Hostility among senators stalls sexual assault bill BY TEGHAN SIMONTON, MAIA BOND AND CAROLINE ELIK Missouri News Network JEFFERSON CITY — Heated arguments among Republicans over an amendment offered to a sexual assault survivor bill caused stagnation and animosity in the Missouri Senate on Wednesday. Senate Bill 775, introduced by Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, lays out a number of protections for survivors bringing charges of sexual assault. The proposed changes include making it inadmissible for a victim’s previous sexual history to be used during a trial, establishing procedures for medical care and law enforcement investigations and protecting survivors’ identifiable information in public records. Similar legislation referred to as the “Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights” was passed in 2020 but is being challenged in court. SB 775 seeks to modify portions of the bill and make it more concise, according to bill co-sponsor Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur. But before the body could vote on the bill Tuesday, Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, offered an amendment banning all “obscene material” from schools. The amendment would make it a misdemeanor for anyone affiliated with a school to provide material that depicts “prurient interest in sex” or describes sexual conduct in a “patently offensive way.” “We have the right to protect the youth and their minds and their innocence,” Brattin said. “This is not infringing on First Amendment rights. This is protecting the innocents.” Critics of the amendment called it a “poison pill” that detracts from the real purpose of the legislation. After several minutes of tense verbal sparring on the floor, Rehder asked Brattin to withdraw his amendment from the bill, saying that the likelihood was high that the underlying bill would be filibustered and unable to pass if he did not. Brattin refused, so Rehder opted to suspend debate on her bill. On Wednesday, Rehder and a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues held a press conference, where she called Brattin and other members of the Senate’s Conservative Caucus “a group of self-serving politicians” who were deliberately delaying a non-controversial piece of legislation. “This has become our new normal in the Missouri Senate,” Rehder said. “We have sat by helpless while bipartisan legislation ... has been hijacked and purposefully tanked by a select few.” “They are hurting real Missourians, women, families and kids by these actions that they’re taking,” Schupp said in an interview. Conservative senators pushed back against those comments on the Senate floor Wednesday and voiced further support for Brattin’s amendment. Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, called the materials the amendment would ban “pornographic” and criticized SB 775. He said Missouri already has a sexual assault survivor bill of rights written into state statute and argued that the new bill would effectively reduce protections already afforded to survivors. Schupp said the new law makes the process more understandable for victims and also ensures that the law is not completely thrown out in court. “If it passes, it will replace the language we passed before, but that is being challenged. We believe it will eliminate the court case, because now we have constitutionally sound legislation,” Schupp said. The bill was recommended by the Missouri Rights of Victims of Sexual Assault Task Force, which Schupp and Rehder served on. Amy Fite, prosecuting attorney for Christian County, worked with the task force. She said the updated bill is needed. “This is intended to strengthen the protections for those who have been victims of sexual offenses,” Fite said. “Their privacy needs to be protected, and Senate Bill 775 can really help with regard to providing necessary protections for victims and for survivors of sexual offenses.” The dispute pertaining to Brattin’s proposed amendment to the bill is emblematic of a pattern of conflict and clashing within the Senate, which has been stalled for much of the legislative session and has passed very little. Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, said at this point, legislators feel they have to add amendments onto other bills in order to get as much done as possible. Onder said he supports both SB 775 and Brattin’s amendment. “It is really important to remember that a lot of what we get done in the legislature, I would say over 90%, is done in the form of amendments to other bills,” Onder said. Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, agreed on the floor that senators have to take every opportunity they can to bring their own legislation to the floor. “We don’t have any other options, and yet we’re looked at as somehow the villain,” he said. Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said responsibility for the conflict lies with Senate leadership for not better communicating what bills will be brought up for discussion on a given day. The lack of clear scheduling leads senators to introduce amendments in attempts to advance their agendas. The Senate, as a result, operates “like a square wheel,” he said. Hoskins, Onder, Moon and Eigel are members of a small group of highly conservative senators who are referred to as the “Conservative Caucus.” Throughout this year’s legislative session, clashes between Republican leadership and the caucus have caused gridlock on issues such as redistricting and the supplemental budget. Tensions rose to a boil Tuesday during debate on Brattin’s amendment when Rehder accused Onder, who represents the 2nd Senatorial District, of diminishing the importance of her bill. “The senator from the 2nd (District) said, and I quote, ‘Let this little bill go through.’ Well, I want to inquire of whatever man in this chamber thinks that sexual assault and helping those victims is a little issue,” Rehder said in a passionate monologue on the floor. Rehder has been open about herself and her family’s past experiences with sexual abuse and said on the floor that she wished the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights had been in existence for herself, her mother and her sister when they were victims. She then criticized the conservative senators’ unwillingness to compromise on the amendment to SB 775. “They are of equal importance, and you don’t kill both because you can’t have both. And that is what is happening in this body over and over and over again,” Rehder said. “Because if we’re not going to get 100% of what we want, then everything’s going to die.”

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