Missouri House Democrats continue fight over Medicaid expansion brief

Letter to Speaker Rob Vescovo questions cost, authority for Supreme Court filing

By: - July 15, 2021 5:10 pm

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, addresses the media with the Democratic caucus (photo by Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications).

Missouri House Democrats are questioning the cost and authority for a friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of the full House in the Medicaid expansion appeal heard this week by the Missouri Supreme Court.

In a letter sent Wednesday to House Speaker Rob Vescovo, Minority Floor Leader Crystal Quade of Springfield and Assistant Minority Floor Leader Richard Brown of Kansas City wrote that only the full House can, by a floor vote, authorize legal action on behalf of the body.

“It may be undeniably true that, had a (House Resolution) authorizing the amicus brief actually been put to the Missouri House’s members for a vote, the number of legislators in the majority party means the chamber would have authorized the amicus brief,” Quade and Brown wrote. “But political realities do not diminish the necessity of upholding the requirement that members of the Missouri House must be afforded the opportunity to vote on these matters.”

Medicaid Expansion House Attorney Fees Letter

Republicans hold 113 of 163 seats in the Missouri House.

Along with the letter, the two leaders released a copy of the engagement letter signed July 2 by attorney Kevin Corlew and House Chief Clerk Dana Rademan Miller, setting a flat fee of $18,900 for the 50-page brief filed with the Supreme Court.

“It is our understanding that a handful of members decided that they, and not the 163 elected representatives of the House, had both the prerogative and power to bind this institution to a legal position through outside counsel in the ongoing Medicaid Expansion litigation,” Quade and Brown wrote. “They had neither. This is not remotely close to how such a decision is required to be made, nor is there any plausible argument it could be.”

The two leaders have been raising objections to the House brief since it was filed July 8. In a statement issued July 9, and in an amicus curiae, or friend-of-the-court, brief filed on behalf of Quade and Brown, they accused House leaders of misrepresenting the nature of the brief to the court.

Vescovo, R-Arnold, could not be immediately reached for comment. 

Quade could not be reached for comment on whether she had sought a meeting or attempted to speak with Vescovo about the House filing.

The Supreme Court has not issued a decision in the appeal from the lawsuit filed May 24 in Cole County asking the courts to order the state to open Medicaid coverage to people eligible under the terms of Amendment 2, passed in August 2020.

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled that the amendment was fatally flawed because it did not include a new source of revenue to pay the anticipated costs. He declared it unconstitutional because it violated procedural rules for initiatives laid out in the state Constitution.

Corlew wrote that the House agrees with the decision but that if the high court did not, it should recognize that lawmakers retain the right to refuse to appropriate funds to cover the newly eligible Missourians.

Amendment 2 extended coverage to people aged 19 to 65 with household incomes less than 138 percent of the federal poverty guideline, or $17,774 a year for a single person and $36,570 for a household of four.

Under the current Medicaid program, adults without children are not eligible unless they are blind, have another qualifying disability or are pregnant.

Coverage was supposed to begin July 1 but when the state budget passed without any of the $1.9 billion in funding requested by Gov. Mike Parson, the state withdrew documents submitted to federal regulators necessary to receive federal funding for expansion. Parson announced that he would not use existing appropriations to provide coverage.

The dispute over the official House brief is a fight over what House rules require. The rules recognize the need to hire outside legal counsel “to assist committees in extraordinary circumstances” and to assist the chief clerk in sexual harassment investigations. The rules are otherwise silent on when, and under what circumstances, the House may hire counsel to represent its interests in court.

Quade and Brown wrote that silence means a general rule, referring to the U.S. House rules and Jefferson’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice, set the procedure for hiring counsel. Those rules require a vote by the entire House establishing its position, they wrote.

The engagement letter, they note, includes a clause to assure Corlew that all the procedures necessary to hire him had been followed. Corlew is a former House member who specializes in laws governing organizations and he should have known whether the proper steps were taken, they wrote.

“There is simply no excuse for the failures on both sides of this situation to enter into this unauthorized agreement,” Quade and Brown wrote.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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