September 20, 2014

Incoming House Speaker on mandating body cameras for police in Missouri

The anticipated next leader of the Missouri House has reservations about mandating body cameras for all police in the state.

House Majority Floor Leader and Speaker-elect John Diehl, Jr.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Majority Floor Leader and Speaker-elect John Diehl, Jr. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Two urban state lawmakers say they will file bills that would require all law enforcement officers in the state to wear body cameras. Speaker of the House-elect John Diehl, Junior (R-Town and Country), says that’s not an issue he thinks should be up to the state.

Earlier story: Two lawmakers want to mandate body cameras for Missouri law enforcement

“I don’t think this is something where it needs to be a state mandate on local governments on how they’re supposed to police,” Diehl tells Missourinet.

Diehl says he anticipates many local jurisdictions will make the decision that using body cameras is a good idea. He thinks it should be up to them, too, to make policy decisions about how to use those cameras.

“For example,” says Diehl, “when is an officer required to have his camera on? What happens if the camera’s not on?”

Diehl makes clear, however, that as Speaker he would not let such bills won’t come up for consideration.

“I don’t want to go that far,” says Diehl. “I’m sure that this is a serious enough decision and a serious enough situation where it warrants some discussion, so I’m not going to make any predictions at this point as to what’s going to move and pass and what’s not.”

Prefiling of legislation begins December 1.

Two lawmakers want to mandate body cameras for Missouri law enforcement

Two House members say they will ask the legislature to consider making body cameras mandatory for every law enforcement officer in the state.

A body camera is modeled.  (Credit - Taser branding)

A body camera is modeled. (Credit – Taser branding)

Calls for law enforcement to utilize body cameras have increased since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, August 9, by a Ferguson Police officer. Proponents say a body camera would have caught what happened in that incident that so far, has been the subject of intense debate, tension, and unrest.

Kansas City representative Brandon Ellington filed a body camera mandate bill in the legislative session that ended in May. He admits the problem with that bill was that it didn’t offer a way to pay for local agencies to buy the cameras.

“It would be considered an unfunded mandate because I’m requiring local municipalities to pay for it,” says Ellington, who adds the funding question was the only reason for opposition to the bill that he heard. “I’m thinking about trying to carve out a mechanism from the state.”

Berkeley representative Courtney Curtis revealed on Wednesday he also plans to file a bill and he has some ideas on how to offer funding.

“One way is directly through the fines and fees that are assessed with the various violations that the police administer through ticketing and what-not,” says Curtis. “Outside of that we do need, as a state, to ensure the public safety of our residents as well so there will be a component for support from the state as well.”

Both lawmakers say having body cameras is in the best interest not only of citizens, but of police.

Ellington says that is a sentiment he has heard from law enforcement organization representatives, and from former law enforcement officers that are now lawmakers.

“Police officers [would] no longer have to worry about fictitious or vindictive claims being filed against them when they haven’t done anything, and the citizens [would] have protection too, because now it’s not my word against the officer’s word, it’s the video and the audio of what happened,” says Ellington.

Incoming House Speaker John Diehl tells Missourinet he’s not convinced that the state should mandate how local governments police, but he doesn’t say that such legislation won’t be considered.

Water Patrol panel not just about drowning incident at Lake of the Ozarks

The chairwoman of a new bipartisan House Committee that will look into the operation of the Water Patrol division of the state Highway Patrol says that committee is about more than any one incident – even the drowning of an Iowa man while in Water Patrol custody back in May.

Representative Diane Franklin (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Diane Franklin (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

One thing specifically identified as a target of the committee in the media release announcing it is the training received by Water Patrol troopers.

Eight days before that release was issued, Trooper Anthony Piercy told a coroner’s inquest he hadn’t received enough training in how to make arrests on the water, how to put a life jacket on a suspect or what to do in a rescue situation. The inquest was investigating the drowning of 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson, while in Piercy’s custody on the Lake of the Ozarks.

Franklin says it wasn’t just that, nor any other particular incident, that led to the committee’s formation, “But I think that there’s just a culmination of items that have happened, and as we move into committee and we have testimony, we will hear those things.”

On the subject of training, Franklin does say prior to merging with the Highway Patrol the Water Patrol’s academy was recognized as one of the finest in the country.

“We’re interested not in looking at a particular situation, but being able to compare the training that we were recognized for across the nation with the training that is in place today, and to see what are the differences,” says Franklin.

Franklin says there has already been opposition by many in the Lake of the Ozarks area to the merger.  Much of it stems from work done by a former area state representative, Robert Cooper, to advance the Water Patrol.

She says Cooper, “worked extensively with the Water Patrol to bring about parity in their pay … and to extend their law enforcement abilities beyond the water’s edge.”

When that merger happened it was projected to save the state between $2.8-million and $3-million annually. The committee will explore whether that savings has been realized.

Franklin thinks the better question is whether the Water Patrol is doing enough to keep people safe and meeting its responsibilities as a law enforcement agency.

She says answering that is the higher priority for her committee. “Is this a savings, but is it a savings at what cost? Are we getting the value we had before out of the dollars that are being spent.”

Depending on what her committee finds, Franklin says solutions could be anything up to a bill proposing to undo that merger, “if that’s what it takes.”

“But we need to examine that. I’m not saying that’s our goal,” adds Franklin. “Our goal is to investigate, have results, and from those results, make decisions.”

She expects to have a report ready before the new legislative session begins in January.

Comprehensive Missouri tax reform proposed for ’15 (AUDIO)

A state senator whose package of tax breaks was vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon has a bigger goal than trying to get the veto overridden.

Springfield Senator Bob Dixon had a half-dozen tax breaks in his bill.  Three of them were in other bills the Senate voted to pass this week despite the governor’s vetoes.

Dixon says the legislature’s tax break bills this year  deal with symptoms of an ailing tax code, not with curing the ills.  He will propose a broader tax policy for the 2015 session.

“For the sake of all Missourians we must provide greater clarity in our tax law,” he says.  Dixon says an “antiquated” tax code undermines financing for the state, local governments, and schools.

Legislators have talked for years about such a comprehensive revision but it’s been easier to approve tax breaks for particular interests. He’s calling on the loudest critics of his tax breaks bill to be active participants in the process.

AUDIO: Dixon 4:41

Senate overrides veto of abortion waiting period bill (AUDIO)

The legislature has overturned Governor Nixon’s veto of a new anti-abortion bill. But the action has led to an early end to the veto session.

The House and Senate oveturned dozens of Nixon vetoes before calling it a session early this morning. Senate Republicans shut things down first after using a seldom-utilized parliamentary move to end debate on the bill extending the 24-hour abortion waiting period to 72 house. Irate Democrats spread the word after the vote that nothing else was going to come to a vote in the Senate.

Democrats had launched a filibuster attacking the bill as unnecessary and dangerous.

One of the leaders of the effort, Scott Sifton of St. Louis, had argued that tripling the waiting time for an abortion can be a life-or-death issue for mothers.

AUDIO: Sifton :21

Senate Minority leader Jolie Justus says Republicans have passed so many bills limiting access to abortions that it’s a wonder Missouri has even one clinic left.

The bill got just enough votes for the override. Senate leaders adjourned with a handful of vetoed bills overriden by the House waiting for action after Justus told them the debate cutoff so antagonized Democrats, who had control of the floor after the override, that they would block votes on any of those other bills.