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Missouri Supreme Court strikes down MOSIRA as unconstitutional

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed that a program providing incentives to science and technology companies is unconstitutional.

In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that linking the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act, or MOSIRA, to the tax credit bill -- known as SB 8 -- violated a constitutional prohibition against bills with multiple subjects.

In the ruling, the state’s high court affirmed acircuit judge’s judgment that MOSIRA is unconstitutional. MOSIRA -- passed during the 2011 special session -- was created to provide incentives to companies within certain fields, such as biotechnology and life sciences.

Anti-abortion rights groups – including ones that sued to have the law thrown out – argued that the bill didn’t have enough protections against funding stem cell research. Opponents saw a legal opening in a provision known as "section B," which predicated the program's implementation on passage of a wide-ranging revamp of the state's tax credit system.

MOSIRA “clearly contained at least two subjects,” the decision stated. “Section B incorporated (SB8) in such a way that the two bills cannot reasonably be read separately. Prior to its passage, [MOSIRA] was amended to incorporate by reference the taxation provisions of SB 8. These tax reform measures do not fairly relate to science and innovation, nor do they have any natural connection to that subject.”

The court went onto say that the bill’s legislative history required the entire program be struck down.

“It cannot be said that, beyond a reasonable doubt, section B is not essential to the efficacy"of MOSIRA, the court wrote. “Section B provides the contingency upon which section A becomes effective. The legislature expressly provided that section A ‘shall not become effective’ if SB8 did not pass. It cannot be said, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the very clause that operated to make MOSIRA effective was not essential to the efficacy of the bill.”

Despite the threat of the lawsuit, Gov. Jay Nixon signed the bill into law in 2011 and promised to start implementing the program, which he and others touted as a way to enhance the state's economic growth. He even held a ceremonial signing ceremony at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur.

Nixon had urged the legislature to pass another bill to decouple MOSIRA with the contigency clause, but such legislation never ended up passing.

In an e-mail to the Beacon, Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said: "Missouri is seeing significant growth in the high-tech sector of our economy. As he’s done from the first day of his administration, Gov. Nixon will continue to push forward on fostering investment in science and technology in Missouri."

Kelly Gillespie, executive director of the Missouri Biotechnology Association, said in a statement that the "entire MOSIRA coalition is disappointed in this ruling, knowing MOSIRA’s potential to create economic development and 21st century jobs." The MOSIRA Coalition includes a number of a groups that supported the program, including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the Missouri Economic Development Council and the St. Louis Regional Chamber.

“But we will continue to support positive legislation for the biotech, high-tech and other technology industries, making Missouri a top contender in creating and retaining companies in these industries,”he added. 

Missouri Right to Life President Pam Fichter said in a statement that her organization was "very thankful" for the court's decision. Missouri Right to Life was one of several groups that sued to get the law overturned.

"While we know that the court ruled on the constitutional requirement that legislation address only a single subject, they did recognize that [the MOSIRA bill] would not have passed without being tied to SB 8," Fichter said. "Missouri Right to Life is committed to standing against the destruction of innocent human lives through any means, including human cloning and embryonic stem cell research. The MOSIRA legislation had no protective language to prevent funds from being used for abortion services, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research." 

"Missouri Right to Life will continue to monitor any attempts to pass similar economic development legislation without pro-life protections," she added. "While we support a strong Missouri economy, we cannot purchase it with the lives of innocent human beings at the earliest stages of development."

MOSIRA became something of a litmus test in deciding whether legislators received Missouri Right to Life’s endorsement during the 2012 campaign. As a result, numerous Republican incumbents – including House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka – did not receive the organization’s backing.

Not having that endorsement may have been decisive in some GOP primaries, especially in southwest and southern Missouri.

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

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