Emotions were high during a legislative hearing on an anti-discrimination bill. Proponents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people’s rights are pushing for the advancement of the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, or MONA, in the state House. It would bar discrimination against those groups in employment, disability, or housing.
Missouri Chamber lobbyist Jay Atkins said the Chamber opposes the bill because it would create a new legally protected class. The Chamber wants reforms to employment law before that happens.
Representative Galen Higdon (R) said that the Chamber is objecting to what people do in their private lives – a statement Atkins bristled at.
“To suggest that we are here to advocate for discrimination is offensive and untrue, but we are advocating for reforms to employment law,” said Atkins.
“Well I apologize if I offended you. Unfortunately, that’s the way it came across to me,” Higdon replied.
Representative Gina Mitten (D) accused the Chamber of hijacking a bill about discrimination but not talking about their real problem with it.
“Because we don’t like the law today, we are going to make sure that other folks aren’t able to avail themselves of existing law. That in and of itself is discriminatory,” said Mitten.
Business owner, rancher and Missouri First Director Ron Calzone thinks the free market should be allowed to work as it is.
“I would support something that said government can’t discriminate based on certain things. But, let individuals decide with whom they want to associate. It’s a fundamental American right,” argued Calzone.
Even if the bill heard in a House committee Wednesday advances, the state Senate expects to deal with the issue in a different bill, if at all. Senate President Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles) says the language would fit as an amendment to HB 1019, which the House approved earlier this year. It deals with workplace discrimination and protections for whistleblowers.
“I’d have to take a look a the specific language,” said Dempsey. “I think I said in my public comments before and I feel this way today is that as an employer I want somebody whose going to show up on time, look presentable, and take care of my customers the way I’d like them to be taken care of. Their sexuality isn’t a factor in my decision making. The same when I was a landlord. When I had some rental housing I just wanted someone who was going to take care of the property and pay their rent on time, and not engage in any illegal activity.”
In 2013 MONA passed out of the Senate as part of a larger bill, but that vote came in the final 15 minutes of the session, which then ended before the House could consider it. Dempsey and seven other Republicans voted in favor of that bill.
“If there’s a way to accommodate my concerns to where I’m more comfortable with it then I could see myself voting for it again,” said Dempsey.
Dempsey says, however, that House bill is not a priority for the Senate.
“We’ve got a Senate ‘right-to-work’ bill that members do want to see on the calendar, so that will be the, of the two bills, the bill that gets to the calendar,” said Dempsey.