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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri House passes bills barring transgender students from sports

This Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Lawmakers in the Missouri House passed two bills Thursday barring transgender students from school sports.

Updated at 8:42 p.m. April 28

The Missouri House passed a pair of bills Thursday barring transgender students from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

One of the bills, which lawmakers passed by a vote of 95-46, outright bars transgender secondary school students from joining sports that match their gender identity. Instead, they would have to participate in sports with peers that align with the sex listed on their birth certificate.

Originally, that bill modified the definition of a school bus to include the requirement that it must be designed to carry more than 10 people and authorized school districts to use other vehicles to transport children.

However, when the bill’s sponsor Rep. Kurtis Gregory, R-Marshall, changed the title of the bill to “Modifies provisions relating to school activities,” it opened the door to broader amendments, including the one introduced by Rep. Ron Copeland, R-Salem.

“I'm here as a father. And if I don't fight for my daughter's rights, I can't expect anyone else to do that,” Copeland said.

The other bill, passed by a vote of 96-47, allows school districts to hold referendums to give them the authority to keep transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports. That underlying bill had to deal with elections in the state.

In presenting his amendment to the bill, which was initially challenged as not being related to the underlying legislation, Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, said it was about fairness not hate.

“There's lots of examples in our society where it is proven that males are biologically superior than females. That's not a sexist remark. That's a fact,” Basye said.

Anti-transgender legislation has been prevalent in statehouses across the country, with not only bills barring transgender girls from sports, but also bills that would seek to prohibit transgender youth from obtaining gender-affirming health care.

Both pieces of legislation received fierce opposition from Democrats, including Rep. Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis, who quoted author James Baldwin when speaking on the House floor.

“He said we can agree to disagree unless the disagreement is rooted in my oppression, unless it's rooted in the right to exist. And that's what this legislation does is it erases these children. It tells them in statute in policy that they do not exist,” Mackey said.

In addition to how bills like this would affect transgender children in the state, Democrats also brought up the possible monetary impact.

“I know that we've heard our chambers of commerce beg us to not do this. This is not just for like, the civility and the humanity and the dignity of people that are different from us, but because of the economic impact, the negative economic impact on our state by passing legislation like this,” Rep. Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, said.

Photo ID and other election provisions 

One of the two bills with the anti-transgender language also contained more than 20 changes to Missouri’s election laws, including requiring that voters present a photo ID at their polling place in order to cast a ballot.

“Believe it or not, this bill is about elections. We got off the subject a little bit when we perfected this bill, but I want to tell you many of the good things in this bill, because there's been a lot of talk about some controversial things,” said the bill sponsor, Rep. Peggy McGaugh, R-Carrollton.

This is not the first time that House members this year have passed legislation requiring a photo ID to vote, with at least one other bill and a resolution having made it through the House earlier.

However, this bill also tackles other election-related topics, including requiring the use of paper ballots beginning in 2024 and prohibiting the state and its political subdivisions from receiving or spending private money to prepare, administer or conduct an election.

It also allows the secretary of state to audit voter registration lists and require election authorities to remove “improper names.” Failure to meet procedures or deadlines could result in withholding of funding.

Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, encouraged members to vote for the bill if they were for fair and trustworthy elections.

“I will tell you this is probably the most comprehensive election integrity bill that we've produced in this chamber,” Shaul said.

In addition to the anti-transgender language that was added to the bill on the House floor, Rep. Kevin Windham, D-Hillsdale, said the bill was bad for Missouri on the changes it makes to elections.

“If you're looking for the good in this bill, it is looking for a piece of hay in a needle stack,” Windham said.

Windham said any legislation containing a photo ID provision this late in session has a large hurdle to overcome.

“And being completely frank, I hope that it doesn't overcome that hurdle,” Windham said.

The bills now head to the Senate with two weeks left until the legislature adjourns.

Senate also debates transgender issues

The Senate spent its remaining hours on Thursday in a filibuster over legislation by Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, that bars transgender girls from participating in girls sports.

“Essentially, this is a bill that will protect female athletes from the competition of biological males,” Moon said.

Kansas City Democratic Sens. Greg Razer and Lauren Arthur spent nearly two hours filibustering the bill before the legislature adjourned because there were not enough senators present for a quorum call.

“So long as I have a seat in this chamber, I’m going to do everything I possibly can to make sure these kids are treated fairly in the state,” Razer said.

In speaking after the Senate adjourned, Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said these bills along with other issues Republicans are stumping for are rooted in meanness.

“It's just always something with meanness and fear and anger. And my goodness, we just want to raise wages and get people a job and make sure that they can make ends meet,” Rizzo said.

Moon said while he was disappointed that action on his bill was cut off, he was hopeful he would have another chance at advancing his legislation next week.

Senate passes new SNAP program 

Also on Thursday, the Senate passed legislation that would establish a Restaurant Meals Program as a part of the state’s existing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Under the passed legislation, sponsored by Sen. Angela Mosley, D-Florissant, households containing certain elderly, disabled or homeless individuals would be allowed to redeem their SNAP benefits at private establishments, like restaurants, that have partnered with the Department of Social Services.

Senators passed the bill on a bipartisan vote of 18-15, with eight Republicans joining all 10 Democrats in voting for it.

One of the “yes” votes on the Republican side was Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, who said he was proud to vote for the legislation and spoke on its narrowed focus.

“You're focusing on vulnerable populations who, for life reasons, don't have the ability to readily go to the grocery store and to cook for themselves,” Luetkemeyer said.

Multiple Republicans spoke against the legislation, including Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis.

“This is going to do a number of things, it's going to expand a welfare program that's already bloated and very prone to fraud. That, contrary to its original purpose, encourages unhealthy eating. And this will make it worse,” Onder said.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

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