After weeks of media attention and emotional debate, SJR 39, otherwise known as the Missouri religious freedom bill, is dead after the House Emerging Issues Committee vote ended in a tie, preventing the bill from moving on.
The committee, made up of nine Republicans and three Democrats, split its vote 6-6 Wednesday afternoon with all three Democrats voting against the bill. Three Republicans voted against the bill as well.
Republican no votes came from Anne Zerr, St. Charles, Caleb Rowden, Columbia, and Jim Hansen, Frankford. Democrats voting no included Sharon Pace, Northwoods, Jeremy LaFaver, Kansas City, and Mike Colona, St. Louis.
Colona is currently the only openly gay member of the Missouri House of Representatives.
This proposed constitutional amendment, if approved by the voters, would have prohibited the state from imposing a penalty on a religious organization that acts in accordance with a sincere religious belief concerning same-sex marriage, which includes the refusal to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony or allow a same-sex wedding ceremony to be performed on the religious organization’s property.
Also, the state cannot penalize an individual who declines, due to sincere religious beliefs, to provide goods of expressional or artistic creation for a same-sex wedding ceremony.
Local legislators all showed support for the religious protections in the bill, but at the same time had concerns about the portions that would have protected businesses that refused services to LGBT clients.
State Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, who was the only area legislator given the oppotunity to vote on the bill before it died in the House committee, said he is disappointed for two reasons.
“It’s kind of a waste,” Schatz said. “It’s disappointing to see an issue we put so much political capital into not pass, but we can’t control what happens in the House.”
Schatz added the bill was the focus of a 40-hour Democratic filibuster in the Senate before a final passage of 23-7.
“I strongly supported protecting the clergy,” he said. “We need to find a balance in the elements that support businesses.”
Schatz added he doesn’t think the issue will be taken up again before the end of the legislative session in two weeks, but it may play heavily in summer and fall campaigning.
“This issue is a political football,” he said. “This is my sixth year in the building and anytime something like this comes up during elections people get very edgy.”
State Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Union, was in full favor of the bill and says he would have voted yes if it came to the House floor.
“This in an issue that isn’t going to go away,” he said. “It will come up in the campaigns and either the House or Senate will take it up in 2017.”
Curtman added he had spoken to members on the committee and offered his assistance in any way to help find a path to move the bill forward.
He said the media attention this bill garnered both locally and nationally potentially played a role in the committee vote.
“The House really took the full brunt of this issue because the Senate had it such a short time,” Curtman said. “I’m disappointed in the outcome, but I’m happy with the process. I’m glad our process allows a bill to move slowly, but for it to end like this doesn’t do anyone any good.
“This wasn’t just a tax issue for the people to consider,” he added. “It was a chance to protect their freedoms.”
His colleague, Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, said he has hopes the issue will be brought up again next session.
“While I had some heartburn with the way parts of the bill were drafted, I am disappointed in the overall outcome,” Alferman said. “I want to make sure we have the strongest religious liberty possible for Missouri.”
Alferman added he’s hopeful the drafting concerns can be addressed and get the issue dealt with next session. He plans to work with fellow lawmakers over the summer to reach that goal.
In addition to national media scrutiny, more than 60 businesses came out against the bill including Dow Chemical and Monsanto.
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders also expressed opposition to SJR 39 while on their campaign trails.