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Missouri’s Title IX bill gains momentum

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The contentious debate over how Missouri colleges handle sexual assault and misconduct investigations continues after spring break as the state’s Title IX bill gains momentum.

After much debate and change, HB 573 passed through the House Judiciary Committee earlier this week. The legislation 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.

A Senate bill touted as enshrining due process rights for Title IX proceedings sits on the body’s perfection calendar.

The St. Louis County NAACP endorsed the Title IX legislation Friday and said it stood by David Steward, the St. Louis billionaire who’s funding the group pushing for the bill. The organization said it “applauds” Steward as someone who is using his “resources and courage to support, shed light and effect change on a serious civil rights issue about the denial of due process to African American men on college campuses.”

“We have witnessed a coordinated campaign to attempt to destroy David Steward’s exemplary reputation simply because he had the courage to stand up for civil rights on our college campuses,” John Gaskin III, the St. Louis County NAACP president, said. “These thinly-veiled attacks are being organized by individuals and institutions who wish to distract from their poor record of protecting due process rights on Missouri campuses.”

A philanthropist, Steward is the founder of the tech company, World Wide Technology who appeared on Forbes’ 400 Under 400 list last year. As the Title IX debate in the Missouri legislature continues, Steward has been castigated for funding the so-called “dark money” group, Kingdom Principles, a driving force behind the push for the legislation. However, those involved with Kingdom Principles have disclosed Steward as its funder.

As the Title IX debate continues, Paul Wagner, executive director of the Council on Public Higher Education (COPHE) testified against HB 573, saying colleges already follow federal guidelines pertaining to Title IX.

Wagner is not a registered lobbyist, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) data. Yet, he’s testified and lobbied alongside the ranks of at least 122 lobbyists employed by institutions of higher education, stringently opposing the Title IX proposal, multiple sources have told The Missouri Times.

MEC records show Wagner had registered as a lobbyist on behalf of COPHE in 2013, but that registration was terminated later that same year.

In a recent op-ed, Gregg Keller of Atlas Strategies called out the editorial boards for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kansas City Star for participating in “ideological squabble in the legislature” along with university administrators.

“Reiterating Missouri college students’ rights on taxpayer-funded campuses shouldn’t be controversial,” Keller said.

Richard McIntosh, a Kingdom Principles lobbyist and longtime lobbyist for World Wide Technology, described the legislation as solidifying constitutional rights into Missouri statute on a recent episode of This Week in Missouri Politics.

“We’re not plowing any new constitutional ground,” McIntosh said. “We’re not creating any new constructs. We’re simply taking those principles that every American would expect to have if they’re accused of something as serious as a sexual assault and knowing that we have these processes in place so that you can get to the truth — that’s what we’re after.”

The Title IX bill is expected to be brought up after the legislative spring break with increasing support among the supermajority and minority — especially with the changes that were made.