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Missouri Lawmakers Enter Final Day With Major Unfinished Business

Members of the senate walk onto the floor of the House chambers ahead of this year's State of the State address.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri lawmakers could have a busy last day of the 2019 legislative session.

After a week that featured titanic battles over high-profile legislation, Missouri lawmakers are heading into the final day with a lot on their plate.

The unfinished business set for Friday includes final passage of abortion legislation that’s made national headlines, as well as a bill to overhaul the low-income housing tax-credit program.

The House is expected to take up Rep. Nick Schroer’s eight-week abortion ban on Friday. It passed the Senate early Thursday after hours of negotiations, a move that all-but-guaranteed that it would go to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.

The legislation would bar women from getting abortions after eight weeks once a heartbeat or brain activity is detected. If that eight-week ban is struck down, there’s language in the billthat 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.

READ: Senate Votes To Substantially Limit Abortion In Missouri

“This is the most comprehensive, the strongest and most legally sound legislation across the nation,” Schroer, R-O’Fallon said.

Schroer’s legislation would also ban the procedure completely, with the exception of medical emergencies, if Roe v. Wade is overturned. It increases the medical malpractice insurance required for physicians performing abortions and requires, in certain circumstances, two parents to give consent for a minor to obtain an abortion.

Detractors contend the bill is unconstitutional — and will plunge the state into a legal fight that will cost Missouri taxpayers money. They’ve also condemned the lack of exception in the bill for victims of rape or incest that become pregnant.

“These bans on safe, legal abortion will have real costs — expensive legal costs and human costs for the women and families who need reproductive health care,” said M’Evie Mead, director of policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri. “At a time when maternal mortality is increasing in our state, we must be doing everything we can to increase access to health care — not cut it.”

Bridges, low-income housing tax credits on the agenda

Gov. Mike Parson delivers his first State of the State address Jan. 16, 2019.
Credit File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Gov. Mike Parson delivers his first State of the State address Jan. 16, 2019.

Several other items on Parson’s agenda are still awaiting approval from lawmakers as of Thursday evening.

The first measure is a bonding plan that 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. But it still needs to pass the House.

Another piece of legislation that’s in limbo is an overhaul of the state low-income housing tax credit. As of Thursday, the House and Senate still needed to hash out key differences in the bill. That includes a provision in the House version that could change how the tax credits are sold or transferred.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens engineered a freeze of the state low-income housing tax-credit program in 2017. Though Parson voted against the move while serving as lieutenant governor, he said in December he wouldn’t restart the program unless the Legislature made changes to it. A spokesman told the Kansas City Star that Parson would consideradministrative steps to restart the program if lawmakers failed to act.

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, said advocates of the low-income housing tax credit “should not have to wait another eight or nine months” to restart the program.

“It was absolutely unnecessary, tremendously heavy-handed and hurt a lot of Missourians’ access to affordable housing,” said Sifton, referring to Greitens’ move to shut down the state tax credit. “And Gov. Parson has not reversed that — and should have, in my opinion.”

One measure that’s unlikely to come up is a constitutional amendment to undo a new state legislative redistricting system known as Clean Missouri. Republicans had sought to get voters to dump the plan approved overwhelmingly in November that gives a demographer much of the power to draw House and Senate districts. But those efforts stalled when the measure from Rep. Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis County, failed to get out of a Senate committee earlier in the week.

Multiple sources told St. Louis Public Radio that senators would hold off on bringing Plocher’s amendment up this year, citing the procedural difficulties in reviving a bill that failed in committee. It’s likely that a similar measure may reemerge during the 2020 session, especially since voters would need to approve any changes to state legislative redistricting in next year’s election cycle.

Senators could take up a constitutional amendment that would require local voters to approve any merger between St. Louis and St. Louis County. That proposal, which overwhelmingly passed the Missouri House, was in reaction to the now-scuttled statewide effort to combine the city and county.

Thursday odds and ends

The House and Senate sent other, less controversial, legislation to Parson on Thursday for his signature, including:

  • A one-year renewal of a series of taxes that bring in nearly $1 billion to the state for health care purposes. Members of the Conservative Caucus in the Senate had attempted to stall the legislation because it is a tax, though it has been in place for years.
  • An omnibus child-protection bill that includes language making it easier to prosecute child sex trafficking. If someone was charged with prostitution under the age of 18, their courts records must be expunged.
  • The designation of the pawpaw as the official state fruit tree, the hellbender salamander as the official endangered species of the state, an official state tartan with the colors yellow, blue and brown, and July 7 as “Sliced Bread Day.”
  • A nonbinding resolution that asks the U.S. Congress to replace the Thomas Hart Benton statue at the U.S. Capitol with one of Harry S Truman.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.