3.2.16

Page 16

LOCAL

A12 • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

Foes sign on to ight what they say is bias Businesses, faith leaders decry move to protect those who refuse to accommodate gay couples BY JACK SUNTRUP St. Louis Post-Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY • More than 185 Missouri businesses, faith leaders and other groups have signed a letter denouncing a Republican proposal barring state penalties for those who refuse to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies. Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, has proposed putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would forbid the state from penalizing churches, bakers, wedding planners, florists and others who decline to provide services for the weddings or receptions. It would also add protections against civil suits, he said Tuesday. Opponents say churches and clergy already aren’t required to conduct same-sex weddings, and that the Missouri Human Rights Act already doesn’t protect discrimination based on sexual orientation. PROMO Missouri, an LGBT advocacy group, and the ACLU of Missouri published the letter, saying the proposal resembles a controversial bill signed into law last year in Indiana that opponents said would legalize discrimination against gay people on religious grounds. The Associated Press reported in January on figures from Visit Indy, Indianapolis’ nonprofit tourism group, that the city has lost as many as 12 conventions and up to $60 million in economic impact because of national backlash.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We are committed to diversity, inclusion, and above all the Golden Rule,” the letter reads, in part. “These dangerous bills and potential constitutional amendments only succeed in showing people Missouri is not a welcoming state. We should focus on keeping Missouri competitive, not keep people away.” The signees include: Left Bank Books, Liquid Technology, PETCO STL County, Viviano & Sons, Kirkwood Baptist Church, Brentwood Christian Church, Paraquad and the Ethical Society. Sarah Rossi, the director of policy at the ACLU of Missouri, said the ACLU believes churches shouldn’t be required to hold same-sex marriages, but she told a Senate committee that that right is already guaranteed under the First Amendment. “We don’t think that clergy or churches should have to open their doors to lesbian and gay couples who want to get married,” she told the committee. But “denying access to buildings, denying access to bakeries, denying access to catering services — all of this stuf goes too far.” The proposal’s definition of “religious organizations” would include entities such as preschools, colleges, children’s homes, elder care facilities and hospitals as long as they have some religious tie. Rossi said the language could be used in the future to deny service to LGBT people for far more things than their weddings. Onder defended the

proposal, saying Tuesday that the assertion was an “overly broad reading.” “It’s really a matter of people not being commandeered into being forced to participate in a ceremony that violates their religious beliefs,” he said. Another proposal, a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Kurt Schaefer of Columbia — who is running for state attorney general — would expand the definition of “religious organization” in Missouri’s Human Rights Act to include many of the entities in Onder’s action. The Missouri Human Rights Act doesn’t include sexual orientation now, but bills have been proposed for years to change that. Religious groups have historically been granted some exemptions, so that, for example, the Catholic Church wouldn’t be required to hire female priests. Steph Perkins, executive director of PROMO, said that broader exemptions could mean loopholes to deny service to gay people in the future. Schaefer said last week his bill isn’t anti-LGBT and simply clarifies state statute after a court ruling struck down the old definition of a religious organization. Onder’s bill only needs to pass both the GOPdominated Senate and the House to go on the ballot, and doesn’t require a signature from Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat. Onder’s measure is Senate Joint Resolution 39. Schaefer’s is Senate Bill 916. Jack Suntrup • 314-430-8304 @JackSuntrup on Twitter jsuntrup@post-dispatch.com

POLITICAL FIX From our online report on politics and government. STLtoday.com/politicalix Compromise on UM funding proposed • A state senator loated a plan Tuesday that could spare the University of Missouri system from budget cuts this year. After months of heated rhetoric over the behavior of former Mizzou communications instructor Melissa Click amid a series of racially charged student protests, state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, wants to form a special committee to review university system operations. Schaefer said the university’s response to the panel’s recommendation could be considered when the Legislature discusses the UM System budget next year. “This committee allows us to step back, gather information and then make an informed decision as to whether or not there should be funding changes at the University of Missouri,” said Schaefer, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and is a candidate for attorney general. The proposed cooling-of period comes a week after the Board of Curators ired Click for her behavior during last year’s protests. Republican leaders in the House threatened to cut funding to the state’s lagship university as a way to force change. House Budget Leader Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, proposed cutting $8 million from the school’s budget. (Kurt Erickson)

M 1 • WEDnESDAy • 03.02.2016 earlier in Missouri at a Farm Bureau event. Among the senators who also did not vote were Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who are running for president. The vote was for “cloture,” a parliamentary maneuver allowing the debate and a inal vote on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015. The Senate is expected to have extensive debate and votes on the bill in coming days. Blunt faces Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat, in the November election. Will Baskin-Gerwitz, a spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party, said that Blunt “owes an explanation to the Missouri families afected by this epidemic about why a campaign fundraiser is more important than doing his job and showing up to vote.” Burson Snyder, Blunt’s campaign spokeswoman, said the senator “takes very seriously” the “scourge of opioids in Missouri.” She said Blunt, as chairman of a Senate subcommittee overseeing federal health spending, pushed for a 250 percent increase in funding for the Department of Health and Human Services to ight opioid abuse. Blunt “was one of the irst senators to demand a solution for veterans addicted to painkillers as a result of

their service-related injuries,” Snyder said. (Chuck Raasch) Earnings tax opponents launch campaign • A campaign to end St. Louis’ 1 percent earnings tax was announced on Tuesday. The efort is aimed at educating voters on the 1940sera tax. “We believe the earnings tax is a regressive tax that hurts the working poor by taking money directly out of their pockets,” said “Vote No on the E Tax” committee spokeswoman Stephanie Lewis. The group has released a video showcasing a preview of its campaign. City voters will decide on April 5 whether to continue the tax. The tax is levied on city residents and anyone who works in the city. The committee is funded by St. Louis inancier Rex Sinqueield, the Missouri mega-donor who has been sharply critical of the tax. Sinqueield pushed through a legislative measure requiring St. Louis and Kansas City voters to reauthorize the tax every ive years. St. Louis voters reauthorized the tax in 2011 with 88 percent of the vote. If voters fail to pass the tax by a simple majority, it would be phased out over 10 years. (Nicholas J.C. Pistor)

Blunt misses vote to raise campaign money • Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., missed a procedural vote on a bill to ight opioid abuse because he was raising money in Chicago for his re-election. Democrats criticized the senator’s absence from the Monday night vote, saying he was putting politics ahead of important policy debates. The procedural vote passed the Senate, 89-0. Blunt detoured through Chicago on his way back to Washington for the fundraiser after appearing

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Call our office at 636-487-0616 before March 8th between the

Call by March 8th 636-487-0616