August 28, 2015

Missouri House budget leaders vow to fight stadium funding that lacks voter, lawmaker approval

The state House’s budget committee leaders both say they will fight the paying of debt on a new St. Louis NFL stadium if voters or the legislature don’t approve it.

Representatives Scott Fitzpatrick (left) and Tom Flanigan.

Representatives Scott Fitzpatrick (left) and Tom Flanigan.

House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan (R-Carthage) said in a letter to Governor Jay Nixon (D) that he opposes using state tax credits and direct appropriations for debt service on a new stadium before the current stadium debt is paid off. He wrote he will not let an appropriation for debt service on a new stadium clear the House unless that debt is approved by Missouri voters or the legislature.

Nixon believes he can extend the bonds for the current stadium to finance a new roughly $1-billion dollar stadium, and without the approval of voters or the General Assembly.

Flanigan and others Missourinet spoke to believe that for him, the Budget Committee chairman, to oppose paying debt on those bonds could mean more to potential bond issuers or buyers, than for some other lawmakers to oppose it.

“My name is on the bill, and we’re the ones who are responsible for making sure the appropriations bills get passed in the House, so from that standpoint yes, I think we add a little bit more weight,” Flanigan told Missourinet.

Flanigan is expected to chair the budget committee through the 2016 session. His likely successor and the Budget Committee’s current co-chairman, Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob), sent a letter of his own urging Nixon, “reconsider your plans.” He added, “This letter will be distributed publicly to warn all potential bond purchasers to take note of my concerns and my intended course of action should you move forward.”

Fitzpatrick wrote that if the governor proceeds with bond issuance without the General Assembly’s or voters’ approval, it would be the governor’s fault if Missouri’s credit rating would be affected.

The leader of the House Democrats, Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis), criticized Flanigan and Fitzpatrick for their positions after both signed off on the current year’s budget after language was removed that would ban the use of state money to pay off bonds on a new stadium.

“Instead of sending out letters after the fact criticizing a proposal they voted to support during the legislative session, I encourage my colleagues to work together to ensure St. Louis remains an NFL city,” wrote Hummel.

Fitzpatrick said the language in question was opposed by then House Speaker John Diehl, Junior, who resigned at the end of the session. He also believes the language in that budget bill means the appropriation it approves could only go to the debt on the current stadium.

“As far as where people were then and where they are now,” Fitzpatrick told Missourinet, “I can tell you that the idea, the proposal that the governor’s put out, is something that I have not been in favor of the entire time.”

Flanigan wrote, and reiterated to Missourinet, that he does not oppose a new stadium in the St. Louis region.

Missouri Senate Committee questions license for abortion resumption in Columbia, University of Missouri hospital involvement

A Columbia state senator says the University of Missouri is violating a state law that prevents the use of public dollars to performing or assisting an abortion.

University of Missouri in Columbia Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin testifies to the Missouri Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life.  (photo courtesy; Harrison Sweazea, Missouri Senate Communications)

University of Missouri in Columbia Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin testifies to the Missouri Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life. (photo courtesy; Harrison Sweazea, Missouri Senate Communications)

The Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life obtained a series of e-mails in which University staff communicated with Planned Parenthood staff about the legal requirements to be met for the Columbia Planned Parenthood facility to resume performing abortions. Specifically, they discuss the privileges the University hospital in Columbia extended the to doctor that is performing those abortions, Dr. Colleen P. McNicholas.

“A lot of state funds have already been used to give her those privileges in order to enable the license. That’s not even open for debate,” Senator Kurt Schaefer told Chancellor Bowen Loftin, who was called to testify to the committee. “When you look at all the time that was spent by University staff on the clock on a University computer system, and recruiting her, shepherding it through, and then making sure she got the privileges so the license could be added.”

Loftin said he would investigate one University Hospital staffer who is both an assistant teaching professor for the University and a lead nurse practitioner for Planned Parenthood, for using both titles in the signatures of her University e-mail account, which he said violates University rules.

Loftin challenged the assertion that University staff sought to aid the license process.

“I don’t believe that the group of physicians and committee members who actually approve these privileges basically felt they were enabling abortions to be provided in the local region they were in,” said Loftin. “I think they were simply following a couple of things. They were following a request from a physician for this kind of privilege, referring and following … and they were also following the federal statutes which say we can’t discriminate against a physician based on whether or not they provide abortions, for example, when granting privileges of any nature.”

Loftin said denying privileges to a doctor that meets professional qualifications and medical staff standards on the basis that he or she performs abortions could cause the University Hospital to forfeit $150-million or more annually in federal funding.

Senator Bob Onder (R-Lake Saint Louis) said there was good reason not to grant McNicholas privileges if she was going to put the hospital in a position of taking on potential liability without offering any economic benefit to the hospital.

University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin (far right) answers a question from Senator Kurt Schaefer (far left).

University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin (far right) answers a question from Senator Kurt Schaefer (far left).

“Referring and following” are the privileges McNicholas has at the University. Republicans on the committee contend that is not sufficient for the Columbia Planned Parenthood facility to be licensed to offer abortions, under a state law requiring a physician in such a case to have admitting privileges.

“The women of this state that are getting medically induced abortions should know that if something goes wrong the physician that is on this license with Planned Parenthood can actually get them into a hospital to save their lives,” said Senator Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale).

The Director of the Department of Health and Human Services, Gail Vasterling, said the Columbia facility doesn’t need admitting privileges because it is only providing abortions that are chemically induced and not surgical.

