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Jan. 3, 2024Jefferson City, Mo. |  By: AP

Missouri GOP leaders say LGBTQ+ issues will take a back seat to child care, education policy in 2024

missouri capitol

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s five-month annual legislative session began Wednesday, and top Republican leaders say passing more laws directed at LBGTQ+ people is not a priority.

Republicans spent much of last session crafting two new transgender-related laws, despite considerable pushback from Democrats and LGBTQ+ advocates.

One measure outlawed gender-affirming surgeries for minors and instituted a four-year ban on the use of hormones and puberty blockers as a part of gender-affirming health care for minors who were not already receiving those medications. Another law limits athletes to school sports teams based on their sex as assigned at birth, an act that also expires in August 2027.

Bills filed this session would repeal the expiration dates for both transgender-related laws, make public drag shows a crime, require teachers to notify parents if students express confusion about their gender, and put limits on what books are available to minors in public and school libraries.

But Republican Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden said he does not expect work on transgender-related issues this year. And House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Patterson said proposals dealing with drag shows, LGBTQ+ discussions in schools and library books will take a back seat to top priorities that include expanding access to child care and charter and non-public schools.

“It’s a noble thing to try to protect kids. But you know, here in Missouri, we’ve got a good number of kids that can’t read at their grade level. One fifth of kids are obese. We have 40 kids a year that are killed by gun violence,” Patterson said. “If we really want to help kids, I think we’ll do things that address crime and educational opportunities.”

The rift between the Republican majority and more extreme factions within the party likely will be on full display this year as GOP lawmakers try to win primary elections by moving farther and farther to the right.

With many Republican lawmakers competing against one another for higher state office, Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday called for a focus on ways to make the state better “instead of trying to be so controversial.”

“There are plenty of people in the General Assembly that understand that that takes a balanced approach,” Parson said. “Common sense will prevail at the end of the day.”

This session, Republican legislative leaders said they will try again to make it harder to amend the Missouri Constitution.

But Patterson said Missouri lawmakers must acknowledge votes in other states “that all seem to show that the voters want the ability to engage in government this way.”

Republican-led legislatures in Arizona, Arkansas, Ohio and South Dakota all recently placed measures on the ballot seeking to make it harder to approve future initiatives. Most failed.

“It’s going to be a difficult thing to do, but I think we’ll take a look at it,” Patterson said.

Other high-priority issues Republican leaders outlined for this year include putting additional limits on foreign ownership of agricultural land.

Parson on Tuesday issued an executive order banning citizens and companies from countries deemed threatening by the federal government from purchasing farms or other land within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of staffed military sites in the state.

The federal government lists China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as foreign adversaries.

Parson’s order is limited, and he acknowledged there’s more for lawmakers to do on the issue. He urged the Legislature not to go so far as to ban all foreign land ownership, which he said would shut out allies such as Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom.