House proposes criminalizing ‘revenge porn’

The Missouri House has voted to criminalize what is often called, “revenge porn;” sharing or threatening to share private sexual images of a person without that person’s consent.  Such sharing often happens by the uploading of those images to the internet.

Representative Jim Neely (photo; Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 1558 would make such sharing of images a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and would make threatening to share them a felony carrying up to four years in prison.  The bill covers photographs, videos, digital recordings, and other depictions.

The bill is sponsored by Representative Jim Neely (R-Cameron), who said it’s simply an issue of common sense.

“I’m not afraid of the subject.  A lot of people can’t handle certain subjects and it doesn’t bother me to talk about it so there it is,” said Neely.

St. Louis Democrat Stacey Newman thanked Neely for tackling an issue that she said predominately effects women.

“I know that none of us would want our family members, our daughters, our granddaughters; anyone involved in a situation where photographs like this would be used to punish,” said Newman.

The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence supports the legislation.  Public Policy Director Jennifer Carter Dochler said people who have been victims of “revenge porn” face a number of issues.

“Often times they feel very vulnerable and exposed because they did something to establish intimacy with a partner and now it’s been used against them and they don’t know who all’s seen it.  This wasn’t their choice that it was being distributed, they don’t know who’s seen it, they don’t know what’s being done with it.  Something was used against them that was not its purpose,” said Carter Dochler.

Liberty Democrat Mark Ellebracht was glad to see Republicans and Democrats come together to pass this bill on an issue he thinks most Missourians think is already addressed in law.

“A number of people that I’ve talked to, both from regular attorneys’ perspectives to the constituents that call me and express their concerns, everybody is a little bit surprised that something like this hasn’t been done already,” said Ellebracht.  “I think that it was a sorely needed measure that we needed to pass to put the law in this state where people expect it to be.”

In addition to creating the crime of “nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images,” the bill allows victims to file civil suits against those accused of the crime.

HB 1558 passed out of the House 149-1.  It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

House votes to require notification of both parents when minors seek an abortion

The Missouri House has voted to require the notification of both parents when a minor in Missouri seeks to have an abortion.

Representative Rocky Miller (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House voted 113-37 on Monday to pass House Bill 1383.  It would require that a parent or guardian giving consent for a minor to have an abortion notify any other custodial parent or guardian in writing before the minor gives her consent.  It would not apply in an emergency or for custodial parents or guardians that have been found guilty of certain crimes, are listed on the sex offender registry, are the subject of an order of protection, have had parental rights terminated, or for whom the whereabouts are not known.

Missouri law now requires that a minor seeking an abortion and one parent or guardian of that minor give written consent before the procedure can be performed.

HB 1383 is sponsored by Representative Rocky Miller (R-Lake Ozark).

“It just comes down to common sense,” said Miller.  “We just need to be able to notify the other parent if the other parent is a good parent.  In addition this bill has the added benefit of notifying a good parent if the other parent … happens to not be a good parent.”

The bill was opposed by many Democrats including Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis), who argue that teens could be put in danger because the parents it would require them to notify could be abusive.

“This bill puts pregnant girls in grave danger of abuse from their abusers, from their traffickers, from their incestuous fathers, step-fathers, their custodial male parent, and yet we hear on this floor with previous bills that each one of you is against sex trafficking and child abuse … and yet each one of you knows exactly what dangers our teens face.  Each one of you women knows exactly how any angry parent could react, and each one of you women knows exactly why teens may only notify, may only talk to one parent – that parent that they trust for very good reason,” said Newman.

Representative Crystal Quade (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Crystal Quade (D-Springfield) said the bill could force teens to contact parents they don’t want to contact.

