Business Community Unites Against Controversial Legislation
By Geoff Gerling
Major debate continues over what appears to be the most controversial legislation in the Missouri General Assembly this year. Senate Joint Resolution 39 asks the Missouri voters to approve a Constitutional Amendment allowing businesses and religious organizations to deny service to same sex couples based on their beliefs. While proponents claim this is an expansion of religious freedom, business leaders of all sizes along with civil rights activists claim this would be state-sanctioned discrimination and potentially toxic to our economic future as a state.
The Emerging Issues Committee of the Missouri House met on Tuesday night and heard testimony on both sides well past midnight. Advocates for SJR39 included Lt. Governor Peter Kinder who asked the committee to pass the legislation and let the voters decide instead of bowing to corporate pressure. Multiple faith leaders also spoke in favor of the expanded protection including a pastor from a local church in Lee’s Summit.
Opponents, however, came in greater force and unified behind a message: passage of SJR39 tells the world Missouri is not a friendly business environment. The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, St. Louis Area Chamber, Missouri Chamber and hundreds of individual businesses across the state have come out in opposition, creating a rare divide between the Republican party’s two strongest bases: conservative Christians and business executives.
Other states are dealing with similar legislation and are seeing the consequences. North Carolina passed a nearly identical measure weeks ago and have seen tens of millions in investment dollars walk away including a project from PayPal valued at $44 million and some 6,000 jobs. Entertainers and athletic governing boards have also warned against such laws there and in Missouri. The Big 12 conference and NCAA both spoke against SJR39 which is of unique importance to Kansas City as hosts of annual basketball tournaments held at the Sprint Center downtown, bringing in several million from around the region. Mayor Sly James identified this law as a major potential threat to the city’s economic future, citing a report from the local tourism board Visit KC estimating future losses totaling over $5 billion as a direct result of its passage.
While the House committee did not take action last week, advancing SJR39 seems probable. This legislation was already the subject of the longest filibuster in state history earlier this year and will be fought over bitterly by both sides. Locally, the South Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and the South Kansas City Alliance are both formally opposed.