Group says it lobbied for repeal of ban on gay sex

Saturday, February 10, 2007

An advocacy group for gays and lesbians raised questions this week about House Speaker Rod Jetton's statements that he removed Rep. Scott Lipke as a committee chairman because a provision repealing the state's ban on gay sex was quietly included in a sex crimes bill.

PROMO, a St. Louis-based group, used an e-mail campaign in the final days of the 2006 legislative session to push for the repeal, said Julie Brueggemann, executive director of the organization. The law, a misdemeanor sexual misconduct statute, was unenforceable as a result of a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The e-mail alert was sent May 4, Brueggemann said. On that day, the Missouri Senate approved a version of the bill that did not include the repeal. Numerous activists in the organization sent e-mails in the ensuing days urging that the repeal language be restored, she said.

"It was fairly early on that we were aware the House version had the change and the Senate version did not," Brueggemann said. After the Senate removed the repeal, she said, "that is when we started getting active on this issue."

When lawmakers returned to work this year, Jetton, R-Marble Hill, removed Lipke, R-Jackson, as chairman of the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee. After weeks of silence. Jetton explained the move by saying that Lipke "snuck" the repeal into the bill, deceived the Missouri Legislature by not announcing the change to the House or to the GOP leadership and embarrassed social conservatives.

Lipke, in reply, has noted that the change was in his bill from the first draft he presented. In addition, he has said, he e-mailed that version and another version written in the committee to hundreds of prosecutors and judges across the state. The bill, known as Jessica's Law, dramatically increased the penalties for sex offenders who prey on children. The repeal provision eliminated a law that was unenforceable, he has said, and needed to be deleted from state law as a matter of good policy.

Asked to provide proof that PROMO lobbied lawmakers in favor of the repeal provision, PROMO activist Alan Easton of Maryland Heights, Mo., provided the Southeast Missourian with e-mail messages he sent to five lawmakers on the House-Senate conference committee working on the final version of the bill. The e-mail messages were sent on May 8 or May 9, as work was underway on the compromise version.

Two lawmakers replied. One was Sen. Rita Days, D-St. Louis, who told Easton that winning the repeal would be difficult. "Same sex anything is such a hot item these days," she wrote. "It's election time and issues like this bring out the conservative base."

Another lawmaker, Rep. Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, replied through legislative assistant Leann Hager. Writing May 10, after the final version of the bill was complete and before either chamber had voted, Hager told Easton that the repeal was included in the final bill.

"At least some Republicans knew about the text of the bill," Easton said.

Tilley, however, said he never saw the e-mail. He also said the conference committee on the bill never formally met and that he was unaware of the repeal provision. "It concerns me," he said. "It is something I would have liked to have known in advance."

But even if he had known, Tilley said, he likely would have supported the final bill.

Tilley, who said he hopes to seek a leadership post in the House in the future, supports Jetton's removal of Lipke as a committee chairman. He's torn over the move, Tilley said, because he knows both men well and likes them both.

"It is not my job to agree or disagree," he said. "He did what he thought was best for the House of Representatives."

The repeal was a long-standing goal of gay and lesbian rights groups, Easton noted. PROMO is the successor organization to the Privacy Rights Education Project, said Easton, who has been active in the groups since the late 1980s. After the 2003 Supreme Court ruling, he said, the issue fell off the radar until a court case developed over the state's rules barring gays and lesbians from being licensed as foster parents. By the time lawmakers were voting on Jessica's Law, the state had lost a court ruling on the issue and the case was on appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court. The state cited the unenforceable sexual misconduct law as the basis of denying the foster license.

"All sorts of people knew about this and were contacting legislators," Easton said.

On Friday, Lipke said the PROMO evidence shows that his fellow lawmakers weren't as ignorant of what was in the bill as Jetton has stated. As the dispute has played out, he said, expressions of support at home and in the House have been "very reassuring."

But now he would like to put the matter behind him. "It is time we all move on," Lipke said. "There are a lot of issues, and we need to use our time to do a better job of representing the people of the state."

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