Recently, I published two articles about bills in the Missouri House of Representatives that attack the teaching of evolution in public schools. Fortunately, neither bill has proceeded very far yet (both HB1472 and HB1587 have only been referred to committee), so maybe these bad bills will die natural deaths.
But I don’t want to belabor those bad bills any further. I’m writing this to point out that there are legislators writing bills that promote a progressive vision, even in a state like Missouri, where right-wing Republicans have the upper hand and a supermajority.
Here are a few bills in the Missouri legislature that I find encouraging as a progressive parent:
- Representative Rory Ellinger (D-86) sponsored HB1320, which would add being a breastfeeding mother to the list of legitimate reasons to be excused from jury duty.
Unfortunately, this bill appears already to be dead(Update Feb 12, 2014: Either I misread the status or there was a typo that has since been updated. The bill is not dead, and it will head to the House floor.), but Representative Judy Morgan (D-24) has introduced HB1781, which modifies the new excused class to someone who would be “required to abandon a child under her personal care that the individual is breast-feeding.” Perhaps this change is due to bipartisan resistance to Ellinger’s bill based on the notion that the exemption should apply only to the breastfeeding of infants, not toddlers. This new bill hasn’t yet been referred to committee*.
Perhaps more promisingly, Senator Rob Schaaf (R-34) and Representative Kurt Bahr (R-102, and a co-sponsor of one of the anti-evolution bills) proposed identical bills in each house (SB502 in the Senate and HB1570 in the House). These are more expansive bills that include the provision about jury duty, but additionally protect nursing or pumping women from sexual indecency charges as well as prohibiting towns from banning nursing and expressing in public areas. The reason I think these are more promising is that Sen. Schaaf and Rep. Bahr are both Republicans in chambers dominated by the GOP, and perhaps they will be taken more seriously. Additionally, Sen. Schaaf is a physician, which might help. Both bills have been referred to committee, and the Senate bill has had a hearing.
All of these bills were triggered by recent cases involving nursing mothers being held in contempt for not appearing for jury duty when they were not allowed to bring their infants into the courts.
- Birth Control Prescriptions
- Representative Stacey Newman (D-87) sponsored HB1528, which would buck the recent trend of “Conscious Clause” bills that expressly allow pharmacists to deny women the birth control that they need. Instead, HB1528 “Requires a pharmacy to fill a valid and lawful prescription for any federal Food and Drug Administration-approved drug or device to prevent pregnancy, including emergency contraceptives, without delay.” This bill has been referred to committee.
- Sex Education/Emergency Contraception/Women’s Health Services/Birth Control Prescriptions
- In a related vein, Rep. Newman also sponsored HB1529, which is described as changing “the laws regarding sex education in schools and establish(ing) the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act, the Birth Control Protection Act, and a women’s health services program.” That’s a mouthful, but this bill deserves it. Here is a summary of what it would do in various areas:
- Sex Education: Modify sex education practices to include materials based on peer review, to reduce the loaded language promoting abstinence, to give information about the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, to encourage family communication about sexuality, to give comprehensive lessons about adolescence and sexual maturity, to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, to give age-appropriate lessons about sexual predators, and to explain the consequences of sexting.
- Emergency Contraception: Not only require that hospitals and other health care facilities give sexual assault victims “medically and factually accurate and objective” information about emergency contraception (including that it does not cause abortion), but also require that the medical facilities provide the “complete regimen of emergency contraception immediately” if it is requested by the victim.
- Birth Control: Establish that the ability of individuals to “obtain and use safe and effective methods of contraception” is a right that cannot be infringed by “interference of governmental entities.”
- Women’s Health Services: Create (but not appropriate funds for) a “women’s health services program” to reduce “the number of unintended pregnancies in Missouri by providing women’s health services through qualified health providers.” These services would include cancer and STD checks, contraception, infertility treatment, education on domestic violence and sexual coercion, and prenatal assistance.
