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Lawmakers override Nixon on contraception, skip vehicle tax

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 12, 2012 - Missouri employers will be allowed to exclude abortion, contraception or sterilization services from insurance coverage after lawmakers voted Wednesday to override a veto of a bill by Gov. Jay Nixon.

But House lawmakers were unable to cobble together 109 legislators to reach a two-thirds threshold for an override on vehicle tax legislation being closely watched by motor vehicle dealers and governmental entities. As a result, the chamber decided against bringing it up for an override attempt.

On the override vote, Sen. John Lamping's bill stated that employers could not be required to provide insurance coverage for abortion, contraception or sterilization if such coverage violated their religious or ethical beliefs. The bill went on to say that no employees could be required to pay for such coverage in a group plan, if they held similar objections.

Nixon vetoed the bill in July, arguing that state law already provided strong religious protections'' that allow employers to decline to provide coverage for abortion or contraceptives. He added that Lamping's bill extended such rights to insurance companies and would allow them to deny such coverage even if that position is inconsistent with the right and beliefs of the employee or employer.

But legislative leaders in both chambers signaled that they would attempt to override the measure, and they followed through. The veto was overridden by a 26-6 margin in the Senate and 109-45 margin in the House.

Since Republicans are five members short of the 109 votes needed for an override, the decisive margin came from a handful of Democrats who oppose abortion rights. Many are in tough battles for re-election in rural parts of the state, areas that are typically more socially conservative.

Democrats who voted for the override in the House were state Reps. Paul Quinn, D-Monroe City, Ed Schieffer, D-Troy, Joe Fallert, D-Ste. Genevieve, Terry Swinger, D-Caruthersville, Ben Harris, D-Jefferson County, Ron Casey, D-Jefferson County, and Tom Shively, D-Shelbyville. Rep. Chris Molendorp a Belton Republican who had voted against the bill back in May switched sides and overrode the veto.

Supporters saw the bill as a way to counteract a provision within the federal Affordable Health Care Act prompting insurers to include birth control in coverage. Many lawmakers framed the legislation as a religious liberty issue against government intrusion.

Our freedom of religion is protected by the First Amendment, said Rep. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, the bill's House handler. Ladies and gentlemen, this bill is about protecting our religious liberties. This bill is about protecting businesses from the overreach of government.

And in an interview, Lamping said the bill also had economic development considerations as well.

What people don't truly understand is what the implications of what the mandate will ultimately be, Lamping said. Unfortunately, we've been debating this since February. And most of the people involved in the debate, they very quickly skip over the fact that employers don't have to offer health care. So much of the public thinks 'I have a right to health care and I get my health care from my employer. So it must be such that my employer has to offer health care.'

And what's happened with this mandate is that employers find themselves in situations where they either violate their moral principles or not offer health care, he added. I think that the more people stop and contemplate and think about it, they're going to come to a very similar place: Look, I'd like my employer to offer me health care. Maybe I'd like them to offer these things, but I don't want to have them stop.

But legislative opponents of the law including Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City said it may prompt lawsuits from insurance companies unsure of whether to follow federal or state guidelines. And sure enough, the Associated Press reported that the Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Women was filing suit to strike down the law.

Others contended that the measure at best was duplicative and, at worst, would make it more difficult for poorer women to procure contraception.

When we talk about the cost of birth control, $20 or $40 may not mean much to you, said state Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights. But for every single woman, that's a monthly charge for them to have that ability to plan when and if they're going to have children.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood of Kansas City and Mid-Missouri President Peter Brownlie said the legislature was beholden to lobbyists that see an abortion in every birth control pill have done a huge disservice to all Missouri women.

Birth control is not just basic, preventative health care for women, it is a pocketbook issue, Brownlie said. Without this new birth control coverage benefit, many women will now have to continue to paying $15 to $50 a month on top of their premium. When you live paycheck to paycheck, that's a lot of money.

In a news conference after the veto override, Nixon said he opposed Lamping's bill because it shifts the ability to make decisions about birth control coverage away from women and their families and puts that ability in the hands of insurance companies.

I respectfully disagree with members of the General Assembly who voted to override that veto, Nixon said. Let me be clear: I support the right of women to access and use birth control. This is a personal and medical decision for a woman and her family to make. I also respect the religious and moral beliefs of employers. And I value the strong and effective religious protections that have been law of the land here in Missouri for years.

