Missouri Moves to Protect Religious Liberty

Legislators Pass SB 749 in Final Hours

Sen. John Lamping
Sen. John Lamping (R-Ladue). Photo courtesy of the Missouri Senate.

Sen. John Lamping (R-Ladue), a Catholic, was upset. The Obama Administration had issued its edict requiring even the Catholic Church to pay for abortion drugs, contraceptives and sterilizations in their health plans. What could be done? Could the state of Missouri protect religious liberties even if the federal government would not? On Feb. 2, the senator filed SB 749, a bill that declared that no one could be compelled to pay for items such as abortion drugs in their health insurance plans.

By legislative standards, SB 749 got off to a relatively fast start. It reached the Senate floor on Feb. 21 but then things slowed down, as is not unusual in the Missouri Senate, where efficiency takes a back seat to the right to free and unlimited debate. On March 27, however, some 3,000 Missouri citizens converged on the Missouri State Capitol to protest the Obama Administration’s contraceptive mandate and to urge the Missouri General Assembly to protect the religious liberties of Missouri citizens. Rally participants took cards supporting SB 749 to legislators throughout the Capitol. Word spread among legislators that a new legislative priority had emerged, one that had not been on their planning charts at the outset of the legislative session.

Two days after the rally, the Missouri Senate gave final approval to SB 749 and sent the bill to the Missouri House of Representatives. Then things began to slow down — a lot. The insurance industry decided they did not like SB 749. As one insurance lobbyist told the MCC, writing “Catholic kosher” health plans would be an administrative hassle. Although the House got SB 749 from the Senate on March 29, Speaker Steve Tilley (R-Farmington) did not refer the bill to a committee until April 18. Making matters worse, SB 749 was referred to the insurance industry’s favorite committee — the Health Insurance Committee.

Rep. Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City). Photo courtesy of the Missouri House of Representatives.

More time went by, but at least negotiations ensued between the MCC and insurance lobbyists. On May 10, just days before the session would end on May 18, the insurance committee reported a house committee substitute (HCS) for SB 749 “Do Pass.” The HCS wasn’t everything the MCC wanted, but it did offer some assurances that people would be able to obtain health plans that conformed to their moral and religious convictions.

When SB 749 came to the House floor for debate, State Rep. Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) offered an MCC-drafted amendment to ensure that any employee could exclude and not pay for abortion coverage in his insurance premium. State Rep. Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia) then added another amendment that authorized the state attorney general to bring suit in state or federal court to defend the religious liberties established in SB 749.

Rep. Sandy Crawford (R-Buffalo). Photo courtesy of the Missouri House of Representatives.

While Barnes and Cox were strengthening the provisions of SB 749, Rep. Sandy Crawford (R-Buffalo) served as floor handler for the legislation and rebutted phony arguments that the legislation represented a “war on women.”

Rep. Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia). Photo courtesy of the Missouri House of Representatives.

Because the House-passed SB 749 was different from what the Senate passed, a conference committee convened to resolve the differences. Agreement could not be reached on provisions added to the bill by the House and championed by State Reps. Tim Jones (R-Eureka) and Dave Sater (R-Cassville) that expanded conscience protections for health care providers (doctors, nurses, etc.) and pharmacies. The Senate would not accept these provisions and they were dropped from the Conference Committee Report presented to both chambers on the last day of the session. With only three hours remaining in the session, the general assembly finally passed SB 749.

Rep. Tim Jones (R-Eureka). Photo courtesy of the Missouri House of Representatives.

As truly agreed to and finally passed, SB 749, if signed by Gov. Nixon, will give Missouri one of the strongest, if not the strongest, conscience protection law in the nation. Most significantly, it will allow individuals to make sure elective abortion is not included in their health coverage.

As the controversy over the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate has grown, some purchasers of insurance have found out that, unbeknownst to them, their health plan covered contraceptives or even elective abortions. If enacted into law, SB 749 will put an end to this secrecy; people will know whether their plans cover items such as elective abortions, and they will be able to exclude these items from their plans if they so choose. It turns out that choice is not a concept owned by the pro-abortion forces. People of faith ought to have the right to refuse to pay for abortion and abortion drugs.

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