News (USA)

Mo. House committee hears testimony on LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination bill

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A Missouri House Committee on Thursday heard testimony on the proposed Missouri Non-discrimination Act (MONA).

The bill, HB 1930, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to Missouri’s Human Rights Statute, which currently prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations for other categories, including race, biological sex and familial status.

Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City.
Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City.

Last year, the legislation passed through the Senate but failed to reach the House floor.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Kevin Engler (R-Farmington), who said MONA “enjoys a 75 percent approval rating. It enjoys a 90 percent approval rating for voters under 40.”

“I’m the guy who did the bill against gay marriage,” said Engler. “I’m not freaking out about this. We have to distinguish between the marriage issue and how we treat people.”

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Missouri Catholic Conference and Associated Industries of Missouri testified against legislation.

Chamber General Counsel Jay Atkins told the committee that it was admittedly difficult to come out in opposition of the bill because opponents are cast as “homophobic or a bigot.” He pointed to the Chamber having a number of members whose company policies include protections for the LGBT community.

“But there is a dramatic difference between having such policies as a matter of policy in the workplace, and creating an entire new cause of action that exposes all Missouri employers to further liability under employment law,” Atkins testified.

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Appearing in favor of the bill were PROMO, Missouri’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office and Monsanto.

“We’ve introduced and worked with different legislators since 1999 to support adding sexual orientation and gender identity into this bill,” testified A.J. Bockelman, Executive Director of PROMO. “We believe that it sends a strong message that a workplace is open and accepting to enhance their workforce.”

To date, 15 cities and counties in Missouri have nondiscrimination ordinances that include both sexual orientation and gender identity, and more than 300 Missouri-based companies have signed on in support of MONA.

Earlier this year, Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, voiced his support for the bill in his State of the State Address.

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