Missouri House adds diversity rule, cuts state funds for libraries in budget sent to Senate

(The Center Square) – A day of vigorous debates in the Missouri House of Representatives ended at 10:56 p.m. on Wednesday as the state’s budget bills were approved and sent to the…

(The Center Square) – A day of vigorous debates in the Missouri House of Representatives ended at 10:56 p.m. on Wednesday as the state’s budget bills were approved and sent to the Senate.

Representatives from both parties attempted to add amendments to the bills throughout the day. Budget Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, had all his amendments pass and Democrats, with only 52 seats in the 163-member chamber, struggled to pass a few. The budget of approximately $48 billion now goes to the Senate. The Missouri Constitution requires the budget be completed in early May.

Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, and a member of the budget committee, successfully passed an amendment on each budget bill. If passed by the Senate and signed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson, all state offices would lose funding for spending on “staffing, vendors, consultants, or programs associated with ‘Diversity, Equity, Inclusion,’ or ‘Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging’…”

Richey’s amendments would require all state entities not to do business with any group that gives “preferential treatment of any individual or group of individuals based upon race, color, religion, sex, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, national origin or ancestry.” State entities also would be prohibited from engaging with organizations adhering to the concept that disparities are “necessarily tied to oppression, collective guilt ideologies, intersectional or divisive identity activism or the limiting of freedom of conscience, thought or speech.” However, the amendment doesn’t prohibit state offices from following federal and state employment and anti-discrimination laws.

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, and ranking minority member on the budget committee, attempted to restore all state funding – $4.5 million – for libraries throughout the state. Smith stripped the funding last week and said the state shouldn’t subsidize them due to a lawsuit contesting a law passed last year banning sexually explicit material in school libraries.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to defund state aid to public libraries because we’re mad that libraries, who are suing to question what turned into a book ban passed by this state,” Merideth said. “Could we simply ask, Who do we want to be in here, the ones banning books and defunding public libraries when they dared to question whether that was constitutional? Is that who we want to be? I don’t think so.”

Rep. Dirk Deaton, R-Noel, and vice chairman of the budget committee, emphatically denied Merideth’s accusation of the law banning books.

“That is a lie,” Deaton said. “It is intellectually dishonest. There are book bans in this world today. There are book bans in North Korea. If you have a Bible in North Korea, it’s not just a civil penalty. It’s not just any mere criminal penalty. It is the death penalty. People have been put to death in North Korea in recent years because they possessed a Bible. That is a book ban.”

Merideth’s amendment failed on a voice vote.

The Missouri Library Association posted on social media the lawsuit is being handled pro bono by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.

“This tactic, meant to bully MLA into submission, instead directly harms public libraries who rely on those funds, especially the smaller, more rural libraries,” the organization posted on social media. “Library funding is guaranteed in the Missouri Constitution. State aid cannot be removed, making this decision unconstitutional.”