Democratic members of the House Special Committee on Children and Families Committee succeeded today in blocking – at least temporarily – an unconstitutional attempt by the committee’s Republican chairwoman to hold a vote on an anti-abortion bill that she had completely replaced with another bill that wasn’t before the committee.
The committee was scheduled to vote this morning on HB 1238, which would change state laws relating to abortion consent requirements. Committee Chairwoman Cynthia Davis, R-St. Charles, instead offered a substitute bill that deleted all nine pages of HB 1238 except for a single sentence and replaced it with language from HB 1236, which would establish medical screening requirements designed to make it more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion. HB 1236 hasn’t been referred to any committee.
Davis’ attempt to switch bills violates Article III, Section 21 of the Missouri Constitution, which prohibits bills from being changed from their original purpose. The action also could violate Missouri’s Sunshine Law, which requires advance public notice of what legislation will be considered at government meetings.
“I understand Representative Davis’ frustration that HB 1236 was not assigned to our committee by the speaker as she desired, but she still has a responsibility to follow rules meant to assure transparency in government,” said state Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford of St. Louis, the committee’s ranking Democrat. “She cannot announce one bill and then completely replace it with another while deleting virtually all of the original legislation. That violates statutory and constitutional safeguards against deceptive legislation.”
Davis’ substitute bill eventually was set aside so that it could be redrafted. The committee is now scheduled to vote on HB 1238 on Thursday following morning adjournment of the House.
Davis has engaged in a pattern of deception and abuse of authority to prevent an open discussion on HB 1238/HB 1236. During the original public hearing on HB 1238 on March 3, it quickly became apparent that the witnesses in support instead were testifying on HB 1236, even though that bill wasn’t before the committee. The Democratic committee members sent Davis a letter on Tuesday admonishing her for her deceptive and unprofessional conduct at that hearing.
“My constituents would have been appalled to see the violation of the spirit, and perhaps the letter, of the Sunshine Law that occurred in our committee on March 3 and that was attempted today,” said state Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur. “Clearly one bill was announced, but another was the topic of testimony in a ‘bait and switch’ maneuver that does not pass my sniff test for transparency in government.”
Davis allotted nearly all of the March 3 hearing to supporters and prohibited the standard practice of allowing committee members to question witnesses. After all supporters had testified, Davis allowed a mere five minutes of questioning about the bill at the end of the hearing.
“In addition to the transparency issues, the lack of a democratic process in issuing a gag order to committee members while witnesses testified is equally deplorable,” said state Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant. “There were important questions that needed to be asked, but instead we were held as silent hostages for the better part of an hour.”
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Democrats criticize Cynthia Davis' "bait and switch" on abortion bill
Democrats are upset with Cynthia Davis' actions on an anti-abortion bill in her committee. From a news release issued earlier today: