House votes to allow state inspections of religious-based youth homes

      House lawmakers voted this week toward ending abuse of children in residential care facilities managed by religious organizations – abuse that lawmakers called “horrific,” and amounting to “torture.”

Representative Rudy Veit (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      House Bills 557 & 560 would eliminate the exemption from state supervision for such homes. 

      “There’s no background checks, there’s no right to go in and check on the children, there’s no requirement they keep medical records, there was no right to go in and have eyes on the children, and there was absolutely no control over these homes,” said bill sponsor Rudy Veit (R-Wardsville)“These homes, all you had to say was it was a religious organization … and you couldn’t even check into whether it was a recognized religious organization.”

      Lee’s Summit representative Keri Ingle (D), who filed an identical bill, said Missouri is one of the only states that doesn’t oversee religious-based youth homes.  Because of that, bad actors have been coming here and then seeking out children with behavioral issues, mental issues, or whose needs weren’t being met.

      She said parents would send their children to these homes, “I think, most of the time, with the full intent of getting a child out of a really desperate situation and getting them the help that they needed.  Unfortunately, that trust was completely violated and these children were tortured.  There’s really no other way to describe it.”

      She and other lawmakers heard in committee hearings from children who had been abused in these homes.

Representative Keri Ingle (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “The things that have been told to me by survivors across the country … described rape, described forcing children to have abortions, described stripping children of their dignity and their self-respect, their belief in God, their belief in love, forced children to fight other children, locked children in closets, forced children to stand in manure and forced children to do hard labor,” said Ingle. 

      “It almost looks like you’re reading something from a script of a horror movie, but it’s not,” said Representative Dave Griffith (R-Jefferson City).

      The legislation would require those homes to provide background checks for all employees; notify the state of their location; and allow Social Services to see children when abuse is suspected. 

It would not allow the state to change a home’s religious teachings or foundation.  Viet said he believes that religious-based youth homes, when run properly and honestly, can benefit children.

“I actually know some children who have been in some of these homes and I’ve talked to judges, and they do a great service, but if we don’t take care of and prevent the bad apples they’re going to ruin it for everyone,” said Veit.

The bill would go into effect immediately upon being signed by the governor. 

      The house voted 148-0 to send it to the Senate. 

Capitol Security an Early Session Priority for House

      An ongoing discussion about security in the Missouri State Capitol continues next week when House committees will hold hearings on two bills.

      One would move control of the Capitol Police from the Department of Public Safety to a new Capitol Police Board, made up of members appointed by the House Speaker, the Senate President Pro Tem, the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, and the chair of the State Capitol Commission.  Another would allow the House Speaker and the Senate President to appoint marshals to provide security and other duties.

Representative Ron Hicks (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 05-14-2020)

      House Bill 785, which would create the Capitol Police Board, is sponsored by St. Charles Republican Ron Hicks.  He says legislators and other public officials in the Capitol have no control over the security.

      “Over the years Capitol Police just seems like it’s been kind of a neglected police department.  They’ve been the most underpaid department in, just about in the state,” said Hicks.  “One of the problems we have with it is security.  We’re in the House and the Senate and we do not have control of the security that happens in our building.”

      Former Joplin Police Chief and Director of the Department of Public Safety Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) sponsors House Bill 784, which would create marshals for the House and Senate.  He shares Hicks’ concern that the legislature has no control over Capitol security, and says the agencies responsible for that security are “fragmented.”

      “We have several different law enforcement agencies directed by a number of different entities,” said Roberts.  “Right now the assembly would have to make a request of somebody else and hope that request would be [granted].  This would give the Assembly the ability to determine for itself the level of security that it gets.”

      Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have been concerned about Capitol security for many years.  Lee’s Summit Democrat Keri Ingle is beginning her third year in the House after working in many public buildings in her career dealing with child welfare and adoption.  She said compared to other public facilities, Capitol security is lacking.

      “Right now I would say it’s one of our greatest priorities,” said Ingle.  “As someone who’s worked in crisis situations and someone who’s studied this particular problem, I would say that emergency preparedness is something that we should do outside of a crisis situation … we can’t wait until something happens to start developing a plan for when it happens again.”

      The hearing will come just shy of three weeks after people protesting against the confirmation of the Electoral College Vote that saw Joe Biden become President stormed the U.S. Capitol.  Rumors and threats in recent weeks that some state capitols, including Missouri’s, would be targeted on the day of Biden’s inauguration, led to heightened security.  No such additional attacks occurred.

      All three legislators agree those events highlight the importance of making changes.  Representative Roberts said recent events were something of a “reality check … for people who would like to believe that everybody in the world is actually civilized.  In truth there’s some fairly uncivilized people out there,” said Roberts.  “The reality of where we are was brought home to us in a pretty ugly fashion.”

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 02-26-2020)

      Hicks said the increased security during the inauguration of Governor Mike Parson (R) and again this week during President Biden’s inauguration highlights one of his main concerns.

      “The point has been proven … [Wednesday there were] probably 50 or so Highway Patrol officers in [the Capitol].  That means there are 50 or so Highway Patrol officers that are not doing what they normally do for us.  That means we’re borrowing.  I’ve noticed, too, the park rangers have been walking around in our building … they don’t even know where they are in that building,” said Hicks.  “There’s a lot of ins and outs in that building that there’s a lot of people don’t understand or even know how it operates or works.  And we don’t want to be borrowing.  What about when the time comes where all this settles back down and we’re all back in the legislature, does [security] all go away again?  It does.”

      Ingle said she has supported Hicks’ legislation in past years, but she and others in her caucus believe a new Capitol Police Board should include two additional members chosen by the minority leaders in each chamber. 

      “It’s really important that all of the members of the House feel that this board is looking out for the best interests of everyone and that we have a say in that as well,” said Ingle.

      Ingle said a “glaring” concern to her and other Democrats is that people can carry firearms into the Capitol. 

Representative Keri Ingle (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 04-29-2020)

      “There’s nothing to stop them from entering someone’s office or entering the [chamber] floor.  Obviously we have doormen, but as we were told during a security briefing there’s not really anything to stop someone who’s armed from entering our balconies.  Even though they are not supposed to, they are not checked in any way after they go through that initial security screening when they enter the building,” said Ingle. 

      HB 785 will go before the House Special Committee on Homeland Security, Monday at noon.  A live stream of that hearing will be available here.

      The House Committee on Crime Prevention will hold a hearing on HB 784 at the same time.  That live stream will be available here.