While Nixon said he felt that legislators who voted for the override were standing in between women and their right to make their own personal decisions about birth control, he added: We can disagree without being disagreeable.

We have much more work to do to get Missouri moving forward, he said.

For his part, Lamping said the objections over the bill are unfounded.

For instance, he said the bill provides more specificity in the law so insurers can follow the wishes of the plan sponsors. He also said federal laws and state laws often conflict with other, and that doesn't automatically prompt lawsuits. And he said the contention about how the bill would make birth control unaffordable was a complete canard.

Today, people work for organizations that don't allow these services in their health care plan, Lamping said. And today, those men and women because the sterilization often involves men they go out and get those services and pay for those services out of their personal wherewithal. Access doesn't change at all.

Vehicle tax override fizzles

Legislators were less successful regarding a bill overturning a Missouri Supreme Court decision that barred local jurisdictions from collecting local taxes on vehicles purchased out-of-state or through private unless an entity had voted for such a tax.

Nixon vetoed the bill in July, stating that the legislation imposed a tax increase without a public vote.

The General Assembly's decision means that local taxes won't be collected on vehicles that were purchased out-of-state or through private sellers, unless a jurisdiction has voted for such a tax.

The bill in question overturned a Missouri Supreme Court decision barring such taxes. Nixon vetoed the bill in July, stating that the legislation imposed a tax increase without a public vote.

Vehicle dealers and local governments had been pushing for an override, arguing that doing nothing would hurt their bottom lines. But Nixon appeared at several public showcases against the bill, noting that an override would result in tax bills for over 120,000 people who purchased a vehicle out-of-state or through a person-to-person transaction.

And citing the retroactive nature of the bill, several conservative political figures -- including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and state Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph -- came out against an override.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said before the veto session began that overriding the bill would be difficult. That's especially the case since a number of Republican legislators were balking and not enough Democrats would be crossing over.

He confirmed that political reality after the veto session came to an end.

Today, members of the minority caucus informed their leadership team that due to Gov. Nixon's extremely partisan gamesmanship on this issue, they simply were not going to have the numbers to override this veto, said Jones, who was elected without opposition to fill out the rest of former House Speaker Steve Tilley's term. We do not have a veto-proof majority. I wish we did. So we don't control our destiny in any veto override.

Jones also said he would have welcomed Nixon to call for a special session around veto session to deal with the issue.

We could have worked on this, we could have come up with some kind of compromise position, Jones said. Whether it was fixing the bill currently under consideration to his liking or whether it was creating some kind of incentive to encourage Missouri residents or citizens to purchase their vehicles in state [that] would have resolved the problem. Instead, our governor seems to want to incentivize Missouri citizens to purchase products outside of Missouri.

One example: Because St. Louis County doesn't have a use tax, someone who lives in a town or city without such a measure could conceivably go across the border to Illinois and save money on that purchase.

When pressed on why anybody would buy a car in St. Louis County under that new reality, Nixon who shot down the idea of a special session for the issue that the bill would also impact people who engaged in person-to-person transactions.

The vast majority of what's covered by this measure 89 percent are sales between individuals, Nixon said. And the number of sales obviously continues to occur. I think that going through the legal and constitutional indignity of asking the taxpayers of whether they want to raise their taxes is not rudeness. It's the law.

Jones, too, said that the ultimate solution to this would be to compel local municipalities and counties to pass use taxes. But that could be a difficult proposition.

For instance, St. Louis County residents voted down a use tax in 2008 and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said yesterday he won't put another ballot item forward. The executive director of the St. Louis County Municipal League also added that hundreds of towns and cities throughout the state will have to put forward votes.

Asked if depending on local governments to forward ballot items a realistic solution, Jones said it will depend on who's running the campaigns and the demographics of each district.

St. Louis County also passed a very significant sales tax increase a year ago to support Metro, Jones said. If the argument is made properly and the citizens believe it's in the best interest of their counties and cities and their taxing jurisdictions and that they need to support firefighters and police officers, I think the argument can be made on a local level. We preach local control this would be something that would be a local decision.

Jones said an alternative is passing some sort of short-term legislation that would give people an incentive to buy cars in the state, such as a sales tax rebate or holiday. And Lamping said more time may be needed to deal with the issue.

"When a bill gets to the General Assembly for the very first time in February or March, when it wasn't even a glimmer or a thought in April or May or June the previous year where nobody's spent any time working on it, it's easy for things to go wrong," said Lamping, adding that dealing with an issue earlier can bring about more consensus.

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