Some Missouri state lawmakers want a local representative to be disciplined after a controversial public hearing. Republican Rep. Bill Lant, from Pineville, was overseeing a hearing Monday on a proposed new standard for discrimination lawsuits. The bill being debated would require plaintiffs in discrimination lawsuits to prove that race, religion, sex, or other protected status was the motivating factor for being fired, rather than just a contributing factor.
Some state lawmakers say Rep. Lant wouldn't allow full discussion of this bill because of racial motivations. But another lawmaker contradicts what has already been widely reported.
"We say we don't have a race problem at the capitol," says State Rep. Gail Beatty, speaking about what she has heard from others in the past. "Clearly, we do have some issues."
Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel was testifying before the House Special Committee on Litigation Reform. While Chapel was talking, his microphone stopped working. There was silence. Then...
Chapel asked, "Did my mic go off?"
"Yes," said Rep. Lant.
"If anyone is being cut-off from the opportunity to discuss legislation, any Missouri taxpayer is cut-off, then every Missouri taxpayer is cut-off," says State Rep. Gina Mitten.
Rep. Lant said during the hearing Chapel was getting off topic.
"Please contain your speech to speaking on the bill, sir," said Rep. Lant.
"Oh, I am," said Chapel. "Because this is nothing but Jim Crow. If You look at MU, we don't listen to students when they complain they're being mistreated. Called names."
"I asked the man to speak on the subject. He's not speaking on the subject," said Rep. Lant.
"There's no rule that says you've got to be so stringent, sticking to the topic. Often we get background...how that person got to their decision," says Rep. Beatty.
House Speaker Todd Richard told us through a statement, "I am disappointed with the confrontational nature" of this hearing. "The bill being heard is a controversial and difficult issue and needs to be handled in an open and transparent manner."
Speaker Richardson says Rep. Lant has agreed to hold a second public hearing on the bill. But fellow lawmakers worry Rep. Lant will continue to censor what needs to be heard.
"I don't see we've done enough to make sure this doesn't happen again. I happened to run into Representative Lant on the elevator shortly after the incident happened. He indicated he didn't believe he did anything wrong," says Rep. Beatty.
Rep. Lant has not returned our phone call and text message for comment on this story.
Several newspapers and the Associated Press have reported that Rep. Lant shut off Chapel's microphone. However, State Rep. Bill White told us by phone that Rep. Lant had no capabilities to silence the NAACP representative's microphone. According to Rep. White, people in that room can only silence their own microphones. Rep. White says during the hearing, a misunderstanding about the microphone prompted mounting frustration that led to Chapel's testimony being cut short. Nonetheless, this bill hearing has been rescheduled.
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