(Reporter Ty Albright from Missourinet Joplin affiliate KZRG contributed to this story)

Missouri’s governor says two bills he signed into law on Monday will make communities safer. The two bills were critical components of the governor’s recent special session on violent crime.

State Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, speaks on the Missouri House floor in Jefferson City on August 24, 2020 (file photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

Governor Mike Parson (R) signed bipartisan witness protection legislation into law. The bill creates a pretrial witness protection fund where law enforcement agencies can provide resources for the security of victims, witnesses and their immediate families.

“Over the last several months, several years, we’ve seen that major crime, those homicides keep going up and up and up in the state of Missouri,” Parson tells reporters in southwest Missouri’s Carthage.

State Rep. Jonathan Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, sponsored the witness protection bill. It was approved by the Missouri Senate 29-0, and the House approved it by a 147-3 vote.

The Patterson bill does not include funding. Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, told lawmakers in August that if they approve the Patterson bill, Governor Parson will likely call another special session to fund the program.

State Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, issued a statement on Monday, focusing on the funding issue. Merideth says Governor Parson “is more interested in photo-ops than doing the critical work to tackle the causes of crime.”

“Instead of actually taking action to keep communities safe, the Governor is signing a law that is completely unfunded – and as a result it will do little to reduce crime. The Governor should have ensured the program was funded during the special session,” Representative Merideth’s statement reads, in part.

Governor Parson also signed legislation into law on Monday that eliminates the residency requirement for St. Louis police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel.

St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden traveled to Jefferson City several times during the special session to testify for the bill, saying his department desperately needs more officers due to the surge in violence. St. Louis has had 198 homicides in 2020. The city had 194 in all of 2019. The “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” reported Sunday that St. Louis is on pace to have 240 homicides this year, the highest in 25 years.

Governor Parson says the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is currently short by more than 140 officers, and that House Bill 46 can help fill that gap.

State Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, sponsored the bill, which was backed by the Missouri Police Chiefs Association and the St. Louis Police Officers Association.

Bill opponents say St. Louis residents feel safer with police officers living in their neighborhoods. Opponents also note that Representative Hicks is from St. Charles County.

The Missouri Senate approved the Hicks bill on a 25-5 vote, and the House approved it 117-35. Governor Parson plans a ceremonial signing of the Hicks bill on Wednesday afternoon in St. Louis.

“We have a serious problem with violent crime here in Missouri, and we have seen it escalate even more in recent months,” Governor Parson says. “HB 66 and HB 46 are valuable tools that will build on our efforts to combat violent crime, support law enforcement officers and make our communities safer.”

Kansas City has recorded 144 homicides in 2020, compared to 113 at this time last year.

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