“What worries me about this bill are the young women who, as we’ve discussed, are abused by their parents, potentially, and don’t have the guts, don’t want to, don’t have the financial means, it’s purely not their path of coping, to go to the courts to get a piece of paper that says they don’t have to reach out to their potential abuser,” said Quade.  “As someone who doesn’t speak to their biological father I understand what it means to reestablish connections when you don’t want to, and if we as a legislative body are forcing young women to reestablish connections because they don’t want to go to court for whatever reason, it’s shameful.”

Newman said, “every major credible medical organization strongly opposes this bill.”

“They strongly oppose the idea of minors who request confidential services … they strongly oppose any type of intervention, any type of parental consent,” said Newman.

Miller disputed that argument, saying the American Medical Association’s position supports his proposal.

“’Physicians should strongly encourage minors to discuss their pregnancy with their parents.  Physicians should explain how parental involvement can be helpful and that parents are generally understanding and supportive.’  That is straight from the American Medical Association, so anybody that says differently is lying and it’s upsetting,” said Miller.  “I haven’t had any, any, any hard proof to me that there’s a problem with notifying a good parent.”

Miller argued that the majority of Americans believe in parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion.

“You’re worrying about these bad things that could happen but there’s an overwhelming amount of good that does happen when you discuss these things,” said Miller.  “You must have parental involvement when it’s involving a child like this.”

HB 1383 goes to the Senate, where similar legislation has been approved by committees in recent years but has not been passed in that chamber.

House committee considers change to abortion parental notification law

A Missouri House Republican is again asking to require that both parents be notified before a minor in Missouri can have an abortion.

Representative Rocky Miller (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Lake Ozark representative Rocky Miller says it’s a matter of common sense, but Democrats argue the legislation could put some young women in danger.

Missouri law requires that a minor seeking an abortion and one parent or guardian of that minor give written consent before the procedure is performed.  House Bill 1383 would require that the parent or guardian giving consent notify any other custodial parent or guardian in writing before the minor gives her consent.  It would not apply in an emergency or for custodial parents or guardians that have been found guilty of certain crimes, are listed on the sex offender registry, are the subject of an order of protection, have had parental rights terminated, or for whom the whereabouts are not known.

Miller first filed the proposal five years ago and related it to his own experience.  His daughter at 15 became pregnant with his granddaughter, who he and his wife later raised.

“I did have a 15-year-old child that got pregnant and by the grace of God they notified me, which was nice,” said Miller.  “If you remember the first time we had this bill five years ago we had testimony from a woman … that said when she was 15 they went and got an abortion … well later her father, it was a married family, found out about it and he looked at her and he said, ‘I just want you to know I would have done whatever it takes if you wanted to keep that child,’ and she said – it was really gut-wrenching testimony – she said that she looks at her three children now and knows that there should be a fourth.”

Democrats including Stacey Newman of St. Louis oppose Miller’s bill, saying its requirement could put teenage girls in danger. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

In a hearing of the House Committee on Children and Families, Democrats said major medical associations have opposed Miller’s proposal each year because its requirement could put teen girls in danger.  They say despite the exemptions in the notification requirement it could force the involvement of a parent who is abusive or otherwise a danger to a pregnant teen.

Kansas City obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Valerie French told the committee, “The bill could put scared teens at risk to do something that would harm themselves.  This law could be detrimental to teens’ health and safety because research shows that laws like this one can delay access to care and force a teen to take measures into her own hands.”

In two previous years Miller’s proposal has been voted out of the House and approved by a Senate committee, but was not passed out of the Senate.

The Committee on Children and Families has not voted on HB 1383.

House endorses new abortion provider regulations; sends bill to the Missouri Senate

The Missouri House has passed a Senate bill that proposes new restrictions on abortion.  The House made several changes to the bill, so it goes back to the Senate for consideration.

Representative Diane Franklin carried Senate Bill 5 in the House during the legislature’s second extraordinary session of 2017. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The bill would allow the attorney general to prosecute abortion law violations without first involving local prosecutors; repeal a St. Louis ordinance that bars discrimination in housing and employment against women who have had an abortion, use birth control, or are pregnant; and require annual, unannounced state inspections of abortion facilities, among other provisions.

