JEFFERSON CITY - The State legislature is getting tougher on Planned Parenthood.
On the strength of a February court ruling and capitalizing on the late session budget-rush, the legislature gave final approval to a bill that would require Columbia's Planned Parenthood to do more than build a separate entrance for its abortion services if it wants to get state funds.
"This clarifies once and for all that you cannot use any state funds for abortion," said Sen. Harry Wiggins, D-Kansas City, who co-authored that part of the bill with Missouri Catholic Conference lobbyist Louis DeFeo.
Planned Parenthood of Columbia stopped its abortion services on April 12, in response to an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. The Court ruled on February 3rd to uphold a law that the State does not have to fund abortions. The court also ruled that Planned Parenthood could still receive funding for its family planning services if its abortion services were "truly independent."
DeFeo said the bill details the conditions of "truly independent."
Gov. Mel Carnahan's spokesman Chris Sifford said the governor will sign the bill, which contains the budgets for the Health and Mental Health Departments.
"It's got tough language, but the family planning program is more important," he said.
Rep. Mike Schilling, D-Springfield, plans to challenge the bill's constitutionality, saying that major policy cannot be attached to budget bills.
"Putting major legislative policy on an appropriations bill really puts people in a corner," Schilling said. "I even voted for it because by law we've got to get the budget out."
Planned Parenthood has begun a plan to separate its family planning services from its abortion services by building a separate entrance for the two at its Providence Rd. location. Under this new bill, that degree of separation might not be sufficient to receive funds for its family planning services.
"Imagine you're a shopper and you approached the office. Would you get the impression that Planned Parenthood and the abortion office were different?" DeFeo said. "It's up to the courts to decide case by case."
Singling out Planned Parenthood from other abortion providers in the state, the bill would require Planned Parenthood's operations to be audited every year to ensure proper separation exists. Other agencies would be audited every three years.
"It's going to cost the state a lot of money that could be used to provide services for people who need them," said Erika Fox, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood.
Fox said Planned Parenthood would comply with all the regulations unless the organization finds them too burdensome. In that case, she said, they would take the state to court.
For an organization connected to an abortion clinic to receive state family-planning funding, the following requirements would have to be met:
In other legislative action Thursday:
* The politics of partial-birth abortion continue to haunt lawmakers. The bill's sponsor says he wants the governor to veto the bill soon enough to let lawmakers vote on the override before the session adjourns May 14.
The governor's spokesman says Carnahan also would like to have lawmakers resolve the issue now rather than waiting until the veto session in September.
In 1997, Gov. Carnahan's veto of a similar bill was sustained by one vote.
"I think we'd prefer to go ahead and do it now," said Carnahan spokesman Chris Sifford. He said the governor would "pull out all the stops" to derail the legislation.
The bill, approved by the Senate, requires a formal vote in the House to be sent to the governor.
* Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, served as Speaker of the House Thursday while the House was discussing efforts to make the Capitol more handicap accessible. One and a half million dollars are budgeted for renovations to make all legislator's offices available to disabled constituants.
Graham is the only legislators who uses a wheel chair.
Graham said he enjoyed his brief couple of hours presiding as Speaker. "That's a big gavel and you can make a lot of noise with it," he said with a smile.
* The House approved a Senate-approved plan that would raise retirement benefifts for legislators and other state officials.
Debate was ignited when Rep. Catherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County, proposed an ammendment which would exclude state lawmakers from the pension increase.
However, the amendment failed by a margin of 77-74. Local Rep.'s Chuck Graham, Tim Harlan and Vicky Riback-Wilson, unanimously voted to defeat the amendment and leave legislative pension increases within the bill.
* The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to pass a bill that would increase the maximum award allowed in a lawsuit against the government.
The measure approved earlier by the Senate, would raise the amount an individual can receive in a lawsuit against a state agency or political subdivision from $1 million to $2 million.
The legislation would also increase the amount a government worker could be sued for from $100,000 to $300,000.