Looking Past Redistricting
This was supposed to be redistricting week in the Missouri Senate, but things didn’t turn out quite as planned. Last week, the House of Representatives approved a new map of Missouri’s eight congressional districts, based on the latest U.S. Census data. On Tuesday, the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting took up the House bill and heard testimony from citizens and groups for more than three hours. As a member of the redistricting committee, I was struck by how little of the testimony had anything to do with our constitutional obligation to draw districts that were nearly equal in population, compact and contiguous.
Witness after witness told us we needed to send more conservatives to Washington, D.C. As a conservative, I certainly share this desire, but that is not the committee’s job. I was especially taken back by witnesses who wanted to make the redistricting map a pro-life litmus test. I have a nine-year voting record that proves I’m pro-life, but that’s not what redistricting is about. Redistricting is about representation, and it’s supposed to be nonpartisan.
Nearly all of the testimony we heard was focused on gerrymandering, not providing proper district boundaries to fit the constitutional obligation that we took an oath to uphold. Not “bearing false witness against your neighbor,” is as relevant today as it was when it was written. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Yes, that is an important one as well. So, I took great offense to political folks coming into the committee room and questioning the pro-life beliefs of members of the House of Representatives who voted for the map. As a Christian, I take the ENTIRE Bible into account. It is, and will remain, my compass.
Honestly, in southeast Missouri, this debate won’t have much effect. Every resident of my state senatorial district is also a member of the Missouri’s Eighth Congressional District, and that won’t change under any of the maps being discussed. A number of senators from urban and suburban areas have more at stake, however, and their concerns led to a lengthy filibuster that brought progress on redistricting to a halt. We’ll take the bill up again next week, and I’m confident we’ll get it done. We have to finish before candidates start filing for office in February.
While all that was going on, I introduced a bill I’m really excited about. As chair of the Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, one of the things that concerns me is the number of homeless teens in Missouri, many of them living on the streets or in make-shift encampments. On days like we’ve had lately, when the temperatures have been so frigid, people living outdoors die. That’s inhumane, and we need to do something to help.
I’ve started researching what other states are doing about homelessness, what works and what doesn’t work. Some years back, they thought the solution was to provide permanent housing for homeless people, but that has not been successful. Homelessness continues to grow. Just giving somebody a house doesn’t solve the root problems. One UCLA study I read showed that 75% of homeless people have a serious mental illness. Likewise, the study found three-quarters of them also have substance use issues. There’s growing evidence that the best approach to addressing homelessness is to provide temporary housing that is tied to mental health and addiction recovery services.
This week, I filed Senate Bill 1106, legislation that envisions just that: facilities where homeless people can escape their current situation, get healthy and start on a path toward self-sufficiency. My legislation may not cross the finish line this year, but I hope I can start a conversation about homelessness in Missouri. Through the committee hearing process, we’ll bring in experts and those with more experience on this issue and come up with solutions that work.
On a more immediate horizon, next week my Senate Bill 691 is on deck in the Senate Education Committee. This legislation requires a background check for adults who attend public school classes alongside regular high school students. I first learned about this issue when a teacher in one of the technical programs at a high school in my district informed me that an adult with a criminal record was enrolled in one of his classes, and was sitting alongside 16-year-old students. We require a criminal background check for anyone who volunteers at our schools, and I think we should know if there are potentially dangerous students in the classroom, as well. This bill is not to prevent folks from getting a second chance, but to move them to a more appropriate time slot for their technical class. They should attend class with other adults only, not next to our children while they are in their normal classroom setting. We almost got this bill across the line last year, but we ran out of time. I’m hopeful we can get it passed this session.
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.