Jul 27, 2017 – Weekly Capitol Update

SPECIAL SESSION ENDS AS GOVERNOR SIGNS ABORTION BILL

Gov. Eric Greitens signed legislation into law on July 26 that seeks to impose tighter restrictions on abortion facilities and grants Attorney General Jos Hawley, an ardent opponent of abortion rights, the authority to prosecute alleged violations of abortion laws.

The Senate granted final approval to the measure, Senate Bill 5, a day earlier, bringing to a close a six-week special session that Greitens, a Republican, had called solely on the abortion issue after the GOP-controlled didn’t address the topic during this year’s regular legislative. Action in the special session, however, had remained dormant for more than a month after the House of Representatives passed its version of the bill on June 20 to include tighter restriction on abortion facilities than originally approved by the Senate. Despite the long break, the Senate accepted the House version without seeking changes.

Much of SB 5 calls for regulations on abortion clinics that aren’t required of other medical facilities. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a Texas case that states can’t limit abortion access by imposing burdensome and medically unnecessary requirements on abortion providers while exempting other medical providers from those same requirements. A lawsuit challenging Missouri’s new regulations is expected.

The provision of the bill granting the attorney general jurisdiction to initiate charges for alleged violations of abortion laws is one of the measure’s more controversial components since local prosecutors traditionally have had sole discretion over whether to pursue criminal cases.

Although there is no evidence that Missouri’s sole abortion clinic, which is located in St. Louis, has violated any laws, supporters of granting the attorney general jurisdiction in such cases claim it’s needed because elected prosecutors in the Democratic-dominated city would be reluctant to file charges against clinics if laws were broken. Critics of the change are concerned Hawley, a Republican considered likely to run for the U.S. Senate next year, will abuse the new power to pursue frivolous charges for political gain.

SB 5 also nullifies a St. Louis City ordinance prohibiting employers or landlords from discriminating against women based on their reproductive decisions. The bill takes effect Oct. 24.

 

DEMOCRATS URGE STATE TO DROP PLAN TO CUT SERVICES

A group of Democratic lawmakers on July 24 urged state officials to drop plans to seek a waiver from the federal government that would allow Missouri to eliminate in-home and nursing home care services for more than 8,000 elderly or disabled Missourians.

Following a public hearing on the proposed waiver, state Reps. Peter Merideth of St. Louis, Crystal Quade of Springfield and Cora Faith Walker of Ferguson said that in addition to harming the people who would lose services, any short-term financial savings to the state would be far offset by additional long-term costs as those affected would be forced to seek more expensive alternatives for care.

When he presented his proposed fiscal year 2018 state budget in February, Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, originally proposed eliminating services for more than 20,000 disabled or elderly Missourians by tightening eligibility rules to require a person to have more severe disabilities in order to qualify for benefits. Lawmakers restored some the governor’s proposed cuts using general revenue, but preserving services for the remaining 8,000 affected Missourians required separate legislation, HCB 3, that sought to redirect $34 million in unused excess revenue from certain special state accounts.

HCB 3 passed with bipartisan supporter, but Greitens vetoed the bill on June 30, thus eliminating the necessary funding source. In order to actually tighten eligibility requirements, however, the state must get a waiver from the federal government, which the Greitens administration is requesting.