The Missouri House of Representatives gets down to business today on a special legislative session about crime. Gov. Mike Parson cites the state’s increasing crime rate as his reason for calling the extraordinary session.
The chamber is expected to debate and take a preliminary vote on six bills today. Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, says there was a lot of pushback on both sides of the aisle about the Senate’s approach. Instead of the Senate’s wide-ranging package, House Republican leadership has broken up each key component into separate bills.
“Logistically, instead of making their members vote yes or no on a bill that had a lot of really bad stuff in it, breaking it up allows them to pass the pieces that they want and not pass the other pieces,” she says.
One contentious piece would remove a requirement for St. Louis police officers to live within the city. St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden says lifting the condition would help to boost recruitment. Hayden says his department has a shortage of about 130 officers at a time when violence is on the rise in his city. Sen. Jamilah Nasheed says the state does not need to get involved in this local control item because St. Louisans will be voting on the very issue in November.
A bill Quade and others in both parties have a big problem with is one that would let judges decide whether 16 to 18-year-olds should be prosecuted as adults for certain crimes using weapons. A House committee increased the age minimum to 16, instead of the Senate’s bill making the minimum 14 years old.
A bill absent from today’s lineup is one that would let the Missouri Attorney General get involved in some St. Louis murder cases. Parson expanded his special session call to urge lawmakers to pass the measure.
“It seems as though that is not a priority issue from the Republican majority in the House,” Quade says.
The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys might have something to do with it. The group of 115 Missouri prosecutors, many being Republicans, is not on board with the governor’s bid to let the State Attorney General get involved in local cases. It says such measures undermine the independence and autonomy of locally elected prosecutors and any prosecutors seeking help can reach out to the association and get the support they need.
Some Republicans have been critical of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s handling of former Governor Eric Greitens’s invasion of privacy case involving his ex-mistress. Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt, both Republicans, have also publicly disagreed with Gardner, a Democrat, for prosecuting an affluent couple who pointed guns at protesters walking through their neighborhood in June.
Kansas City is on pace to have its highest murder rate in history. However, the governor’s spokesperson, Kelli Jones, says St. Louis has reached a record number of murders and a growing backlog of murder cases. She says Parson’s efforts are currently to assist St. Louis.
Quade maintains the special session bills do nothing to prevent crime.
“We need to be looking at funding in a much more equitable way – an intentional way. Then we also need to be addressing the larger-scale problems around police reform, around making sure that we are funding social workers to go out on the scene, you know things that even police officers have been asking for. I feel like the way that this special session has been handled does nothing to get to before the crime happens.”
Other bills focused on during this special session would:
*Create a witness protection fund to keep witnesses and their families safe before trial
*Toughen the penalty for anyone who sells or gives a gun to a juvenile
*Make it a crime to assist someone 17 or younger to commit a weapons offense
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