The Missouri House voted Monday afternoon in Jefferson City for initial approval of several bills that are top priorities for Governor Mike Parson’s (R) special session on violent crime.
The House has voted for initial approval of bipartisan legislation that is aimed at providing witness protection. The bill from State Rep. Jonathan Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, will create a pretrial witness protection services fund, to be administered by the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) to law enforcement agencies. The money would be used to provide security to witnesses, potential witnesses and their immediate families in criminal proceedings or investigations.
The provision does not include funding. Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, tells lawmakers that if they approve the Patterson bill, Governor Parson will call another special session to fund the program.
State Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, offered an amendment that would ensure that funding is included for the witness protection bill. Budget chairman Smith spoke against the Lavender amendment, which was defeated 95-46 by the GOP-controlled House.
The Missouri House has also voted for initial approval of legislation that eliminates the residency requirements for St. Louis police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel, and has a three-year sunset clause.
State Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, sponsors the bill. He emphasizes that he is a state representative, and must take care of the entire state.
State Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, urged House members to vote no, noting that St. Louis residents will be voting on residency requirements in November. Bosley notes that Hicks is from St. Charles County, and that St. Louis City state representatives are not carrying the bill.
State Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, switched her position and voted for the bill. She spoke on the Missouri House floor about Hazel Erby’s firing in St. Louis County, and notes that many of the appointees that St. Louis County Executive Sam Page wants to hire are from St. Louis City. She voted for the Hicks bill, because of that.
State Rep. Alan Green, D-Florissant, also voted for the Hicks bill. Green says many St. Louis County Police officers live in St. Charles County.
State Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, is opposed to the Hicks bill, saying St. Louis residents feel safer with officers living in their neighborhoods.
The Hicks bill says St. Louis Police cannot impose a residency requirement on their officers, more stringent than a one-hour response time. Aldridge proposed an amendment, changing that to 30 minutes. The Aldridge amendment was defeated on a voice vote.
St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden traveled to Jefferson City last week to testify for the bill, saying the St. Louis Police Department is currently 143 officers short from its authorized strength.
St. Louis has had 172 homicides. Chief Hayden says six St. Louis police officers have been shot in the past few months, and that retired Police Captain Dorn was shot and killed in June.
Advocacy group “Empower Missouri” testified last week against the bill. Former State Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford, D-St. Louis, is the organization’s policy director. She says when officers live in communities and know their neighbors, they can create partnerships and strategies for reducing crime and unhealthy living conditions.
Mott Oxford testifies that Empower Missouri would rather see more investment in St. Louis schools.
Chief Hayden has testified that the residency requirement is the greatest challenge that his department has with recruitment and retention.
The House also approved legislation from State Rep. Barry Hovis, R-Cape Girardeau, that increases penalties for witness and victim tampering. They also approved two other crime bills sponsored by State Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon.
The House did not take up the juvenile certification legislation, which is sponsored by Schroer.
The five crime bills are expected to be debated again on Tuesday. They require one more vote, for final House approval.
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