Second hearing planned after NAACP president silenced by committee chair

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JEFFERSON CITY - The house committee chairman who silenced a member of the NAACP during hearing on discrimination-related measures said he'll open the floor once more.

Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville, turned off the microphone in the middle of a statement by Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel during a meeting of the House Special Committee on Litigation Reform Monday.

Chapel was speaking about proposed House bills that would place tighter restrictions on pursing workplace discrimination cases in court. Lant accused him of going off topic.

Lant released a statement Tuesday saying: "In my effort to keep discussion in our Monday hearing germane to the bill, I prevented the exchange of ideas and viewpoints that is essential to our legislative process. I believe strongly that everyone should have the opportunity to be heard on this, or any other, issue. My committee will hold a second public hearing to ensure all sides are able to voice their opinions."

Chapel said, "I told him clearly I'm opposed to this measure and began to tell them why. It was shortly after that, I was told to stay on topic and I addressed chair and said 'I am on topic. I'm talking about discrimination of individuals' and likened it to Jim Crow. That's when I was invited to leave."  

Chapel said Lant provided no explanation as to how his comments were off topic.

Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis, said she believes Chapel's microphone was turned off about two minutes into his allotted five minutes of testimony. Mitten said she asked Lant to allow her to quesiton Chapel and was denied.

"From my perspective, these bills are now tainted by chairman Lant's refusal to a allow a member, to allow a Missourian, to exercise his first amendment right," Mitten said. 

Chapel said he will be present at the next hearing, although no schedule has been announced.

"Oh absolutely," Chapel said. "I think that the idea of legalizing discrimination in the state of Missouri is a topic that Missourians are deeply concerned about and so I'll be back whenever they have a hearing."

The bills under discussion were HB 552, 676 and 550