Great News, Bad News
I have some great things to report this week, and some not so great things. I am incredibly pleased my Senate Bill 775 passed unanimously out of the Senate and is now in the hands of the House of Representatives. This legislation is the result of nearly a year’s work by the Missouri Rights of Victims of Sexual Assault Task Force, a group I was honored to have been a part of. This 13-member group included law enforcement officials, health care professionals, victims’ advocates, legislators and others who reviewed Missouri’s current laws regarding sexual assault and made recommendations for protecting the rights of survivors and making the criminal investigation and prosecution process less traumatic for victims.
The legislation I filed focused on improving Missouri’s rape shield law. Basically, defense attorneys should not be allowed to pry into the sexual history of survivors in an effort to shift blame to the victim. As my bill moved through the legislative process, additional provisions from other bills were included to create a comprehensive package of reforms to Missouri’s sexual assault laws. The combined bill adds a revised “Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights,” which lays out the services and accommodations a victim can expect to receive following an attack. The bill also offers protections to prevent harassment or stalking of victims, among other provisions. I’m proud of this bill, and I’m confident its passage will make the difficult process that follows a sexual assault just a bit more bearable. It’s never going to be easy for victims who come forward and prosecute their attackers, but I believe this legislation will help.
I’m also excited Senate Bill 834 has cleared the upper chamber. I was a co-sponsor of this legislation, which establishes a nursery program within Missouri’s prison system. Essentially, if a pregnant woman gives birth while incarcerated in a Missouri prison, the child could be allowed to stay with the mother for up to 18 months. This idea has been successful in other states, and the concept is supported by Americans for Prosperity and other conservative groups. These programs are especially beneficial for pregnant women who are sentenced to substance abuse recovery programs. If SB 834 becomes law, women in this situation could be allowed time to bond with their children in a controlled environment where the mom is clean and working on getting through her recovery phase. The children stay out of the foster care system and begin life on a much more solid footing. We’ve seen great outcomes in other places, and I’m excited we could be doing this in Missouri, as well.
Now for the bad news. The Missouri General Assembly remains bogged down in redistricting maps. Last week, the Senate passed a substitute version of House Bill 2117, the legislation that redraws Missouri’s congressional districts based on the 2020 Census. The folks over in the House worked long and hard to create eight congressional districts that are equal in population, compact and contiguous – the constitutional standard for the task at hand. In my opinion, the map passed by the Senate is not an improvement on the House version. The changes forced by a small number of senators creates a conservative stronghold in one particular area of the state, but I believe that change comes at the expense of weakening surrounding districts.
The map drawn by the Senate moves all of Jefferson County into the 8th Congressional District. That’s our district. More than 200,000 people live in Jefferson County. Compare that to Cape Girardeau County, the largest county currently in the 8th District, with just over 80,000 people. My fear is a congressman elected from the northern part of our district would never need to come to our rural counties. Furthermore, when gathering signatures for an initiative petition, folks would never have to leave Jefferson County. Our congressional district is rural Missouri based. I want it to remain that way. This week, the House rejected the Senate map and sent it back, asking for a conference committee to resolve the differences between the two bills. The Senate refused, and again asked the House to rubber stamp the Senate map. They rejected our map a second time. I can’t blame them. I reject it, too. I wish I could tell you how this is going to all turn out, but I don’t know. Stay tuned.
Finally, a week ago, a panel of judges tasked with redrawing districts for the Missouri State Senate released its map. My area, Missouri’s 27th Senatorial District, will change beginning in 2023. Wayne County will become part of District 25, which will also include the Bootheel and several counties along the Arkansas line. Reynolds and Iron counties, which have been part of the 3rd Senatorial District, move to my District 27. I am so disappointed to lose Wayne County. Nothing changes until next year, and I will continue to be the Wayne County senator through the end of 2022. Beyond that, I will always still be available to help any way I can. I’m really looking forward to learning more about Reynolds and Iron counties and visiting with folks there.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Holly Thompson Rehder, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Rm 433, Jefferson City, MO 65101, send an email to Holly.Rehder@senate.mo.gov or visit www.senate.mo.gov/Rehder