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With less than four weeks remaining in the Missouri legislative session, tensions are flaring in the Senate.

Democrats were accused Tuesday of trying to sneakily pass legislation that would make it unlawful for the state to discriminate against anyone based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, said "the level of trust in this Senate body is being dramatically eroded" and "the level of distrust is astronomical" after Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton, attempted to revamp a bill focused on veterans into one that protects the employment rights of LGBTQ Missourians.

Senate Bill 78 originally would have granted an interview to any person applying for a state job who has served in the Missouri National Guard. As the bill was being discussed Tuesday, Beck substituted the bill with a version that would outlaw state employment discrimination against people for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Onder called this a dirty trick and said Democrats keep trying to add measures of the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act to various legislation. The act, known as MONA, would protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Prior to SB 78 being discussed, two noncontroversial bills were being quickly perfected, the process of amending and debating a bill. Many senators were not present on the Senate floor for what was routine business. Onder said he wondered if the discrimination measures were put in to try and sneak them through the Senate without debate.

With the original bill being related to the National Guard, Onder said most senators wouldn't have thought the anti- discrimination measures would have been added so they probably wouldn't go to the Senate floor for the discussion.

Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said these measures continue to be proposed even after being voted down in a roll-call vote earlier in the session.

"We're treading over the same ground that we have before, but I don't know how many of the same conversations can be considered productive," he said.

Onder agreed and said the definition of insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, defended Beck's move and said he appreciated it. He emphasized the bill's substitute would only apply to the state government, not private entities, making it narrower than MONA.

Razer said the bill's substitute would send a message that "the state of Missouri is not going to discriminate against our state employees. It doesn't matter who you love if you work for the state of Missouri. If you do a good job, we want you working for us."

Razer, who is one of the few openly gay members of the Legislature, is the sponsor of a bill that is a version of the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act. The bill has not been heard in a committee, but it has been proposed as an amendment to several bills.

"The normal process doesn't work for me and this bill, so I have to find places that I can try to get it on," Razer said.

Beck maintained the move wasn't nefarious, and he wasn't trying to pull a "fast one." He withdrew his substitute to return SB 78 to its original form. The bill was perfected after being amended so that anyone who has served in the armed forces of the United States would be offered an interview for any state job.

Razer said a couple of weeks ago that a Republican had insinuated that he didn't want his bill to pass and was only using it for press. Razer said he didn't know if he has been more insulted in the Capitol, and he reaffirmed his commitment to the anti-discrimination measures.

"I'm going to keep fighting," Razer said. "Before I'm done in this chamber, I hope we can get this passed."

The work of the Missouri News Network is written by Missouri School of Journalism students and editors for publication by Missouri Press Association member newspapers.

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