Missouri Lawmakers Close Out Session By Passing Eight-Week Abortion Ban | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Lawmakers Close Out Session By Passing Eight-Week Abortion Ban

May 17, 2019

Missouri lawmakers sent legislation banning abortion after eight weeks to Gov. Mike Parson, the culmination of an emotional and contentious week that ended with many of the GOP governor’s priorities accomplished.

And while legislators Friday also finished a bridge-repair bonding plan and proposal to institute term limits for statewide officials, they fell short on overhauling the state low-income housing tax-credit program and another measure undoing a new state legislative redistricting system.

The House voted 110-44 to send Rep. Nick Schroer’s abortion bill to the governor. It would ban abortion after eight weeks if a heartbeat or brain activity is detected. And the measure would bar abortion completely if Roe v. Wade is overturned, except in medical emergencies. Doctors who violate the bill’s provisions could face felony charges and jail time.

If that eight-week ban is struck down, there’s language in the bill that would increase the amount of time a woman could get an abortion. The first tier is 14 weeks. If that’s overturned by a court, the state would have an 18-week ban. And if that doesn’t hold up, Missouri would bar abortions after 20 weeks.

“So in sum, this bill is undoubtedly the most comprehensive, the most legally sound legislation not only in this state, but in this nation,” said Schroer, R-O’Fallon.

Proponents see Schroer’s bill as a culmination of decades of advocacy against abortion rights. Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, told her colleagues how she became pregnant at 15 — and had to subsequently deal with homelessness and poverty.

“And I do care for those who’ve gone through poverty after they are born — I’ve lived it,” Rehder said. “Pregnant and homeless at 15? I’ve lived it. With a family that I couldn’t turn to? I’ve lived it. And this bill is the right thing to do.”

But Democrats contend the bill is unconstitutional. They also believe the measure will saddle the state with years of protracted litigation. And Rep. Cora Faith Walker, D-Ferguson, sharply questioned why Republicans weren’t more focused on reducing mortality rates among black women giving birth.

“If we believed in life, I would not be afraid to have a child right now,” Walker said. “Because the likelihood of me dying in childbirth is four times higher.”

Abortion rights supporters on Friday protest in the Missouri Capitol. The legislature sent a bill banning abortions after eight weeks to Gov. Mike Parson to sign. May 17, 2019
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Most Democrats were especially critical of the lack of exceptions for rape and incest. That included House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat who was a victim of sexual abuse.

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“I hope every time the rest of you see me in this hallway, that you think of the story I told you from my trauma, from my abuse,” Quade said. “That abuse does not define me, but it is me. I think about it every day. I relive it in my most intimate moments with my very own husband. When you each see me in this hallway, remember what you’re doing to little girls who were like me.”

Parson, who said he would sign the bill, was asked multiple times during his press availability about the lack of rape or incest exceptions. “I think that all life has value to us,” he said.

“I’ve been pretty clear about that my entire career,” Parson said. “And I’m going to stand up for people that don’t have a voice. And everybody should have a right to life, and I believe that.”

Before the House took a vote, demonstrations broke out in the chamber’s gallery. The crowd eventually protested in front of Parson’s office, with some leaving notes on his door demanding that he veto the legislation.

Asked what the Democratic caucus can do to fight or roll back abortion restrictions in Missouri, Quade replied: “We can win elections.”

Bridge repair bonding plan makes it

Gov. Mike Parson speaks with reporters after the end of the 2019 legislative session.
Credit File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Another one of Parson’s priorities that made it to his desk was a bonding plan aimed fixing the state’s bridges.

The proposal would allow the state to borrow $300 million if the federal government awarded matching funds to repair bridges. The proposal also calls for $50 million in direct spending for bridge projects. Missouri senators ended up approving a bill from Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, in April after protracted negotiations with the Conservative Caucus.

“It affects almost every region in the state of Missouri. Doesn’t matter if it’s an urban area, rural area,” Parson said. “It’s going to have an effect on everybody throughout this state. And to be able to do that by working together with the House and Senate is what we should do.”

