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Missouri Senate committee restores library funding in state budget, strips anti-DEI language

St. Louis County Library
The Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday restored state funding for public libraries.

Missouri’s proposed budget again contains state funding for public libraries and no longer prohibits any spending toward diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

The Senate Appropriations Committee made those changes as well as others to the House-approved budget on Wednesday. The committee also passed the operating budget bills, meaning they now go to the full Senate for debate.

Gov. Mike Parson’s proposed budget initially included around $4.5 million for public libraries.

However, that money was removed by House Budget Chair Cody Smith, R-Carthage.

Smith cited a lawsuit filed to overturn a state law that banned some books from library shelves as the reason for the cut. He said he didn’t want state money being used for the lawsuit, but the ACLU of Missouri, which filed the suit on behalf of the Missouri Association of School Librarians and the Missouri Library Association, is handling the case at no charge.

House Democrats not only spoke against the decision but also tried unsuccessfully as recently as Tuesday to restore the money.

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Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Manchester, was the sponsor of the latest attempt. She said on the House floor on Tuesday she believes Republicans had their feelings hurt regarding the lawsuit.

“I work hard not to punish people who disagree with me,” Lavender said.

When the Senate Appropriations Committee restored the funding, no one spoke on the decision.

In addition to adding the library funding, the Senate also removed anti-DEI language the House had added to every budget bill.

Senate Appropriations Chair Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, spoke on that issue Wednesday.

“In conversations with departments and vendors, and just quite frankly, an inordinate amount of businesses within the state, it's the recommendation of the chair that we remove this House language,” Hough said.

The House voted to prohibit spending for “staffing, vendors, consultants, or programs associated with diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, who sponsored that language, recently posted an open letter, saying he disagreed with criticisms that it was a political stunt.

“The most efficient and effective way to eradicate the influence of DEI is to prohibit its funding,” Richey said in the letter.

Richey said on Twitter that the work on the language is “ongoing.”

Attempts to remove library funding or inserting DEI-related language could occur on the Senate floor during debate.

Once the Senate passes the budget, it goes back to the House, where compromise bills between the chambers are expected.

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.