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Parson calls lawmakers in for FRA special session; conservatives unhappy with pro-life language

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — After some back-and-forth between Republicans, Gov. Mike Parson finally called lawmakers back to the capital city for a special session to renew the state’s FRA allowance

The special session is set to begin at 12 p.m. Wednesday. The call is for just one bill, a spokeswoman for the governor said.

Parson said he believed lawmakers had reached a “compromise” on the pro-life language conservatives hoped to attach to an FRA reauthorization. However, at least one conservative senator has pushed back, saying the special session call was riddled with “completely unacceptable sneaky stuff.”

Part of Parson’s call includes a prohibition on “abortifacient drugs and devices” and funding for abortion facilities under the Uninsured Women’s Health Program. The call asks to extend the sunset for “at least three years” and listed a series of drugs, including Plan B, to exclude from coverage “when used to induce an abortion.”

But Sen. Bob Onder, a Conservative Caucus member who has led the fight to include pro-life language in the FRA reauthorization called the language “meaningless” and said it did not go far enough.

Specifically, Onder pointed to language that exclude “an abortion facility” as a provider under the Uninsured Women’s Health Program. Onder said that wouldn’t target Planned Parenthood as a whole but would only relate to one St. Louis facility which is “basically closed anyway.” He said the language was supposed to include “abortion providers and their affiliates” and be excluded from the entire Medicaid program, not just one plan.

Additionally, Onder took umbrage with the language in the special session call excluding “abortifacient drugs or devices” from family planning services. It listed ella, IUDs, and Plan B but stipulated specifically “when used to induce an abortion.” Since state statute already outlaws public funding of abortion, this section is “meaningless,” Onder said.

The call also included a reauthorization of “at least three years.”

“That would set in stone all of these kinds of meaningless changes equivalent of an FRA renewal without any pro-life language,” Onder told The Missouri Times.

Sen. Mike Moon also said the call did not include language he was hoping for, adding “par for the course.”

As lawmakers, including within the GOP, had been at loggerheads over language regarding Planned Parenthood and birth control over the past week, Parson warned Monday that he would have to withhold a “detrimental” $722 million from across state government, including education and foster care services. He said failure to reauthorize the FRA would lead to a loss of $591 million in Fiscal Year 2022 and $788 million in Fiscal Year 2023. 

“After laying out the grim reality of our state’s financial future if FRA is not extended, I believe legislators have now agreed to a compromise that will end this stalemate, so today I am announcing a special session to begin tomorrow at noon,” Parson said. “We appreciate the continued efforts of House and Senate leadership to work with us towards a solution, and we are thankful that we are now in a position that warrants a call to special session.”

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“Narrow political interests cannot hold hostage vital health care funding and the success of our economy,” Parson had said Monday. “My administration is ready to act on compromises that have previously been agreed upon. Our solution addresses the concerns that have been raised while keeping Missouri federally compliant.”

“For those that want to move the goalpost yet again, know that you and you alone will own this and the devastating effects on Missourians and our economy if the FRA is not extended,” he continued. 

He gave lawmakers until noon on Tuesday to come up with a compromise. 

Conservative Caucus members — Sens. Rick Brattin, Eric Burlison, Bill Eigel, Denny Hoskins, Andrew Koenig, Mike Moon, and Onder — sent a letter to Parson Tuesday asking for a special session. 

“Once you call us into Extraordinary Session, the General Assembly can legislate and pass legislation to ensure taxpayer dollars are not used to pay for abortion services,” the Republican senators said. “This is the same policy the legislature has passed during the budget process in prior years. We will also be able to pass legislation to extend the FRA to prevent budget shortfalls like we have also done in sessions past.” 

Parson met with lawmakers last week to work toward a compromise on the controversial measure; the group worked to come to a consensus on the length of reauthorization as well as language prohibiting Medicaid funding for abortion providers and affiliates and restricting the program from covering certain family planning services like abortifacients, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs “when used to induce an abortion.”  

The original language worked on last week said: 

Family planning as defined by federal rules and regulations; provided that such family planning services shall not include abortions or any abortifacient drug or device unless such abortions are certified in writing by a physician to the MO HealthNet agency that, in the physician’s professional judgment, the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term. 

As used in this subdivision, “abortifacient drug or device” includes: mifepristone in a regimen; misoprostol alone when used to induce an abortion; levonorgestrel (Plan B); ulipristal acetate (ella) or other progesterone antagonists; an intrauterine device (IUD) or a manual vacuum aspirator (MVA) when used to induce an abortion; or any other drug or device approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration that is intended to cause the destruction of an unborn child, as defined in section 188.015; 

Parson appeared ready to issue the special session call on Friday but a breakdown in negotiations further stalled the issue. 

The conflict over its renewal derailed the last days of session as a group of Republican members went to war over pro-life language that failed to make it to the floor as part of the reauthorization bill. 

House Republicans have said they prefer a clean FRA bill. 

“Just [three] years ago the [Missouri] Senate unanimously passed a bill to expand access to contraception, including IUDs, for women on Medicaid. Now some of those same senators are accusing women who use IUDs of being abortionists [and] jeopardizing our Medicaid program over it,” Republican state Rep. Shamed Dogan said on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/Dogan4Rep/status/1407425600025935874

Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, a St. Louis Democrat, warned the proposed budget cuts should the legislature fail to pass an FRA reauthorization package could be particularly detrimental to his HD 78. In particular, Aldridge pointed to earmarked cuts to the St. Louis Reading Literacy Program, Harris Stowe University, Habitat for Humanity, and a statewide racial disparity study.

“Republican extremists are playing politics with a measure the General Assembly has passed and re-authorized with little to no controversy for the past 30 years, and the people of this state and my district will once again have to suffer the consequences of their actions,” Aldridge said.

The FRA (federal reimbursement allowance) program taxes health care providers — including ambulances, nursing homes, pharmacies, hospitals, and facilities for the intellectually disabled — which is then matched by federal dollars at a higher rate, reimbursing the providers and leaving the state with extra money by reducing the burden on the state’s Medicaid program. 

The multi-billion-dollar program needs to be reauthorized by Sept. 30. Failure to reauthorize the FRA could result in a loss of up to $5.7 billion in federal funding — which includes money from the American Rescue Plan — and could mean budget cuts to education or social services, according to an analysis from the Missouri Budget Project.

“The problem with trying to appease extremists is they cannot be appeased. Once you give into their demands, they always want more,” House Minority Floor Leader Crystal Quade said Monday. “House Democrats support passage of a clean FRA that isn’t tied to unrelated issues, just like every previous renewal bill enacted in the last three decades. If the governor and the Republican legislative supermajorities can’t get this done, they will be responsible for the devastating budget consequences that follow.”

This story has been updated to include reactions from Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, Rep. Shamed Dogan, Sen. Mike Moon, and Sen. Bob Onder. 

Cameron Gerber contributed to this report.