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. 

House proposes tougher license revocation laws for those who hit workers, emergency responders

The Missouri House has proposed that the Department of Revenue Director be given authority to revoke the license of a driver who hits a road or utility worker in a highway work zone or an emergency responder at the scene of an emergency.

Lyndon Ebker

House Bill 499 was written in response to the death of a highway worker nearly three years ago.  The man who struck and killed Lyndon Ebker in a work zone near New Haven was later revealed to suffer from macular degeneration that impaired his eyesight, but he was still driving more than two years later.

HB 499 was sent from the full chamber back to a House Rules committee for more work after some legislators raised concerns that earlier versions of it would deny a person of due process.  Bill sponsor Aaron Griesheimer (R-Washington) said the changes address that.

“There were some concerns expressed to me that, well what if there was a mechanical issue on your vehicle and you struck a highway worker, and so we added some language in there that states whether the investigator had probable cause to believe the person’s negligent acts or omissions contributed to his or her vehicle striking that individual,” said Griesheimer.

Ebker’s family and the Department of Transportation pushed for the legislation.  Lawmakers heard that the workers who’d been on Ebker’s crew felt unsafe because they knew the man who’d killed him was still on the road.

Kansas City representative Greg Razer (D) was one of those who listened to their testimony in a committee hearing.

“That was a tough day to sit through … hearing the pain of those families, and these are men and women who are working very hard for our state in rain, sleet, snow, blazing hot sun, and I hope we can go forward with this and also let Missourians know that when you get to a work zone you need to slow down.  You need to pay attention and be extra cautious,” said Razer.

Odessa Republican Glen Kolkmeyer also sits on the Transportation Committee.  He said he’s glad to see this proposal advancing.

“I had a firefighter killed in the line of duty by a gentleman who came over a hill that should have never been on the road,” said Kolkmeyer.  “We’re getting to name that road after that firefighter that was killed.”

Representative Aaron Griesheimer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Under the bill an officer investigating a work zone or emergency zone accident in which a worker or emergency responder was hit can file a report to the Department.  The Director will revoke a driver’s license if he finds, based on that report, that the driver was at fault.

The driver then will have 15 days to prove competency by retaking and passing the driver’s test or by appealing to courts local to where the accident happened.  If the court finds the driver was involved in hitting a worker; the work or emergency zone was properly marked; and the investigating officer found probable cause that the driver was at fault, the license revocation would stand.

Representative Rudy Veit (R-Wardsville) was one of those who raised concerns about due process with the earlier bill language.  He said that 15 day provision answers his concerns.  He now supports the bill.

“These workers are in a fearful position.  That’s every day cars are whipping by them, and there’s two types of people that will hit them.  One is those who aren’t competent to be driving.  This will quickly remove them from the road.  The second one is those who are driving reckless, and keep in mind those are the people we are putting more fear in,” said Veit.  “They know if they do something they’re going to have swift, fast consequences, and I think this is another tool in the chest we need to protect the workers and to honor the workers who do this dangerous work and let us keep our roads open.”

In November the driver who struck Lyndon Ebker pled guilty to two charges and his driving privilege was revoked for life.

The House voted 149-5 to send the bill to the Senate.

Earlier story:  Family of MoDOT worker killed in work zone asks lawmakers to toughen license revocation law