JEFFERSON CITY - By a margin of eight-to-one, a Senate committee has voted in support of enhanced protections for gays and the disabled.
The Senate Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee cleared for full Senate debate a measure that would impose enhanced penalties for violence based on a person's sexual orientation, gender or physical disability.
"I think all Missourians should be protected under the law," said bill sponsor Sen. Bill Clay, D-St. Louis.
Missouri law already has an Ethnic Intimidation Law that imposes stronger penalties when victims are chosen based on race, color, religion or national origin.
The committee-approved bill would extend the same enhanced penalties for violence against a person based on sexual orientation, disability or gender. Motive and intent would have to be proven in order to qualify under the proposed bill.
"If this bill is ultimately passed, we will reexamine our policy," Jim Snider, MU lobbyist, said in an interview. The UM Board of Curators voted recently to not include sexual orientation under the nondiscrimination clause.
One supporter of the bill, Seamus Dowling from St. Louis, testified about his encounters of abuse based on his sexual orientation. Three different times he received physical and verbal attacks outside of a gay bar.
"I did nothing to provoke this," he said. "I didn't make eye contact, didn't take their parking space and didn't talk to them."
In Dowling's case, the proposed bill would not have helped him because he could not locate the perpetrators.
"I can't believe people think hate crimes don't happen," he said. "There is a certain segment of society that some people have a beef with."
Last week in a Gallup Pole, one out of eight Americans said they worried about becoming a victim of a hate crime. One in four of these people were non-whites. Seventy percent of the respondents said they would favor having a hate crime law in their state.
Eight senators passed the bill out of committee with only Sen. Marvin Singleton, a Republican doctor from Seneca in southern Missouri, voting against the proposal.
"I don't believe in the legislature making moral laws," Singleton said. "Bills can't make people more civil."
Singleton said he strongly supports the current legislation against ethnic intimidation laws and does not see the need to expand its coverage.
"Every person with a problem can't have protection," he said. "We don't need to put protection in a cookbook form of state statutes."
Another source of opposition is the conservative Missouri Family Network.
"This legislation is counter productive to what we want to do as a society," said Kerry Messer, president for the group. "It is creating class warfare rather than eliminating class warfare."
Messer said if certain groups are singled out for a long period of time, then more bigotry will arise. Other people not included will feel like second class citizens, he said.
"It is ironic because if the wheel is not squeaking, then it is not offered oil," said Messer. "The groups of people who are targeted the most, such as employers, law enforcement officials and organized crime should be covered before someone's sexual orientation."
The proposed legislation would not affect victims who were murdered or raped. Stronger penalties would apply for those perpetrators.