“The bill that we received from the Senate, we thought, was a good framework but it did not really specifically meet the governor’s call, so we re-put in provisions that helped to provide for the health and safety of women,” said Representative Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton), who carried Senate Bill 5 in the House.

Democrats argue the legislation is not about women’s health and safety, saying it is about making it more difficult for women to get abortions in Missouri.

“For the entire last week the only word I’ve heard was, ‘abortion,’” said Representative Deb Lavender (D-Kirkwood)“It’s actually a scam that we think – we’re saying – that we’re protecting women when actually all we’re doing is putting additional hurdles in their way for them to access healthcare.”

Franklin said a key provision for her is language that would require that all tissue removed after an abortion is sent to a pathologist, rather than a sample as is required now.  A pathologist would have to account for all tissue and note any issues.  The Department of Health would follow up any inconsistencies with an investigation.  It would also report annually to the legislature all information it gathers regarding fetal tissue handling.

Franklin has carried various forms of such language going back several sessions, after a series of videos emerged alleging that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue after abortions.

“I think that especially important that I worked on have been the fetal tissue portion of that – the tracking of that – so that we have the assurance that it is indeed going where it should be going and that our department is able to keep track of that,” said Franklin.

The bill also aims to bar laws that would interfere with the operations or speech of alternatives to abortion agencies.  Representative Hannah Kelly (R-Mountain Grove) says those agencies do a lot to help pregnant women.

“They offer pregnancy testing; ultrasounds – I’ve heard many, many, many stories directly from young mothers who … were in a place where they didn’t have any other options.  They needed alternatives and they needed help, and coming back to me, in particular, and saying, ‘I saw my baby.  I saw my baby move,” said Kelly.

Democrats are critical of information given out at alternatives to abortion agencies, saying it is medically inaccurate and skewed toward discouraging a woman from having an abortion.  Republicans say the agencies give women information with which they can form their own decisions.

Representative Cora Faith Walker offered an amendment that would have required quarterly reporting from alternatives to abortion agencies, but it was voted down. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Ferguson Democrat Cora Faith Walker also questioned the effectiveness of those agencies.

“In total there are about 70-plus alternatives to abortion agencies that exist here in the state of Missouri and yet we still have issues with infant mortality rates and maternal mortality rates that surpass national averages,” said Walker.  “In specific areas of Missouri where there seem to exist several alternative to abortion agencies that are supposed to be providing healthcare and other services to women as an alternative to abortion, we still have these very, very high infant mortality rates.”

The legislature returned to Jefferson City in a special session to consider abortion legislation at the call of Governor Eric Greitens (R).  Democrats used debate of SB 5 to criticize the governor for what they said was a stunt meant to help him politically.

“Make sure we’re not letting a governor bring us back to special session for political gain,” said St. Louis City Democrat Bruce Franks, Junior“I know how passionate you (Republicans) all are about this issue.  I would never take that away from you.  I know how passionate we (Democrats) are.  But we’re not paying attention to how we’re being played … Now just because this is one of our particular issues that we feel so strongly about doesn’t mean it’s right that we’re here.”

Republicans called the session an important opportunity for the state to reaffirm a commitment to protecting unborn children and making sure women receive proper care from abortion providers.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff), when asked about lawmakers’ attitudes toward the governor, said, “I think we’ve been focused here in the House on issues, and I think the issues that we’ve worked on back in regular session and through these two special sessions are issues that are of particular importance to the House, and they’re of particular importance to members of the Senate as well, so the fact that we’ve got a governor that’s willing to engage on these issues has been positive and helpful.”

Representative Jay Barnes (left) talks with House Speaker Todd Richardson. Barnes offered several amendments that contributed to the final form of Senate Bill 5. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Democrats note courts have ruled against laws that placed similar restrictions on facilities that provide abortions, and say this legislation will likely be thrown out as well.

