Jetton explains why Lipke was removed

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

By Rod Jetton

There has been much discussion concerning my decision to replace state Rep. Scott Lipke of Jackson as a committee chair. Legislative leaders in our region have urged me to explain my actions and clarify the situation.

The problem centers on Jessica's Law that we passed last year. As chairman of the Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety, Lipke sponsored and handled this bill as it moved through the legislature.

Jessica's Law was a great bill, which we needed to pass to protect our children from sexual predators. Regrettably, Lipke chose to use the bill to delete 14 words from our laws in order to repeal the gay sex ban in Missouri.

Thanks to that deletion, it is now legal to engage in deviate sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex here in Missouri. This law had been on our books for decades.

Not only did Lipke take those 14 words out, but he also did it in a very deceitful way. He never mentioned it to me, our leadership team or other members of the House.

This upset many members of our caucus, and they wanted me to do something to address the situation.

It was a tough decision, but Lipke's actions left me with no choice.

In Lipke's defense, our ban was technically unenforceable because of a 2003 Supreme Court decision.

After being confronted about his actions, Lipke told us it was "no big deal" because the Missouri law was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, it is a big deal, because now it is easier for gay couples to adopt children in our state.

Several members told Lipke how upset they were that he didn't tell them about the gay sex ban and let them make up their own mind about repealing it.

Judges come and go, and Supreme Court decisions change back and forth. Who knows? These new judges may reverse that decision.

Several members also pointed out to Lipke that the Supreme Court had also ruled the partial-birth abortion ban we passed a few years ago was unconstitutional. We haven't taken it off the books, and I doubt Lipke would knowingly vote to repeal it.

While his legal argument has merit, he still should have explained to us what the issue was and allowed us to make up our own minds about changing this law.

This brings up another sad point. I should have read the whole bill myself, and I should have caught it. I wish I had, but in Jefferson City we have more than 2,000 bills introduced each year. This particular bill was 46 pages long, and I trusted Lipke.

Lipke's job is not only to pass effective crime legislation, but also to inform his peers about what is in those bills and let them know if there are problems or controversial issues they should consider as they cast their vote. On this bill he did not do that.

Lipke introduced Jessica's Law (House Bill 1698), which also repealed the gay sex ban. The bill went all the way through the House with nobody noticing it.

Thankfully, there was one person in the Senate who noticed those 14 necessary words. When Lipke's bill went to the Senate, state Sen. Matt Bartle caught the change. He immediately added the gay-sex ban back into the bill when it was in the Senate.

Unfortunately, when Lipke got the bill back in the House he again took out the gay sex ban without Bartle's knowledge. After the session ended, I was told Bartle wanted to vote no, but a no vote that late in session would have killed Jessica's Law. Regrettably, the final version of Jessica's Law included the repeal of the gay-sex ban.

The first time I realized what had happened was when I read an article in the Southeast Missourian. This was right before the governor was going to sign the bill. I heard that he was not happy about Lipke's change, but felt he couldn't veto a bill that would do so much to protect our children from sexual predators.

Not telling anyone about those 14 words was Lipke's biggest mistake. I think he was wrong in taking those 14 words out, but the much bigger mistake was in not telling anyone he was doing it.

I'm disappointed nobody caught those 14 words. But I think I know why. We all trusted Lipke and Jessica's Law was a good law we needed to pass. We all wanted to vote for a good bill that would protect our children. In our rush to make a positive difference, we didn't look over the 46-page bill close enough because we trusted Lipke.

That's why I had to make a change in the committee chairmanship. The members of our Republican caucus have lost their faith in Lipke. They expect me to appoint chairmen who will keep them informed of controversial details that could cause problems.

I have fought attempts by liberals to repeal the gay sex ban for years, and I am now embarrassed to say that I unknowingly voted for the very thing I have been fighting against.

Lipke was removed as chair because his fellow legislators no longer trusted him. I left him on the committee and offered to keep him as vice chairman to give him a chance to earn back the trust of his fellow members. Lipke didn't want to be the vice chairman. I hope he will continue to use his experience as a prosecutor to pass good laws and regain some of the trust he has lost from his fellow colleagues.

Speaker Rod Jetton of Marble Hill, Mo., represents the 156th District in the Missouri House of Representatives.

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