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Session Left Little For Lawmaker To Celebrate

State Rep. Stacey Newman of Richmond Heights claims there were few victories in last legislative session

State Rep. Stacey Newman in front of “The New Cheshire” undergoing renovations on Clayton Road. The Richmond Heights-Clayton border runs through the Cheshire property. Newman represents both cities in Jefferson City. photo by Ursula Ruhl (click for larger version)
July 01, 2011
It's not easy being a big city liberal in a statehouse dominated by rural conservatives. Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, gets lectured by her colleagues on gun rights, welfare queens and the sanctity of marriage.

"This session a legislator from Springfield sneered about the need for domestic abuse laws, saying that it's just one of those women's issues, and women ask for it anyway," said Newman. "We did get a good bill passed on domestic violence this session that ended in May, despite some of these attitudes."

Newman said that was one of the few victories to chalk up for this session of the legislature. She said it was especially frustrating that so many peripheral laws were proposed, when the focus for the 2010 session was supposed to be "jobs, jobs, jobs" in an ailing state economy.

"I spent most of my time fighting to stop stuff this session, but that's important to do when you look at some of the things being proposed," said Newman. "You didn't see Democrats throwing bills up in the air and celebrating at the end of this session. We took all the paper to the recycling bins."

Some of the more controversial proposals in this session included a symbolic right-to-pray law, a birther bill, the perennial measure to get creationism instruction into public schools and a bill to outlaw Muslim Sharia Law from being followed in the Missouri judicial system.

Some of the bills which Newman fought, but which passed despite her vocal opposition, included:

• Conceal-carry: Lowers the state's minimum age for a permit to carry a concealed weapon from 23 to 21.

• Hog Farms: Places restrictions on lawsuits against large industrial hog farms for any damages foul odors and animal waste produced by such facilities cause neighbors' property.

• Abortion Limits: Removes the exemption in the existing law banning late-term abortions that allows such abortions if necessary to protect the health of the mother.

• Voter ID: Imposes a photo identification requirement for voters through a constitutional amendment to be decided by voters on the 2012 state ballot.   

Newman has strong feelings on all of these issues. She said she thinks her positions are in line with those of her constituents, who live in an area from Clayton through Richmond Heights, Maplewood and the very northeast corner of Webster Groves. For example, voters in her district came out overwhelmingly against conceal-carry in a 1999 ballot issue.

Political Activism

Newman said the issue of carrying guns is part of what prompted her interest in politics and later running for state office. She said she was inspired by her daughter who became concerned about guns at age 7. In 2000, Newman enlisted in the Million Mom March against gun violence.

"There is one reason why we see the legislature voting on gun issues session after session and that's because of all the money and lobbying power of the NRA (National Rifle Association)," said Newman. "They are a lobbyist for gun manufacturers and the purpose is to sell more guns.

"They will be back next session," added Newman. "They will be trying to lower the age of conceal-carry to 18 and they will be trying to prevent college campuses from prohibiting gun carrying on our campuses."

Newman has an answer for those who argue that legalization of conceal-carry in Missouri is not a problem and has not caused gun mayhem or gun crime rates to spike.

"The problem with the statistics after the conceal-carry's passage is that gun crimes used in home killings are so often counted as domestic abuse situations, instead of as gun violence," Newman explained. "We have seen so many situations where guns are used in domestic abuse."

On the passage of new abortion restrictions, Newman said that fewer than 40 late-term abortions in Missouri last year would have been impacted by the 2011 bill. Newman said the energy spent on the bill is all out of proportion to the perceived "problem" by anti-choice advocates in the legislature.

"The question women need to ask themselves is: when you are facing a medical decision involving a pregnancy with your doctor, do you really turn to the physician and say: 'OK, Let's bring the legislators in here to help us decide what to do.' Painful medical decisions belong with a woman's family, faith and personal physicians," Newman said.

Leading The Charge

"I was leading the charge against the Voter ID Bill," said Newman. "I know the issue well and have the background information on it, so it made sense for me to be the point person on this.

"The argument of the right wing is that you need a photo ID to go to the city swimming pool, so why not a photo ID to vote?" said Newman. "But there are thousands of seniors, disabled and students who don't have a photo ID. Quite clearly this is nothing but voter suppression straight from the RNC (Republican National Committee)."

On June 17, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the voter ID law, which Newman opposed unsuccessfully in the legislature. Nixon said "disenfranchising certain classes of persons is not acceptable." In 2006 the state Supreme Court rejected another Missouri ID law on constitutional grounds, citing that voting needs to remain "free and fair."

Newman said all the laws on guns, abortion and voter ID are mostly about "firing up the Republican base," and not about improving Missouri. Despite a partisan cloud hanging over the legislature, Newman does see a silver lining that gives her hope.

"One thing that was really refreshing this past session is the new class of freshmen legislators, including those on the Republican side," said Newman. "Many of them refused to be told how to vote. They tended to be less partisan and eager to learn about issues and how the legislative process works.

"They were willing to have friendly discussions and they didn't want to be told how to vote," added Newman. "Actually, quite a few of the freshmen Republicans came over to our side, especially on the bills that were clearly anti-worker."

Newman said she hopes the 2012 legislative session will stop targeting the minimum wage, workplace safety and teachers' rights; and, spend more time on economic growth to spur jobs for unemployed workers.

"The House failed to bring up the comprehensive economic development and jobs legislation to a vote until just 45 minutes before the end of session," said Newman. "As a result, the bill containing incentives for the U.S.-China air cargo hub, the life sciences, data centers and job retention died in the Senate. We have to do better.

"We also need to create some revenue in this state, otherwise we are going to just continue to cut, cut – cut state jobs, schools and health and highways, our seniors and our kids," said Newman. "It's estimated that we could raise $250 million taxing Internet sales. Twenty other states do it. Why aren't we? But the other side of the aisle won't hear of it."

Newman was first elected to the Missouri House in a special election in November 2009. Prior to her election to the House, Newman served as a founder and the executive director of Harriett's List, a statewide political action committee honoring the legacy of Harriett Woods, former Missouri Lt. Governor.

She was born in Kansas City, Kan., in 1954 and has degrees from Emporia State University in Kansas. Newman currently resides in Richmond Heights with her husband, Burt. She has a daughter, Sophie, a stepson, Andrew, and daughter-in-law, Margo.

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