December 22, 2014

Missouri bill would criminalize posting ads tied to human trafficking

A state representative wants to make it a crime to post an ad on the internet if the person posting it knows it could result in human trafficking.

The bill filed by Elijah Haahr to deal with the Second Injury Fund is his first.  (Photo courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

Representative Elijah Haahr (Photo courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

It could be an ad anywhere – on websites such as Craigslist or Backpage, or even on a gas station bathroom wall. If the person that posts that ad knows that it might result in human trafficking, House Bill 152 would make that person guilty of sexual trafficking of a child; a felony that carries a penalty of up to life in prison.

It’s been filed by Springfield representative Elijah Haahr.

“Not only would these be the people that are providing the victim, but it would also go after some middle people. Some middle men that be profiting from putting the victims in contact with the people that are using them,” Haahr told Missourinet.

Haahr says the idea is based on the SAVE Act, making its way through Congress. He decided a similar law should be in place in Missouri.

“I recognize it’s a fairly serious epidemic nationally, internationally, but also in the Midwest,” said Haahr.

It will be considered in the legislative session that begins in three weeks.

Missouri sues 13 St. Louis region municipalities

Missouri’s Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against 13 St. Louis County municipalities for violating a 1995 law that bars Missouri cities and towns from collecting more than 30-percent of their total revenue from fines and court costs for traffic violations. Any fines or costs beyond that threshold are supposed to be turned over to the director of revenue to be disbursed among local school districts.

Attorney General Chris Koster

Attorney General Chris Koster

Attorney General Chris Koster requested financial reports submitted by St. Louis County communities to the auditor’s office. A review of those found what he calls a, “pattern of non-compliance.”

Koster says Crystal Lake, Velda Village Hills, the village of Hillsdale and the village of Mackenzie, failed to indicate how much of their operating revenue came from fines and court costs. He says Bellerive Acres, Moline Acres, Normandy and the village of Vinita Terrace, submitted reports suggesting their revenue from traffic fines exceeded the thirty percent cap.

Five others – Beverly Hills, Pagedale, Breckenridge Hills, Pasadena Park and Upland Park, didn’t file an annual financial report in either Fiscal Year 2014 or 2013.

Koster says that law, often referred to as the Macks Creek law, “was enacted to protect Missourians from predatory traffic ticketing. As we continue to identify areas for reform, an important first step is to require St. Louis County municipalities to follow the Macks Creek law to the letter. Based on my review, these thirteen municipalities did not.”

He is asking the St. Louis County Circuit Court for a judgement that those towns lacked jurisdiction over traffic-related matters in their municipal courts during the time that they were not in compliance with the Macks Creek law. He’s also asking that they be barred from exercising jurisdiction over traffic violations in until the noncompliance is remedied.

Koster says, however, his goal with the lawsuit is to make those communities comply with the law.

“If these municipalities will work with my office to come into compliance, we will work with them,” said Koster. “If they fail to work with us, or simply do not have the ability to comply with state law, then they should lose jurisdiction over traffic violations.”

Missouri Supreme Court hears argument of felon wanting guns

The Missouri Supreme Court has heard the arguments of a convicted drug dealer who says he should be allowed to have guns.

The Missouri Supreme Court

The Missouri Supreme Court

Marcus Merritt was convicted in 1986 of a federal felony for dealing drugs. In 2013 he was charged in Missouri under a 2008 law preventing felons from possessing firearms.

His attorney, Matthew Huckeby, argued to the court that the 2008 law should not apply to him because that would violate a constitutional prohibition on retroactive laws. He also argued that a change to Missouri’s Constitution, Constitutional Amendment 5,¬†approved by voters in August would allow non-violent felons like himself to retain their gun rights, because it specifies that the legislature can still limit the rights of “violent” felons to have guns.

Huckeby told the Court, “The state has no compelling interest in banning all felons, under all circumstances, for life,” from possessing firearms.

Supreme Court Judge Laura Denvir Stith pressed Huckeby on his interpretation of the new constitutional amendment. She says courts in all states have always found the 2nd Amendment and state provisions like it have not blocked legislatures from regulating the rights of felons to have guns.

“You’re asking for a total change in how courts have interpreted that language, historically,” Stith told Huckeby.

The legislative author of that language, Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), listened to the arguments before the Supreme Court. He said that amendment does mean that courts will have to define whether felons are considered “violent” or not, and thereby, whether they will be allowed to possess firearms.

“What that’s going to result in at some point is probably courts having look at more of these cases and do some heavy lifting,” said Schaefer.

Schaefer said part of what the amendment does is get away from categories of people who can and can’t have guns.

“When you have felonies that can be perpetuated or exacerbated by the use of a firearm, is there a compelling governmental interest there to limit felons in possession? I think absolutely,” said Schaefer.

Schaefer said his goal with the amendment was to make clear that gun rights are as important as any others enumerated in the Constitution, and to affix in state law two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions about gun rights.

The court could issue a ruling at any time.

State Supreme Court to consider gun rights for felons

The state Supreme Court is being asked to consider whether a recent change to the state Constitution will let non-violent felons have guns.

A convicted drug dealer says the amendment approved by voters in August that proponents said would strengthen Missourians’ gun rights also means he can’t be kept from having a gun. The state Supreme Court will hear his argument Tuesday morning.

The amendment’s language says it should not be interpreted as stopping state law from limiting the gun rights of “convicted violent felons,” and Marcus Merritt argues that means he, as a non-violent felon, should be allowed to have guns.

The Court could address his case without ruling on that interpretation of the new amendment, but the Attorney General’s office is urging it to settle the matter.

The sponsor of the legislation that put the issue on the ballot, state senator Kurt Schaefer of Columbia, has filed a brief in the case saying that his proposal should not result in the invalidation of Missouri’s law barring felons from having guns. He argues felons are not entitled to the same gun rights protections of full citizens, provided by his amendment.

GOP argument for gay marriage ban based on 6th Circuit ruling

Republican leaders in the state legislature have asked a Jackson County Court to let them appeal its decision that same-sex marriages from other states must be recognized in Missouri.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey (left) and Speaker Tim Jones

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey (left) and Speaker Tim Jones

Attorney General Chris Koster declined to challenge that ruling. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey and House Speaker Tim Jones have asked that court to allow them to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

If they are given the chance to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, attorney Michael Whitehead says their argument will be based on the only federal court ruling that upholds state same-sex marriage bans.

“The 6th Circuit said upholding a definition of marriage as one man, one woman is not irrational,” Whitehead said. “It is a policy choice that the citizens of the state have made for generations and it is one that the court should uphold as long as the citizens of Missouri have upheld it.”

The 6th Circuit ruling earlier this month upheld bans in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee.

Jackson County Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs ruled, in part, that because Missouri recognizes other types of marriages from other states that aren’t legal in Missouri, such as those between first cousins, same-sex couples are treated uniquely in Missouri, which violates their constitutional rights to equal treatment.

“That response ignores the fundamental, essential nature of marriage as defined by the state of Missouri as one man, one woman,” Whitehead said. “To call something else ‘marriage’ because of a popular opinion that will change the definition is something like saying we’ve traditionally defined squares in a certain fashion, but if we just decide to call a square a shape, then a circle is also a shape, so why can’t we have square circles in the state of Missouri?”

Earlier story: GOP Missouri legislative leaders ask to appeal gay marriage ruling