JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A bill long-sought by former Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus was given new life on Wednesday when her successor, Sen. Joseph Keaveny, presented legislation that would bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“In 2015, why do allow discrimination on anyone?” Keaveny said. “We should provide a fair and equal protection for everybody.”
Currently, state law prevents discrimination by age, race and gender, but does not include protections for gay and transgendered Missourians. The bill would disallow businesses from turning away customers and businesses from firing employees because of their sexual orientation.
The legislation, known by supporters as the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, was supported by representatives of the cities of Kansas City and St. Louis, both of which are among the 16 Missouri municipalities which already have the policies on the books.
The bill was also supported Wednesday by a representative of Attorney General Chris Koster, the Democrat who is readying to run for governor in 2016.
While groups like the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and companies like Monsanto testified in favor of the measure, the bill was opposed on Wednesday by both the Associated Industries of Missouri and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.
“Missouri’s employment law framework is precariously out of balance and puts employers at a disadvantage,” said Jay Atkins, a lawyer for the chamber.
Tyler McClay, a lobbyist for the Missouri Catholic Conference, said he was concerned that a provision in the bill banning businesses from discriminating in their services to LGBT customers could hinder religious employers like cake designers and wedding photographers.
McClay said the bill has a religious exemption, but, “the question is can you do it for small businesses.”
The legislation is Senate Bill 237.