JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri incentive fund for science and technology businesses has been quashed before it could get started, as the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that lawmakers had illegally linked its existence to an unrelated economic development proposal.
The high court's unanimous opinion upholds a ruling last year by a Cole County judge, who determined that a contingency clause in the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act violated a state constitutional requirement that bills address only a single subject.
The fund had been intended to generate millions of dollars for Missouri's biotechnology industry, by setting aside a portion of the tax revenues generated by existing science and technology firms to finance grants for similar start-up businesses.
Although passed by lawmakers during a 2011 special session and signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon, the legislation contained a clause making it effective only upon passage of a separate special-session proposal that would have overhauled the state's tax credit programs. That separate bill ultimately failed, yet Nixon directed his administration to implement the new incentive fund anyway sought to include a total of $5 million in the 2012 and 2013 budgets to get it going.
That prompted a lawsuit by the Missouri Roundtable for Life and other anti-abortion activists who feared the fund could have been used to finance human embryonic stem cell research.
The state Supreme Court said its decision Tuesday marked the first time that it had considered whether the legislature could make a bill contingent upon the passage of separation legislation covering a different topic. Its answer was a solid "no."
"The single subject rule would become meaningless if the legislature were able to condition the effectiveness of one bill upon passage of another bill covering a different subject matter," the Supreme Court wrote. "It would create the kind of logrolling the single subject rule is intended to prevent by allowing legislators to tack unpopular subjects on to bills to obtain a majority vote."
In arguments last September before the Supreme Court, the state attorney general's office had agreed that the contingency clause was unconstitutional but had suggested it could be severed from the bill to allow the incentive fund to take effect.
The state Supreme Court declined to do so, saying it was doubtful the legislature would have passed the legislation without the contingency clause. The high court noted that the contingency clause was referenced in the title of the final bill and that previous versions without it had failed to pass.