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Missouri Family E-News February 15, 2010
Senate Committee
Advances Religious Liberty Proposal
A Missouri Senate committee has endorsed legislation promoted by the Missouri Family Policy Council which would safeguard the religious freedoms of Missouri citizens.
The Senate Committee on General Laws approved the proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Senator Delbert Scott of Lowry City.  The committee advanced the measure to the full Senate on a vote of 5-0, with Senators Scott Rupp, Dan Clemens, Ryan McKenna, Carl Vogel, and Yvonne Wilson voting in favor.
The proposal, Senate Joint Resolution 31, would strengthen provisions in Missouri's Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religious expression. The new 
constitutional language would protect the rights of citizens and public officials to pray and acknowledge God in public settings.  
In recent years, advocates of the legal theory of the "separation of church and state" have waged a vigorous battle to stifle all forms of religious expression in the public square.  Groups like the ACLU and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State have engaged in intimidation tactics to silence religious speech that even the U.S. Supreme Cour has declared is protected.
A key provision in the joint resolution preserves the right of schoolchildren to pray and acknowledge God on a voluntary basis in school settings.  It also assures that students are not compelled to participate in educational programming that violates their religious beliefs.
The bill will now be taken up by the full Senate, where it encountered a filibuster last year.  A similar proposal has been introduced in the Missouri House, which has passed a nearly identical bill the last two legislative sessions.
Senate Says Yes to Sex Business Regulations
In a major victory for decency advocates, the Missouri Senate has given final approval to a bill establishing new restrictions on sexually oriented businesses.  The legislation is designed to protect communities from the adverse secondary effects of businesses marketing sexually oriented materials and "entertainment." 
The Senate adopted by an overwhelming 29-2 vote a substitute bill combining measures introduced by Senators Matt Bartle of Lee's Summit and Jack Goodman of Mt. Vernon. 
Missouri's current laws regulating strip clubs and sex shops are nearly nonexistent, exceedingly weak, and have not been appreciably changed since 1993.  In the intervening years, the sex industry has exploded in Missouri, with strip clubs and "adult" video stores and arcades attempting to glamorize and normalize their operation along rural interstate highways and in urban commercial corridors.
Yet these businesses have continued to be a gathering place for sexual encounters, drug trafficking, and other illegal activities.  The problem is particularly pervasive in rural counties which lack planning and zoning authority to regulate such businesses.
The U.S. Supreme Court has decreed that communities cannot prohibit the sale or distribution of pornographic materials that are not obscene.  In many communities, according to what the court has described as "contemporary community standards," that means most sexually explicit material is legally available. 
Yet federal courts have made clear that states and local governments can regulate sexually oriented businesses to discourage adverse community impacts.  Such impacts include personal and property crimes, the spread of disease, illicit drug use, prostitution, and urban blight.
The following Senators voted for Senate Substitute for Senate Bills 586 and 617:
Senators Barnitz, Bartle, Bray, Callahan, Champion, Crowell, Cunningham, Days, Dempsey, Engler, Goodman, Griesheimer, 
Keaveny, Lager, Lembke, Mayer, McKenna, Nodler, Pearce, Purgason, Ridgeway, Rupp, Schaefer, Scott, Shields, Shoemyer,  Stouffer, Wilson, and Wright-Jones
The following Senators voted against SS for SBS 586 & 617:
Senators Green and Justus
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Missouri School Officials Support Efforts to Block Problem Teachers
A group of Missouri school superintendents are calling for legislative action to help them keep teachers who are sexual predators out of the classroom.  The superintendents are seeking changes in Missouri law which would allow them to share personnel information with administrators from other school districts with immunity from liability. 
Public school officials say that current law restricts them from informing other school districts if they have dismissed a teacher for sexual abuse or misconduct.   The result is that sexual offenders jump from one school district to another with a new employer unaware of their previous behavior.  Mark Penny, superintendent of the Moberly School District, describes it as "passing the trash."
Administrators shared their concerns recently with Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.  Just last year, Koster's office closed approximately 30 sexual misconduct cases 
involving teachers or former teachers, and is currently reviewing the cases of another 64 teachers in the public schools.  An extensive nationwide investigation conducted by the Associated Press in 2007 revealed that 87 licensed teachers in Missouri lost their credentials from 2001 to 2005 because of sexual offenses, making the state 11th worst in the nation. 
A report commissioned by the U.S. Congress has demonstrated how pervasive the issue of problem teachers is all across America.  The report estimated that as many as 4.5 million students are victims of sexual misconduct by school district employees sometime between kindergarten and the 12th grade.
State Senator Jane Cunningham of Chesterfield has been out front on this issue for several years.  She has once again this year introduced the "Amy Hestir Student Protection Act."  The legislation is named after a Missouri woman who was repeatedly molested and assaulted by her junior high school teacher during her youth.  The perpetrator is allegedly still teaching in a Missouri school district today.
"Missouri statutes prohibit sexual offenders from being within 1000 feet of our schools, yet we allow them right inside our classrooms,"  Cunningham observes.  "The problem is that most of the perpetrators appear to be the most clean cut teachers--the very ones parents would normally want their children to spend time with and look to as role models."
Senator Cunningham's legislation would stipulate that an individual seeking licensure as a teacher through a state teaching certificate must complete a criminal background check as well as a check of the state sexual offender registry and the state child abuse registry.  An audit released by State Auditor Susan Montee in 2007 found that "public school students were at risk because of inadequate teacher background checks."
Montee's audit found instances of certified educators who had a criminal background or history of committing other offenses, such as child abuse or neglect.  She further reported that officials in the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education were aware of many of these cases, but decided the educator was not a risk to students and cleared their background checks.  
In the area of personnel policy, Senator Cunningham's proposal would grant civil immunity to school district employees who discuss employee job performance for the purpose of making employment decisions affecting the well-being and safety of students, so long as it is done in good faith and without malice.  Furthermore, if a school district dismisses an employee or allows an employee to resign for reasons of sexual misconduct, and fails to disclose that information in a reference to another school district, that district would be liable for damages in court for failure to disclose.
Cunningham's bill would also add to the list of crimes for which a teaching certificate can be revoked the crime of sexual contact with a student on school property, and second and third degree sexual misconduct.  
The Senate Education Committee has held a hearing on Cunningham's bill, numbered Senate Bill 631.  You can let your state senator know how you feel about this legislation by using this link:
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