Governor’s call includes game-changing provision for the attorney general’s office
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Though Gov. Eric Greitens released videos regarding his call for a special session on his social media accounts around 2:00 p.m. Wednesday, his office did not post the official call until later in the day, well after press time.
The call itself has more than a dozen policy requests to it, a stark contrast to the call for his first extraordinary session which only had two parts. The full call can be read at the bottom of this article, but a few sections stand out, particularly one section that could make a major change to the attorney general’s office.
First, the call asks for an emergency clause on any piece of legislation passed by the General Assembly in this extraordinary session. The bill passed in this session could conceivably go into law before the bill from Greitens’ last extraordinary session, as he has yet to sign Rep. Don Rone’s bill on the issue.
The call also includes three major policy segments. Section 5 will give the Department of Health and Senior Services authority to promulgate and enforce rules between ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs) and separately named abortion clinics. This section likely comes in response to the Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstadt decision from 2016 that ruled Texas laws mandating abortions meet the standards of ASCs unconstitutional. Missouri’s own similar law was struck down by a federal judge in April.
Section 6 asks the General Assembly to pass a law to ensure the DHSS conduct annual inspections of abortion facilities. During the Senate Interim Sanctity of Life Committee investigation of the state’s abortion practices in 2015, it was found that during Republican and Democratic administrations, the DHSS testified they lacked the resources to conduct an annual inspection.
Section 7 would strike down the St. Louis “abortion sanctuary city” ordinance. The law passed by the St. Louis Board of Alderman added protections for women’s reproductive choices into its anti-discrimination law, meaning that an employer or renter can respectively make hiring decisions or rent housing to a woman who has had an abortion, has undergone in vitro fertilization, or who happens to be pregnant.
While many of the changes Greitens asks for in the call would be significant changes to abortion policy in the state, none of them holds a candle to Section 11 of the call. This section would give the Attorney General’s Office original jurisdiction to prosecute any violation of Missouri’s abortion laws, the use of public funds for abortion or the violation of any state law that regulates an abortion facility.
The reason this part of the call is so important is because it’s such a drastic departure from the norm. Currently, the Attorney General’s Office lacks the power of original jurisdiction on criminal matters in most areas of Missouri law.
“The Attorney General’s Office has jurisdiction over some criminal matters, including consumer protection matters and Medicaid fraud,” Loree Anne Paradise, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office said, adding that “the office also has extensive civil jurisdiction.”
Individual county prosecutors bring criminal charges in most cases, and the attorney usually handles appeals that come from prosecutors. Prosecutors can also request the attorney general take over a case, which usually happens if it’s resource intensive – like a death penalty case in a rural jurisdiction.
On the one hand, this provision could have been added because the locale of the only abortion provider in the state is in St. Louis, where a liberal prosecutor could be elected and hesitant to bring criminal charges against the state’s only abortion clinic. On the other, this act could be seen as a consolidation of power away from local prosecutors and into the state government.
Paradise however noted that the attorney general’s office did not request the jurisdictional language in the governor’s call.
Representatives from the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
The governor’s full call can be read below.