(UPDATE from reporter Brian Hauswirth: the story has been updated to clarify Representative Pierson’s comments about the testimony before the House Budget Committee)
Members of Missouri’s Legislative Black Caucus highlighted accomplishments on Monday at the Capitol in Jefferson City, but they also outlined challenges and key issues they’re focusing on in 2019.
State Rep. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, and other members of the caucus briefed the Capitol Press Corps during a Statehouse news conference about Black History Month.
Roberts, who chairs the caucus, tells Missourinet there are currently a record 23 members of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus. All are Democrats, except for State Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin.
Roberts also notes that Black Caucus members hold five of the seven House Democratic leadership positions. He also tells Missourinet that the Black Caucus has monthly meetings with House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield.
A leading Missouri House Democrat wants to see Governor Mike Parson (R) appoint more African-Americans to top state department and agency positions. State Rep. Tommie Pierson Jr., D-St. Louis, the House Minority Caucus Chair, tells reporters that none of the statewide elected officials are African-American.
“And the number that I’ve been trying to keep a tally of is how many African-Americans have presented (during House Budget Committee hearings) this $28 billion Missouri budget, and that number is zero,” Pierson says.
Pierson is referring to testimony before the House Budget Committee.
There is an African-American in a Cabinet position. Chlora Lindley-Myers is the director of the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration. She’s been in that position since March 2017. She testified this month before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Pierson says Missouri has a problem with diversity and inclusion, and says he hopes to have a conversation with the governor about the issue.
As for Representative Dogan, he spoke about the importance of criminal justice reform. He’s filed legislation that would require law enforcement agencies to adopt a written investigation policy for officer-involved deaths.
Meantime, a Missouri House committee plans a Tuesday morning hearing on legislation aimed at preventing maternal mortality. During Monday’s news conference, State Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, told reporters that African-American mothers in Missouri have a mortality rate twice that of the general population.
“Black women have a high maternal mortality rate in Missouri of 65 deaths per 100,000 live births,” says Bosley.
The Missouri House Children and Families Committee will hear testimony Tuesday on a bill from State Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, to establish the “Healthy Mothers Initiative.”
Unsicker will present House Bill 664, which would create a committee of doctors, nurses and other professionals to study maternal mortality and recommend solutions.
Unsicker says a woman giving birth today is more likely to die in childbirth than her mother was. She told Missourinet earlier this month that “the crisis in worse in St. Louis and in the Bootheel.”
Lawmakers also discussed successes during Monday’s news conference.
A freshman lawmaker from St. Louis County has learned that he is the youngest African-American male to ever be elected to the Missouri House.
25-year-old State Rep. Kevin Windham, D-Hillsdale, spoke to reporters.
“It’s come to my attention that I am the youngest black man to be elected to serve in the Missouri House of Representatives, edging out Representative Walter Lay by just nine days,” Windham says.
State Rep. Walter Victor Lay, D-St. Louis, was elected to the Missouri House in 1948. Lay served in the military for almost three years and also founded the St. Louis Central Democratic organization’s youth division.
Other lawmakers mentioned George Washington Carver, who was born in southwest Missouri’s Diamond in about 1864.