Republicans fail to take up discrimination bill as session enters crunch time

Rep. Gail McCann Beatty

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – All week, Democratic representatives braced themselves for when a Senate bill on discrimination would come to the House floor. Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann Beatty described the wait over the last two days as “an emotional rollercoaster.

But the House adjourned for the weekend Thursday without bringing up SB 43, a controversial measure that would significantly change the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), leading many to wonder whether or not Republicans have the votes necessary to seal the deal.

The largest change to the MHRA would be the switch from discrimination in Missouri to be based discrimination being the motivating factor as opposed to a contributing factor in an employment or housing dispute.

Rep. Joe Don McGaugh and Assistant Minority Floor Leader Kevin Austin said the reason they avoided a vote was simply because they lacked the representatives needed to debate an important and polarizing piece of legislation. Some representatives were ill, and others had left to see new Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt speak in Clifton Hill Missouri.

Those absent included representatives both sides of the debate, most notably Republican Rep. Jay Barnes, a trial attorney who has spoken out against the bill.

Democrats have consistently opposed the language by arguing that new standard would make it easier for employers to discriminate against employees because of the need for substantial evidence that discrimination was the sole factor in firing an employee because of their age, race, gender, or religion.

But all eyes have turned to the superminority in whether or not they can pass the legislation. The key to getting SB 43 to Gov. Eric Greitens desk increasingly appears to be able to do it without a single amendment getting attached onto it. Should any amendment make it onto the bill, then it will have to go back to the Senate, where business ground to a halt this week over multiple lingering debates on other contentious bills.

Some Democrats, like Rep. Steve Roberts, have thought to add the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (MONA), to the bill as an amendment to at least ensure LGBT people have protections in the MHRA. However, Beatty does not necessarily agree with that path.

“Quite frankly, that bill is so egregious, I would hope that we would not,” she said. “There is likely going to be some MONA discussion as we discuss that bill, but that is not the bill I want MONA attached to.”

The Senate also provides another wrinkle to the legislation’s path through the House in the form of Sen. Gary Romine. Romine’s business is currently being sued by a former employee for discrimination. McGaugh, the sponsor of the bill, said that fact has been “an optic that’s been difficult to overcome for the bill.”

However, he added the legislation was still important, despite who is sponsoring the bill, especially as a part of the comprehensive tort reform measures heard this year. Some multistate businesses, McGaugh said, spent over 90 percent of their legal budgets in the state of Missouri.

“The thing we want our members to know is this has been a bill that’s been around for over a decade,” McGaugh said. “This legislation is needed, it’s something that’s been worked on for a lot of years, and it’s been through a lot of hearings. So, I’m looking forward to getting it onto the House floor and having the discussion.”

McGaugh said he still expected the bill to come up next week.

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