Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Stacey Newman: House GOP has no regard for the poor

(From Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis)

Last Wednesday the House debated over 3 hours on new restrictions for a federally funded program designed for the extreme poor in Missouri.
 SB 24 , "The Strengthening Families Act"— would reduce lifetime eligibility for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, currently at 5 years (Senate wants a 4-year limit, House wants a 2-1/2-year limit).  Over 20,000 Missourians (two thirds are children) would lose federal benefits (averaging only $234 a month for a family of three).
I stood at my microphone for the entire 3 hours - as did many of my Democratic colleagues - yet only a few of us were allowed to speak.  I was not recognized to debate.
 We were outraged that the House GOP priority has absolutely no regard for the poorest of Missourians, many of whom are severely physical or learning disabled and many of whom are victims of domestic violence. 90% of families on TANF have 3 or fewer children and most are single mothers.  
We know that poverty and hunger are widespread in Missouri: 1 of 4 families with children is food insecure.  The income guideline for TANF is about half the federal poverty level. So, what is the reason to punish those who are most in crisis?
Rep. Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton), the House bill sponsor said: "Are 100% of people on TANF truly needy?  Let these people out of their butterfly net and let them go on their way."
She also said, when inquired of on the floor, that "additional TANF monies slated to go to state 'Alternatives for Abortion' programs would lower out of wedlock pregnancies".
We are having trouble understanding that.
Rep. Marcia Haefner (R-South St. Louis County) said: "Strong families include 2 parent families who can earn a living. Two parent families is the purpose of TANF."
Rep. Sue Allen (R- Town & Country) said:  "There are many other programs and places for young pregnant women to go.  They can become independent and rise out of poverty."
What a simple solution.
Rep. Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston): "I am the poster child of this bill.  I was 15 and pregnant. In my heart, the system keeps people from rising to their potential."
I keep wondering...why do Democrats who represent suburban/urban areas care more about those in poverty than do legislators outstate who have higher populations of poor in their counties?
 SB24 passed the House 115-44 (I voted NO).  It will now have one final vote in the House and Senate before reaching the governor's desk. 
Last Thursday the House passed HB104, the "Student Freedom of Association Act", by avote of 117-38 (I voted NO).  Democratic Representatives Butler, Curtis and Harris voted YES with the GOP majority.
HB104 — would prohibit institutions of higher learning from taking actions denying benefits to religious student associations based on requirements that leaders or members adhere to the association's "sincerley held religious beliefs".
Again, more than 10 Democrats, including myself, stood at our microphones for over 1 1/2 hours but were denied the chance to speak by Speaker Diehl.
HB104 would bar the University of Missouri system from enforcing it's "all comers" non-discrimination policy, which mandates that all students who attend the university must be welcomed into all recognized student groups.
HB104 would give religious student groups the rights of churches while at the same time receiving state subsidies.  HB104 would force Missouri colleges to give discriminatory student groups fees paid by all students, even if that student group bars LGBT people, specific religions or races from joining.
HB104 would prevent a Missouri university from any recourse if a religious student group was caught chanting offensive discriminatory terms, similiar to the recent SAE fraternity situation at Oklahoma University.
In the last decade as universities have expanded their nondiscrimination policies to include sexual orientation, religious groups such as the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Christian Legal Society have challenged these policies on the basis of "religious freedom".
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 ruled that requiring officially recognized student groups to comply with a school's nondiscrimination policy did not violate a student religious organization's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to free speech and expressive association. Legal Society v. Martinez 130 S.Ct. 2971 (2010).
Rep. Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City), an attorney, wrote in his newsletter:  "For 2 days, the opposition twisted it's talking points and pretzeled the debate to make the bill about repulsive or objectional beliefs. Our First Amendment rights to speech, assembly and association, endowed by our Creator, are not subject to government approval.  No Missourians should be discriminated against for exercising their right to religious association."
The raucous debate often neglected one point: Religion and public money do not mix.  
Religious student groups should NOT be allowed to use public money and resources to push their agendas and tenets.

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