Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Missouri House Fails to Vote on Controversial SJR 39 — For Now

Posted By on Wed, Apr 13, 2016 at 8:46 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/DAVID SHANE
You can keep bringing new jobs (and hot concerts) to Missouri — for now.

Last night the Missouri House debated a controversial "religious freedom" resolution, SJR 39, for four hours, but ended debate around midnight without actually approving the thing.

Introduced by St. Charles County Republican Bob Onder, the resolution has already passed the Missouri Senate, thanks in part to Republicans using a rare procedural move to shut down debate and end a Democratic filibuster. If passed by the House, too, it would go to a statewide vote.

And that could set up Missouri for serious controversy — regardless of what way the vote of the people goes. North Carolina recently had to back away from a similar piece of legislation signed by the governor after everyone from PayPal to Bruce Springsteen refused to do business in the state.

In Missouri, a broad-based business coalition has announced its opposition to the bill.

Even before last night's hearing, the bill drew widespread disgust in the state. The fact that a House committee insisted on hearing it only added fuel to opponents' fire.


The bill has its defenders, including Lt. Governor Peter Kinder. (It also, of course, found an enthusiastic majority in the state Senate, with all but one Republican voting in favor last month.)

But we suspect anyone associated with this thing will be collecting hate mail by the wheelbarrow. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Onder, came in for special scorn last night. 


The ire directed at Onder (and Republicans' unusual split with the state's business community, which has generally been supportive of the GOP agenda), may be one reason why the committee chairman who scheduled the hearing seemed eager to paint himself as neutral.

As the Kansas City Star reported,
“What I’ve said from the beginning is I didn’t want to bury the bill and I didn’t want to speed the bill through,” said Rep. Elijah Haahr, a Springfield Republican who chairs the committee. “My job was to give it the most thorough and fair vetting possible.”

Haahr said he’s made no decision on how to move forward or when the committee will hold a vote. 
In essence, the resolution would lead to a constitutional amendment barring the state from imposing "any penalty" on those entities — including churches, other houses of worship and individuals "with sincere religious beliefs" — who decline to officiate or otherwise participate in same-sex marriage celebrations.

Currently, Missouri law does not extend civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation — and the First Amendment already gives religious entities (like, yes, houses of worship) clear protections that no state government can strip. So all this controversy comes down to the idea of a baker being penalized by the Missouri government for refusing to bake a wedding cake for same-sex couples ... something that not only has yet to happen here, but that seems highly improbable ever to happen. 

The way things are going in Missouri? The state government would be more likely to give that ornery baker a medal. We can just see the Onder-penned resolution now.

We'll stay on this story as debate continues.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com


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