JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — As a licensed master social worker, Rep. Keri Ingle already has a substantial amount of experience in helping others.
Ingle has spent a long time serving her community and county as a social worker — and hopes to continue advancing child welfare and public service as she represents the 35th district. Working as an adoption specialist, investigator, foster care manager, and quality assurance person for the Jackson County Children’s division, Ingle saw firsthand what was disadvantaging the children of Missouri as well as what could benefit them.
“Through my work with the division I saw a lot of gaps in services for the most vulnerable in our community, and I saw a lot of ways where sometimes the legislature was failing to address those discrepancies,” Ingle told the Missouri Times. “I’ve also worked in mental health, and I’ve worked in a school and I’ve also worked in hospitals so I’ve worked with a variety of people from all walks of life.”
“Your primary job as a social worker is to advocate for the needs of the people you’re serving, and so really I view this as an extension of that role at the macro level,” continued Ingle. “That way I can be more impactful with change.”
A major motivating factor in Ingle’s decision to run for office was the 2016 elections. With her district lacking a Democratic candidate, she believed voters should be given another choice and took up the candidacy for 2018.
“The default isn’t really the true voice of the people,” said Ingle. “That kind of motivated me to do more to be involved with my community and state to see what I could do at the more local levels to affect change.”
Although this her first time in office, the representative has always been familiar with state policy. According to Ingle, part of social work is knowing how the laws have changed and whether they could help her clients.
“In social work you have to focus on policy all the time. You always have to be abreast of whatever the changes in the laws are in order to help your clients or your patients access the services that they need,” Ingle said. “Knowing the policy and knowing the new laws and the structures that were coming down was integral to my work.”
Serving on several committees, Ingle’s expertise as a social worker comes into direct play. As part of the Children and Family and Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committees, Ingle can speak at length with her colleagues about how proposed legislation might affect a group of people.
Ingle is a fervent supporter of her own Title IX reform bill and has sponsored HB 1077. The bill requires Missouri colleges adopt specific and public policies — with an affirmative consent standard for handling sexual assault complaints. The policies must also include protections for a student who comes forward with a sexual assault complaint, even if any drug or alcohol consumption occurred.
Schools would be required to hire at least one full-time Title IX coordinator to handle these complaints. And any student accused of sexual assault would be afforded a hearing and appeals process, the bill states.
The Missouri legislature has been grappling with how Missouri colleges handle sexual assault and misconduct investigations this legislative session. Earlier this year, HB 573 passed through the House Judiciary Committee. That bill allows those involved in campus cases an opportunity for an outside appeal with the Administrative Hearing Commission, includes rape-shield protection laws for victims, and mandates colleges use the same evidence standards for all cases.
“I believe that while [HB 1077] addresses the issues with due process, it also preserves a lot of the protections for the survivors of violent crime on campuses feel safe to come forward,” said Ingle. “I’m concerned with the Title IX bills that we’re hearing about having a chilling effect on victims coming forward if they’re subjected to even more scrutiny when their personal lives are brought into play.”
Her bill has been introduced but hasn’t been referred to a committee yet.
Moving forward Ingle is also making sure she continues to push legislation she believes would benefit the citizens of Missouri. Access to mental health, Medicaid expansion, and protections for homeless youth are all issues she plans to advocate for in the state legislature.