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Missouri legislators make moves on voter ID and hair discrimination bills before taking a week off

The Missouri House of Representatives breaks on Wednesday after the first day of the legislative session at the capitol in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri House of Representatives breaks on Wednesday after the first day of the legislative session at the capitol in Jefferson City.

On the last day before the legislature takes a week off, the House also passed legislation creating nurseries in women’s prisons and a measure to prevent local officials from closing churches in a pandemic.

The Missouri legislature is taking another shot at requiring voters to present a photo ID before they cast their ballots.

The House voted 96-35 on Thursday to approve a bill requiring an approved photo identification, such as a non-expired driver’s license or a state-issued ID in order to vote. The bill now goes to the Senate.

In addition to in-person voters, the new requirements would apply to those voting absentee.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Simmons, R-Washington, said the state has an easy process for residents to get a photo ID that’s acceptable for voting.

“Well over 6,000 of those non-driver's photo ID have been issued,” Simmons said.

The bill also creates a process in which a person without a photo ID could vote through a provisional ballot. The voter would be required to fill out an affidavit before casting a ballot. The affidavit allows the voter to return the same day with a valid photo ID for their vote to count. Alternatively, an election official would be able to verify a voter’s identity by comparing their signature on the affidavit to an on-file signature.

In speaking against the bill, Rep. Joe Adams, D-University City, asked fellow lawmakers to not disenfranchise voters.

“I know this bill says that you will allow them to have provisional ballots, but I see them as provisional ballots not to be counted to make them seem like they're participating, but not really,” Adams said.

The House on Thursday also passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would put the same question, requiring a photo ID to vote, to voters in the November election.

Missouri lawmakers passed similar legislation in 2016 that was later approved by voters. But key provisions of that legislation, including requiring a photo ID to vote,were struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2020 because of ambiguous wording.

Simmons said that ruling deserves a response from the legislature.

“We're still representative of the people that voted overwhelmingly on that constitutional amendment. So we need to get the support of language, the statutory language, right, which is what House Bill 1878 does,” Simmons said.

Hair discrimination prevention

The House also passed a bill 133-0 that prohibits discrimination against traditionally Black hairstyles in schools. It now goes to the Senate.

The bill, entitled Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, would bar education institutions that receive state funding from discriminating against people wearing a “protective hairstyle.” That term is defined as hairstyles that are a result of the “immutable characteristics of hair texture or type” and are “historically associated with race.”

The CROWN Act includes several hairstyles that would be protected against discrimination, including afros, braids and dreadlocks.

“What this bill is designed to do is to fix the fact that students currently can be subjected to discrimination in our classrooms not based on the content of their character but of the hair that grows out of their heads naturally,” Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, said last week on the House floor.

Dogan is a sponsor of the legislation, which has co-sponsors of both parties. A similar bill replaced by Dogan’s bill was sponsored by Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson. She spoke in favor of hers and Dogan’s legislation on the House floor during the initial approval period.

“As a classroom teacher and school counselor, it’s certainly something not only I experienced as a student, but I absolutely observed and had to defend against as a classroom teacher and as a school counselor,” Proudie said.

The bill lists exceptions including allowing institutions to implement safety precautions like requiring hair nets or coverings in a technical training course. Another exemption is for educational institutions controlled by a religious organization.

Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, who serves on the House Special Committee on Urban Issues, said it was time to act on this bill.

“There is no reason for this type of discrimination in today’s age and certainly we want to always encourage children to have the freedom of expression, and that’s what this bill does,” Veit said.

The bill does not define race or mention Black people specifically. Proudie said it “is not our intent to define race in this bill because race is certainly subjective.”

“All we’re trying to do is make sure that children are able to access what their parents pay for in taxes and to be protected as their hair grows out of their head,” Proudie said.

Nurseries in prison

Another bill that received nearly unanimous House approval Thursday establishes a nursery in at least one of Missouri’s two prisons for women.

The optional program would allow mothers and their newborns born in custody to remain in the same facility for 18 months.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bruce DeGroot, R-Ellisville, said the program will help both mothers and their children.

“The recidivism rates are undeniable, in addition to everything good that it does and what you instinctively know about keeping babies with their moms,” DeGroot said.

Religious buildings open in a pandemic

The legislature also passed a bill in reaction to the closing of religious buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the Missouri Religious Freedom Protection Act, which the House passed 97-32 Thursday, public officials would not be able to issue an order that prohibits or limits a religious group or place of worship from meeting.

“I think that those decisions should be left to the individual congregations and they can make the decision that they feel best protects their congregants,” said the sponsor, Rep. Alex Riley, R-Springfield.

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said he believed the bill was well intended but doesn’t consider unpredictable circumstances.

Electric vehicle charging stations

Another bill passed Thursday dealt with municipalities seeking to pass ordinances or regulations requiring building owners to pay for the installation of electric vehicle charging stations.

Under the legislation presented by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis County, which passed 98-33, those municipalities would be required to pay the cost of installation, maintenance and operation themselves as opposed to a business.

Murphy said the passage of the legislation would free small businesses of the burden of providing these stations, while Democrats said this bill makes it harder to support clean energy in the state.

The House and Senate are set to return to Jefferson City on March 21 after a weeklong recess.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg
Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
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