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As storm descended on Capitol, Republicans scrambled to reach deal on FRA reauthorization

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Thunder resounded throughout the Senate chambers, and hail rained down on Jefferson City Friday night as Senate Republicans attempted to finalize an FRA reauthorization proposal.

Just before midnight, there was a break in the clouds — in the upper chamber, that is. The Senate perfected a three-year FRA renewal package that did not include any language excluding abortion providers from Medicaid or any other program. It also changed the language regarding birth control and contraceptives to just targeting drugs or devices used to induce an abortion.

The Senate third read and passed it 28-5 at 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

“We began this special session with two goals: to protect life and to renew the FRA. Failing to renew the FRA, or playing political games with billions of dollars of Missouri’s Medicaid funding, would have jeopardized our state budget and health care coverage for pregnant women, poor children, and the disabled,” Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz and Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden said in a joint statement.

“We’ve continued to build on our tradition of pro-life leadership by renewing the FRA for three years, stopping taxpayer funding for abortion drugs, and protecting health care coverage for Missouri’s neediest citizens.” 

Business on the Senate floor ground to a halt shortly after 12 p.m. when Sen. Bob Onder attempted to attach an amendment excluding abortion providers and their affiliates from Missouri’s Medicaid program. The Senate then stood at ease to address a point of order levied by Minority Floor Leader John Rizzo. 

After nearly an hour, the Senate moved into recess. Republicans caucused for about an hour Friday afternoon, but dealmaking continued behind closed doors as the capital city grew dark and the power flickered in the Capitol. 

Bells chimed to bring senators back to back to the chamber at about 7 p.m., but the gavel was not lifted. Republicans moved to caucus about an hour later where a deal that was seemingly in place just minutes before broke down. 

Finally, around 9:30 p.m., senators came back into the chamber where a five-year proposal was offered. It was the idea put forth by Sen. Andrew Koenig that would prevent abortion providers or their affiliates from Medicaid coverage, but it contingent upon approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Onder had expressed his opposition to this proposal throughout the day, saying he did not have confidence CMS would grant such approval under the Biden administration. 

Onder attempted to attach an amendment that would outright prevent Medicaid coverage for abortion providers and their affiliates — but it was defeated in a roll call vote. Republican Sens. Mike Bernskoetter, Justin Brown, Mike Cierpiot, Karla Eslinger, Elaine Gannon, Dan Hegeman, Lincoln Hough, Jeanie Riddle, Caleb Rowden, Dave Schatz, and Bill White joined all 10 Democrats to defeat the amendment.

Onder criticized his Republican colleagues who voted against his amendment, questioning their pro-life beliefs.

“I said again and again throughout regular session … that we need to renew the FRA, but unfortunately we’ve kicked the can down the road, again and again, to avoid making that decision — whether we’re truly going to defund Planned Parenthood or keep the spigots of money flowing to Planned Parenthood,” Onder told The Missouri Times. 

Then a new substitute was offered — and it was perfected shortly before midnight. The Senate adjourned and then reconvened shortly after 12 a.m. to quickly third read and pass the bill.

One deal that was successful was brokered by the women in the Senate. Nearly every female senator met Friday and came up with a proposal to strip the list of drugs that would not be covered under Medicaid. They had concerns that the way those drugs were listed, women could be denied access to birth control. Sen. Paul Wieland, who has championed the language to prevent Medicaid from covering abortifacients, agreed to the plan.

“There is probably nothing that couldn’t be solved if it was just us women,” said one senator who attended the meeting.

Rizzo huddled with reporters in a side gallery Friday afternoon while the Senate was still in recess, urging the governor to step in. 

“I have a lot of respect for the governor, especially what he’s done in the last few days in really trying to make his case. I think it’s time, now, to narrow the call — take the guesswork out of the Senate; they obviously can’t handle it — and narrow the call to a simple extension of the program,” Rizzo said. “He can do that right now. He needs to narrow the call because this body is unable to handle the responsibility of governing.” 

Earlier, Onder addressed the governor’s special session call: “The minute we say the governor can write our bills for us, we do not have a governor. We do not have a Missouri Constitution anymore. We have a king. And like my predecessors in government service in this country, I will bow down to no one — and certainly not to a king.” 

As lawmakers had been at loggerheads over language regarding Planned Parenthood and birth control over the past week, Gov. Mike Parson warned Monday that he would have to withhold a “detrimental” $722 million from across state government, including education and foster care services.

Missouri Right to Life’s Susan Klein said the group does not support the FRA package that passed. She had advocated for even stronger language targeting Planned Parenthood and abortion providers in a hearing Thursday. The group released a statement shortly after the bill was perfected saying it was “disappointed” in the 12 GOP senators who voted against Onder’s amendment.

Onder called the bill an “embarrassment” and a “betrayal of our pro-life principles” ahead of the third read vote. The only five objections came from Onder and Sens. Rick Brattin, Eric Burlison, Ander Koenig, and Mike Moon. Every other Republican and Democrat voted in favor of the bill.

This story has been updated.