JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri Republican legislator has come under strong criticism for cutting the microphone to silence the head of the state's NAACP chapter, who was speaking out at a public hearing against a bill that would restrict discrimination lawsuits.
A video by liberal advocacy group Progress Missouri shows Pineville Republican Rep. Bill Lant telling NAACP President Rod Chapel, "please contain your speech to speaking on the bill, sir," during the hearing Monday.
"Oh, but I am because this is nothing but Jim Crow," Chapel responded, referring to the bill. "You do not legalize discrimination on an individual basis and call it anything else."
Lant then turned off the microphone for Chapel, who continued speaking until Lant interrupted him and called on someone else to speak.
The bill would require plaintiffs bringing discrimination lawsuits to prove that race, religion, sex or other protected status was the motivating factor for discrimination or being fired, rather than just a contributing factor. It also would prevent employees from suing other employees and cap damages.
Chapel said at a news conference Tuesday that Lant's actions were discriminatory. Lant told The Associated Press that he apologizes if Chapel "got that feeling."
"I was trying to control the hearing," Lant said. "I had made the statement early in the hearing that time was precious, that we were trying to conserve time (and) that we were asking everyone to stay on point. He was off point."
Chapel and others have called for Lant to be replaced as chairman of the House Special Committee on Litigation Reform.
"A white man abused his power to stop a black man from expressing a contrary view, and on legislation that seeks to turn back the clock on Missouri's anti-discrimination laws, no less," House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, who also is president of the Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, wrote in a letter to the Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson calling for Lant to be replaced. "In his silencing of the NAACP president, Rep. Lant proved that discrimination continues to thrive in our state and demonstrated the need for strong laws protecting our civil rights."
Richardson told reporters that he's not demoting Lant. He told Chapel in front of a crowd gathered in the Capitol for a St. Louis County NAACP event that he's "always welcome" to present his views and the views of the organization.
"This is a place where more than anywhere else, we are supposed to respect the times we disagree with each other but still have that dialogue," Richardson said.
Gov. Eric Greitens also spoke at the event but didn't mention the incident. He didn't take questions from reporters, and his office didn't respond to requests for comment.