JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Legislature gave final approval for a bipartisan effort to add oversight to unlicensed reform schools Thursday afternoon.
HBs 557 and 560, a bipartisan effort from Reps. Rudy Veit and Keri Ingle, would allow the state to perform background checks and regulate unlicensed boarding and reform facilities. The bill also allows courts to require a facility to produce children should there be any suspicion of abuse or neglect.
“Every day we wait is an unnecessary risk to children,” Veit said. “We cannot afford to wait any longer to protect these children.”
The bill received bipartisan support on the House floor, quickly passing 147-1. Legislators applauded Veit and Ingle’s efforts on the bill and their dedication to championing it across the finish line. An emergency clause on the bill was also adopted.
Among those who testified in support of the bill during its time in the Senate Seniors, Family, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee was celebrity Paris Hilton. Hilton came forward last year to describe the “continuous torture” she endured while attending boarding school in Utah as a teenager.
“I believe that no child should have to endure the harmful treatment that I experienced, and I urge Missouri legislators to listen to the survivors who are submitting their testimonies for the hearing,” Hilton said in written testimony provided to the committee. “These stories reveal a pattern of abuse across the state’s many residential facilities and highlight the urgent need for oversight.”
The bill passed the upper chamber Tuesday 23-9.
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 brought 102 charges against its owners last month.
Missouri is one of only two states that does not have oversight of certain religious reform schools or require them to be licensed.