While Schatz’s bonding plan passed comfortably in the House, even proponents acknowledged it’s a temporary solution to the state’s transportation needs.

“This is not the final answer, but it is something,” said Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Odessa. “We have so many bridges that are falling in poor condition. If we don’t get started fixing them, we’re going to have so many more fall into that category.”

House Speaker Elijah Haahr speaks to news reporters on the last day of the legislative session in Jefferson City on Friday.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Passage of the bridge bill finished off a week where legislators ended up approving most of Parson’s major priorities. Earlier in the week, Parson managed to get a slew of workforce development programs and an incentive package for General Motors for its Wentzville plant through the Senate over the objections of conservative GOP senators.

Both Republican and Democratic leaders praised Parson for being more hands-on when working with legislators. That’s in stark contrast to his predecessor, Eric Greitens, who had a sour relationship with GOP lawmakers he needed to enact his agenda.

“My understanding is my relationship with the governor is somewhat different than the last speaker had with the last governor,” said House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield. “So for that I’m extraordinarily appreciative. I think the governor had a great session. He got a lot of his priorities across the line.”

Term limits

Missouri House of Representatives members speak on the house floor on the last day of the legislative session.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri voters will decide whether all statewide officials will be subject to term limits.

Currently, Missouri’s governor and treasurer are subject to two four-year terms. Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer’s constitutional amendment would apply that same standard to the attorney general, secretary of state, lieutenant governor and auditor.

If someone is appointed to one of those other offices and has more than two years left in an expired term, that person would only be able to serve one term in that statewide position.

Voters will decide on the measure in the 2020 election.

Missed opportunities

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade speaks to news reporters after the end of the legislative session in Jefferson City on Friday.
Credit File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The GOP-dominated Legislature didn’t end up passing all of its priorities.

Perhaps the most notable bill that didn’t pass was an effort to overhaul the state low-income housing tax credit. The Senate passed a bill paring down the program early in the year, but the House ending up adding provisions that led to a stalemate during the last week of session.

The lack of action is notable, since Parson said last year he wouldn’t restart the incentive unless the Legislature sent something to his desk.

“Anytime you’re trying to find compromise, you’re trying to find that fine line where you get to agreement,” Parson said. “But I want to be clear about this: I’ve told the industry as a whole, there’s going to have to be reform to this in order for it to move forward.”

Some supporters of the program are advocating for Parson to restart the low-income housing tax credit. Parson has traditionally been a big supporter of the program. And he voted against a successful Greitens-led effort that’s kept the state tax credit frozen since late 2017.

“I definitely hope the governor goes outside the Legislature and restarts this program,” Quade said. “Should he waver? I think he should. We have people who need help. And this program may not be perfect, but it’s what we have right now.”

Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden listens to colleagues during the last day of the legislative session in Jefferson City on Friday.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Senators also declined to send a measure to voters that, if approved, would undo most of a new state legislative redistricting system. GOP lawmakers had made dismantling what’s known as Clean Missouri a priority, but the effort ran into an intractable roadblock this week when it failed to get out of a Senate committee.

Both fans and foes of Clean Missouri expect a renewed effort next year to get something before voters in 2020.

“I assume it will be on the forefront of our session very, very early next year,” said Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.

Lawmakers also failed to pass a prescription-drug-monitoring program to track opioids, in part because of the Conservative Caucus.

“I understand it’s a priority; it’s been a priority in the House for several years, but we are all opposed to a big government database,” said Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina. “If there are solutions to be found, we’re willing to work with people, but I don’t think that the 99% of the public and their families should all be swept into a database when it’s 1% of the public that has the issue.”

Lawmakers also did not pass bills legalizing sports betting or requiring out-of-state online retailers to charge sales taxes. And they didn’t end up sending a measure to voters that would have required local approval for a merger between St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Still, Republicans generally struck a tone of satisfaction as they prepared to leave the Capitol behind until the September veto session.

Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said Republicans were able to get significant policy reforms without having to break a Democratic filibuster.

“I think that was one of the most important things we could do: to walk out of this chamber with our heads held high with our colleagues that we vehemently disagreed with,” Schatz said.

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