JEFFERSON CITY — At the Missouri Capitol, there are Bryce and Cade, Chloe and Sahara, and Jonathan, too. All have bills named for them that were passed and sent to Gov. Jay Nixon.
The trend of naming bills for children, which began a couple of decades ago, appears to have gained steam this year in the Missouri Legislature — even though some similar efforts have more recently stalled elsewhere across the country.
In Missouri, some of the child-named bills that passed in 2013 were a culmination of several years' worth of effort. Others sailed through quickly with little debate. Their common denominator was a name, which transformed a bill from a mere number — like Senate Bill 230 or House Bill 675 — into a more memorable and personal policy statement.
"When you come down to things that are affecting the quality of life of human beings, I don't think it hurts a bit to put a name on it," said Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, a Republican from suburban St. Louis. "I think it identifies a bill and allows you to get the kind of publicity to keep the focus on it."
Scharnhorst should know. He sponsored two bills — each named for one of his grandsons — that passed during the legislative session that ended last month.
His push for Bryce's Law began around the time that his 6-year-old autistic grandson by that name died of epilepsy in 2007. Scharnhorst initially proposed a voucher-like initiative offering state tax credits for charitable contributions that would have been used to provide scholarships for parents to send their special-needs children to private centers. But the measure repeatedly failed because of opposition from public education organizations.
This year, Scharnhorst switched tactics while keeping his grandson's name on the bill. He sponsored legislation that requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to seek grants and donations that can be used for scholarships for special-needs children of all ages to get services from private facilities or other public schools. It passed as part of a larger education bill on the final day of the session and is now pending before Nixon.
Bryce's brother, Cade, is alive and very physically active, which earned naming rights on another one of his grandfather's measures.
Cade's Law, which also passed on the final day of the session, would require the state education department to develop rules for a physical fitness challenge for school children. Scharnhorst said his 10-year-old grandson loves to play hockey, basketball and golf. He wants a greater emphasis on physical activity, particularly in high school.
Sen. Wayne Wallingford also successfully sponsored two measures named for children, though not from his own family.
One honors Sahara Aldridge, a 13-year-old girl from Cape Girardeau who died in 2007 from a cancerous brain tumor. Her mother came to the Capitol to testify for the bill, which gives Missouri income taxpayers the option of donating at least $1 to a pediatric cancer research fund.
Wallingford's other bill is named for Jonathan McClard, a southeast Missouri teenager who was sentenced to 30 years in an adult prison in 2007 after pleading guilty to first-degree assault for shooting another teenager. McClard had told the Southeast Missourian newspaper that he was nervous about being sent to a maximum-security adult prison when he turned 17. Just days later, he killed himself in a prison where he'd been kept separate from the general population before he was to be moved to the maximum-security facility in Charleston, Mo..
His mother pushed for a bill that will require judges to consider whether to send teenagers up to age 17 years and 6 months — who are convicted in adult courts — to juvenile facilities before they are later transferred to adult prisons. Nixon already has signed the legislation into law.
Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, acknowledged that some colleagues are wary of memorializing people in state statutes. But he believes such bills serve a purpose.
"When a bill is named after somebody, it really brings a personality to the bill — you understand what's behind the bill, not just the words in the bill, and it makes it more inviting," Wallingford said.
Chloe's Law was similarly spearheaded by a mother, Kelly Manz, who listened as lawmakers debated and passed the bill. Like Cade, Chloe is alive. She resides with her family in suburban Kansas City and even has a Facebook page and website devoted to her cause. Chloe was born in 2008 with a rare congenital heart defect, which Manz has said was discovered a mere 9 hours after her birth by a pulse oximetry screening.
Her namesake bill would require all newborns to undergo such screenings, beginning in 2014. Manz said in a Facebook post that Nixon is planning to hold a signing ceremony for the bill.