Missouri House Passes 5 Special Session Bills on Crime

Five pieces of legislation on Gov. Mike Parson’s anti-crime agenda for the special legislative session underway were passed Tuesday by the state House of Representatives, but perhaps the most contentious bill — and another, a late addition by the governor — was not discussed on the House floor.

Especially for House Democrats and Missouri Legislative Black Caucus members, what was accomplished was in some ways not enough and in other ways too much.

State Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, D-Kansas City, said as she addressed the House during votes on the first bill taken up Tuesday: “Let’s pay attention to not being scared, but really finding solutions.”

Parson called the special session this summer amid a rising number of homicides, especially in the state’s largest cities.

The House on Tuesday passed House bills 2, 11, 16, 46 and 66 — dealing with testimony and protection of witnesses, giving firearms to children, child endangerment through weapons offenses, and residency requirements for St. Louis law enforcement and other public safety employees.

Bland Manlove — who spoke about a cousin who was murdered last month — said that in crafting legislation, she hoped her fellow lawmakers would pay attention to who is affected most by those laws.

“We’re not animals — we’re people who’ve been left out by the system,” she said.

Lawmakers on the floor and protesters in the House Gallery criticized the bills passed Tuesday do not address root causes of crime and may add to criminalization and mass incarceration-supporting policies.

Chants from protesters of the group ExpectUs temporarily disrupted the House proceedings Tuesday. The group has protested in and around the Capitol multiple times in recent weeks against Parson’s special session agenda, and Tuesday, their shouts included “Black lives are under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back,” “We see you,” and “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.”

State Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, said just before the protesters’ chants began: “I need you all to listen to what we are saying,” not to pick it apart, “but actually listen to what we are trying to get you all and us to do to propel our state forward and the citizens that live here forward.”

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said at a news conference after the session ended Tuesday: “We’re still left longing for actual conversation on how we prevent violent crime.”

State Rep. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, said he was disappointed no progress was made on police reform issues. Roberts, writing on behalf of the Black Caucus, had in June asked Parson to call a special session on issues of legal immunity for police officers, use of chokeholds and reporting excessive force.

Lawmakers and protesters’ focus on police and criminal justice reform has been fueled by the widespread protests that followed the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody in May, as well as other such deaths.

In terms of finding deeper solutions to crime, state Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon — sponsor of two of the bills passed Tuesday — said, “I don’t think this is the end of the conversation.”

State Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, agreed with going deeper on the causes of crime: “I think that that’s where we need to go,” and it’s “worth our time, worth our discussion.”

Griffith and state Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, were pleased with the bills that passed Tuesday.

Neither local lawmaker was surprised another legislative item on Parson’s original agenda for special session was not discussed this week on the House floor — changes to mandate hearings on whether juveniles charged with certain weapons crimes should be tried as adults.

That bill received a lot of attention and had become the particular focus of protest and criticism, especially over the minimum age for which juveniles could be tried as adults for certain weapons crimes — but the bill also ultimately had bipartisan support in House committees after changes made to it by the Senate under previous legislation and further changes made by state Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin.

Griffith and Veit said the issue was complicated and needed more time.

Veit also said the bill passed on the transfer of weapons to children may need a closer look next session.

What passed Tuesday on that issue would make it a crime to sell or otherwise give a firearm to a child younger than 18 for the purposes of avoiding or interfering with an arrest or investigation into a crime.

HB 16 also would remove a portion of law about it being a crime to recklessly sell or otherwise give a firearm to a child younger than 18 without the consent of the child’s parent or guardian.

Veit said the intent was not to take away parental control but to shield innocent people from prosecution under circumstances such as giving a child a firearm while hunting. He added it’s what is actually a crime that may need a closer look next session.

First, the Senate will have to decide what to do with the five pieces of legislation passed Tuesday by the House. The Senate is scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. Friday.

The House adjourned Tuesday for the foreseeable future; a technical session Sept. 2 means no business will be done, and after that, a veto session is not scheduled until Sept. 16.

State Rep. Jonathan Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, said it is likely lawmakers will be called to return to the Capitol — most likely in another special session concurrent with the veto session — to fund the witness protection fund created by HB 66 through a supplemental appropriations process.

Patterson said law enforcement could in the meantime start filing applications for the funding.

A later addition by Parson to his legislative agenda for the current special session was a proposal for the state’s attorney general to be able to take on murder cases yet to be prosecuted by the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office.

That proposal also was not debated on the House floor this week.

Kelli Jones, spokeswoman for Parson’s office, said Tuesday: “Our administration is pleased to see House members making progress on the bills, but there is still more work to be done. With each passing day, violent crime continues to escalate across Missouri, making it even more imperative that we act quickly. We need to stay focused on what this is all about — fighting violent crime and making our communities safer.”

View Missouri House Bills 2, 11, 16, 46 and 66 at https://media-cdn.wehco.com//news/documents/2020/08/25/hb25800h02pmerged9685275759.pdf

By Phillip Sitter | News Tribune

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