September 16, 2014

Missouri legislature passes proposed rewrite of criminal code

The state legislature has sent to Governor Jay Nixon (D) a roughly 600-page proposal to update Missouri’s criminal code. The proposal was passed out of both chambers Thursday with wide majorities favoring it.

Representative Stanley Cox prepares for debate before final passage of the roughly 600-page criminal code bill, on his desk.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Stanley Cox prepares for debate before final passage of the roughly 600-page criminal code bill, on his desk. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The bill, whose development began five years ago with a subcommittee put together by the Missouri Bar, could face a challenge with Nixon. He has said the proposal is too big, creating too much room for error in Missouri’s system of criminal laws and punishments. He wanted it broken into smaller sections to be considered individually.

That idea was dismissed by some who have worked on the plan for years, including Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia).  He and other backers of the bill say there are multiple opportunities for review even after it is enacted, including by the Missouri Supreme Court’s Standing Committee on Criminal Procedure.  The effective date of the legislation was also pushed back to January 1, 2017 to allow further time for review.

“As much as I can see,” Kelly told the bill’s House sponsor, Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia), “this is delay for delay’s sake rather than for any policy reason.”

A fellow Columbia lawmaker and attorney, Senator Kurt Schaefer (R), agrees with Nixon.

“Public safety is the most important thing the State of Missouri does,” says Schaefer, “and the impact on victims and victims’ families if something does not go right is terrible.”

“I can tell you as a prosecutor who has personally dealt with changes in statute in the field when you’re prosecuting a case,” says Schaefer, “a lot of times you don’t know what those things are until you are presented with a fact pattern that nobody thought of and suddenly that statute has to apply to it and then you find something that may have been an unintended consequence.”

Schaefer says he would like to have seen the code addressed chapter-by-chapter.  He voted against the bill in the Senate.

Cox and Senator Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City), the sponsors of the bill in their respective chambers, both told Missourinet previously that they believe they could overturn a veto of the bill if that’s what Nixon decides to do. It cleared both chambers Thursday with margins that could overturn a veto if no large number of lawmakers switches sides.

Senator Bob Dixon (R-Springfield) hopes the strong votes send a strong enough message that a veto override attempt won’t need to be made.

“It reflects the diligence with which everyone working on this bill, from staff all the way to agencies that answered questions for us, worked on it,” says Dixon.  “It was probably the most fully vetted bill that’s ever gone through the General Assembly.”

See the House vote on the criminal code bill

See how thirteen of the people who worked on the criminal code bill were honored