“You already know this is going to straight to litigation once it goes into effect, and you also know the [financial cost to the state of defending it],” said St. Louis Democrat Stacey Newman.

Richardson believes if the bill the House passed is challenged in court, it will be upheld.

“This is obviously a very highly litigated area of the law.  It will continue to be a highly litigated area of the law in every state, but I’m very confident that the state of Missouri, if this law is challenged, will prevail,” said Richardson.

The state Senate is expected to debate the House’s changes to SB 5 in the coming days.

Work underway in House in special session on abortion issues

The state House has started work on the second extraordinary session of 2017; this one called by Governor Eric Greitens (R) for the legislature to deal with issues related to abortion.

Representative Hannah Kelly (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Republicans say the special session is an important chance for the state to reaffirm a commitment to protecting unborn children and making sure women receive proper care from abortion providers.  Democrats say it is about attacking women’s healthcare in the face of recent court decisions.

Representative Kathy Swan (R-Cape Girardeau), who has a nursing background, is sponsoring House Bill 3, which would change the laws regarding the conditions and care at abortion providers.  She said it is based in part on violations of medical procedures and protocols that have occurred at those facilities.

“Such as expired drugs, or single-use drugs that were still there – single use drugs obviously are to be utilized on a single patient and then discarded – dusty equipment, rusty equipment, that sort of thing,” said Swan.  “That’s what I have been saying for the last four to five years is that those standards need to be maintained regardless of the procedure, regardless of the facility.”

Swan’s bill would require facilities that provide abortions to prove that doctors performing abortions are physicians licensed in Missouri; to be subject to rules at least equal to those for ambulatory surgical centers; and be subject to unannounced on-site inspections at least once a year.  HB3 would also create the misdemeanor crime of “interference with medical assistance,” for preventing or seeking changes in medical care to a patient.

Democrats including Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) note the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law regarding regulations of abortion providers in that state, and a court has placed an injunction against a similar law in Missouri.  She argues that the additional regulations Swan and others propose will also prove unconstitutional.

“This is up to a court to decide, but that’s again another waste of time and money that we’re wanting to pass more things that are really going to fit under that same purview,” said Newman.

Representative Hannah Kelly (R-Mountain Grove) has filed House Bill 9 that she said aims to protect pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes from undue discrimination and ensure protection of women’s healthcare.  She is also concerned additional abortion clinics could open in St. Louis thanks in part to a law passed by St. Louis earlier this year.

“If we don’t put a stop to it, it will be in two words an ‘abortion sanctuary,’ that we will be responsible for and the blood will be on our hands because we didn’t do anything to protect the lives that have the promise in the Declaration of Independence of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” said Kelly.

Representative Crystal Quade (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Democrats defend the St. Louis statute as preventing discrimination in housing and employment against women who are having or have had abortions, are pregnant, or use birth control.  Springfield Democrat Crystal Quade said her constituents view that less as an issue of being for or against abortion, and more about local governments being able to govern.

“If my city council members and our mayor, or by a vote of the people, determine that something for our city is best, the fact that the legislature comes in and will look at a specific city and a specific thing that their people have decided is best for them and say, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ is worrisome,” said Quade.  “I think that we have a real concern – I know I do – with just the separate branches of government and if we’re actually following what we should be, and I think that goes to the governor’s call as well – how he was so very specific to what statutes he wanted us to look into.  I personally feel like he was legislating through that call.”

The House has held a committee hearing Wednesday on some of its legislation dealing with these and other abortion-related issues, but has not met as a full body.  Several House members say it will seek first to take up any legislation the Senate is successful in passing and debate whether pass that.

The House is anticipated to take up the Senate’s legislation next week.

Representatives urge on Yom HaShoah remembrance, education about the Holocaust

Two state representatives have asked Missourians to remember the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, the day Israel commemorates the six million Jews killed in that event.

