Opponents challenge new Missouri science incentives

Thursday, December 1, 2011 | 7:45 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Opponents of a newly created fund that would offer state incentives to science or technology companies filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to halt its creation, citing concerns the program could lead the state to pay for human embryonic stem cell research.

Lawmakers approved the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act earlier this year. It would offer incentives to companies that conduct research or make products in a variety of high-tech fields, including agricultural biotechnology, homeland security, information technology and pharmaceuticals.

However, the legislation, known as MOSIRA, includes a clause that states it cannot take effect until lawmakers pass a separate measure dealing with state tax incentives for businesses. The separate bill did not pass during the recently ended special session, but Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has said his administration will take steps to implement the law anyway.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in the Capitol's home of Cole County, the Missouri Roundtable for Life and Missouri Right to Life said the new fund should be declared void because of the contingency clause. The groups are among critics who contend the law does not contain sufficient protection to bar state funds from going to human embryonic stem cell research.

"If the governor takes steps to implement MOSIRA in violation of the clear language of the bill, he will open the door to the possibility of Missouri taxpayer funding of abortion, human cloning and experiments that destroy human embryos," said Pam Fichter, the president of Missouri Right to Life. "No Missouri citizen should be forced to pay for practices that he or she finds morally offensive."

A spokesman for Nixon declined to comment, referring questions to the attorney general's office. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster said the office was reviewing the suit and had no immediate comment.

The new fund is to be financed through annual transfers of state revenues equal to a percentage of the growth in the wages paid to employees of existing science-based companies. That essentially means tax revenue from existing companies will be used as grants to help start similar businesses.

Contingency clauses have been included previously in Missouri legislation. A manual used as recently as this year to help legislative staff draft bills cites an example from 1998 in which changes to Missouri's school funding formula were made contingent upon the attorney general providing notice that school desegregation lawsuits were settled. In 1997, then-Gov. Mel Carnahan signed legislation dealing with procedures for administrative rules that had a multi-part contingency clause.

But the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a contingency clause included in a 1993 education law that sought to place a tax referendum on the ballot only if the high court ruled a certain way in a separate lawsuit challenging the state's school funding formula. The Supreme Court concluded that contingency clause was an improper delegation of legislative power.

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