JEFFERSON CITY - The Process and Development Committee discussed Senate Bill 653 on the discrimination issues people face on a day-to-day basis due to their sexual orientation. Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis City, the bill's sponsor, said this bill has been filed every year since 2007.
The act prohibits discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination includes: denial of loans or other financial assistance, unlawful housing practices, denial of right to use public services and unlawful employment practices.
Keaveny said this bill is pointing Missouri into the right direction.
"I believe the overall atmosphere regarding this bill nationwide, I believe it has allowed to get to a point where Missouri can step forward and accept this," Keaveny said. "In my own mind I don't know why we would allow discrimination at all."
Witnesses then came to the front of the room and provided their testimony. The first witness to the stand was Kansas City attorney Lynne Bratcher who represents James Pittmen. Pittman said he was discriminated at his workplace for being gay. The case went to the court of appeals and Bratcher argued sexual orientation is part of sex discrimination and is prohibited by the Missouri Human Rights Act. The court of appeals found that sexual orientation isn't covered by the Human Rights Act.
"I believe this bill is extremely important," Bratcher said. "It's only fair; it doesn't affect other people's rights in any way I can see, and unfortunately, today in Missouri people are being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation."
Bratcher said in most large cities there are ordinances prohibiting discrimination. If people are found violating the ordinance they will be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $500.
Pittman said he was dismissed from his workplace within three weeks of having a man move into his home.
"I think this should pass to protect the rights of lesbian and gay employees," Pittman said. "I just think it's the right thing to do."
Monsanto U.S. State and Local Government Affairs Lead Duane Simpson spoke on behalf of all his employees in St. Louis. He said his main focus at Monsanto is to create a positive environment where people can be themselves.
"At Monsanto we recognize that diversity and inclusion isn't a program that companies do, but it's a way to do business," Simpson said. "In order for us to remain competitive in the workplace we have to create an environment where all of our employees can be authentic to who they are no matter who they are as individuals. We think everyone should live their life without being discriminated against."
Over a dozen people came forward in support of passing the legislation, but a handful were in opposition of the bill. Associated Industries of Missouri President Ray McCarty said they encourage the adoption of non-discrimination policies but don't think there should be any more "protective classes."
"We do not feel that setting up an additional protective class is something that is that will be good for the state of Missouri," McCarty said.