JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Lawmakers are back in the Missouri statehouse as a special session to renew an important Medicaid tax started Wednesday.
Gov. Mike Parson gave legislators an ultimatum earlier this week to renew the Federal Reimbursement Allowance (FRA) tax or the state will face millions in budget cuts. The FRA funds the state’s Medicaid program.
Less than 24 hours after Parson gave the General Assembly the choice, he called them back to Jefferson City.
Senators convened Wednesday to start the special session. The same roadblocks that prevented the tax being renewed during regular session are still causing problems.
“I hope we can agree to do what we’ve done in the past, and that’s vote for a clean FRA,” Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, said Wednesday.
The FRA is a tax on health care providers. It brings in more than $1.5 billion in state funding for Medicaid, and then the federal government nearly doubles that.
Earlier this week, senators in the Conservative Caucus sent a letter to Parson, urging him to immediately call the legislature back to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for abortion services. Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, is one of the members who signed the letter.
“I think there’s no question if there is a vote to defund abortion providers and their affiliates,” Onder said. “We have 24 Republican members, every one of which ran as pro-life.”
Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, introduced a bill during Wednesday’s session. He’s calling it a “clean” version of the FRA without the pro-life language. The same legislation that has been passed in previous years.
“That has yielded us the best return for our investment when it comes to dollars for the Medicaid program and health care in the state of Missouri,” Rizzo said. “We should move forward with a program that has done well and should remain in place the way it is.”
Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Dan Hegeman, D-Cosby, filed three bills Wednesday, all different options to renew the FRA.
One bill is a clean FRA reauthorization; Senate Bill 2 prohibits abortion services and facilities from being eligible under the Uninsured Women’s Health Program and prohibits certain contraceptives like Plan B under Medicaid. The final bill combines the two.
“One of the reasons that we are so adamant about having this pro-life language in the FRA bill is to make sure we protect life,” Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said.
Parson mentioned earlier this week the General Assembly should renew the FRA without harming the federal dollars coming to the state for Medicaid. Onder said on the Senate floor Wednesday he could see an “awful bill” coming before members that would break promises to the “pro-life voters of the state.”
“This absurdity that we’re going to lose a whole bunch of money if we pass pro-life protected language in this FRA bill, that’s ridiculous.” Onder said.
Hours before Senators convened, members of Planned Parenthood and Missouri Family Health Council met and spoke in opposition of taking away contraceptives under Medicaid.
“Missourians deserve better,” Executive Director for Missouri Family Health Council Michelle Trupiano said. “Birth control should be accessible for everyone regardless of their income or health insurance.”
One advocate said without subsidized healthcare for women, she couldn’t have access to birth control.
“They want to block people like myself from having complete control over our health, and they’re willing to risk our health and lives to advance their own political agenda,” reproductive freedom organizer Kennedy Moore said. “No one should lose their birth control coverage based on how much money they make or what kind of insurance they have. Reproductive freedom is for everyone.”
Hoskins also introduced a bill Wednesday that would ban Missouri schools from teaching critical race theory. Many other state legislature’s have proposed similar bills this year, including in Missouri, but it did not make it over the finish line during regular session.
“This bill deals with critical race theory, and I think it’s more appropriately named critical racist theory because CRT is teaching racism in our schools,” Hoskins said. “Critical racist theory actually teaches kids to judge someone by their color of their skin, not by their morals and their character. It’s against everything we stand for.”
Parson did not include critical race theory in his call for the special session, but both Onder and Hoskins said it doesn’t need to be.
“We could pass your bill, Senator, and we could send it to the governor’s desk, and then the governor could decide whether to sign it or veto it,” Onder said.
The bill would ban the teaching of “divisive concepts,” such as one race or sex is more superior than another.
Senators return Thursday for session where Senate President Dave Schatz, R-Arnold, is expected to refer bills to committee.