JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Changes to Missouri's workplace non-discrimination policy got a boost from a former Mizzou football standout.
Among the first comments on the Missouri Senate floor Monday were related to former Tiger defensive end Michael Sam announcing his intention to be the first active, openly gay athlete in the National Football League.
"It is time to pass non-discrimination legislation in Missouri," Sen. Scott Sifton, a St. Louis County Democrat, told his colleagues. "It should not be OK to be fired simply because you are gay."
Sifton pointed to the broad public support for Sam since his announcement Sunday night.
Right now, Missouri state law now bars discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex and disability. A Senate bill would add sexual orientation to that list.
Under the current state law, Sam could have been fired without appeal on the grounds that he identifies as gay. There is also no protection for someone fired on the suspicion that they are homosexual.
Senate Bill 109, sponsored by Democratic Minority Leader Jolie Justus, is also known as the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act (MONA). Justus has filed similar legislation for about eight years, she told ABC 17 News.
MONA passed the Senate last year, 19 votes to 11. But the vote came on the final day of the legislative session and did not make it to the House of Representatives in time for any action.
"There was a lot of discussion [this morning] about the announcement from Mr. Sam," Justus said. "But whether or not that parlays into additional votes, I don't know."
Justus, an openly gay legislator whose Kansas City district includes parts of mid-Missouri, told ABC 17 News her bill has and has had bipartisan support.
"We can use these moments as education moments to show that we're not fighting for anything special, just for equal rights," she said.
Justus added that she felt changing the definition of workplace discrimination and harassment to include sexual orientation was about more than just equality - she claimed it was about making Missouri competitive in the workplace.
"The reality is that individuals, if they don't feel safe, they don't feel comfortable in the workplace, they're not going to come work here," Justus said.
ABC 17 News tried to reach House of Representatives leadership Monday night, but was told there would be no comments on the issue yet. Speaker Tim Jones canceled a previously scheduled press availability after the chamber adjourned.
Jones did respond to an email request from ABC 17 News asking if MONA would now become a priority for the chamber, given wide support for Sam's announcement.
"Over a thousand bills are filed each year and although I try to keep up with the major priorities, bills are being filed every day," Jones wrote.
As of Monday night, no non-discrimination bill had been filed in the House.
MONA has support from the state's governor, however. Jay Nixon mentioned the legislation by name during his State of the State address in January, adding that he would sign it if the bill made it to his desk.
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