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Capitol Briefs: Senate approves reform school protection legislation

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate approved legislation meant to protect children and young adults who attend Missouri’s unlicensed boarding and reform facilities Tuesday.

The measure was a bipartisan effort spearheaded by Reps. Rudy Veit and Keri Ingle and would give the state the ability to perform background checks and regulate the facilities. After some floor debate Tuesday, the Senate substitute for HBs 557 & 560 was third read and passed in the upper chamber 23-9. 

Last month, a Senate committee heard emotional testimony from about a dozen people — including some who flew in from out of state — to share horrific and traumatizing stories of abuse. Among those who voiced support of the bill through written testimony was television personality and businesswoman Paris Hilton. She came forward last year to describe the “continuous torture” she endured while attending a boarding school in Utah as a teenager. 

“I am so pleased to hear HBs 557 & 560 is moving forward today,” Hilton said in a texted statement to The Missouri Times. “This bill is a critical protection for youth in residential placements, and I hope to see a swift passage over the next few days! I am rooting on all the survivors who have had a hand in passing this landmark legislation.” 

  • The Senate substitute included some concessions to ensure due process would be met. 
  • While Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin praised the concessions made, she maintained her opposition to the bill, saying she was more concerned about a lack of “follow-through” with laws already in place and didn’t think additional laws would help the problem. 
  • The bill includes an emergency clause and has been referred to the House Fiscal Review Committee which is scheduled to meet every morning for the rest of this week. 
  • Earlier this year, the owners of the now-defunct Circle of Hope Girls Ranch and Boarding School were arrested and face more than 100 criminal charges for allegedly mentally, sexually, physically abusing those in their care. Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office is investigating as at least 16 victims have come forward.