Senators hear bill to resolve inmate marriage license issue

The court-ordered solution in three separate federal cases involving inmates’ marriage licenses could become part of Missouri law, under bills introduced in the Legislature this year.

“It actually comes out of a court case the ACLU was involved with,” state Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, told the Senate’s Seniors, Families and Pensions Committee Tuesday morning.

He noted current state law requires marriage license applicants to appear “in person” before the recorder of deeds or a recorder’s employee to get the affidavit signed for a marriage license.

But when incarcerated inmates want to get married, Parson observed, recorders “have to go in person” to get the affidavit — and some recorders have declined to go.

The federal courts have ruled an affidavit should replace the in-person appearance, in lawsuits involving the recorders of deeds in Cole, Moniteau and Washington counties.

For years, Cole County Recorder Dave Newsam went to the state’s prisons in the county to get the applications from inmates, and Recorder Larry Rademan continued that practice until August 2012 when Corrections officials told him he couldn’t go into JCCC without giving them his Social Security number, which Rademan refused to do.

Last March, U.S. District Chief Judge Fernando Gaitan ruled in the ACLU’s lawsuit against Rademan and the Corrections department that a Missouri requirement that marriage licenses be signed “in the presence of the recorder of deeds or their deputy” … is unconstitutional as applied to situations where one or both applicants for a marriage license is incarcerated.”

The ACLU also won similar federal rulings against Washington County Recorder Judy Creswell Moyers, who had refused to go to the Potosi Correctional Center, and against Michele A. Higgins, Moniteau County’s recorder of deeds, also had to accept affidavits for marriage licenses from inmates at the Tipton Correctional Center.

David Winton, lobbyist for the Missouri Recorders Association, told the Senate committee Tuesday that Parson’s bill “would just clarify and create a state policy that allows for these affidavits.”

Under the proposed law, the recorder would provide a form “which includes the necessary information for the recorder of deeds to issue a marriage license.”

The incarcerated inmate would have to include a notarized statement “that that the applicant is unable to appear in the presence of the recorder of deeds as a result of the applicant’s incarceration,” and a prison official would have to verify that statement.

No one testified against the bill at Tuesday’s hearing, and Parson asked that it be considered as a “consent” bill — which can’t be amended during debate.

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