to run its course before the statutory deadline for making ballot changes had passed.

Since the plaintiffs were denied full review due to no fault of their own, the Supreme Court ruled in July that they could pursue the issue after the election if voters ratified Amendment 5, which they did with 60.9 percent support. The plaintiffs argue the language was unfair and misleading because it omitted mention of important substantive changes while improperly implying the amendment would establish a new state-level right to bear arms when in fact that right already existed in the Missouri Constitution.

The General Assembly approved the legislation placing the right-to-farm measure, Amendment 1, on the ballot more than a year before Election Day, which would have left ample time for pre-election litigation. However, the ballot language wasn’t challenged until after voter narrowly ratified Amendment 1 with 50.1 percent support. During arguments, some judges were skeptical of whether a post-election ballot language challenge is appropriate in this instance since the issue could have been raised earlier but wasn’t.

 

HOUSE APROVES REQUIRING ABORTION CLINIC INSPECTIONS

The House of Representatives on Feb. 26 voted 119-35 in favor of legislation that would require annual state inspections of ambulatory surgical facilities that provide abortions. The bill, HB 190, now advances to the Senate.

There are more than 100 ambulatory surgical centers in Missouri, but the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis is the only one at which abortions currently are performed. Ambulatory surgical centers provide a variety of outpatient surgical services. All are subject to inspections by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, but inspections aren’t performed on a regular basis.

Supporters say requiring annual inspections of the state’s lone abortion clinic would ensure the facility maintains proper standards and protects patient health. Opponents argue that would also be true of ambulatory surgical centers that perform procedures other than abortion and wouldn’t be required to undergo annual inspections. By omitting other surgical centers, opponents say the true goal is not to protect patient health but to impose unnecessary regulations on abortion providers.

 

CHAMBERS APPROVE VERSIONS OF STUDENT TRANSER BILL

The Senate and House of Representatives have passed separate bills that aim to address problems with an existing state law that allows students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to a nearby accredited district with their home district required to pay tuition and transportation costs. The House on Feb. 25 voted 114-43 to advance its bill, HB 42, to the Senate, which a day earlier granted its version, SB 1, first-round approval on a voice vote. A second Senate vote is required to forward SB 1 to the House.

Both bills would require students in unaccredited districts to first transfer to better-performing schools within their existing district. Only after all open slots at those schools are filled would students have the option to transfer to another district. The measures also seek to provide more certainty concerning tuition and transportation costs for sending districts. The measures differ in various details, including provisions regarding accountability standards.

During the debate on HB 42, a key point of contention centered on a provision that would require districts to sell vacant school buildings to charter school operators at fair market value, even if the district wants to keep those buildings. Critics of the requirement say fluctuations in student populations routinely require some buildings to be temporarily shuttered but reopened later. If a district is forced to sell closed buildings, they would have to build new schools later if student population increases, resulting in substantially higher costs than simply reopening existing buildings.

 

PUBLIC SAFETY DIRECTOR RESIGNING AFTER JUST 6 MONTHS

After just six months on the job, Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Dan Isom will resign effective March 2. Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Isom, who is black, to the post on Aug. 27 amid criticism about his administration’s lack of racial diversity in cabinet-level positions in the wake of civil unrest in Ferguson following the fatal Aug. 9 shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by a white police officer.

In a news release issued by Nixon’s office, Isom, a former St. Louis city police chief, said he will return to his previous teaching job at the University of Missouri-St. Louis Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Peter Lyskowski, Nixon’s deputy chief of staff, will serve as interim DPS director until a permanent replacement is appointed.

 

HOUSE APPROVES CREATING PRESCRIPTION DRUG DATABASE

The House of Representatives voted 107-48 in favor of legislation that would create a statewide database to monitor prescription drug purchases. The bill, HB 130, now advances to the Senate.

Supporters of the bill said it would make it easier to identify prescription drug abusers. Opponents expressed concerns that private medical information might be misused by the state or pharmacy owners and also worried such a database could be vulnerable to hacking.