Missouri Legislature proposes tougher standard for employment discrimination

The legislature has sent Governor Eric Greitens (R) a bill that would make it harder to prove discrimination in the workplace.

Representative Joe Don McGaugh (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Joe Don McGaugh (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Senate Bill 43 would require a former employee to prove that his or her age, race, gender, disability or ethnicity was the main reason he or she was fired rather than one among other reasons.  Republicans said the bill is needed because the courts have allowed too many cases of alleged workplace discrimination to proceed.

The House’s handler of SB 43, Representative Joe Don McGaugh (R-Carrollton), said the legislation responds to Supreme Court decisions that lowered the standard in employment discrimination cases.

“Senate Bill 43, in my opinion, isn’t even tort reform.  It’s undoing judicial activism,” said McGaugh.  “So what’s the effect of the court playing legislature?  Even the most meritless cases have to be decided by a jury.  Employers are required to spend thousands of dollars defending completely baseless claims brought by lawyers arguing anything that can contribute.”

The bill also places limits on the damages that can be awarded to successful plaintiffs, exempts from liability supervisors and managers who are not employers, and limits protections for whistleblowers.

The legislation cleared the House on a Republican-led 98-30 vote, but it had Republican opposition.

Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) spoke against the measure’s whistleblower section.

“The proponents have not identified a problem with whistleblower law in the State of Missouri.  There is not a spate of whistleblower cases in this state,” said Barnes.  “The whistleblower portion eliminates protections for the employees most likely to know about illegal activity in their employer.”

Democrats said the legislation would make it easier for workplace discrimination to occur and go unpunished, and argue it represents a conflict of interest because its senate sponsor, Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington), is the owner of a business that is the subject of a pending discrimination lawsuit.

Representative Bruce Franks, Junior (left), talks about SB 43 with Republican colleague Nate Tate (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Bruce Franks, Junior (left), talks about SB 43 with Republican colleague Nate Tate (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Louis Representative Bruce Franks, Junior, read a series of racial slurs cited in that case and called the bill unacceptable.

“We’ve heard time and time again how this sets us back.  All of the forward movement we’ve done, this sets us back,” said Franks.

McGaugh said the legislation has been filed for years, long before there was a case against Romine’s company.

“If you’ve been in this body more than one year you’ve voted on this multiple times,” said McGaugh.  “Everything that we’re going to talk about today this body has seen before and we’ve talked about before.”

The House debated the bill for more than five hours Monday, rejecting five amendments, before voting to pass the bill the Senate had proposed.  It’s now up to Governor Grietens whether it will become law.

House passes bill meant to let Missouri farmers grow hemp

The state House wants to give Missouri farmers a chance to enter a new market.  It has passed a bill that would legalize the growing of industrial hemp.

Representative Paul Curtman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Paul Curtman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant with a low concentration of THC, the psychoactive component found in marijuana.  It can be used to make products including paper, clothing, and biodegradable plastics.

House Bill 170, sponsored by Washington Republican Paul Curtman, would allow the Department of Agriculture to issue a permit to growers who pass a background check, have not been found guilty of a felony in the previous ten years, and have never been  convicted of a drug-related offense.  The Department can also inspect growers and handlers for compliance, and inspect crops to make sure nothing illegal is being grown.

“We have manufacturers in our state who use industrial hemp as a raw material in their manufacturing goods, however because it’s illegal to grow in Missouri they have to spend Missouri dollars in the economies of other states and other countries because they can’t spend the Missouri dollars in Missouri to buy this raw material from Missouri farmers,” said Curtman.

Curtman and other supporters emphasized the bill is in no way related to attempts to legalize marijuana.  He noted the concentration of THC is so low that if anyone tries to smoke it, “they’re just going to get a headache, they’re going to throw up, and they’re going to regret it for the rest of their life.”

Some representatives disagreed.  Dexter Republican Tila Hubrect argued the small amounts of THC found in hemp can cause “intoxication.”  She also said hemp and marijuana plants are “indistinguishable to the eye,” so allowing the farming of hemp could complicate law enforcement efforts.

Carrollton Republican Joe Don McGaugh said the federal farm bill allows the growing of hemp by universities and colleges and state agriculture departments for research, unlike what Curtman is proposing.

“I support industrial hemp.  I want there to be research in industrial hemp.  Why would I not?  Why would we not want another market for our farmers?” McGaugh asked.  “I just think we need to do it right.”

The bill had broad, bipartisan support, passing 126-26.  Similar legislation has been passed out of the House in several previous years, and St. Louis City Democrat Michael Butler said he’s supported it every time.

“I am, for one, tired of voting ‘yes’ on this bill.  I think it should already be law,” said Butler.

St. Louis City Democrat Bob Burns also wanted the bill to advance.

“I believe we are people with entrepreneurial spirit, and if 31 other states are doing this I don’t think we have to reinvent the wheel to create jobs right here in Missouri, and we don’t have to write every Nth degree of this law.  You’re just trying to give people an opportunity to explore it legally,” said Burns.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.