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House committee to vote on nondiscrimination bill

A state house committee will soon vote on a proposed bill that would ban discrimination on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Wednesday, the Civil and Criminal Proceedings Committee held a hearing for the bill also known as the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act.

Both sides of the issue testified. About 15 people testified in support, and five people against the proposed bill in the packed hearing room.

In Missouri, a person can legally be fired, evicted or refused service for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Rep. Stephen Webber, (D)-Columbia, said it is time for that to change.

“Discrimination is simply wrong, and it’s time for the state of Missouri to stop condoning discrimination of people,” Webber said. “It causes a lot of pain, it causes a lot of hurt to human beings. And this is ultimately about human beings.”

Webber said aside from human rights, not having statewide protections for members of the LGBTQ community hurts Missouri’s economy.

“We’ve had businesses that have moved hundreds of jobs out of the state of Missouri in the last year and they’ve cited diversity as a reason,” Webber said.

Kyle Piccola with Promoting Equality for All Missourians, or PROMO, said 95 percent of all Fortune 500 companies have policies protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination. He said more than 1,000 companies in the state signed in support of the legislation including Monsanto and Express Scripts which testified in support Wednesday.

“If you’re working in a place that is hostile towards you, your work performance is not going to be strong,” Piccola said. “It’s not going to be to par. So it’s just an unhealthy place to work, it’s an unhealthy environment to live in.”

But others disagreed.

“In America, you have a right to discriminate as a private citizen,” Ron Calzone, a Maries County rancher and businessman said. “In America, if you don’t like the color of someone’s eyes or their hair or the way they talk, you have a right to not associate with them. That’s fundamental.”

Others who testified in opposition to the bill said it would bring a new line of lawsuits against employers and violate religious liberty.

Some cities in Missouri including Columbia, Saint Louis, and Kansas City have municipal laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But many across the state, including Jefferson city, do not.

The committee is expected to vote on the bill next week.

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