Legislative leaders suggested Friday that the debate over a religious liberty bill is far from over and the outcome far from certain.
“The future of the bill, I’m not sure,” Rep. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit and the majority floor leader in the House, said at a legislative update hosted by the Independence Chamber of Commerce.
The Democratic minority whip in the House, Rep. John Rizzo of Kansas City, noted that many business leaders have come out against the bill, Senate Joint Resolution 39. He also pointed out that businesses have pulled out recently, and entertainers have dropped concerts, in states with similar legislation. Kansas City would have little likelihood of getting future NCAA basketball tournaments games, he said.
“I feel like we’re really, really, really playing with fire with something that’s a non-issue,” Rizzo said.
SJR 39 would ban any penalty for clergy or houses of worship that decline to marry a same-sex couple and would rule out penalties against those who decline to “provide goods or services of expressional or artistic creation, such as a photographer or florist, for a wedding or marriage or a closely preceding or ensuing reception therefore, because of a sincere religious belief concerning marriage between two persons of the same sex.”
The Senate has passed it, and now it’s in the House. LBGT advocates have strongly opposed the measure as discriminatory.
“There’s some questions about the language, some legitimate questions,” Cierpiot said.
Rizzo said he sat in on a lengthy House committee hearing on the bill this week. He said both sides aired their views and it was a productive conversation, but he also said none of the witnesses were florists, photographers or bakers, the type of workers and business owners the bill is meant to protect. As for clergy, who can chose who they will or won’t marry, he said, “I think that’s already protected.”
If the House passes it, the issue would go to the voters in August or November. One criticism has been that Republicans want the issue on the ballot to drive more of their voters to the polls, but Rizzo said it’s possible, given business leaders’ public airing of their concerns, that that political calculation could turn out wrong and Republican plans could backfire.
Rep. Rory Rowland, D-Independence, said he is working on a federal grant to widen Interstate 70 west of Sterling Avenue. It would replace the Pittman Road bridge so the five lanes coming eastbound from the stadiums would drop to three lanes a little more slowly.
The pit bull issue is back in the General Assembly, with a bill first proposed two years ago to prohibit cities from “breed-specific” ordinances, such as the ban Independence has on pit bulls.
Rep. Ira Anders, D-Independence, said he understands the safety aspect of the issue.
“My problem with it is, it tells cities, you can’t do your own ordinance,” he said.
He added, “We’re for local control down there in Jefferson City until we’re against it.”
Rizzo said Democrats are divided over a proposal to put more money into primary and secondary education but also scale back the state’s foundation formula. That’s the basic means by which the state sends money to local school districts. It’s been underfunded for years and is about $500 million shy this year.
“And it’s just an unattainable goal,” Rizzo said. Rizzo favors the change. Gov. Jay Nixon opposes it, calling it lowering the bar for education.