Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster hushed a Truman Days audience Saturday night with a ringing tribute to a Kansas City state senator who shepherded a gay-rights bill through the Missouri Senate on the session’s final day.
The Missouri Nondiscrimination Act would ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender in employment, housing and public accommodations.
The measure passed the Republican-led Senate 19-11 with nine GOP senators voting for it Friday evening. But the bill did not get a vote in the House before lawmakers adjourned their session at 6 p.m. Friday.
“It did not become law,” said Koster, who was speaking at the annual gathering of Democrats in Kansas City.
But Koster, the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, lavished praise on Democratic state Sen. Jolie Justus, who sponsored the bill and managed to pull off a series of firsts in advocating for the proposal, known as MONA.
After years of failing to even get a committee hearing, MONA was given debate time on the floor of the Senate. It received a recorded vote for the first time, Koster said. And the bill passed the chamber just 15 minutes before adjournment.
Justus, the Senate minority leader in her seventh year in the body, pulled off the feat as the first openly gay senator in state history in a conservative chamber where 33 of the 34 members are straight, the attorney general said. She was able to do it because of the relationships she’s forged over the years, he said.
“She is,” Koster said, “an extraordinary woman.”
Justus, who was on her way to Turkey as part of a legislative delegation, listened to Koster’s remarks via cell phone. Koster was speaking to her as he took to the stage.
“The fact that Jolie Justus moved the mountain is proof that mountains can be moved,” Koster said.
Earlier, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, who is chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party, mocked legislative Republicans for their “black helicopter” approach to lawmaking, which included pushing for several socially conservative measures. One of those was banning sharia law, or Islamic strictures, from the state of Missouri.
Republicans pursued those laws “instead of talking about things that really matter to the people of Missouri,” Sanders said. That was a reference to, among other things, Medicaid expansion, which Republicans rejected despite an intense lobbying effort from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.