JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Show-Me State could lose out on up to $500,000 a year in federal funding, and the reason seems to be the employment discrimination bill, SB 43, passed and signed this year.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the state is no longer in compliance with the federal Fair Housing Act. Under that assessment, Missouri would be suspended from participating in HUD’s Fair Housing Assistance Program, and HUD will no longer contract with the Missouri Human Rights Commission to review housing discrimination claims, potentially costing the state between $400,000 and $500,000 a year in lost federal funds.
The Department notified state officials in a letter dated July 14, which stated that since Missouri law is no longer “substantially equivalent” to federal law.
“HUD will be compelled to suspend Missouri’s participation in the FHAP program unless Missouri’s fair housing law is restored to a state of substantial equivalence on or before March 1, 2018,” Greene wrote. “Effective Aug. 1, 2017, and until such time as the MHRA meets the criteria for substantial equivalence, HUD will not refer any complaints to the Missouri Commission and MCHR must inform potential complainants of the changes to Missouri’s law and advise them of their right to file a fair housing complaint directly with HUD.”
HUD determined SB 43 violates the Fair Housing Act for several reasons, among them:
- Requiring victims to prove that discrimination was a “motivating factor” for an adverse action, thus prohibiting claims based on seemingly neutral policies that have a discriminatory effect;
- Imposing caps on actual and punitive damages, which “impermissibly limits the remedies available to victims of housing discrimination;”
- Removing provisions of previous state law prohibiting retaliation against victims of housing discrimination; and
- Requiring victims to pursue administrative remedies before filing a civil lawsuit.
When the bill was being debated, it sponsor, Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, dismissed the possibility, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch “there’s no foundation for that.”
Missouri House Democrats say that in the three months since the letter was sent, Governor Eric Greitens hasn’t seen fit to publicly disclose the problem.
“As we warned, SB 43 locks the state courthouse doors to victims of illegal discrimination and forces them to pursue justice in federal court,” House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty said. “This is one of the many ways SB 43 protects wrongdoers and punishes victims.”
Beatty further said repealing the portions of SB 43 that conflict with the federal law must be a top priority for the General Assembly when it reconvenes in January.
That sentiment was echoed by Sen. Ryan Silvey, who tweeted “This is terrible. We were told SB43 mirrored Fed rules, not violated them. We need to fix this ASAP!” saying it was a mistake and he never should have voted for it.
“In my 13 yrs in the legislature, and approx 5,000 votes, this is one of the handful of votes I would like to have back. Don’t regret many,” he tweeted.
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.