Representatives Shamed Dogan (left) and Stacey Newman speak in the Missouri House about Holocaust remembrance.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communication)
Representatives Shamed Dogan (left) and Stacey Newman speak in the Missouri House about Holocaust remembrance. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communication)

St. Louis Democrat Stacey Newman and Ballwin Republican Shamed Dogan spoke on the House Floor on Monday, as Yom HaShoah was being observed.  In Israel, the day is marked by ceremonies, the closing by law of entertainment facilities, and a two-minute moment of silence during which most people stop what they’re doing for solemn reflection.  This includes motorists stopping and standing by their vehicles in the roadway.

“The overwhelming theme that runs through all of these observances worldwide, with reformed, conservative, orthodox Jews, lay leaders of all faiths, is the importance of remembering,” said Newman.  “Recalling the victims of the catastrophe and ensuring that this tragedy never happens again.”

Newman’s husband’s father, aunts, uncle, and grandmother are Holocaust survivors who escaped Nazi Germany in 1938.  Many of his grandmother’s sisters, brothers-in-law, and other family members, were never accounted for.

She and Dogan, whose wife is Jewish, say they will spend the next year working together to revive the Missouri Holocaust Education and Awareness Commission Act of 2006.

Dogan said the commission was created to, “Educate the public of the crimes of genocide in an effort to deter indifference to crimes against humanity, and human suffering wherever they occur.”

Missouri House members observe a minute of silence in remembrance of the victims, survivors, and heroes of the Holocaust.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Missouri House members observe a minute of silence in remembrance of the victims, survivors, and heroes of the Holocaust. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Dogan said he and Newman would work with the St. Louis Holocaust Museum & Learning Center and the state’s universities and public schools to keep the Act alive.

“We’ve seen enough antisemitism in our own state, and unfortunately nationwide we’ve seen the continued existence of Holocaust denial, which is a lie, and all of those things make this – the education of the Holocaust – even more urgent,” said Dogan.

At the request of Newman and Dogan, the House observed a minute of silence on Monday to remember the victims, survivors, and heroes of the Holocaust.

House bill targets St. Louis ordinance, aims to protect alternatives-to-abortion clinics

The Missouri House has given initial approval to a bill that proponents say would protect alternatives to abortion agencies and their employees’ rights to assembly, religious practices, and speech.

It targets a St. Louis ordinance that the bill’s opponents say protects from discrimination women who have had abortions, use contraceptives or artificial insemination, or have become pregnant out of wedlock.

The sponsor of House Bill 174, Representative Tila Hubrecht (R-Dexter), said that ordinance penalizes agencies that refuse to hire a woman who would counsel a woman to have an abortion or refer a woman to get an abortion.

“This ordinance could also force private property owners to rent space to abortion facilities or to doctors who perform abortions, and force private employers to include abortion coverage in employee health plans,” said Hubrecht.

Hubrecht said without her bill becoming law, the St. Louis ordinance and its like could, “interfere with the mission of alternatives-to-abortion agencies and persons not affiliated with a religious organization, and obstruct their conscience rights.” 

St. Louis Democrat Stacey Newman said by nullifying the ordinance, the legislature would be allowing discrimination.

“Are you in favor of firing a woman just because she’s pregnant?  That’s what the ordinance prevents.  Are you in favor of terminating a lease just because a woman is pregnant?  Again, that’s what the ordinance prevents.  St. Louis Ordinance 70459 prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy including childbirth, and as you would suspect, these are private decisions that are none of the employee’s or a landlord’s business,” said Newman.

Newman said the bill would also protect those agencies’ dissemination of “medically inaccurate” information to women, aimed at discouraging them from having an abortion or using contraception.

“You’re saying as a government body you have the right, then, to go and interfere in other people’s personal, private health decisions and even allow them to be getting inaccurate medical care,” said Newman.

Another vote in favor of HB 174 would send it to the state Senate.