A state lawmaker from southwest Missouri has filed numerous pieces of legislation for the 2018 session, but has made a bill involving AMBER Alert his priority.
Representative Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, is focused on getting “Hailey’s Law” to the governor’s desk. It’s named after 10-year-old Hailey Owens, who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in Springfield in 2014. After local police responded to a child abduction call, there was a two-hour delay before an AMBER Alert was issued statewide.
The measure, which will debated Tuesday morning in a committee hearing, does two things.
First, it calls for AMBER Alerts to be integrated with the state Highway Patrol communications service (MULES). The service interacts with all law enforcement agencies, and the region’s criminal justice database (REJIS).
Representative Trent goes on to say that all the departments responsible for activating the system have made adjustments and have vastly improved delivery of AMBER Alerts. He says the legislation ensures the improvements remain intact over time.
“So, if we have system upgrades, (or) hardware wears out and has to be replaced, any new replacement system that might eventually be put in place would have this capability built into it,” says Trent.
Secondly, the bill would require Missouri’s AMBER Alert Oversight Committee to meet on a regular basis. The current state law has no frequency requirements. Trent says the regular meetings would allow the committee to review Amber Alert procedures on a “regular” basis.
“We want to continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the Amber Alert system, to make sure that if there are areas that could be improved, we identify those proscriptively to improve them before something goes wrong,” says Trent.
After the bill moved through the House in a timely manner in 2017, it stalled in the Senate when wrangling among various lawmakers grounded the chamber’s activity to a halt.
In early May, as the legislative session was winding down, a breakfast rally and press conference were held at the state capitol in an effort to propel Hailey’s Law to the finish line. It featured the parents of Hailey’s convicted killer, Craig Wood, and Hailey’s mother, Stacey Barfield. The two sides had joined forces to rally behind the legislation.
Representative Trent says the bill actually ended up passing out of both the House and the Senate, but did so as an attachment to different pieces of legislation in each chamber. Any bill must be approved in the exact same form in both bodies in order to advance to the governor’s desk.
Hailey’s Law was approved in the House with overwhelming bipartisan support by a margin of 141-1. Trent says the one no vote from Representative Jeff Pogue, R-Salem, may not have been cast in opposition to the bill itself.
“I don’t know what the reason was,” Trent says. “I do know that that gentleman frequently votes no. So, I think that it may have been a broader statement than any commentary on Hailey’s Law.”
This year marks the third attempt to get the measure through the legislature, as Trent’s predecessor in Springfield’s House District 133, Republican Eric Burlison, first filed it in 2015. Trent plans to find a committee chairman who’s receptive to fast tracking Hailey’s Law in 2018.
“Everyone that I have talked to so far indicates that they have no problem trying to accelerate this,” says Trent. “So, hopefully we’ll get it done before other issues start taking up too much bandwidth.”
Representative Trent says he’s optimistic the bill will make it to the finish line this year, after narrowly falling short in 2017.
“This is a process that takes a long time. And some bills take years to pass, many years, not just one or two or three. So, I’m actually very pleased that we were able to get this close on our first time out with me doing it,” says Trent.
Trent pre-filed his bill on December first, the first day annually that such action is permitted in the Missouri Legislature. Senator Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, sponsored the measure in the upper chamber last year, and plans do the same in 2018.
“I’ll do everything in my power to make sure 2018 is the year Hailey’s Law becomes law in Missouri,” Rowden told Missourinet in May of 2017.
Craig Wood was convicted of first degree murder in Hailey Owen’s death during a high-profile trial in Springfield in late October. Earlier this month, he was sentenced to death.