Mo. lawmakers make contraception bill law in sole override vote
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Mo. lawmakers make contraception bill law in sole override vote

Date: September 12, 2012
By: Wes Duplantier
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 749, the House vote, the Senate vote

JEFFERSON CITY -- Missouri employers and insurance companies now have a state legal claim to refuse to provide health insurance coverage for contraception.

But critics charged the bill lawmakers passed over the governor's veto Wednesday will face immediately legal challange for conflicting with federal requirements. 

Missouri lawmakers override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto to pass legislation that is intended to allow employers and insurers to refuse to provide health insurance coverage of contraception, abortion and sterilization  if such procedures violate the employer's religious beliefs.

In an afternoon vote that lasted for several tense minutes, seven House Democrats broke with their party and with the governor to give Republicans the two-thirds majority they needed to overcome Nixon's action and make the measure part of state law in a 109-45 vote -- the bare minimum number required to approve the override motion.

The Republican-controlled Senate had also backed an override of the veto in a 26-6 vote earlier in the day. House Republicans broke into applause as their final vote was announced. 

Hours after the votes, at least one labor organization in Kansas City told The Associated Press that it plans to sue to stop the law's implementation.

The bill was filed in response to a rule levied by the federal Department of Health and Human Services that required employers and insurance companies to cover contraception at no additional cost to the employees.

Sponsoring Sen. John Lamping, along with several other conservatives, have argued for months that employers should not have to provide a benefit that contradicts their religious beliefs. 

"This bill does not restrict access," said Lamping, R-St. Louis County. "This bill makes clear that you can't force someone who disagrees with you to pay for your services."

Lamping's measure had passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate by wide margins earlier this year, but the proposal faced heated objections from Democrats, including Nixon, who said it will allow employers to interfere with the private health care decisions of women across the state. 

"It's not okay for you to decide if a woman has a baby or not," said state Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis. "It's really time to stop the rhetoric, stop the propaganda and tell the truth."

And some opponents had raised concern about the apparent conflict between the state and federal directives. Sen. Jolie Justus said some insurance industry representatives had told her that companies might sue the state to have the courts resolve the confusion.

Before it voted on the contraception measure, the House elected Majority Floor Leader Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, as its new Speaker to replace its previous leader, Rep. Steven Tilley, who resigned from the chamber last month. No one was officially named to take Jones' post Wednesday.

The contraception vote was the only one of Nixon's 14 non-budget vetoes that lawmakers challenged in their one-day session Wednesday. They declined to attempt an anticipated override vote on bill dealing with vehicle taxes--and that which could throw the finances of cities and counties statewide into uncertainty.

The state Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that state cannot collect local sales taxes on vehicles purchased from out-of-state dealers or from other individuals. The state stopped collecting sales tax on such purchases in March. 

Lawmakers had rushed to pass a "fix" bill in the final days of their spring session, which would override the court and reinstate the old tax system to head off that fiscal uncertainty--and allow the state to collect taxes retroactively. But Nixon struck the bill down, maintaining the court's decision was correct and saying it would be unfair to send taxpayers a bill.

The court said did leave open the option for cities and counties to charge a tax on a vehicle's use in such cases. But only a portion of Missouri cities and counties have enacted a use tax. That means many cities and counties revenues fall for their annual budgets, already battered by the economic downturn. 

Richard Sheets, the Deputy Director of the Missouri Municipal League, said the veto could throw the finances of cities and counties statewide into uncertainty as they might have to wait months to put use taxes before their voters on local ballots--and even then, the restoration of the revenue is not guaranteed.

"It's not realistic to think a lot of them are going to pass a use tax in the next election," he said.

The Legislature is now likely adjourned for the rest of the year, not to return unless the governor were to call a special session.

Jones suggested the governor call lawmakers back to address the auto tax issue. But his idea immediately was rejected by Nixon.