April 29, 2011
Gov. Nixon vetoes Senate Bill 188
Good afternoon. Thank you all for being here at this historic old courthouse, at this historic moment for Missouri.
It’s good to look out and see an audience that reflects the true diversity of our state.
We stand on hallowed ground, in the footsteps of Dred Scott, whose unsuccessful pursuit of freedom began here in 1846. Eleven long years later, after many trips to the courthouse, the decision of the highest court in the land, denying him his freedom, became a clarion call to end slavery.
As history teaches us, the path of justice is a rough and winding road. Abolition. Emancipation. Reformation. All three took root and blossomed forth from the bitter soil of partisanship and prejudice.
Today, much progress has been made in courthouses across this land, in the pursuit of civil rights and justice for all people. But much remains to be done.
A broad coalition of people of good will and good faith has gathered here today as we continue on our journey.
You are the people who have marched, and sacrificed and stood up for the mistreated… the forgotten… the forsaken … and made progress.
You are the people who fought to throw open doorways and tear down barriers so that people with disabilities could live full and independent lives.
How I wish that Max Starkloff and Jim Tuscher, two giants in the fight for disability rights, were still with us. They accomplished so much in their lifetimes:
- Access to sidewalks, buildings and public transportation;
- Access to housing;
- Access to education and communication.
We fight on today, so thousands more people with disabilities can take the “next big step” … into the workplace, where their skills and talents can shine.
You are the people who changed public opinion and private dreams, so that little girls could reach the same goals as little boys, and become surgeons and fighter pilots, supreme court judges and CEOs.
We fight on today, in the spirit of Sue Shear and Harriet Woods, to shatter glass ceilings.
You are the people who fought for equality in education, housing and hiring, inspired by champions of social justice like Minnie Liddell, Norman Seay and Frankie Freeman.
We fight on today for economic justice for all.
We stand together today, to defend the principles that will forever guide the conscience of our state and our nation: that all people have certain unalienable rights…and that all people are entitled to equal protection under the law.
These principles are at the core of the Missouri Human Rights Act, which has come under attack.
On paper, the Missouri Human Rights Act says that it is unlawful to discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age, or disability.
But it is more than words on paper.
It is a living covenant … and a call to action.
It calls us to treat all people with dignity and respect.
It calls us to root out discrimination wherever it festers in our state.
It calls us to stand up and speak out, so that whenever the powerful victimize the powerless, justice will surely follow.
It calls us to defend those who have suffered the humiliation and reversals of discrimination, so that they might find redress in our courts of law.
We must answer the call.
That is why -- today -- I intend to veto Senate Bill 188.
Senate Bill 188 would undermine key provisions of the Missouri Human Rights Act, rolling back decades of progress in protecting civil rights.
The bill would make it harder to prove discrimination in the workplace, and would throw new hurdles in the path of those whose rights have been violated.
That is unacceptable.
It is not who we are.
And it stops here.
Missouri is a state that welcomes all people, and believes that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect.
That means we have an obligation to put a stop to discrimination and dismantle barriers of prejudice wherever they exist -- in the workplace, in housing or in the public square.
It is no wonder, then, that this bill has drawn fire from this broad coalition of people here today, including:
- the Anti-Defamation League;
- the American Cancer Society;
- the AARP;
- the NAACP;
- the AFL-CIO;
- the League of Women Voters;
- the legislative Black Caucus;
- the Missouri Association for the Deaf;
- the National Alliance on Mental Illness;
- Missouri Centers for Independent Living;
- Missouri NOW;
- the Urban League;
- Missouri Association for Social Welfare;
- the Whole Person;
- our communities of faith;
- and many, many more.
Each of us may see the face of discrimination from a different vantage point. But its ugliness is unmistakable in any light…from any angle.
Making it easier to discriminate against people with disabilities or cancer, against women, older workers and minorities, against those of different faiths and ethnicities, will not help us create jobs or be more competitive in a global economy.
The stakes – and the opportunities - have never been greater.
Because we live in a world where the boundaries of time, distance and culture are collapsing at the touch of a finger. Technology allows us to bear witness to the triumphs and tragedies of the human condition - from tsunamis to revolutions - in real time.
We will create new opportunities, and solve mankind’s most pressing problems, as allies.
And true allies are those who can see beyond the surface of what makes people different, to reveal the substance of what makes people the same.
The more we learn to understand and respect one another, the more practiced we become at treating everyone with compassion and dignity, the better citizens of the world we will become.
To thrive in a global economy and uphold these values that we share, Missouri must be a state that continues to move forward – not backward - when it comes to civil rights and equal opportunity.
For decades, the Missouri Human Rights Act has proved its strength - as both sword and shield - protecting the rights of people like Natalie and Tim.
Natalie had worked for her employer for six years when she was told there was a cutback. Her job had been eliminated. She had been given good job evaluations, raises and bonuses. She was in her 50s, with a child still in college. Her employer told her it had nothing to do with her performance – just economics.
But shortly after letting her go, her employer replaced her with a 24-year-old worker with less experience and fewer qualifications. She sued her employer under the Missouri Human Rights Act, and the case was successfully resolved.
Tim is a man who is developmentally disabled. For nearly 18 years he held the same job: washing dishes at a hotel. Tim lived with his mom, a busy registered nurse. His earnings helped keep their household afloat, and paid for his medical care.
He was named employee of the month twice, got regular pay raises for good performance, and was never disciplined for poor work.
But that all changed when he got a new boss. The new boss started writing Tim up for things Tim didn’t understand… and couldn’t read. Eventually, Tim was fired.
So Tim and his mom, who now had to work two jobs, appealed to the court that Tim had been discriminated against because of his disability. The new boss tried to get the lawsuit dismissed. But under the Missouri Human Rights Act, Tim was protected from unfair treatment.
Protecting human rights is not a matter of politics.
It is a matter of principle.
That is why today I am vetoing Senate Bill 188.
With just ten days left in this legislative session, there are those who will be putting all their energy and effort into overturning my action.
We must lock arms and go forward from this place to block those efforts. This is the time to make your voices heard in the halls of the Capitol.
We must work together to impress upon all Missourians, the importance of protecting human rights and human dignity.
We will not cede one inch of ground it has taken decades to gain.
Because in that time, we have come to see that the civil rights of all, are inextricably bound to the rights of the few.
The path of justice is a rough and winding road.
Our journey is not over.
We will not turn back now.
We will not rest while racial slurs poison the workplace.
We will not rest while faith is the target of bigotry.
We will not rest while people with disabilities are exploited and excluded.
We will go forward – together - to accomplish the unfinished work of our state and our nation.