Republican committee members said the Department can’t make that distinction under the law or its own regulations, but Vasterling maintained, “I believe that this facility was properly licensed, and I believe that in an emergency any women would be seen by any hospital.”

The committee also learned the identity of a third-party vendor that handles fetal tissues after an abortion, and reasserted in testimony Tuesday that the Department does not monitor what happens with that tissue once it is in that vendor’s control. Schaefer says the committee will call representatives of that vendor, Pathology Services, Inc, to testify at its next hearing.

“This committee was put together to determine whether or not what was admitted in those videos is occurring in the State of Missouri and we’re going to find that out,” said Schaefer, referring to a series of undercover videos that allege Planned Parenthood has illegally profited from the sale of fetal tissue. “It is relevant to every aspect of what this committee is looking at who that pathologist is and where that material is going.”

Schaefer said the committee’s next meeting might not come until after the legislature’s veto session September 16.

Missouri Senate hearing on Planned Parenthood (VIDEOS FROM LIVE STREAM)

The Missouri Senate’s Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life is holding another hearing investigating the operation of Planned Parenthood in Missouri and the state’s involvement in the resumption of abortions in Columbia.  Below are the videos from the live stream of that hearing:

Our story from Tuesday’s hearing:

Missouri Senate committee questions license for abortion resumption in Columbia, University of Missouri Hospital involvement

Our stories from the earlier hearing:

Missouri Senator threatens agency head with contempt after abortion investigation hearing

Missouri Senators say fetal remains no tracked after abortions

 
(Hearing start was delayed; it begins at about 20:55)

(Hearing video resumes at about 1:06, after the Committee took a break)

University of Missouri Professor predicts campaign attention, little opinion change from Planned Parenthood videos

Allegations that Planned Parenthood has illegally profited from the sale of fetal tissue isn’t changing many people’s minds about the organization, according to a University of Missouri professor.

Professor Peverill Squire

Professor Peverill Squire

Anti-abortion activitists and lawmakers have said that series of undercover videos of Planned Parenthood doctors talking about fetal tissue collection and related costs should change the minds of some who support the organization or abortion availability.

Political Science Professor Peverill Squire says that isn’t likely.

“I think most people have formed their opinions on this topic and are likely not to be shaken one way or the other,” Squire told Missourinet. “We’ll probably have a lot of sound and fury about this for a little while, but in the end I don’t think much will dramatically change.”

“They have put Planned Parenthood on the defensive,” Squire said of the videos. “I think a lot of people have started to think about some of the activities involved in fetal tissue research that they probably hadn’t thought about for two decades.”

Squire says the issue has reignited the abortion debate, that will play into the 2016 elections for each side.

“This will be good for the Republicans if it gets the pro-life people worked up in favor of whoever gets the Republican nomination. On the other side, the Democrats will try to use it to maintain their lead among women voters and again to get, particularly young, single women, out to vote,” said Squire. “Again, it won’t be so much trying to change people’s minds, but trying to get people actually out to vote.”

Squire doesn’t expect much to change as a result of Congress’ attention to the matter, though there might be at the state level in some states.

Planned Parenthood dismisses the videos as being edited to present a false narrative, and says it has conducted its fetal tissue donation program legally and ethically in the states where it exists.  It says Missouri is not one of those states.

A state Senate committee on Planned Parenthood continues its hearings this afternoon. Watch live at Missourinet.com.

Professor Squire spoke to Missourinet before the University of Missouri’s alleged connection to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia’s resumption of abortions came to light.

Missouri Republicans defend Planned Parenthood investigations

Critics accuse legislative Republicans of grandstanding in their committees based on undercover videos that allege Planned Parenthood has illegally sold fetal tissue, but Republicans are standing their ground.

Representatives Diane Franklin (left) and Andrew Koenig (center) chair the House Committees jointly investigating Planned Parenthood.  They are confronted by Representative Stacey Newman (right) about testimony during Wednesday's hearing.

Representatives Diane Franklin (left) and Andrew Koenig (center) chair the House Committees jointly investigating Planned Parenthood. They are confronted by Representative Stacey Newman (right) about testimony during Wednesday’s hearing.

Joint committees met Wednesday to explore whether laws or rules were broken in Planned Parenthood’s resumption of abortions in Columbia, and whether the alleged illegal sale of fetal tissue could be happening in Missouri.

Planned Parenthood and its supporters say Missouri legislative Republicans are wasting time and taxpayer dollars with the legislative attention, and say the organization has broken no laws, and does not conduct in Missouri the fetal tissue donation program that is the focus of allegations.

A Doctor at Washington University who said he was speaking for himself, Ed Weisbart, dismisses those videos as unbelievable.

“This whole hearing process is based on a series of lies,” Weisbart said. “It drives me insane that our legislature would spend their time in this blatant witch hunt rather than just make the policy decisions that they want to make.”

One of the committee chairs, Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton), said if there is any chance Planned Parenthood is breaking the law, or if there are loopholes that could be exploited, lawmakers should investigate.

“Why can’t we ask those questions? Why is that a bad thing to do, to find out if something like this is happening in Missouri?” asked Franklin.

The other committee’s chair, Andre Koenig (R-Manchester), said the hearings are turning up what could be loopholes that could be exploited, such as a possible lack of oversight of fetal tissue after an abortion.

“I didn’t get an answer [about] what happens to it after it goes to a pathology lab,” said Koenig. “Maybe what needs to happen is that since there’s a pathology lab on every abortion, maybe we need to have that checked when it actually goes and gets disposed of.”

The House committee and its Senate counterpart will continue hearings before the veto session in mid-September.