Missouri legislature passes bill requiring photo ID to vote, over fierce criticism from Democrats
Missouri lawmakers also stripped all of the state’s provisions that made it easier for individuals to vote during the early days of the pandemic. “We’re talking about gutting elections," one St. Louis Democrat responded.
Two years after Missouri’s Supreme Court struck down a similar measure, lawmakers Thursday passed a bill requiring residents to have photo identification to cast a ballot.
“We already have a good system, we just had to make sure it's always better, because Missourians want and deserve to know that their election system is trustworthy,” said Rep. John Simmons, R-Washington, the bill’s sponsor.
The requirement, part of a larger elections bill, passed the House on a party-line 97-47 vote.
In addition to requiring photo ID, the bill allows Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, to review the list of registered voters in any jurisdiction. Electronic voting machines will be banned after 2024, except in cases where a voter with a disability cannot use a paper ballot. Those machines, however, would be required to have a paper trail for a potential election review.
In addition, local election authorities can no longer accept funding from outside organizations – language targeted at Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who funded two nonprofits that passed money along to county clerks and election boards in 2020. Zuckerberg told the New York Times in April that the grants were a one-time effort to help officials adjust to conducting elections in a pandemic.
Missouri lawmakers also stripped all of the state’s provisions that made it easier for individuals to vote during the early days of the pandemic.
Democrats were able to secure some of their election-related priorities, including a two-week window for no-reason absentee voting. But they were furious at their colleagues in the Senate for not doing more to delay photo ID.
“This is a shameful day,” said Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis. “Hopefully we eventually have senators with a little bit more integrity, that’s going to stand up and fight.”
Senate Minority Floor Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said that he respected the opinion of his fellow Democrats but that it was difficult to fight what was a top priority for the Republicans.
“We didn’t vote for the bill,” he said. “We tried to do the best we could without getting something absolutely horrible shoved down our throat, which was a real possibility.”
Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, admonished her Republican colleagues for leaving the floor while Democrats spoke against the measure.
“We’re talking about gutting elections, we’re talking about democracy at its finest, the root of what our country itself was supposed to be built on, the exact foundation, and this chamber is empty,” she said.
Sexual assault survivors’ rights
The House also passed a bill providing survivors of sexual assault a series of rights. The bill, which largely deals with judicial proceedings, also contains provisions related to child sex trafficking and explicit materials provided to students.
Members of the House voted 141-0 to pass the bill, which was the result of a conference committee between the House and Senate. It now goes to Gov. Mike Parson, having passed the Senate on Tuesday by a similarly bipartisan margin.
A previous version of a sexual assault survivors bill of rights was challenged by public defenders in the state, with the Missouri Supreme Court agreeing part of the law was unconstitutional.
Under the new legislation, survivors of sexual assault would be legally entitled to a number of protections, a shower and a change of clothes, a forensic examination and the right to be free from intimidation, harassment or abuse in any following civil or criminal proceedings.
In addition, law enforcement officials would be required to report instances of suspected child trafficking to the state’s children’s division. Identifying information of sexual assault survivors, such as email addresses, would no longer be subject to open records requests. And individuals found to be engaging in prostitution would not face charges as an adult if the acts occurred when they were under 18; they would instead be considered victims of abuse.
As so often happens at the end of session, the measure expanded; provisions beyond the original proposed protections of survivors were added. That led to pushback from some senators, who tried to stop it from moving forward, saying it violated the state’s constitutional provision that bills must address one subject.
Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, said she found it hypocritical that other so-called omnibus measures were not targeted by the delay tactic.
“For this bill protecting our women, strengthening our laws against sexual abuse and violence. This is the one that we want to make the point on. I have issue with that. And I think that the women in this state have issue with that as well,” Rehder said.
The underlying bill, which contained the sexual assault survivors bill of rights, had faced hurdles before when Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, a member of the Conservative Caucus, offered an amendment to the bill that would have punished schools that provided obscene material to students that a “reasonable person” would find lacks “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
Democrats called it a “poison pill,” saying it would have led to the banning of books that have value but may be considered obscene.
Brattin’s initial refusal to back down from his amendment, despite Rehder’s request to do so, led to an impromptu bipartisan news conference the next morning against the Conservative Caucus, which normally contains seven senators out of the 34-member body.
The measure sent to Parson includes a pared-down version of Brattin’s changes by creating the offense of providing explicit sexual material to a student, defined mainly as visual depictions of sexual activities.
Lawmakers also gave bipartisan approval to the session’s major education package.
“This bill contains all of the things that are needed for public education to move forward,” said Rep. Paula Brown, D-Hazelwood, the ranking minority member of the House Education Committee. “The reading bill is an absolute necessity for the kids in our schools.”
The main provision mandates that schools use specific curriculum and screening to help students who are struggling to read at grade level.
“We have continuing reports of children who have reading difficulty,” said Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, who handled the measure in the Senate. “And what we find happening in some cases, not all, is the school will sometimes say, ‘Oh, well, your student will catch up.’ But the student never catches up.”
In addition to setting literacy curriculum, the bill makes it easier for two districts to share a superintendent to cut costs. And in an effort to address a substitute teacher shortage, the legislation creates a certificate for people with a high school diploma who want to be in the classroom. Retired teachers could also serve as substitutes without the time in the classroom affecting their pensions.
There are provisions supporting the mental health of students, including a requirement that public schools that print student identification cards also have cards with Suicide and Crisis Hotline information. The measure also created Holocaust Education Week, although language around Black and Native American history was removed.
Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann
Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg
Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.