Missouri’s Senator Roy Blunt Wednesday had his first chance make a speech on the Senate floor since the impeachment trial began. As jurors in the fate of President Trump, senators had to stay silent. His message to the prosecutors was “do your job.”
A state senator from eastern Missouri’s St. Charles County outlined his proposed statewide carjacking statute on Monday in Jefferson City, saying carjackings are an epidemic in the state.
State Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, testified Monday before the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Onder tells fellow senators there were 351 carjackings in St. Louis City in 2019.
“These are violent crimes in which Missourians are terrorized in what should be a safe sanctuary, their cars,” Onder testifies.
Onder notes there is currently no uniform sentencing in Missouri for carjacking. Some suspects are being charged with robbery. Others are charged with stealing and are being sentenced to just four months in prison, according to testimony at Monday’s hearing.
During his testimony, Onder read a letter from a retired St. Louis Police lieutenant. The lieutenant’s niece was carjacked in Kansas City in 2018. During the incident, Onder says the suspect put a gun to the victim’s body and threatened to kill her. He then took her vehicle.
Onder says the suspect, who had two prior felony convictions, was released after serving 120 days in prison and was placed on probation.
“It looks like what happened in that case is that perpetrator was sentenced for stealing as opposed to the really vicious, dangerous crime of carjackings,” Onder tells Capitol reporters.
Under Onder’s Senate Bill 561, most carjackings would be a class A felony, with a minimum sentence of ten years in prison.
Instances would include causing serious physical injury to anyone in the vehicle, being armed with a deadly weapon and displaying or threatening the use of what appears to be a deadly weapon.
The Missouri Police Chiefs Association, Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police and the St. Louis Police Officers Association testified for Onder’s bill.
The bill is also a top priority for Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R). His office testified for the legislation as well.
Schmitt’s office is calling on Missouri to join 23 other states in passing a statewide carjacking statute. Deputy Attorney General Cristian Stevens testified before the committee, emphasizing carjackings in Missouri are an epidemic.
“With carjackings, very often the reason for the carjacking itself is to use that car then as a getaway car, because it can’t be connected to the person driving it,” Stevens testifies.
Stevens says some of the cars are then used in drive-by shootings.
Missouri’s neighboring states of Illinois, Kansas and Tennessee are three of the 23 states that have approved legislation backed by Schmitt’s office.
Onder says there were more than 550 carjackings in Missouri in 2018, including 248 in St. Louis and 227 in Kansas City. But Schmitt’s office believes those numbers are low, noting that St. Louis Police use crime analysts to review robbery and stealing charges to check for carjackings, since there’s no specific statute.
No one testified against Onder’s bill at the hearing. The committee is expected to vote at a later date.
Click here to listen to State Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, who was interviewed after the February 3, 2020 hearing at the Missouri Capitol by Missourinet’s Brian Hauswirth and KTVI’s Jeff Bernthal:
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America’s war on drugs could get even more difficult this week, including in Missouri. Unless Congress takes action, a federal law will expire that allows law enforcement officers to go after criminals trafficking any drugs with fentanyl. Butler County Prosecutor Kacey Proctor tells KFVS-TV in southeast Missouri’s Cape Girardeau that he wants Congress to renew the “Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues” law.
“Otherwise, the criminals could just change the substance ever so slightly and then all of the sudden fentanyl is no longer illegal,” says Proctor.
Fentanyl is a powerful and highly-addictive painkiller often found in heroin and many times leads to overdoses.
Special Agent William Callahan of the St. Louis division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, says without the law, it’s like losing your tools out of a toolbox.
“Anything that is taken out of our toolbox makes our job just a little more difficult. I think where it will make it for us is being able to arrest and prosecute traffickers who are changing up the analogues of fentanyl,” he says.
Poplar Bluff police chief Danny Whiteley says the law helps to reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths.
“We are going to hone down and find them,” said Whiteley.
Whiteley will be southeast Missouri Congressman Jason Smith’s guest at the president’s State of the Union address in Washington on Tuesday.
