The bill started out as just one word.
“Literally adding the word ‘Captain’ to the David Dorn Memorial Highway on Highway (State Route) 180 here in St. Louis County,” said Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin.
When they named the highway in his honor last year, legislators accidentally left out the title for Dorn, a retired St. Louis police captain who was shot and killed while working security in 2020. And the Missouri Department of Transportation can’t fix the highway sign until it’s fixed in legislation.
By the time the Senate passed it last week, the bill was nine pages long and had 58 new designations recognizing various people, communities and causes.
Missouri is now poised to add several designations honoring communities of color to its official calendar, after Missouri legislators sent Dogan’s bill and one another similar bill to the governor’s desk last week.
Upon the governor’s signature, Missouri will become the seventh state to officially recognize February as Black History Month — joining Alaska, California, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio and South Carolina.
Legislators also officially designated the month of November as Native American Heritage Month and September 15 to October 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month. And they made Juneteenth, a commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States on June 19, a public holiday.
Honoring Black History Month was the initial reason for a bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Sharp, D-Kansas City.
Before the Senate passed Sharp’s bill in April, senators added amendments recognizing Black leaders, including former St. Louis County state Rep. Betty Thompson and St. Louis-native Ethel Hedgeman Lyle who helped found the Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha on the campus of Howard University in 1908.
They also designated the third week of September as Historically Black College and University Week, recognizing the state’s two HBCUs, Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis and Lincoln University in Jefferson City.
Dogan’s bill includes honoring U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, former St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby and several war veterans, firefighters and law enforcement officers.
“One of the things that people lose track of when we do quote unquote ‘symbolic bills’ like this is that symbolism really does matter,” Dogan said. “Who you honor matters, what you honor, and what you choose to bring awareness to, really does matter.”
Awareness for various diseases make up a bulk of the bill, which Dogan believes could save lives by helping people get diagnosed with diseases that wouldn’t normally be on their “radar screens.”
Included in the bill are myasthenia gravis, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, sickle cell disease, tardive dyskinesia, polycystic ovary syndrome, uterine fibroid, lupus, breast cancer, hydrocephalus and scoliosis.
October 1 is designated as Biliary Atresia Awareness Day, which is a rare congenital liver disease. Not only was it meant to bring awareness about the condition, but also to remember Annistyn Kate Rackley, a Pemiscot County child who was killed by the deadly December tornadoes and who had the disease.
Dogan said the provision that’s close to his heart was offered by Sen. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis County, to designate March 26 as Epilepsy Awareness Day.
“I have family members and good friends of mine who’ve had epilepsy,” he said. “Being able to spot people who are having seizures and knowing how to properly respond to it, again that’s something that can potentially help save people’s lives…just by making people aware of the signs of a seizure.”
Dogan was also excited about another bill that passed this session that would require teachers to take training on how to respond to potential seizures among students with epilepsy.
Honoring school counselors, school bus drivers, farmers and ranchers and victims of coronavirus is also part of the bill.
Although Sharp is pleased Black History Month will be recognized statewide, he was disappointed that his bill to ensure that school districts observe Black History Month did not make it to the finish line.
A wide-ranging education bill sent to the governor last week includes a measure to designate Holocaust Education Week in April for sixth graders and up.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will develop a curriculum framework, in consultation with the Holocaust Education and Awareness Commission, for a pilot program beginning in the 2023-2024 school year.
Sharp said he strongly supported it.
“It’s a great thing we ought to be doing,” Sharp said. “But we know that there are schools in this state somewhere that aren’t recognizing Black history during February the way they ought to. And the same could be said about Native American heritage in November.”
This article by Rebecca Rivas is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.