Lawmakers propose bills concerning national issues

Monday, December 3, 2007 | 10:35 p.m. CST; updated 5:01 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — National events are trickling down to Missouri politics through legislation filed Monday.

Issues such as the Michael Vick dogfighting case and the Jena Six trial in Jena, La., where a noose was hung in a schoolyard tree, have spurred state senators to try to change Missouri law.

Monday was the first day to file legislation for the 2008 session.

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, filed two pieces of legislation regarding illegal immigration.

“It’s no longer something we can say ‘Oh, that’s just a border state issue,’” Rupp said. “It’s hit the heartland.”

Rupp referred to an incident in St. Louis where illegal immigrants were hired by a contractor involved with the state. Earlier this year, a federal raid found nearly two dozen illegal immigrants working for a private contractor hired to clean state offices.

Immigration has become a key issue for Gov. Matt Blunt, who has pledged to keep illegal immigrants from obtaining Missouri driver’s licenses.

“The state can say it’s a federal problem, but they’re not dealing with it,” Rupp said.

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons, R-St. Louis County, said the state is focusing on national issues because the U.S. Congress isn’t.

“I think we’ve seen a Congress that’s been pretty ineffective for awhile, and the people expected their elected officials to take action on things that they’re concerned about,” Gibbons said.” If they can’t get any action out of the federal government, they look to us and say ‘Well, you guys are there. Why don’t you do something about it?’”

Gibbons said state government is traditionally more responsive to the needs of the people.

“Immigration is a huge example of that,” he said. “It pushes that issue down to our level and then, within the authority that we have, we will do our best to make it better.”

Rupp said he introduced legislation regarding dogfighting because it is in the national spotlight.

“It’s on people’s minds, it’s not like it’s obscure,” Rupp said. He said dogfighting is already prohibited under Missouri law; his bill would “tweak” it.

“Even if it’s a national issue, we’re just taking the time to look at it and see if it’s a Missouri issue,” he said.

Sen. Yvonne Wilson, D-Kansas City, submitted legislation that would make hanging a noose a hate crime and said she did so because the Jena Six trial “raised eyebrows” across the country.

“It’s unfortunate that the country is still haunted by this kind of hate,” she said.

Wilson said because Missouri was an important slave state, an attitude and perception about the issue remain.

Other legislation filed concerned punishments for cyber-bullying, in reference to a girl who committed suicide in O’Fallon.

Rupp, the bill’s sponsor, said he envisions hurdles with the legislation.

“How do you draft something that doesn’t ensnare unwilling or unwitting individuals that didn’t mean to harass someone online because it’s so broad, but it’s not so specific that you can’t get a conviction?” Rupp said.

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