Story courtesy of Missourinet television partner KFVS in Cape Girardeau
State Representative Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, is proposing to let St. Louis police officers live outside the city limits. House Bill 1604 would let the officers reside within a one-hour response time.
The police department has about 150 to 200 police officer job openings and Police Chief John Hayden says the residency requirement is the greatest challenge the department has with recruitment and retention.
To top it all off, St. Louis has been named the most dangerous city in America for several years. Last year, the city had 194 murders, 2,600 shootings and 349 carjackings. Hicks has described St. Louis as the murder capital of the nation.
Gov. Mike Parson says he supports putting an end to the residency requirement.
“St. Louis has got a real problem,” he says. “The last thing we need to do is be hindering them from hiring police officers for that. I’m open to that. I think it’s the right thing to do – to make sure we get those full numbers of the police force up. They’re like 150, 200 officers down. The reality of it is whether you’re in St. Louis you’re in Polk County where I’m from just hiring deputies back in the day, the reality is if you can’t hire them within the county, you’ve got to reach outside there.”
A House committee is considering Hicks’ bill. The legislation is a top priority for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, a Democrat, Hayden, the St. Louis Police Officers Association, and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican with ties to the St. Louis suburb of Glendale.
Some members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen and some residents want the requirement to stay intact – sparking Krewson and Hayden to ask Hicks for help in resolving the issue. The critics say having police officers who live in and know the neighborhoods they patrol is important. The one resident who testified against the bill at a House hearing said the matter should go to a citywide vote in St. Louis.
Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, has proposed Senate Bill 558, a similar measure.
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(This story is written by Missourinet St. Louis contributor Jill Enders)
ST. LOUIS- A state lawmaker from eastern Missouri’s St. Charles County is calling for tougher penalties for violent crime and is also calling out the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office.
State Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, held a Friday press conference at the St. Louis Police Union Hall, outlining three bills aimed at combating crime.
Schroer, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, was joined by law enforcement officers. He was also joined by State Reps. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, and Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis County.
“These three bills are geared at combating violent crime in our state, protecting the men and women who put their lives on the line for the betterment of our citizenry, and ultimately, to make this state safer,” Schroer says.
One of the bills toughens penalties for armed criminal action.
“Felons in possession of firearms using those weapons to further commit more crimes will have to serve mandatory (prison) time under this bill. Moreover, armed criminal action under this legislation will become a dangerous felony, meaning they will have to serve 85 percent of their sentence. These dangerous felons have proven they have no regard for our laws and our Missourians,” Schroer says.
Schroer has also filed a new bill, House Bill 1900. It calls for Missouri’s Attorney General to assert jurisdiction to prosecute criminal cases.
“This would allow law enforcement officers to turn over cases to the (Missouri) Attorney General’s office that the Circuit Attorney’s Office refuses to prosecute,” Schroer tells reporters.
“Last year of the 7,045 charges requested by police, the Circuit Attorney’s Office only took action on 1,641 of those. Those which the Circuit Attorney has refused to take action on are back on our streets committing further crimes,” Schroer tells reporters.
Former State Rep. Jeff Roorda (D), who’s the business manager for the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association, joined Schroer at the press conference. He blasted Circuit Attorney Gardner, during an interview with Missourinet.
“She’s not doing her job. She’s not the Circuit Attorney. She’s the circus attorney and she’s made a mockery of herself. She is a clown and people know it, and nobody cares what she thinks,” Roorda says.
Missourinet reached out to Circuit Attorney Gardner’s office, for reaction to the legislation and press conference comments.
“Public safety in our community, and communities around the state, is a key priority. Poverty and hopelessness fuel crime in our communities and we must address the root causes. In order to improve as a community, we must all work together. However, these issues must be addressed at a local level. The CAO (Circuit Attorney’s Office) continues to be committed to providing justice for all,” the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office statement reads.
Schroer’s third bill is House Bill 1889, which would create the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. It would require that any law enforcement officer who is suspended without pay, demoted, terminated, transferred or placed on a status resulting in economic loss is entitled to a full due process hearing.
