JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- With the end of session just a few weeks away, bills are making their way across the Capitol to be heard in the opposite chamber.
The Missouri Senate Education Committee heard a mix of House and Senate bills on a substantial number of subjects ranging from child abuse investigations to student organization rights on public university campuses.
The committee heard Rep. Chuck Basye's House Bill 1750, now an omnibus bill including, among other provisions, an accountability portal listing teacher salaries, a rule that allows students to count extracurricular activities toward certain credits, bills that prevent schools from conducting child abuse investigations that involve their own personnel, school innovation waivers and the base bill, which would allow parents to put items on the school board agenda.
Several concerned citizens and educational organizations testified both for and against the legislation, though each was focused on a different portion of the expansive bill.
Also within the bill is legislation originally sponsored by Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, that would allow school districts to subdivide into zones resembling wards to provide for a more geographically diverse representation on the school board.
Local school board member Brad Bates spoke in favor of the bill as an individual.
Bates said he was surprised to find out when he ran for school board members can only be elected at large.
"And I started thinking, what other elected body has elections of folks that don't represent an area? Congress doesn't, the Missouri Legislature doesn't, city councils, county commissions, they all represent areas, and it's important that they do," Bates said.
"Often times, more humble, fragile areas don't necessarily have the means to come forth and the means to travel through the system in order to get something done," Bates added.
Bates cited the lack of central air conditioning at two Jefferson City elementary schools as a possible consequence of a lack of geographical representation on the board. Those schools, Moreau Heights and Thorpe Gordon elementaries, are set to be renovated by the end of next summer.
Rep. Brad Hudson, R-Cape Fair, presented HB 1724, which would prohibit "discrimination against a belief-based student association" that maintains requirements for members of leadership.
Hudson said the bill was intended to protect student organizations, such as religious groups that require leaders to agree with certain statements of faith, but added the bill applies to all "belief-based" organizations, including political groups.
Sens. Greg Razer and Jill Schupp were skeptical. Schupp worried the bill might provide protection for hate groups like an anti-semitic organization.
Razer pointed out iterations of the bill sponsored in previous years specifically addressed "religious" groups. He said taking out the word religious was in part a good thing.
"I think taking that out actually makes this a little bit better in one respect, because when you add that in there, it's blatantly a homophobic bill, if you put the word religious in... but now when you take that word out, you have what Senator Schupp was worried about," he said, pointing out anti-semitic groups could qualify as groups with a "sincerely held belief."
Hudson said there were other things in place, such as university policies prohibiting hate speech and intimidation, preventing those groups from forming or acting.
Several faith groups and their members testified in support, saying the legislation would protect their ability to choose leaders that hold their beliefs. Those opposed to the legislation saw the potential for discrimination by faith groups against members of the LGBT community and the opening of a door to litigation if university funding was provided to groups whose beliefs could exclude people.
Sen. Cindy O'Laughlin, R-Shelbina, spoke on SB 835, a bill that would allow homeschool students to participate in public school activities such as sports.
Several homeschooled athletes spoke in support, saying it offers them the opportunity to enjoy sports and play alongside public school friends.
On the House side, the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee heard only one bill Tuesday, Sen. O'Laughlin's SB 681, a reading and literacy bill. It received support from several educational organizations, including the Missouri National Education Association,
HB 1750: School board provisions
Sponsor: Rep. Chuck Basye
SB 835: Homeschool students
Sponsor: Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin
SB 681: Educational outcomes
Sponsor: Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin
HB 1724: Belief-based student associations
Sponsor: Rep. Brad Hudson