Medicaid? Voting rights? Critical race theory? Parson faces special session demands

Missouri governor says it’s too early to know if or when he’ll call lawmakers back to the Capitol

By: - May 27, 2021 1:30 pm

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson delivered his State of the State address on Jan. 27, 2021 (photo courtesy of Missouri Governor’s Office).

A tax that funds $2 billion of Missouri’s Medicaid program.

A push to ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.

An effort to undermine changes to Kansas City’s police budget. 

And a litany of bills seeking to overhaul how Missouri conducts its elections. 

The calls from Missouri lawmakers for Gov. Mike Parson to reconvene the recently-adjourned legislature in special session are many and varied. 

And while there is no doubt that lawmakers will be returning to Jefferson City this year, exactly what may end up on the agenda — and when they will gather — remains unclear. 

“There’s a lot of people who’ve reached out for special sessions,” Parson said in a recent interview with KCMO radio this week, “and it’s too early to talk about those things like that.”

Yet the list of issues lawmakers hope to tackle before the 2022 session convenes next January seems to grow by the day. 

Some things will absolutely require a special session, and topping that list is a tax on health care providers that makes up a huge chunk of the state’s Medicaid budget. 

A fight in the Missouri Senate over birth control and abortion derailed the typically routine renewal of the tax for the first time in its 30 year existence. 

Parson’s interim-Medicaid director said this week that if the tax isn’t extended before its Sept. 30 expiration date the “existence of the (Medicaid) program will be threatened by the end of the year.”

“I cannot overstate the impact,” said Kirk Mathews, interim director of the MoHealthNet program.

By all accounts, Parson stayed on the sidelines during the months-long legislative tussle over the tax, which is known as the federal reimbursement allowance, or FRA. 

In fact, as lawmakers scrambled in the session’s final days to try to find a solution that would get a tax extension across the finish line, Parson wasn’t even in Jefferson City. 

His public calendar, obtained through a request under Missouri’s Sunshine Law, shows he left the Capitol at noon the day before legislative adjournment for a pair of events in Morgan County. 

After that, he appears to have been at his home in Bolivar until heading to a Saturday event in Springfield.

Parson’s hands-off approach on the issue chafed lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, who quietly grumbled that he could have intervened to try to get the tax extension done and avoid having to return for a potentially contentious special session. 

That’s especially true now, as the fissures that doomed the tax extension during the regular session appear to have only grown in the weeks since adjournment

Sen. John Rizzo, D-Independence

“It would have been nice for him to have been helpful. There were certainly inflection points during the process where his involvement at the very least couldn’t have hurt,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence. “Would his involvement have been the magic bullet that could have changed the outcome? I couldn’t say.”

Kelli Jones, the governor’s spokeswoman, did not respond to a request for comment.

Beyond FRA, lawmakers will also have to convene later this year to redraw congressional districts. 

The work is typically done every 10 years during the regular legislative session. But the Census data needed to draw the boundaries was delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and changes to the Census schedule by the Trump administration. 

Lawmakers hope to complete the new maps before Missouri’s candidate filing period begins in February 2022. The chairman of the House Special Committee on Redistricting — Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial — made it clear to legislators that the committee’s work will stretch well into the fall

Shaul is also among a group of Republicans hoping Parson will call a special session to focus on election bills. 

Sitting atop his list of priorities would be re-establishing a photo ID requirement to vote — a provision that has repeatedly been struck down by Missouri courts — and a bill making it harder for citizens to change state law through the initiative petition process. 

More recently, Republican lawmakers from the Kansas City area began calling for a special session in response to a City Council vote to give the city more control over its police budget.

The council, led by Mayor Quinton Lucas, voted to reduce the police department’s $240 million budget by $42 million. That would mean the city would be spending 20% of its general revenue on policing, the minimum percentage required by state law.

The $42 million would go into a fund aimed at finding innovative ways to combat the city’s violent crime. 

Though they didn’t lay out specific legislative proposals to combat the city’s move, Reps. Chris Brown of Kansas City, Josh Hurlbert of Smithville, Sean Pouche of Kansas City and Doug Richey of Excelsior Springs wrote a letter to Parson asking for a special session because, “Kansas City is in crisis.”

The chairs of the Senate and House education committees are also asking for a special session, this one targeting critical race theory and the New York Times’ 1619 Project

Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, and Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, wrote in a letter to Parson that curricula that include these topics are “divisive and unnecessary.

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has been writing about Missouri since 2011, most recently as lead political reporter for The Kansas City Star. He has spent nearly two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, and has a track record of exposing government wrongdoing and holding elected officials accountable.