By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Expect a bill to restrict late-term abortions to become law this year.
Another bill that is targeting the prostitution industry, specifically the trafficking of teens for sexual purposes, is also sailing through the Missouri General Assembly.
But don’t expect the state income tax to get wiped out in favor of a huge boost in the sales tax, at least not this year.
Those were three of the triumphs that staff members of the Missouri Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Missouri Catholic bishops, reported during a mid-session briefing March 21 at St. Thomas More Parish.
Half of the MCC’s eight-member staff came from Jefferson City to report on issues at the top of the church’s agenda this session, while urging even more people to join the MCC Citizen’s Network to press lawmakers on any or all of a broad array of bills of concern to the church.
Tyler McClay, MCC general counsel, said HB 213 will take another step in reducing abortions in Missouri by limiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy to only those cases in which a pregnant woman’s physical health is in jeopardy.
The bill will also require two doctors to confirm that continuing a pregnancy to term would cause permanent physical harm to the mother before a late-term abortion could be performed.
“It’s a good bill,” McClay said, who also noted that the bill will only affect “maybe 1 percent” of all the abortions performed in Missouri, but will send a powerful message.
“It is one more way to get people to see that this is a child, not a choice,” McClay said.
The ideal, he admitted, would be a bill that would outlaw all abortions, he said. But that’s not possible until the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the United States.
“Some people would like to hit a home run and try to make all abortion illegal, and we’d like to do that, too,” McClay said.
“But if we take incremental steps, maybe we can get to the point where the (U.S.) Supreme Court says, ‘Enough’” and reverses Roe v. Wade.
Mike Hoey, MCC executive director, said a bill to replace the state income tax with a 7 percent sales tax, appears dead for this session.
The MCC has opposed the so-called “fair tax” because it would shift the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class and the poor.
But representatives from both political parties agree that a 7 percent sales tax would not come close to replacing the revenues lost from the income tax at a time when the state is facing severe budget shortfalls.
“There is a consensus that the numbers don’t add up,” Hoey said. That was confirmed by Jim Moody, budget director under Republican Gov. John Ashcroft, who concluded that the state sales tax rate would have be about 15 percent — 15 cents on the dollar — to make up the lost revenue.
A sales tax rate that high would devastate retail businesses along the state border, particularly in Kansas City, where people could simply drive to Kansas to make their purchases.
Hoey said that the “fair tax” bill would still need statewide voter approval if the General Assembly chooses to put it on the ballot.
But Hoey also warned that the backers of the “fair tax” are wealthy and are likely to put the issue before the voters through the initiative petition method, the same method used to gather signatures statewide that eventually passed the 2006 issue that made it impossible for the General Assembly to regulate embryonic stem-cell research.
“They can spend a lot of money to get the signatures and get it on the ballot,” Hoey said. “And I think that if they do that, the chances of it passing are better than 50-50.”
McClay said that the bill targeting human trafficking for sex recently sailed through the House without a single opposing vote, and a companion bill in the Senate is also expected to face very little if any opposition.
McClay said the bill targets people who lure young men and women into prostitution. He said the bill is particularly important because thousands of runaway youths fall prey to the sex industry.
“A lot of girls get caught up in this lifestyle, and there is no escape,” he said.
The bill also calls on law enforcement to refer women arrested for prostitution to social service agencies to receive services they need to get out of the sex trade.
He said the goal is to see women caught in prostitution as victims instead of criminals.
“They don’t have any way to support themselves, and they get caught up in this,” he said. “They can’t get out and they don’t have a voice.”
Rita Linhardt, MCC senior staff associate, said that the success of the MCC, long considered one of the strongest lobbies in the General Assembly, is only as strong as the people behind it.
She noted that a drive two years ago to boost the MCC Citizen’s Network resulted in more than 8,000 new members statewide. Citizen’s Network members receive regular updates and e-mail alerts to contact their lawmakers when an issue comes up that each member has indicated interest in.
The last big success of the MCC Citizen’s Network was convincing Gov. Jay Nixon to commute the death sentence of Rick Clay to life imprisonment. It was only the fourth time since Missouri reinstated the death penalty that a condemned inmate’s life has been spared.
“This was an unusual case,” Linhardt said. “There is a lot about it that points to a wrongful conviction.”
Linhardt said MCC Citizen’s Network members sent “hundreds upon hundreds” of messages to Nixon, urging him to stay Clay’s Jan. 12 execution and commute his sentence.
By sparing Clay’s life, he now has the chance to prove his innocence, Linhardt said.
“We know you are a vital part of what we do,” Linhardt said. “We wouldn’t have our success without you.”
But more people are needed, and the network is open to all who share the Catholic Church’s public policy agenda, whether or not they are Catholic.
Information about joining the MCC Citizen’s Network is available online at www.mocatholic.org.