The 2016 regular session began Wednesday at noon. The House came to order and Speaker Todd Richardson who provided a list of priorities. These included ethics reforms, economic growth, and transportation.
Speaker Richardson also emphasized some of the positive achievements of the last session. We have effectively ended taxation by citation with SB 5, and have advanced other municipal court reforms. We also included the first income tax rate reduction in a century. Also, we have worked hard to make the necessary reforms that will enable people to escape poverty and find meaningful employment in their lives. I am pleased with these accomplishments and look forward to working on new priorities.
Of course, I have my own list of priorities for our district and state as well with HB 1637 at the top. This bill would require the teaching of First Amendment free speech to college students in Missouri, instruction that is sorely needed as the saga continues at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
MU and free speech
As you will recall, during the fall Assistant Professor Melissa Click attempted to obstruct a student photographer from taking pictures of the protestors on the Quad in Columbia. In response to the inaction of MU's administration, I signed a letter along with over 100 other representatives asking that she be relieved of her duties at the university. Her actions were certainly antithetical to her field of study as she tried to limit free speech (certainly a communications professor should understand and promote the free speech provisions of the First Amendment). Needless to say, I find this quite disturbing. Unfortunately, the week found more controversy concerning free speech.
The most recent edition of The Economist contains comments from University of Missouri Interim Vice Chancellor for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Chuck Henson stating that the First Amendment does not give a person the right to say hateful things. However, the "Daily Beast" website contains a rebuttal from Henson who says he was quoted out of context. Henson alleges that he stated hateful speech is protected, however, when accompanied by action, it is not. This second quote is a correct interpretation, so it is a more comforting to read. However, the statements of the Interim President Michael Middleton seem less so.
Again, in The Economist Middleton is quoted as saying that all of the demands of Concerned Student 1950 will be met. Also, the "comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum" will contain a list of watchwords to avoid: adultism (prejudicial actions against younger folks), minoritised (making minorities feel inferior), and intersextionality (I'm not quite sure what the definition of this is). I can only respond with, What? Is this the best use of taxpayer and student tuition at a state university? I will seek answers to these sorts of questions during session. Hopefully our flagship university won't sail off over the horizon before the legislature receives some solid answers.
Now, should we say hateful things about others? No, this is known as civility, a trait that our Founders greatly valued. However, they knew that this behavior could not be enforced in one's thought pattern, or the extension of that thought known as speech. Only action can be regulated, and as a result we have laws on liable, against inciting a riot, etc. Enforcing thought patterns becomes suppression and oppression, both of which the Founders sought to avoid. Will the new "comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum" tread down the path tread avoided over 200 years ago? I will do my best to make certain it does not and that the fundamental rights of all are preserved.