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The U.S. Senate is expected to hold an up-or-down vote Friday afternoon in Washington, on whether to call witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R), who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke to Missourinet’s Ashley Byrd on Thursday about the impeachment trial, and about Friday’s big day on Capitol Hill.
Hawley opposes hearing testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton.
“I don’t see any reason to hear from John Bolton, my view is this: I don’t think we need to hear from any of these people,” Hawley says. “We already have all of the House’s evidence in the record before us, that includes 17 witnesses and their testimony from the House.”
Hawley will vote against calling witnesses, in Friday’s vote. However, he says if the Senate calls witnesses, he has motions ready to call former Vice President Joe Biden (D) and his son, Hunter.
“I’ve consistently said I think for months now that if the Senate does call witnesses, I absolutely want to hear from Hunter Biden. And not just Hunter Biden, I want to hear from Joe Biden, I think he’s absolutely relevant,” says Hawley.
Hawley also wants to hear from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-California, saying he wants to know what Schiff told the whistleblower.
Senate Democrats want to hear from Bolton, on the allegation that President Trump withheld military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son.
Hawley says President Trump did not commit bribery nor extortion, adding that nothing Bolton says will change that.
As for Chairman Schiff, he tweeted late Thursday: “The President’s lawyers argue on the Senate floor that he can withhold aid, coerce an ally, and try to cheat in an election, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Our Founders would be aghast.”
Hawley also says the president has not been given the same rights that previous presidents have been given, in impeachment trials. He says President Trump was not given an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses.
“And it’s the first impeachment of a president in our history that alleges zero criminal or unlawful conduct, zero,” Hawley says.
He says the president was not given the ability to participate in depositions.
Senator Hawley says the Senate will hear four hours of arguments on Friday, before the afternoon vote.
Hawley says the Senate has already heard more than 50 hours of arguments, and that he’s been taking notes in multiple notebooks. He says he’s looking forward to voting on Friday.
Missouri’s two U.S. Senators, Hawley and Roy Blunt, are Republicans.
U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, tweeted Thursday night with a hashtag #TrumpIsGuilty. Congressman Clay, who was elected in 2000, is one of the deans of Missouri’s congressional delegation. U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, is the other.
Click here to listen to the full six-minute interview between Missourinet’s Ashley Byrd and U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, which was recorded on January 30, 2020:
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Legislation that would legalize sports wagering and slot machines was approved by a Missouri House committee in Jefferson City on Tuesday.
The comprehensive 31-page gaming bill, which is sponsored by State Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, will now head to the House floor.
The bill is House Bill 2088.
The House Special Committee on Government Oversight also voted to approve an amendment from Shaul, to allow sports wagering and slot machines in “entertainment districts.”
“What this does is basically allows (the) Power and Light District (in Kansas City) and also Ballpark Village areas to become an entertainment district so that they could also do sports betting and VLT’s,” Shaul testifies.
VLT’s, known as video lottery terminals, are slot machines. State Rep. Peter Meredith, D-St. Louis, asked about the amendment’s language.
“Are we sure that it’s limited to those two (Power and Light and Ballpark Village), with these definitions,” Meredith asks Shaul.
“I believe before this bill is done, they’ll be some expansion of that to some other players that will want to be involved,” Shaul responds.
Missourinet checked with Shaul’s office after the hearing, to confirm specifics about the language. Shaul’s office says Ballpark Village and Power and Light are examples of entertainment districts and possible locations for the sports betting and VLT’s.
The slot machine issue has been a high-profile issue at the Missouri Capitol, dominating discussion at several House interim gaming hearings in the fall. The Missouri State Highway Patrol testified in October that the number of complaints it’s received about illegal gambling has increased from 39 in 2018 to at least 145 in 2019. Most of those complaints were about slot machines.
Shaul’s legislation would allow the Missouri Lottery Commission to implement a system of video lottery game terminals and to issue licenses to video lottery game manufacturers, distributors, operators and handlers.
Under the Shaul bill, the video lottery terminals would be connected to a centralized computer system developed by the Lottery Commission. No terminal could be placed in operation without connecting to that system, under the bill.
