Bill honoring the late Rep. Cloria Brown becomes law

Missouri House members have taken time this session to honor one of their own.

Representative Cloria Brown (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communciations)

The House and Senate agreed on House Bills 448 & 206, to rename a portion of U.S. 61/67/50/Lindbergh Boulevard in St. Louis County the “Rep. Cloria Brown Memorial Highway.”  Brown was a state representative representing part of south St. Louis County for more than five years.  She died in March of last year after a battle with cancer.

That legislation was signed into law today by Governor Mike Parson (R), who was accompanied by Brown’s family and some of her colleagues, and in front of around 100 legislators.

Parson said it was significant that so many lawmakers stepped away to witness the signing while the busy legislative session is still underway.

“This says a lot for Cloria … who she was,” said Parson.  “What she accomplished, the goals she had in mind, with the representation she made of her family that are here today, and a representation of you – of all of us that work in this building when you have people like that come along sometimes and show us all that there’s a higher road to take.”

Brown has been remembered by colleagues and even political rivals as hard working, tough, and compassionate.  She worked on the House’s budget committee; proposed a ban on texting while driving; and backed measures aimed at fighting human and sex trafficking.

In 2017 Brown sponsored a bill to require the development and display in certain workplaces of posters with the Human Trafficking Hotline.  The posters’ aim is to provide information on how victims can be helped and how to fight trafficking.  A similar bill, House Bill 1246, became law last year, with Brown considered one of the driving forces behinds its passage.  It was sponsored by Representative Patricia Pike (R-Adrian).

“Cloria Brown was a joy to so many people; her family, her friends, the legislators, and the citizens.  We loved her smile, we loved her very defined work ethic,” said Pike.  “As a state representative she served with grace and she served with commitment.”

Earlier story:  Missouri legislature approves human trafficking hotline posters

Brown also co-sponsored House Bill 1562 in 2016, which expanded Missouri’s law against sex trafficking to include advertising a child participating in a commercial sexual act.  That bill was sponsored by current House Speaker Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield).

Earlier story:  Missouri toughens laws against human trafficking, sponsor says more to come

Representative Jim Murphy (R-St. Louis) now represents what was Brown’s district.  He also knew her personally.

“Cloria, your legacy inspired us not to sit idly by, but to continue to stand up for those who have no voice,” said Murphy.

Governor Mike Parson, House Speaker Elijah Haahr, members of former Rep. Cloria Brown’s family, and dozens of current and former lawmakers attended the signing of legislation naming a portion of highway in honor of Brown. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Scott Sifton’s (D-Affton) Senate district overlaps the district Brown represented, and they served together in the House.  He praised Brown for representing the refugee population in her district.

“For anybody that knows south St. Louis County, it is an area that demands a lot of accountability and attention from its elected leadership.  Folks there take things very seriously,” said Sifton.  “What that results in, and really demands, is a lot of hard work and close connection of the people that represent that area to the constituents they serve, and nobody exemplified that better, in the time that I have been involved, than Cloria Brown.”

Brown was buried in St. John’s Cemetery, which overlooks Lindbergh Boulevard, a portion of which will now be named for her.

The sign designating that section of road in her name will be paid for by private donations.

Missouri legislature approves human trafficking hotline posters

The first bill to be passed out of the Missouri legislature in 2018 aims to fight human trafficking.

Representative Patricia Pike (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 1246 would require the Department of Public Safety to develop posters that provide information on what human trafficking is and how victims can get help.  It would require those posters to be displayed by certain businesses including hotels and motels, strip clubs, private clubs, airports, emergency rooms, bus stations, and truck and rest stops.

The posters will include the National Human Trafficking Resource Hotline, which is 888-373-7888, and by text is 233733 (BEFREE).

HB 1246 is sponsored by Adrian Republican Patricia Pike.

“This bill works to provide rescue information to the victims and educate the citizens about human trafficking in a statewide and uniform way,” said Pike.  “I believe this bill will save lives, bring victims home to their families, and educate the public further on how to identify human trafficking.  It will also provide law enforcement with increased opportunities to receive tips to help combat trafficking.”

Representative Michael Butler (D-St. Louis) said trafficking is a major issue in Missouri and particularly in St. Louis.  He said the legislation is a sign that the legislature, and the state, are starting to recognize how great that issue is, and said more must be done.

“The greatest fear I have is something like this happening to my daughter.  Many of us, I’m sure, who have children, we think about it every time we’re in the grocery store, every time we’re somewhere public – that you could lose that person and it was your responsibility,” said Butler.  “I just thank [Representative Pike] for making me feel a little more comfortable about what I’m doing here today and whenever I think about that in the grocery store … I think about this bill.”

Under the bill the posters must be created by January 1, 2019, and must be displayed by the establishments specified in the bill by March 1, 2019.  Businesses that repeatedly fail to display them could incur fines.  The posters will be printed at the cost of each business that must display them.

House Speaker Todd Richardson prepares to sign HB 1246 so that it may be sent to the governor’s office for consideration. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The creation and display of such posters was one of the recommendations of the House Task Force on Human Trafficking, which was chaired by Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield).

Pike said more than 20 states have such posters and it has been shown that trafficking victims who use the national hotline have a better chance of being rescued.

The bill was passed out of the House in January 139-5 and the Senate passed it early this month.  It now awaits action from the governor’s office or it could become law without any such action after 15 days.

Last year a similar bill sponsored by Representative Cloria Brown reached the state Senate but did not come to a vote in that chamber.

