Legislators express frustration, cautious hope

Missouri State Rep. Stacey Newman represents the state’s 73rd District, encompassing Clayton and Richmond Heights.

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Three members of the Missouri House of Representatives, all Democrats and all members of the informal “Jewish caucus” in the General Assembly, expressed a combination of frustration at being repeatedly blocked as they seek their legislative goals, and cautious hope that at least some modest gains can be made in the upcoming session.  

Representatives Susan Carlson, 64th District; Jill Schupp, 82nd District and Stacey Newman, 73rd District, set forth the legislative goals and expectations during an open council meeting held by the Jewish Community Relations Council at Shaare Zedek Synagogue in University City. The event was attended by roughly 60 people.

Schupp said a major focus for Democrats was gaining seats in the House. With 57 seats out of 163, Democrats need 25 more to achieve a majority.

However, she added that there has been bipartisan support for some measures, including Nathan’s Law (HB 1350), which she filed with 47 co-sponsors, including the Speaker of the House, Republican Steven Tilley, and the Democratic Leader, Mike Talboy, Chair of Children and Families. Schupp said Rep. Scott Largent, a Republican, indicated the bill, which strengthens regulation of childcare facilities, would be priority legislation for his committee in 2012.

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Carlson called the lack of progressive voices in the legislature a daunting challenge. “It is frustratingly hard to get anything positive accomplished,” she said, “and my focus has been on defensive actions to prevent harmful legislation from being passed or from overriding the governor’s veto if such bills do pass.”

She cited the effort to amend Missouri’s Human Rights Act, which would make it harder for employees to prove claims of job discrimination. The bill passed last year, but was vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon. Republicans were not able to override the veto, but Carlson said that proponents of the bill plan to re-introduce it next year.  “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has already said that Missouri is the seventh most business-friendly state in America, so the argument that the amendment to the Human Rights Act is needed to make us more business friendly does not make sense,” she said, and urged those attending to express to the governor their opposition to the bill.

Carlson said she also favors passage of a bill to give the city of St. Louis local control over its police department instead of the current system in which a board of police commissioners named by the governor runs the police department.  She also indicated some bipartisan support for changing the tax laws, which affect small rural towns in Missouri.  

Newman said she was pleased to be among “like-minded people who support progressive issues.

“It is almost like therapy for those of us fighting on behalf of these issues for so long,” she added.  “We have been forced to stay on defense, fighting the ‘bad stuff’ being introduced by the conservative majority instead of focusing more on our positive goals.”

Newman said that one major concern is the issue of photo identification for voting.  “The Missouri Supreme Court struck down an earlier bill requiring photo IDs for voting as being unconstitutional, but it is being re-introduced once again.”  She said more than 230,000 Missouri voters do not have a current government-issued ID. “The supporters of photo ID have claimed that it is necessary to prevent voter fraud, but in truth the last time a vote fraud case was prosecuted in Missouri was in 1936…It has not been a real issue for the past 76 years,” she added.

Newman said those who do not have driver’s licenses would need copies of a their birth certificate or marriage license to obtain an official ID. “There is no need for this bill which would deny thousands of Missourians their right to vote,” she said.

Newman also expressed opposition to the “conscience bill” introduced by Rep. Jim Jones, which would allow health workers in Missouri to refuse to provide medical treatment based on “conscience” or religious beliefs.

All three of the legislators said it was important for the JCRC and its affiliated organizations, as well as individuals, to contact their legislators to express their views on upcoming legislation, along with visits to Jefferson City to meet with legislators in their offices for the same purpose.