The Shaul bill says that truck stops and fraternal organizations could operate up to ten video lottery terminals at one location. Bars could operate up to five slot machines, at one location.
It also prohibits those under 21 from playing the slot machines.
As for the overall bill, Shaul says 18 states will have implemented sports wagering, by the end of 2020. It will be heading to the House floor.
Representative Meredith says the legislation should go to a statewide vote, noting the Missouri Lottery’s creation and other major gaming issues went to voters.
“This would be the first major expansion of gambling in our state ever to not go to a vote of the people,” Meredith says. “The vote of the people who even have to vote to change the rules on bingo.”
Meredith is referring to a statewide vote in November 2018, involving bingo. His amendment was defeated in committee.
A Major League Baseball (MLB) representative testified before Shaul’s House committee in Jefferson City in November, predicting that Missourians will wager $5.5 billion annually on sports, if it’s legalized.
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Eighty-two state lawmakers have signed a letter denouncing the Missouri Supreme Court’s rule changes limiting judges from requiring bail. A task force – including prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and judges – recommended the changes to the court. The high court launched the rules last July.
The rules say judges must first consider non-monetary conditions for pretrial release. The judges can only charge bail fees to help ensure the safety of the defendant’s appearance in court. They are also required to speed up when court hearings are held to set or review bail.
GOP State Representative Justin Hill, a former police officer from Lake St. Louis, issued the letter saying the court should pitch the “flawed rules” that make it too difficult for judges to impose bail. He tells Missourinet the high court circumvented the lawmaking process by adopting House Bill 666 as a rule.
“I’ve never seen a more gross violation of separation of powers,” he says. “They need to leave the lawmaking up to lawmakers – the direct representatives of the people. For the Supreme Court to do this, particularly one Supreme Court justice, it’s almost like ruling as an emperor. They can’t select the bills they like and then make it law through rule making. How do we stop this? What’s my recourse? I’m asking lawyers – can I sue the Supreme Court for overstepping their bounds or do I have to sue them in federal court? I don’t know but that can’t happen again.”
Hill says Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice George Draper III lead the charge to implement the rule changes he calls “disastrous”. During last week’s State of the Judiciary address, Draper said the changes ease inconsistencies with Missouri’s constitutional mandates to promise bail with sufficient guarantees in all but capital offenses, like murder.
After the rules were released, J.R. Hobbs, a Kansas City defense attorney and task force member, told Missourinet the court is simply restating federal law. He says increased court cases nationwide show cash bond does not respect one’s rights of due process, fair trial and equal protection.
Hill, a member of the Missouri House Judiciary Committee, says the rules essentially allow many felons back out on the streets without using bail to encourage them to show up to court. He says rural Missouri is really feeling the pain.
“Now we have rapists being released. It is akin to literally a policeman making a traffic stop for rape, writes them a ticket saying please come to court. And that’s just not going to cut it,” he tells Missourinet. “Monetary bail does something very unique in that it allows the risk of that person to return to court to be underwritten. When I say underwritten, that’s a risk assessment of whether or not they’re going to flee the country.”
Hill gives another example involving a convicted felon suspected in last October’s deadly Tequila KC mass shooting. Hill calls the case of Javier Alatorre, 23, “a breakdown in justice”.
“The Jackson County Courts – the prosecutor tried to get bond on the criminal, on a felon, and the judge refused it using these new rules. The defendant was released, and a month later killed four people and went to Mexico. We are not looking after who we are all charged at looking after first and that’s the public’s safety,” he says.
Audrain County Sheriff Matt Oller posted information on Facebook about a convicted felon on the run from law enforcement. He indicates his displeasure with the bail rules and the Missouri Department of Corrections.
According to Hill, the restrictions also add the amount of work for the court system and law enforcement if a defendant does not show up for court. The failure to appear creates a new docket entry or charge against the defendant. Law enforcement officers, with many working for understaffed departments, then must search for the missing individual.
He says court problems in St. Louis County have brought us to where we are today with bail changes.
