Updated Sept. 1 with bills moving to a Senate vote
A Missouri Senate committee has advanced the tough-on-crime legislation lawmakers have been working on throughout the special legislative session.
The measures were sent over from the House last week and moved through the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Those measures include the creation of a witness protection fund and the elimination of residency requirements for St. Louis police.
Senators did make one change. The House eliminated a provision in a bill that would make it legal to give minors guns without parental permission. The Senate reinstated language to make it a misdemeanor.
The bills will head to the floor for a vote on Wednesday.
Our original story from Aug. 26
The Missouri House on Tuesday passed five of six crime bills for the special legislative session called by Gov. Mike Parson in July.
The proposals that made it across the finish line include:
- Eliminating residency requirements for St. Louis police and other emergency responders.
- Creating a witness protection fund.
- Adding admissibility of certain witness statements.
- Modifying the offense of endangering the welfare of a child in the first degree.
- Changing the unlawful transfer of weapons to a minor to more serious felony.
One proposal from Parson never made it to a vote — adding more crimes for which juveniles can be tried as adults. Another — allowing the attorney general’s office to prosecute certain murder cases in St. Louis — wasn’t considered.
All of the other measures passed with bipartisan support, but there were several Democrats who expressed opposition to many of them.
One in particular was the bill to eliminate residency requirements for St. Louis police officers. It was introduced by Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, who has been working on the legislation for years. Though it seemed likely to pass during the 2020 regular session, its progress was halted by the coronavirus. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden testified in support of the measure, saying the residency requirement hurts recruiting efforts for the city.
The bill earned "no" votes from several St. Louis-area Democrats who argued in favor of local control. Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, emphasized that city voters will be able to weigh in during the general election in November. But Hicks argued it was still important to move it through the Legislature.
“If we pass this bill today and then the city of St. Louis goes and passes theirs, this just going to broaden it and strengthen it,” Hicks said. “Now, if it does fail, we’ve still done our due diligence here. I’ve still done what I’ve been working on for years.”
The measure allows emergency responders to live anywhere within a one-hour response time. It also included a three-year sunset provision in case residents vote the idea down in the fall.
A proposal that took up a lot of time during debate on Monday was the creation of a witness protection fund. While the general idea of the bill had strong bipartisan support in both chambers, Democrats were opposed to creating the fund without including any way to pay for it. On top of that, lawmakers voted to include an emergency clause on the proposal, which drew sharp criticism from Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis.
“It’s an emergency for us to establish a program that still won’t exist after we pass this bill because we haven’t funded it yet,” Merideth said. “If we really believe this was an emergency, wouldn’t we be funding it right now?”
The clause classifies the bill as an emergency and allows it to go into effect immediately after the governor signs it.
MISLEADING. I voted NO on Rep. Lavender’s amendment b/c she didn’t do her homework. Once again, Rep. Lavender offered an amendment saying it was “unobligated” funding when in fact it would CUT funding that’s supporting already underfunded multi-jurisdictional drug task forces. https://t.co/8VrgUUu9wg— Sara Walsh (@SaraForMissouri)
August 24, 2020
Rep. Jonathan Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, who sponsored the bill, said appropriating money for the witness protection fund may have been outside the purview of Parson’s call for the special session.
Lawmakers say there is a possibility for a second special session to fund it, or they will address it during the 2021 session. House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, called that “infuriating.”
“If he (Parson) calls us back again for a special session to spend more money in a time when Missouri’s economy is in shambles, it’s ridiculous,” said Quade at a press conference on Tuesday. “This is nothing more than politics, and we have wasted taxpayer money on a political special session that truly does nothing.”
Rep. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, who is the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, reiterated shared disappointment about the governor’s call for the special session.
“It was immensely disappointing that we had a real opportunity with this special session to make real progress, especially regarding police reform,” Roberts said.
Roberts referenced the police shooting of Jacob Blake that's sparking protests and riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this week. He said that, and the killing of George Floyd, “is what Missourians are upset about.”
Parson has said that police reform is too controversial to address during a special session and could be discussed at length in 2021.
One measure that started out contentious was the certification of juveniles as adults in some cases. The proposal allowed juveniles as young as 12 to be tried as adults for some felonies. But, after extensive debate in committee, lawmakers agreed to increase that from 12 to 16, and lay out mandatory hearings in front of a judge for those minors. Despite the bipartisan support, the measure never made it to the House floor. Roberts said that he was proud of the bill that came out of committee and that it was disappointing to see it fail.
“It would more properly address situations where juveniles commit crimes,” Roberts said. “No one wants to see a young person who does something silly, a nonviolent drug offense, be put into an adult population.”
House Speaker Elijah Haahr did not immediately respond to a request for comment as to why the bill did not make it to the floor.
The Senate, which passed legislation earlier this month, is expected to begin discussion on the House versions next week.
“We’ve spent well over $100,000 so far and, in our opinion, have done absolutely nothing to prevent violent crime in the state of Missouri,” Quade said. “What this session has been is really just the governor creating an opportunity for him to run a tough-on-crime campaign for the fall.”
Kelli Jones, a spokesperson for Parson, said in a statement that the administration is pleased with the progress but that more work needs to be done.
“With each passing day, violent crime continues to escalate across Missouri, making it even more imperative that we act quickly,” Jones said. “We need to stay focused on what this is all about — fighting violent crime and making our communities safer.”