During the 2023 legislative session, the Missouri General Assembly passed several life-affirming bills supported by the Missouri Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Missouri bishops.
Legislators voted to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to one year following the end of pregnancy for low-income women receiving benefits through MO HealthNet for Pregnant Women or Show-Me Healthy Babies. The Missouri Department of Social Services estimated that this expansion would cover more than 4,100 people who would otherwise lose health coverage just two months postpartum.
“It’s a next step in the pro-life movement, I think,” said Jamie Morris, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference. “This year, there was a bipartisan effort to really try to address maternal health and to improve the outcomes of Missouri’s dismal maternal mortality rates. This was one avenue, and we’re very pleased that those provisions were included.”
The legislature also approved an expansion of the adoption tax credit, adjusting the current $10,000 adoption expenses tax credit for inflation and removing the annual $6 million limit. It also makes the tax credit refundable and gives priority to applications for special needs children who are residents or wards of residents of Missouri.
A provision passed addressing the “benefits cliff,” a term for when an individual loses out on public benefits (such as SNAP, TANF or child care subsidy) because of a minor wage increase. Often, the raise still isn’t enough to sustain a person’s livelihood. The new bill, subject to appropriations, creates a transitional benefits program that allows individuals to receive a portion of their benefits instead of losing the entire amount.
The Missouri Catholic Conference worked hand-in-hand with Catholic Charities of St. Louis to support this change in benefits eligibility, which was another reform that received bipartisan support, Morris noted.
“It’s one of those common-sense reforms; it encourages individuals to better themselves, to find work or to take raises or get training that leads to promotions,” Morris said. “It encourages all of that without this fear of losing all their benefits at once. It doesn’t do you much good if you have a safety net in place that discourages going and finding work, if that $5 raise is going to cause me to lose way more than that in my benefits.”
Other successful initiatives supported by the MCC include:
• Prohibiting health care providers from performing gender transition surgeries on minors, and from prescribing or administering cross-sex hormones or puberty-blocking drugs to minors for gender transitions, unless they were already receiving this treatment prior to Aug. 28, 2023. Another bill prevents both public and private schools from allowing students to compete in athletic competitions designed for the opposite biological sex.
• Provisions in a criminal justice bill that expand access for people to apply for expungement of past nonviolent criminal offenses, as well as eliminate the $250 filing fee for expungement applications. The bill also gives the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services authorization to establish a conviction review unit to investigate claims of actual innocence even if the defendant pled guilty to the charge, which often occurs in claims of actual innocence when the defendant accepts a plea deal.
The General Assembly’s 2023 session concluded May 12. Bills now await Gov. Mike Parson’s signature to become law.
The death penalty is a significant issue for Catholics that once again saw little progress in the legislature, Morris said. Bills to abolish the death penalty in Missouri, including one sponsored by Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-St. Charles, didn’t make it far. However, during budget talks concerning the Department of Corrections, Rep. Lovasco successfully garnered floor discussion by proposing to defund the drugs used for lethal injections. It was voted down, “But it’s one of the few votes we’ve gotten related to the death penalty in recent years, and we had roughly 20 Republicans who voted for the measure,” Morris said. “I don’t get overly optimistic because (the death penalty) is an issue that’s tough in Missouri to make any sort of headway, but that was at least a small glimmer that we are talking about it now.”
Next year, Morris also hopes to see momentum return for expanded child care tax credits for both providers and families.
“It’s also in that bucket of, what does the pro-life movement in Missouri look like now?” he said. “… I think the foundation is there for some of these pro-family, pro-mother, pro-child initiatives, and hopefully we can continue to build on that in the following sessions.”