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Missouri Senate likely to debate Parents' Bill of Rights legislation next week

Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, addresses the Education and Workforce Development Committee regarding his bill to, in part, ban the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, addresses the Education and Workforce Development Committee regarding his Parents' Bill of Rights legislation on Jan. 18 at the Capitol. The bill is likely to be heard on the Senate floor next week.

A bill establishing a Parents' Bill of Rights as well as banning certain diversity-based teachings in public schools will likely be debated on the Missouri Senate floor next week.

A Senate committee voted to advance the legislation on Tuesday. It currently is one of four bills on the Senate calendar awaiting first-round consideration.

The legislation requires school districts to provide information to parents such as curriculum and source materials. It also sets up a portal where citizens can view similar materials for all school districts in the state.

Additionally, the bill prohibits schools from teaching some diversity-related concepts, including “that individuals of any race, ethnicity, color, or national origin are inherently superior or inferior.”

It also bars the teaching of courses or units of study on critical race theory, though that term is not specifically defined in the legislation, and no elementary or secondary schools in the state are teaching CRT.

Any curriculum, instructional materials or units of study that “advocate, affirm as true, or endorse any idea” falling within the concepts listed would be in violation.

Sponsor Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, said in committee that the bill is not intended to prohibit the teaching of history.

“Nothing in this act prohibits constitutionally protected speech, access to research or study material discussions, or assignment material for educational purposes,” Koenig said.

But Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, said the bill is a “denial of the history of ethnic people of the United States of America.”

“This is, as my mother and grandmother would say, is placing us back 200 years when Black people couldn't even read,” Washington said. “Now we're preventing all children from reading anything about the history and the fabric of who we are.”

House bills for Senate consideration

On the House side, four bills to change the initiative petition process to make it harder to amend Missouri’s constitution passed a committee on Thursday and now head to the House.

Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said the Senate plans to have its own hearing on the batch of bills related to the initiative petition process but is open to hearing the House bills.

“Sometimes it makes more sense not to have the fight twice. So, if they move faster than us, we'll certainly be willing to take their bill and take it from there,” Rowden said.

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said Republicans should be careful about amending the initiative petition process.

“If they are going to take that process or part of that process away, then [the people are] going to start changing the legislature,” Rizzo said.

Also on the House side, lawmakers spent more than eight hours Tuesday listening to testimony on eight bills targeting the LGBTQ community.

Six of the bills were related to transgender youth, with some barring transgender girls from participating in sports that align with their gender identity and others prohibiting trans youth from accessing gender-affirming health care.

Though those bills have yet to leave committee, Rowden said they are still a priority for Senate Republicans. He did not express support for the two other bills related to drag shows.

“I think we have more important stuff to talk about,” Rowden said.

Rizzo said the Senate still needs to wade through those bills but plans to have lengthy discussions on all of them.

“It's just a travesty on all counts. It really is, and I didn't run for office to decide for parents what they can do with their kids,” Rizzo said.

Sarah Kellogg has been the Missouri Statehouse and politics reporter for St. Louis Public Radio since 2021.