“I venture to guess there’s probably over 30 or 40 of these municipal courts compounding fines on top of people – people that don’t have money. They’re being held too long for misdemeanor offenses,” he says. “Then they’re put on probation and they’re being held in probation for too long for misdemeanor offenses.”
So now what? Hill hopes the court will come to the table and work with the Missouri Legislature to craft “a responsible, narrowly-tailored set of changes meant to improve the judiciary.”
“We all want swift justice,” says Hill. “We want to make sure that the right person is arrested and convicted. We want to make sure that they’re brought to justice quickly. We want to make sure that someone is not sitting in jail because they can’t afford bond, but we also want to make sure that the public’s safety as our priority.
If they don’t come to the table, then we have to go to more extreme measures. That might be calling for the public to remove these justices on the ballot.”
Hill has also filed House Bill 1937 in response to the rules. He says the measure would change the order of what pretrial conditions judges can impose on the defendants. The measure is awaiting committee assignment.
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Legislation that would allow a private college in southwest Missouri to employ police officers on-campus will go before a House committee Monday in Jefferson City.
The bill from State Rep. Jeff Justus, R-Branson, will be heard Monday at noon by the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee.
It’s called the “Private College Campus Protection Act.” Last year’s bill would have allowed any of Missouri’s private college or universities to employ police officers on-campus, but the bill stalled.
Justus has rewritten the language so that the new bill only applies to College of the Ozarks, which is located in Point Lookout.
McDonald notes Point Lookout is about 30 minutes away from Taney County Sheriff’s deputies in Forsyth. He testified in February that the bill is needed because of what he calls the too-often threat of an active shooter, and emphasized his respect for Taney County Sheriff’s deputies.
“I don’t want to be the person that calls a parent in the loss of a student, and this is a way that we can put another level of protection by being our own first responders,” McDonald testified in 2019.
Bill supporters say it would ensure campus safety and would require a professionalism for College of the Ozarks campus security. Under the bill, officers would have to take an oath of office and finish police training to obtain a peace officer license.
Justus’ bill is House Bill 1282.
This year’s bill includes a location description for “private college” or “private university” within five miles “of any city of the fourth classification with more than 4,000 but fewer than 4,500 inhabitants and located in any county of the first classification with more than 50,000 but fewer than 70,000.”
These provisions only apply to College of the Ozarks.
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Gov. Mike Parson’s proposed state budget of $30.5 billion includes $825 million to fund the Missouri Department of Corrections and the 21 prisons it operates. The plan is about a $44 million increase compared to the current fiscal year.
Parson wants to reduce the number of housing units within Missouri’s prison system. During a House subcommittee hearing, Department of Corrections Budget Director Trevor Foley says the proposal would close twelve housing units statewide.
“The Department is requesting a total of 1,756 bed reduction at six sites,” says Foley. “This has a savings of 131 FTE on an annual basis. At six-and-a-half million dollars that the department is then requesting to reinvest in a number of priorities.”
Priorities include upgrading the department’s employee phone system, security measures, officer radios, and protective vests for probation and parole workers.
Parson’s budget plan for the fiscal year beginning in July would slash a total of 137 job vacancies within the department.
“Similar to last year, the Department’s intention is there would be no staff layoffs,” says Foley. “Of the 131 FTE reduction, 128 positions at the same job class, at the same job site are vacant today. So, we will have over five months to attrite three, which we’re reasonably confident is doable.”
FTE stands for full-time employees.
The proposed Corrections budget would put an additional $211,000 towards covering staff overtime costs with the overall price tag being about $6.5 million. The governor wants to double the amount of retention pay for workers to an overall $18.2 million.
Parson is proposing $200.7 million for the Division of Offender Rehabilitative Services – a nearly $5.5 million dollar reduction over the current year. Substance misuse and recovery services would get an additional $118,000. Community-based corrections programs would get an extra $325,000.
Parson’s plan would give parole board operations a $1.7 million increase compared to the current amount of 0.
Lawmakers are reviewing Parson’s state budget blueprint for the fiscal year that begins in July. Legislative budget hearings continue next week.
Other budget stories:
What you need to know about Parson’s proposed K-12 schools budget
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