The Buzz

Planned Parenthood, municipal courts and ethics reform up for debate in Missouri legislature

AP

The countdown to adjournment has begun, with Missouri lawmakers left with only six weeks to work through their legislative agendas before the Constitution forces them to head home for the year.

The only constitutionally-mandated task is the budget, and the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to finish its work this week so the full Senate can vote next week.

Beyond that, both the House and Senate have full calendars and committee hearings on a host of bills.

The clock is ticking. Here are four things we’re watching this week.

The Budget

In 2012, a group of conservative senators staged a budget filibuster because they felt lawmakers had not cut enough and were relying too heavily on one-time money. The next year saw a filibuster by Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, over a lack of funding for a program for children with disabilities.

And last year it was Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer’s insistence that Medicaid managed care be expanded that inspired a six-hour filibuster.

What might cause a filibuster of the state’s $27 billion budget this year? The list of possible answers to that question is long, from funding for Planned Parenthood to cuts to the University of Missouri budget.

The Appropriations Committee plans to finish its work on the budget this week. The 13 bills that make up the budget will then go to the full Senate, and after that to conference to work out difference with the House and send the budget to Gov. Jay Nixon.

Planned Parenthood

While budget writers decide whether they will try to defund Planned Parenthood, whose St. Louis clinic is the only abortion provider in Missouri, another Senate committee will discuss the possibility of jail time for Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis leader.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican, filed two resolutions last week demanding demanding that the president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri and the owner of a pathology lab that reviews tissue from Planned Parenthood appear before the Senate at 10 a.m. April 18 to explain why they have not complied with a subpoena issued by the Senate.

Schaefer chairs a committee that began investigating Planned Parenthood last summer when undercover videos emerged alleging Planned Parenthood officials were selling fetal tissue for profit. Investigations in numerous states have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, including one by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat.

Mark Kogut, president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said the Senate’s subpoena was broad and would likely violate patient confidentiality laws. That’s why the organization refused to comply.

Now the Senate is contemplating holding the pair of officials in contempt, a charge that carries a punishment of a $300 fine, 10 days in jail or both.

Schaefer’s resolutions will be discussed and approved by the Senate Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee on Tuesday at 9 a.m.

Municipal Courts

Few bills have inspired as much opposition from Kansas City and Jackson County leaders as Senate Bill 572, the so-called municipal court reform bill.

The bill would eliminate jail time for a host of traffic and municipal offenses and cap fines and court costs at $200. Court officials and local leaders have cried foul, saying the restrictions will hurt their efforts to hold scofflaws accountable, especially in regards to vacant and abandoned property.

Proponents say the legislation is needed to rein in municipalities that use traffic and zoning fines to fund their government operations, essentially turning citizens into ATMs. It’s seen as a continuation of a bill passed last year in the aftermath of the unrest in Ferguson aimed squarely at traffic violations (last year’s bill, which became law after it was signed by Gov. Nixon, was blocked late last month by a Cole County judge. An appeal is expected).

Rep. Robert Cornejo, a St. Peters Republican sponsoring this year’s measure in the House, said he understands the concerns of Jackson County officials. He plans to offer several amendments to the bill in committee, including one clarifying that jail time is on the table for those who repeatedly ignore orders to appear in court.

He also suggested some alteration to the caps on fines, although just what that will look like isn’t clear.

The House Civil and Criminal Proceedings Committee will amend and vote on Senate Bill 572 Wednesday at noon.

Revolving Door

The House approved a bill earlier this year mandating lawmakers wait at least one year after they leave office before they can return to the Capitol as a lobbyist.

The Senate didn’t take kindly to the proposition, amending it to mandate that lawmakers need only finish their term in office before they can lobby their former colleagues.

On Wednesday at 12:30 p.m., negotiators from both chambers will meet to try to iron out a compromise they can send to the governor.

If they’re successful, it will be the second bill to make its way to the governor’s desk. Last month final approval was given to a bill prohibiting lawmakers from serving as paid political consultants while in office. Other proposals, including a ban on lobbyist gifts and restrictions on how use of campaign accounts by former lawmakers, are still pending.  

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