Missouri lawmakers extend abortion wait to 72 hours in deal tied to voting and union rules

05/13/2014 12:23 PM

05/14/2014 12:17 AM

Lawmakers sealed the deal shortly after midnight.

Republicans can

triple the waiting period to have an abortion, but they must abandon their push this year to enact tougher restrictions on public employee unions

.

Democrats will stop blocking efforts to place

a six-day early voting period on the ballot, but Republicans must stop pressing a photo ID requirement to vote

.

With that — a grand bargain that tangled together abortion, union power and voting rules — Missouri legislators early Tuesday settled many of the most contentious issues facing the General Assembly before it adjourns Friday night.

Democrats, in the end, gave more than they got.

“When you’re in the deep, deep minority, you eventually have to make a decision,” said Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, a Kansas City Democrat. “I hate all of these bills, but we cut a deal to protect at least some of the values that are important to Democrats.”

The four issues stirred debate for weeks and posed likely stumbling blocks heading into the session’s home stretch. Each issue came with nearly intractable divides: abortion rights advocates and opponents; labor unions and business groups; and the Republican and Democratic parties.

The informal accord — the abortion bill, for instance, still needs to clear the House — involved not so much compromise as a truce. Democrats had promised to filibuster on each issue. Republicans had vowed to use whatever means necessary to force a vote.

The largest sticking point, and the most rancorous issue, rested in legislation mandating women wait three days after an initial visit with an abortion provider before the procedure can be done.

That would triple the current 24-hour waiting period. An exception for medical emergencies is already included in current law, and would continue to apply with the longer waiting period, but not for pregnancies stemming from rape or incest.

Only Utah and South Dakota have similar 72-hour waiting periods in place.

Democrats had stalled a vote on the bill for weeks before giving in early Tuesday.

Sen. John Lamping, a Republican from St. Louis County, said he believes that by tripling the waiting period the number of abortions will decrease.

“My hope would be that in these additional 48 hours, in fact, the mother would choose not to abort her child,” he said.

Currently, the only Missouri facility that performs elective abortions is located in St. Louis, although the procedure is performed in clinics in Overland Park and in Granite City, Ill. — 15 minutes from St. Louis. Neither clinic would be subject to the 72-hour waiting period.

Critics contend the legislation creates an undue burden, especially on low-income women.

“This is an unconstitutional infringement on a woman’s right to choose,” said Sen. Scott Sifton, a St. Louis County Democrat, adding that he believes ultimately the legislation will be thrown out by the courts.

The bill now returns to the Missouri House, which is expected to quickly pass it along to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

Immediately after passing the abortion bill, the Senate moved quickly to pass the early voting legislation.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow ballots to be cast on six business days ending the Wednesday before the election. In-person ballots would be cast during the regular business hours of local election officials, who could not take any action or incur expenses for early voting unless funding was included in the state budget.

Democrats have called the Republican-backed proposal a sham aimed at short-circuiting a stronger early voting proposal that could be placed on the ballot by initiative petition.

Early voting is widely perceived

as a way to boost Democratic election turnout

.

Supporters have said they gathered about 300,000 signatures in order to ask voters to create a six-week early voting period and require election officials to accommodate voting Saturday and Sunday for the final 21 days before federal or state elections.

Republicans argued that a six-week early voting period that includes weekends would be too expensive.

“It’s important we have early voting, but we also have to limit it and control the costs,” said Sen. Will Kraus, a Lee’s Summit Republican who sponsored the measure.

Justus said she fears the GOP-backed plan will allow future legislatures to kill early voting by refusing to fund it.

The Senate-approved version now goes back to the House. If passed, it will appear on the November ballot unless Nixon sets a different election date.

If both proposals end up on the November ballot together and are approved by voters, the one that receives the most support would be enshrined in the constitution. In an effort to avoid the possibility that the governor could place the question on an earlier ballot to ensure the success of the Democrat-backed plan, the Senate bill contains a provision stating it cannot be repealed by a subsequent ballot measure that doesn’t specifically reference the earlier measure.

In winning an early voting ballot measure, GOP lawmakers gave up on a photo ID requirement to vote, an issue that’s been a top priority for the party for nearly a decade. They also agreed to set aside so-called “paycheck protection” legislation, which would make it more difficult for public employee unions to collect dues.

Kraus sponsored the voter ID bill and said he’s disappointed with what Republicans had to give up, especially when they hold a 23-9 edge in the Senate. Still, he said the deal that was struck was a good one.

“The process works,” he said. “We had to give, they had to give, and we find resolution.”

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