The House this week also passed a bill that sets a minimum age for applicants for Missouri marriage licenses.  Sponsor Jean Evans (R-Manchester) said the bill would combat traffickers and abusers bringing minor victims to Missouri to marry them.  That bill has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

House endorses minimum age for Missouri marriage licenses

The House this week voted to set a minimum age at which people in Missouri can get a marriage license, but the bill met more resistance than last year.

Representative Jean Evans (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Marriage licenses can now be issued to persons younger than 15 under certain conditions.  House Bill 1630 would increase that age to 17 and require a court hearing on whether the marriage is advisable.  No licenses would be issued when either party is younger than 15, or when one party is 21 or older and the other party is younger than 17.

Bill sponsor Jean Evans (R-Manchester) began offering the legislation last year as a way to fight human trafficking; particularly cases in which abusers bring young trafficking victims to Missouri to marry them.

“Currently we do not have a minimum age of marriage in Missouri and this bill seeks to correct that,” said Evans.  “In addition it will protect young people from predators and those who might do them harm with forced marriages.”

The bill had bipartisan support, including from St. Louis Democrat Michael Butler, who said it’s appropriate for the legislature to set a minimum age for things like marriage.

“A decision to get married … is a very important decision, and minors in a lot of cases, we know, generally don’t have complete control when that decision is made.  To create a way for young people in our state to be protected from tough decisions that aren’t made by themselves, and we know this is occurring, is something that we should be doing,” said Butler.

Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) who argued that Missouri has a serious problem with human trafficking.

“If someone over the age of 21 – someone 30 years-old comes to a high school and engages in sexual activity with a 15 year-old or a 12 year-old or anyone under the age of consent that’s statutory rape, and right now that person can legitimately get married.  That’s a problem,” said Dogan.

Similar legislation passed out of the House last year 139-1, but this year many Republicans opposed the bill.  Some, including Lincoln Republican Wanda Brown, don’t like the requirement that a court hearing decide whether a marriage license should be issued for someone between the ages of 15 and 17.

Representative Wanda Brown (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I’m not opposed, necessarily, to raising the age limit for marriage.  What I’m opposed to is telling every parent in this state they’re not fit to make a decision for their child without asking a judge, and of course paying an attorney,” said Brown.  “The bill was brought forward in the name of stopping human trafficking.  This is a made-up concept.  This does nothing to stop the traffickers.  This only takes the parental rights of good, law abiding citizens.”

Others like David Wood (R-Versailles) expressed concern the bill might affect religious populations living in their districts.

“I have a very large Mennonite population.  Mennonite population typically marries relatively young,” said Wood.  “My court could get really backed up waiting on a judge to approve a lot of these weddings when they’re approved by the family, they’re approved by the church, and they’re welcomed in the community.”

Regarding concerns like those of Wood, Evans said her bill is very similar to one in place in Pennsylvania where there are significant, similar religious populations.

“If you’re under 18 you have to have parent permission and go before a judge, and the judge just has to basically say there’s nothing – there’s no ill will here.  There’s not somebody taking advantage of someone.  This is a good fit, the families support it, and go forward and get married,” said Evans.  “It’s very similar to that and it’s worked very well in Pennsylvania where, again, they have much larger communities of Amish and Mennonite even than we do here in Missouri.”

Evans also said the bill does nothing to prevent a religious wedding ceremony.

Despite increased opposition over last year, a bipartisan 95-50 vote sent the bill to the Senate.  Last year Evans’ similar legislation was approved by a Senate committee but advanced no further.

Another measure backers say will help fight human trafficking became the first bill sent to the governor’s office in 2018.  Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) signed House Bill 1246.  The bill, sponsored by Adrian Republican Patricia Pike would require the development of posters displaying information on human trafficking.

House again considering requiring human trafficking posters at some businesses

The state House is again considering a bill that would require certain employers to display posters with information about human trafficking.

Representative Cloria Brown presents House Bill 261 that would require the creation and placement of posters offering help to human trafficking victims. In front of her are examples of posters from some of the 28 other states that have passed a similar law. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Cloria Brown presents House Bill 261 that would require the creation and placement of posters offering help to human trafficking victims. In front of her are examples of posters from some of the 28 other states that have passed a similar law. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 261 is based on one of the recommendations made by the House Task Force on Human Trafficking.  It’s sponsored by St. Louis Representative Cloria Brown (R).

“The objective of the bill is to assist victims and survivors of human trafficking by providing them with a telephone number; a national hotline that they can use to ask for help,” said Brown.  “It enables them to have access to critical support and services so that they can get away from their traffickers.”

28 other states have similar laws, and Brown developed her bill based on those.

The bill would require the Department of Public Safety to create the posters, and requires that it be displayed by hotels, motels, establishments “cited as a public nuisance for prostitution,” strip clubs or other “sexually oriented businesses,” airports, trains stations that serve passengers, emergency rooms, urgent care centers, women’s health centers, businesses that offer massages, bus stations, and privately owned facilities that offer food, fuel, showers, and overnight parking, such as truck stops.

The posters would have to be placed in or near the bathrooms or entraces of those businesses beginning March 1, 2018.

The signs must also be placed in businesses that offer “body work,” such as tattoo parlors.  Ellen Alper with the National Council of Jewish Women in St. Louis said that is because victims are often forced to get tattoos.

“Sometimes traffickers tattoo their victims in order to let people know who they belong to,” said Alper.

Alper said in addition to informing victims, the posters are intended to inform members of the public.

“If they see something or they notice something and they think, ‘Oh, that’s a little odd, we’re not sure what’s going on,’ it gives them a way to take action as well,” said Alper.

The same proposal was part of a bill passed last year by the House that never came to a vote in the Senate.  HB 261 was presented last week to the House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety, which has not voted on it.