JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri General Assembly passed 115 bills during its 2012 session which ended May 18, fewer than the usual number.
This bodes well for Missouri Baptists, according to Kerry Messer, lobbyist for Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) Christian Life Commission, who said the new laws lean more toward the good than the bad.
Legislative victories for faith-based groups include the following:
Alternatives to abortion
This program will receive $1.5 million for its counseling, prenatal care, housing and employment services for pregnant women.
Some $50,000 of the funding is designated for publicizing the services available through pregnancy resource centers.
Church day care centers
These, as well as in-home babysitting services, were spared from heavy-handed regulations that would have made it difficult, if not impossible, to continue operating.
Advocates of these regulations cite Sam Pratt’s Law and Nathan’s Law which were passed as the result of tragic situations in which infants died while in day care centers.
“What the advocates almost always fail to acknowledge is that both of these tragedies occurred in illegal child care settings,” Messer said.
Proposals for this legislative session would have required families and religious organizations to comply with stricter licensing laws.
Currently, relatives are exempt from more restrictive regulations – such as remodeling their homes to institutional standards – if the children they are keeping are closely related. Churches are also exempt.
In the version of the legislation that was finally passed, familial and religious liberties were preserved.
Child custody standing
“Under current law,” Messer said, “when a biological parent dies, a married stepparent who has been raising the children has less standing in court than a deadbeat father or mother.”
As amended, the law now provides a stepparent the same rights to petition the court for custody as does a biological parent who has not been involved in a child’s life.
The amendment further requires that the non-biological parent be married to the biological parent and that the marriage be legally recognized according to the laws and constitution of Missouri.
State constitution change
The General Assembly proposed a change to the state constitution on the selection of judges under the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan.
“While it’s only a minor change, it’s enough of a change to break the stranglehold of the trial attorneys’ association over the judicial commission which pre-selects nominees to Missouri’s higher courts,” Messer said.
The governor has announced the question will be on the Nov. 6 ballot. The wording of the ballot question will be written by the Secretary of State’s office.
Support of Israel
The House and Senate adopted a resolution expressing to the nation of Israel that the State of Missouri continues its formal support for Israel.
Houses of worship
This legislation makes it a crime to disturb a worship service or related activity.
This legislation allows employers to refuse to pay for employees’ contraception, sterilization and abortion. The General Assembly also approved a measure allowing voters to decide whether the state should create a health insurance exchange as required by the Obama administration.
As to the smaller number of new laws, Messer said, “We don’t measure success of legislation by volume. We measure by quality.”