- Birth Control Prescriptions: Require pharmacies to dispense any prescribed drug or device in stock, including contraception. This section is similar to Rep. Newman’s separate HB1528 that I described above.
Obviously, this is an omnibus of great ideas to help Missouri women and students take control of their lives sexually. Unfortunately, I suspect that those good ideas for women doom it in this session. This bill has been referred to committee, and a hearing has been scheduled.
- Absentee Balloting
- In the 2012 election, I wanted to vote in advance using an absentee ballot because I didn’t want to risk losing my chance to vote due to illness, long lines at the voting booth, or other problems. Unfortunately, Missouri law currently requires a specific reason for voting absentee, none of which is “I really want to vote” (oddly, “Religious belief or practice” is one of the acceptable reasons, but obviously that doesn’t help me much).
Representative Pat Conway (D-10) sponsored HB1604, which removes those conditions, allowing any eligible voter to use an absentee ballot for any reason. This bill would take Missouri in the opposite direction of where the GOP is taking many states by making voting harder. For example, red states Nebraska and North Carolina completely eliminated early voting last year. Officially, this was to prevent voter fraud, but I agree with the US Justice Department that they are instead discriminatory in intent and effect. This bill has been referred to committee.
- Domestic Violence
- Senator Gina Walsh (D-13) and Representative Jill Schupp (D-88) proposed identical bills in each house (SB712 in the Senate and HB1717 in the House) which would create a right for unpaid leave for employees who are affected by domestic violence. The employee would be guaranteed that they would be able to keep their health coverage while on leave and be able to resume their job when they return. The employee wouldn’t need to be the victim of the domestic violence; he or she could be taking time to assist an affected relative. The Senate bill has been referred to committee, but the House bill hasn’t.
Additionally, Representative Stacey Newman (D-87) sponsored HB1530, which would allow the police to take firearms from the scene of suspected domestic violence. Given the adoration that gun rights receive in Missouri, I do not expect this bill to go anywhere. This bill has been referred to committee.
- Gender Identity
- Senator Jolie Justus (D-10) sponsored SB757, which would modify the Missouri Human Right Act to include protection from discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity. This bill hasn’t yet been referred to committee.
- Senator Scott Sifton (D-1) sponsored SB560, which would strengthen anti-bullying law, expressly prohibiting bullying by school employees or students on school property, at school functions, and on school buses. It also adds protection based on classes like race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, and sexual orientation to the definition of bullying; the current law states that policies “shall not contain specific lists of protected classes of students who are to receive special treatment,” as though protecting vulnerable minorities is “special treatment.” This bill has been referred to committee.
- Representative Chris Kelly (D-45) sponsored HB1659, which would let Missouri follow Washington and Colorado in decriminalizing marijuana for personal use. This bill hasn’t yet been referred to committee.
Of course, it’s quite likely that none of these bills will become law, at least not in this session. Even though Missouri has a Democratic governor who would likely sign the bills, they will probably never get enough support from the Republican supermajority that controls both houses of our legislature to see his desk.
But even with that, we should recognize that progressive lawmakers are still in there, fighting the good fight. We need to remember to thank and support them. We should contact our representatives not only when they do something we don’t like (as in the anti-evolution bills), but also in support when they do something we appreciate. I live in a liberal enclave within the red state of Missouri, so I’m fortunate that my representatives share my views and have sponsored or co-sponsored most of these bills. In addition to the emails I sent to my representatives opposing the anti-evolution bills, I am sending emails thanking them for being on the right side of these issues.
These bills won’t erase the embarrassment the Missouri Legislature has subjected us to; there’s just too much of it, from Tea Party fantasy bills, to threatening to impeach the governor for allowing gay couples married in other states to file joint federal taxes, to leaving a loaded gun in a Capitol restroom.
But at least these bills and the efforts of the progressive legislators behind them give me hope for this state.
*Note: All of the bill and committee status updates were current as of the evening of February 9, 2014.
Featured Image credit: RebelAt