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Judge Says Missouri AG Overstepped in Trying to Block Abortion Ballot Initiative

There was an “absolute absence of authority” on AG Andrew Bailey’s part to demand unreasonably high fiscal estimates.

The Missouri state capitol building is pictured in Jefferson City, Missouri.

A Missouri state judge has ruled that efforts by state Attorney General Andrew Bailey (R) to require the state auditor to include absurdly high fiscal estimates for a ballot initiative on abortion rights were an unconstitutional overreach by him and his office.

By law, initiatives that could alter the state constitution must include a fiscal note to let voters know the possible impact they could have on state tax revenues. State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick forwarded a fiscal note stating that the impact of an initiative put forward by an abortion rights group would have minimal effect, at around $51,000 per year for state and local governments, based on responses his office received from local governments.

Bailey refused to sign off on that estimate, and sought to have Fitzpatrick increase the impact estimate to around $51 billion per year, an absurdly high cost. Bailey also at one point tried to have Fitzpatrick increase the estimate to $6.9 trillion, citing “verbatim” responses of opponents to the initiative.

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled against Bailey and said it was an improper and unconstitutional action for him to demand Fitzpatrick raise the fiscal estimate.

“There is an absolute absence of authority to conclude the Attorney General is permitted to send the auditor’s fiscal note summary back for revision simply because he disagrees with the auditor’s estimated cost or savings of a proposed measure,” Beetem wrote in his ruling.

Beetem added:

To conclude the Attorney General has authority to substitute his judgment for that of the Auditor’s as it pertains to the fiscal impact of an initiative petition would render meaningless…the Auditor’s role in the fiscal note and fiscal note summary process.

While the state attorney general has a role in reviewing the fiscal note to ensure its “legal content” is sound, the AG cannot supersede the auditor’s constitutional role in determining what the fiscal impact is, Beetem asserted.

“The Attorney General lacked any statutory authority or discretion to return the fiscal note summaries to the Auditor for revision, and he was required by law to forward his approval of them to the Auditor,” Beetem said.

Bailey’s office said he plans to appeal the ruling.

Responding to the outcome of the case, Fitzpatrick, who is personally anti-abortion, said he is “steadfastly” opposed to measures that make it easier for people to access the medical procedure. “However, I firmly believe my personal stance cannot and should not impact the duty my office has to provide voters with an unbiased assessment of each measure’s fiscal impact,” Fitzpatrick added.

The ACLU of Missouri praised the ruling, noting that Bailey’s actions were an unlawful attempt to use his office to further his own right-wing political beliefs, as he also tried to block transgender people in the state from accessing gender-affirming care earlier this year.

“In recent months, the Attorney General has unveiled a reckless desire to impose his will on Missourians’ access to health care by violating the constitutional bounds the people of the state have granted the office to which he was appointed,” Tony Rothert, director of Integrated Advocacy for the ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement. “His illegal actions have obstructed the statutorily prescribed timeline twice over, showing a depth of antipathy towards our right to direct democracy in an attempt to prevent Missourians from voting for their reproductive freedom.”