The second special session for Missouri lawmakers called by Governor Eric Greitens continues to move at a snail’s pace. Both the House and Senate are currently following the required procedure of holding a technical session once a week.
Typically, one Republican majority member in either house gavels the chamber into session, holds a moment of silence for prayer, leads anyone assembled on the floor in the pledge of allegiance, and gavels out to complete the formality.
Monday, Representative Justin Alferman (R-Hermann) took on the responsibility for the House. In speaking with Missourinet afterward, he said Greitens had expanded his proclamation for the special session on abortion to include provisions passed by the House.
“I am not entirely sure that was necessary, but it alleviates any ambiguity, and any question of doubt that the Senate may have.” Greitens office confirmed the accuracy of Alferman’s claim about the purpose for the expanded proclamation.
The governor initially called the special session in early June to respond to a court decision tossing out two Missouri laws. One required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and the other called for abortion clinics to have hospital-type standards for outpatient care.
The abortion legislation began in the Senate, and as such, is that chamber’s measure. The bill it passed was amended in the House to strengthen restrictions on abortion providers.
There have been mixed messages sent over a part of the omnibus package dealing with a St. Louis ordinance. Greitens’ spokesperson Parker Briden told Missourinet the governor’s intention had always been to prevent the ordinance from infringing on the rights of non-abortion performing pregnancy centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers.
Greitens, a Republican who is pro-life, has said the law makes St. Louis an abortion sanctuary city. The ordinance itself outlaws discrimination based on pregnancy decisions or use of contraception.
Democrats have been outspoken in opposition of legislative moves to address the ordinance. House Assistant Minority Floor Leader Gina Mitten of Richmond Heights says Lawmakers are unfairly targeting the state’s two largest population centers.
“The governor and the majority party seems to be extremely interested in getting down the throats of local issues when it comes the city of St. Louis or the city of Kansas City” said Mitten. “They don’t seem to be so interested in local issues outside of those two metropolitan areas.”
The counties encompassing St. Louis and Kansas City are Democratic strongholds in a state which otherwise votes heavily Republican. Mitten thinks the legislature has improperly inserted itself into local issues on a number of occasions in recent years.
“Minimum wage, paper or plastic. There’s a litany of stuff in the past couple of years that have just basically (been) the majority party and our new governor saying to folks in the state of Missouri ‘Local control doesn’t really mean anything, and you don’t have the ability to directly elect folks and manage the policy within your own communities’.”
Among other things, the House amended version of the Senate abortion bill strengthens rules for tracking fetal tissue after an abortion procedure. It also fortifies the attorney general’s ability to intervene in local abortion court cases.
The House version further requires abortion clinics to have a plan for addressing any procedure that can cause complications, and calls for the facilities to have a system in place to transfer patients to nearby hospitals if further medical care is necessary.
As well, it defines an abortion facility and requires them to submit to unannounced annual inspections, and specifies that only the physician performing the procedure can explain risks to patients.
The Senate has set a date of July 24th for it to reconvene and take up the House amended legislation. Representative Alferman, who holds an influential position as vice-chairman of the House Budget Committee, believes the Senate will move to pass the House plan quickly.
He thinks the leadership in the upper chamber is waiting until it has enough Republicans assembled to cast the two-thirds majority vote required to approve a bill without debate. Alferman says it’s hard to gather part-time lawmakers together outside of the normally scheduled session.
“Despite some in the executive branch calling us career politicians, we are citizen legislators. Trying to corral that many individuals to come back to Jefferson City at a non-regularly scheduled time is difficult.”
Governor Greitens has referred to lawmakers, including those in his own party, as career politicians numerous times.
At this point, the Senate cannot further amend the bill it already passed, unless both chambers return to the Capitol. Alferman thinks that scenario is highly unlikely.
“It would require a full vote of the House and the Senate to go beyond what was in a conference able item to exceed the differences, and I don’t see that happening.”
The Senate could also ask the House for a conference to hash out differences between the two chambers, but Alferman doubts such a move will be made.
Democrat Mitten thinks the Senate, which has been subject to erratic behavior numerous times this year, could do anything with the abortion bill. “If we look back at what’s going on in the Senate since January, I think that that’s probably the conventional wisdom that one doesn’t necessarily predict what the Senate’s going to do this year.”
Senate Republican Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe has said he wants the full body to be present to weigh in on the amended version of its abortion bill.