Missouri governor’s office hid plans on gender-affirming care, transgender athletes bills

Gov. Mike Parson’s closed-door ceremony left out advocates and critics of controversial legislation

By: - June 16, 2023 9:00 am

Gov. Mike Parson signs controversial bills on June 7 banning gender-affirming treatments for minors and limiting participation in school sports based on gender. (Photo courtesy of Missouri Governor's office)

When Missouri lawmakers passed bills restricting gender-affirming care and barring transgender athletes, many wondered: When will the governor sign the much-debated legislation?

Representatives and senators signed up to receive alerts about the bills from the governor’s office and asked for signed copies of the legislation. People emailed, called and sent handwritten letters to the governor — with at least two-thirds of the inquiries asking Gov. Mike Parson to veto the bills.

“If you sign this legislation into law, you give permission for extremists to continue to attack young children and their families for being who they are,” a resident of Kansas City wrote in an email to Parson, obtained by The Independent in a Sunshine Law request.

It appeared that, although the single-subject bills were a high priority for some Republican lawmakers, the bills wouldn’t be among the first to get Parson’s blessing. The governor has until July 14 to sign bills into law.

The governor signed a bill relating to physical therapy to kickstart his signatures in late April. On June 2, a press advisory outlined his schedule for the following week with a plan to sign five noncontroversial bills June 7.

But after signing those five bills in an open-door ceremony, Parson’s office announced the endorsement of two different bills: the gender-affirming care restrictions for minors and legislation barring transgender athletes from competing according to their gender identity.

Through a records request under Missouri’s Sunshine Law, The Independent learned that the governor’s office planned for a secret signing of the bills and ignored questions about the date the legislation was up for Parson’s signature.

The governor’s office did not respond to questions about the decision to sign the bill so quickly and without ceremony.

In May, Kansas City Star reporter Kacen Bayless asked the governor’s communications director Kelli Jones multiple times when Parson might sign the two bills.

The evening of May 31, Bayless asked Jones for “any update on when Gov. Parson plans to sign (the gender-affirming care restrictions) into law.”

Jones had just received an email from Jared Hankinson, operations and communications specialist, that said the office would add the closed-door bill signing to the calendar for June 7. Hankinson’s email denoted the two bills’ authorization as “in office, closed to public” with the five other signings as “in office, open to public.”

About 15 minutes after receiving Hankinson’s email, Jones told Bayless: “All bills are still being reviewed.”

The next morning, the governor’s staff received a calendar alert of the “closed-door signing.”

Bayless wasn’t the only one left out of the loop.

State Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, sits with other sponsors of bills that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth during a committee hearing on Feb. 14, 2023 (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

The sponsor of the gender-affirming-care ban, Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, said his aides alerted him to the news after the bill’s signing.

“We even had some folks from out of state wanted to be a part of the bill signing,” Moon said. “I received several notes of disappointment that they weren’t allowed to be a part of it.”

This is the first bill of Moon’s to make it to the governor’s desk after 10 legislative sessions, and he thought it was customary to have the bill sponsors there.

The governor’s executive legislative assistant, Sherri Kempf, sent a letter to legislators’ office, allowing them to opt into receiving updates about Parson’s action on bills and obtaining signed copies of legislation.

“Not all bills have ceremonial signings, however, we will keep you updated on any decisions that are made on the bills when the information is available,” the email says.

Multiple lawmakers from the House and Senate signed up to receive updates and signed copies of Moon’s bill.

But after the office scheduled the June 7 signings, staff members only alerted the sponsors of the bills signed in the open-door ceremony, according to internal emails.

The gender-affirming-care and transgender athletes bills were second and third on a list of legislation for staff to review, yet staff didn’t reveal to inquirers that the two bills may be some of the first to receive Parson’s signature.

“I know that there are a lot of people who are not happy [about the private signing],” Moon said. “I guess, on the other side, the bill was signed, and now we wait to see how that turns out.”


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Annelise Hanshaw
Annelise Hanshaw

Annelise Hanshaw writes about education — a beat she has covered on both the West and East Coast while working for daily newspapers in Santa Barbara, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.