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Harder for Missouri workers to prove employer discrimination under bill sent to Greitens

Missouri House Chamber
File photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI
The Missouri House chambers.

After nearly six hours of contentious debate Monday, the Missouri House passed a bill that makes it harder for people who are fired from a job to prove they were discriminated against.

The start of the last week of the 2017 legislative session also saw the Missouri Senate put a long-awaited prescription drug monitoring program on life support by standing its ground. 

Here's a more detailed look at the action, as well as a count on how many bills were sent to Gov. Eric Greitens: 

Workplace discrimination

The debate began in the afternoon and ended at about 10 p.m., when the workplace discrimination bill was sent to Greitens by a 98-30 vote.

The measure requires an ex-employee to prove that the main reason he or she lost a job was race, sex, age or national origin, not just one of a few factors.

Rep. Joe Don McGaugh, R-Carroll, said Monday that the bill is needed to counter "judicial overreach" that’s allowed too many people to sue for alleged discrimination. But fellow Republican Rep. Shamed Dogan of Ballwin said on the floor that the measure as written sends a message of intolerance and could hurt Missouri's national reputation.

Democrats and the state chapter of the NAACP also have lambasted the GOP-sponsored measure, all arguing it would allow legalized discrimination and return Missouri to the days before civil rights reforms.

Late into the debate, as amendments kept failing and a final vote neared, Democratic Rep. Bruce Franks of St. Louis stood on the floor, shouting and reading aloud racial epithets contained in a discrimination lawsuit pending against a company owned by the original bill sponsor, Republican Sen. Gary Romine of Farmington. 

Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis (center), argues against the workplace discrimination bill on Mon., May 8, 2017.
Credit Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio
Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis (center), argues against the workplace discrimination bill on Monday.

Romine's company, Show-Me Rent to Own, was sued in 2015 for alleged racial discrimination, but the bill will not affect the outcome because it is pending.

Romine has said the measure is needed to protect the state from frivolous lawsuits and is “complimentary to what the (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) does in dealing with employment discrimination issues.”

Meanwhile, some Republicans argued against the bill citing language they said would allow hospital employees to be fired for not participating in an abortion.

And Rep. Kevin Engler, also a Republican, sparked early discussion with a later-withdrawn amendment that would have barred employers from firing workers because of their sexual orientation as Missouri law currently allows. Gay rights supporters have been pressing for legislative action for years, and Engler has supported expanding such protections.

Greitens is expected to sign the bill into law, Romine said. Democrats immediately called for Greitens to veto the bill, with House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, referring to the lawsuit against Romine in a statement.

“This is precisely the type of self-dealing and of abuse of power Gov. Greitens campaigned against. If his administration is to have any credibility," she said, "he must veto SB 43 and ensure the courthouse doors in Missouri remain open to victims of illegal discrimination.”

Prescription drug monitoring program

The Senate appointed negotiators for a bill to set up the last-in-the-nation, statewide prescription opioid tracking program, but won’t allow them to go past the Senate’s initial position.

Essentially, that means the database is dead unless bill sponsor Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston — who has pushed for it two sessions in a row — and the House agree to the Senate’s demands of requiring all patient information to be purged after six months. Rehder has said that provision would make it harder to spot drug abuse. 

Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston
Credit File photo | Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio
Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, long has fought for a prescription drug monitoring database.

“We’re still hopeful, but honestly it’s looking bleak … but we’re hopeful that maybe we can come to some middle ground,” she told St. Louis Public Radio on Monday night.

Republican Sen. Dave Schatz of Sullivan criticized his chamber's move. 

"Not allowing us to get to the point where we can have those conversations and find that there is some common ground there, ultimately, again, time is not the friend of the essence on this particular issue," he said.

Several cities and counties in Missouri already have set up their own drug monitoring databases, which help combat the state's opioid crisis.

In-home health care

A Senate bill to allow leftover money in various state accounts to be used to restore in-home care faces a chilly reception from House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick. Among other things, Fitzpatrick said Monday on St. Louis Public Radio's Politically Speaking podcast, some state departments are leery of getting rid of excess money for transportation or corrections-related programs.

The Shell Knob Republican, who declined to predict how the bill would fare in the House, also contended the plan amounted to a short-term solution to a longer-term problem.

“So if we take the money from those funds this year, that money will be gone next year,” he said. “But the things that we’re spending that money on will have to be funded next year. So we’ll find ourselves back in this exact same position in one year that we find ourselves in right now.”

Fitzpatrick added that House Republicans decided against a similar plan while debating the budget earlier this year. The Senate, however, doubled down on the bill, passing it a second time Monday due to small language changes.

Number of bills sent to the governor: 6

Aside from the House passing the workplace discrimination bill, the Senate moved on five measures.

One modifies child protection laws, keeping convicted child sex offenders 500 feet from children's museums. Another modifies the 2014 workers' compensation law, so that instead of employers being barred from firing employees for "exercising their rights under workers' compensation," the fired employee would have to prove that the motivating factor for being fired was the employer not wanting to pay a workers' compensation claim.

The third creates the Ozark Exploration Bicentennial Commission, and the fourth allows amendments to life insurance policies to include exclusions or limitations when the policyholder commits suicide.

The fifth, passed before the Senate adjourned for the night, allows community college police officers to establish traffic rules on campuses.

Of note

  • The Missouri House held a moment of silence at the request of Franks to mark last week’s death of Edward Crawford, who was featured in an iconic photo during the Ferguson protests in 2014. Authorities say Crawford killed himself Thursday. Franks asked for condolences for Crawford and his family.
  • Both chambers appointed lawmakers to conference committees, which hash out House and Senate versions of bills. If deals are not reached, the bills usually die. 

Jason Rosenbaum contributed to this report.

Follow Marshall on Twitter: @marshallgreport; Jo: @jmannies

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.