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Anti-abortion groups file suit to block MOSIRA

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 2, 2011 - Two anti-abortion rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday to prevent the implementation of the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act.

The recently-signed law - widely known as MOSIRA - would provide incentives to companies within certain fields, such as biotechnology and life sciences. The measure was one of the few bills to pass during the latest special session of the General Assembly and also was heralded by Gov. Jay Nixon as potentially a major economic development tool.

But the bill faced pushback from anti-abortion rights groups who argued that it lacked sufficient protections to keep money from going to embryonic stem-cell research. One opening for the groups to challenge the law was stored in a provision linking the program's implementation to the passage of broader economic development legislation debated in the special session. That measure -- known as Senate Bill 8 -- failed after Republicans in the House and Senate couldn't come to a consensus.

That clause states: "Section A of this act relating to science and innovation shall not become effective except upon the passage and approval by signature of the governor only of senate bill no. 8 relating to taxation and enacted during the first extraordinary session of first regular session of the ninety-sixth general assembly."

Citing the provision, leaders of both Missouri Right to Life and Missouri Roundtable for Life filed a lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court Thursday to stop MOSIRA from going into effect.

"Essentially it said MOSIRA shall not become effective except that [the economic development bill] passes in that special session," said President of Missouri Roundtable for Life Fred Sauer in an interview. "There's no law that can go into effect according to the plain language of the law itself.

Added Missouri Right to Life President Pam Fichter in an interview: "The very last section, the very last sentence in [MOSIRA] basically says that in order for it to be enacted [economic development legislation] also had to pass. Well, it didn't pass. So that's as clear as it can be. And it has to pass during the special session, because that's what the language said."

Nanci Gonder, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said in an email, "We just received petition and will review it. No comment at this time." Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said, "We'll defer comment to the AG's office, which represents the state."

At a ceremonial bill signing of MOSIRA at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center earlier this fall, Nixon said he wasn't concerned about the prospect of litigation. He also said he would ask the legislature to "decouple" the implementation provision from MOSIRA.

Nixon added: "The bottom line is we're not going to slow down or back up because of what may be litigation. We're going to move forward onto this bill."

While some -- such as House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City -- have suggested that the implementation provision will be thrown out, Fichter said there's precedent that could uphold it.

UPDATE: On Friday, the MOSIRA Coalition issued a statement critical of the lawsuit:

"The MOSIRA Coalition, a broad group of organizations and individuals interested in creating job growth in Missouri, is disappointed but not surprised by the lawsuit to block MOSIRA (Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act) filed Thursday by longtime opponents of science, medical advancements, and job creation in Missouri. MOSIRA is designed to capitalize on our state's strengths in science, technology and innovation to grow Missouri's economy and create jobs, all of which could be blocked by this lawsuit. The groups that filed the lawsuit are the same groups that have filed numerous frivolous lawsuits over the past few years that have tied up Missouri courts and state agencies, wasting taxpayer money and impeding economic growth and job creation. This is more of the same.

"A strong majority of legislators, in both chambers and of both political parties, have repeatedly rejected these particular groups' arguments and advocated for the creation of MOSIRA, including supporting the Governor's signing of the bill. We are confident the overwhelming legislative intent to establish MOSIRA will prevail and job-creating programs can move forward."

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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