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Missouri lawmakers seek special session over refugees

Some Republican Missouri lawmakers are calling for a special legislative session aimed at preventing Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon from allowing Syrian refugees to resettle in the state, adding to a wave of pressure on the issue from primarily GOP officials.

Nixon on Monday called on the federal government to ensure strong safeguards in screening refugees, but he did not say he’d pause relocations, as governors in several other states have pledged in the wake of the deadly Paris attacks, which raised concerns about people with ties to Islamic militants flowing across borders.

Rep. Mike Moon, of Ash Grove, in a letter to House Speaker Todd Richardson called for a special session to “tie the governor’s hands.”

Moon argued that militants could lie to “pass through the vetting process.” He also said refugees should be placed in camps “so that they can be properly cared for and returned safely home when the time is right.” His legislative assistant Dave Myers said refugee camps closer to war-torn Syria make more sense, adding that refugees would be “fish out of water in every sense” in Missouri.

At least one other Republican House member similarly says a special legislative session is needed if Nixon doesn’t act to block refugees. Rep. Mike Kelley, of Lamar, wrote to Richardson that his constituents are calling to block refugees from settling in Missouri not “out of hatred or discrimination, but out of fear.” He says he’s gotten more than a thousand messages on the issue.

Richardson did not immediately comment Wednesday on the possibility of a special session. A petition signed by three-fourths of the House and Senate is needed to call one. But that would require backing from all Republicans and some Democrats, which appears highly unlikely.

Moon’s statement drew a strong rebuke from House Minority Leader Jake Hummel.

“Representative Mike Moon’s call for America to lock Syrian refugees in internment camps is a foul expression of bigotry and fear that must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Fear and hatred is precisely what terrorists hope to sow with their acts of violence, but injustice toward the innocent is never the proper response to the atrocities of the guilty,” Hummel said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny’s chief of staff said Wednesday that his office is not aware of any Democrats interested in calling a special session or of any Democratic senators opposed to Nixon’s stance.

Rep. Stacey Newman, a Jewish St. Louis Democrat, urged Nixon to welcome Syrian refugees. She cited the escape of some members of her husband’s family to St. Louis from Nazi Germany in a letter to the governor.

Dozens of Republican state House members, more than 20 state senators, six GOP U.S. House members representing Missouri, Republicans running for governor and Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster, who has said he also plans to run for governor, have called on Nixon to block refugees from settling in Missouri, citing safety concerns.

Nixon defended his decision not to try to stop refugees from coming to Missouri during an event in St. Louis on Wednesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, saying “we need to continue to help refugees as Americans, in a safe way.”

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