Members of the Missouri House are bringing new regulations to the legislative table to control religious boarding schools.
“We have a number of our members that are very interested in filing legislation, leadership in the House has been very supportive of us taking action, and I believe it might be one of the first bills passed next year,” Rep. Sheila Solon, R-St. Joseph, said.
The House Committee on Children and Families held a four-hour hearing where they called numerous witnesses to gather information on the current state of the regulations of residential schools in Missouri, many of them unregulated due to the lack of a law covering religious boarding schools in the state.
“It was very clear and evident that there really is no government oversight of these facilities,” said Solon.
In a new committee report, members concluded “there are numerous facilities in the state that have abused vulnerable children in their care, with no state oversight, for many years.”
The committee also stressed the need to balance that with “a parent’s right to place a child with an organization that shares their same desire in program requirements, curriculum, personnel, ministry, teaching, instruction or enrollment.”
According to information shared at the hearing by Caitlin Whaley, director of legislation and Communications at the Department of Social Services, in Missouri, there is evidence of only 110 licensed residential care facilities, a term that includes facilities providing 24-hour care in a group setting to children unattended by parents or guardians.
Last Monday’s hearing was called by Rep. Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, following an extensive report from the Kansas City Star documenting the testimonies of abuse of a dozen former students from Circle of Hope Girl’s Ranch, a Cedar County facility that was closed in August. In September, two former ranch residents filed lawsuits in Cedar County against the owners, Boyd and Stephanie Householder.
Missouri does not have a clear definition of what unregulated schools are and how many such institutions exist in the state, Solon acknowledged.
“The only time that we even learned that their existence is when there, you know, is a hotline call made or child abuse accusations made.”
The committee’s report lists several items that could be changed in state law. These include:
Failure to conduct background checks should result in misdemeanor charges and administrative penalties for facility operators.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Many Republican lawmakers in states where coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have surged are not only rejecting statewide mask mandates. They’re also resisting rules requiring them in their own capitols.
Efforts to require lawmakers and staff to wear masks have received a cool reception even in statehouses that have seen outbreaks of the virus or where Republican governors have issued statewide mandates. It’s echoing a partisan divide nationwide over a simple step that health experts say is proven to help keep others safe.
“We’re supposed to be modeling for our constituents and for our residents in our state,” said Arkansas state Sen. Stephanie Flowers, a Democrat in the majority-Republican Legislature who proposed a rule requiring senators to wear a mask or risk losing their per diem payments. “You’ve got the governor asking everyone to wear a mask and socially distance. It’s not like I’m asking for something nobody has heard of.”
Many legislatures are still planning and drafting rules for their 2021 legislative sessions, while four chambers approved rules requiring masks for sessions this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Nearly 200 legislators nationwide have tested positive for the virus and four have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press. At least four dozen Mississippi lawmakers tested positive in the largest outbreak in a legislature, where masks were encouraged but not required for lawmakers.
Missouri’s legislature postponed a special session focused on virus relief after a COVID-19 outbreak among lawmakers, and a Tennessee lawmaker said she won’t be able to spend Thanksgiving with her mother after attending a hearing where legislators weren’t wearing masks.
Health experts warn the public is taking its cue from elected officials while those officials are trying to restrict or discourage indoor gatherings that are fueling a rapid rise in cases.
“We know it works, but if political leaders don’t stand behind their public health officials and say we need to do this, a significant portion of the public may not follow,” said Dr. Jeffrey Levi, professor of health policy at George Washington University.