The Missouri General Assembly is continuing its work in a special session called by the governor to address the growing problem of violent crime. After many hours of debate that lasted from Wednesday morning until the early hours of Thursday, the Missouri Senate gave final approval to two House bills, and sent three more back to the House of Representatives with changes.
The two bills truly agreed by the Senate are now on their way to Gov. Parson to be signed into law.
· HB 66 is meant to strengthen efforts to protect witnesses so they can provide key testimony that will put violent criminals behind bars. It creates the Pretrial Witness Protection Services Fund, which will allow the Department of Public Safety to disburse money to law enforcement agencies for the purposes of providing for the security of witnesses, potential witnesses, and their immediate families in criminal proceedings or investigations. The funds are subject to appropriations from the General Assembly.
· HB 46 is designed to help the City of St. Louis to fill the more than 140 open positions it currently has on its police force. The bill would eliminate the residency requirement for St. Louis law enforcement so long as the officer lives within an hour of the city. This proposal would also prohibit requiring any public safety employee for the city of St. Louis to be a resident of the City. The elimination of the existing residency requirement would last until September 1, 2023. Supporters say the bill is needed to put more “boots on the ground” to help the city address its rising homicide rate.
The bills changed by the Senate now must return to the House for additional consideration. House members will have the option to approve the changes and send them on to the governor for his approval, or they could opt to send the bills to conference where the two chambers would work out any differences they have on the issues.
· HB 2 would allow certain witness statements to be admissible in court that would otherwise not be allowed under current statute. In effect, the bill would ensure a witness is able to submit testimony in situations where the defendant has engaged in wrongdoing with the purpose of causing the unavailability of the witness.
The Senate added language to the bill that would give the attorney general the authority to prosecute for the offenses of first and second degree murder in St. Louis City. The provision would allow the attorney general’s office to act if the city’s chief law enforcement officer requested an intervention; if more than 90 days have passed since the alleged crime; or if a “complaint, information, or indictment” has “not been filed or has been filed and dismissed.” The change was added to the special session call issued by Gov. Parson. It is meant to address the backlog of murder cases in St. Louis.
· HB 11 is intended to protect the wellbeing of young people by targeting criminals who take advantage of juveniles by giving them guns and encouraging them to participate in violent crime. The bill expands the existing offense of “endangering the welfare of a child.” The current statute applies to drug offenses. The bill would expand the crime to include a person who knowingly encourages, aids, or causes a child under the age of 17 to engage in any conduct in violation of weapons offenses under the law.
The Senate made a minor technical fix to the bill that will require another vote in the House before sending the bill to the governor.
· HB 16 also focuses on adults who victimize young people through the unlawful use of firearms. The bill would stiffen the penalty for the unlawful transfer of a weapon to a minor as the lending or sale of a firearm to a person under 18 years of age for the purpose of interfering with or avoiding an arrest or investigation. It would change current law to allow such transfers to be a felony even if done with parental permission.
The Senate changed the bill to preserve current law, which makes it a crime to transfer a firearm to a minor without a guardian’s permission. The House had removed the language to prevent a scenario where a grandparent could be charged with a crime for taking a grandchild hunting. The Senate added language to create an exception so the offense wouldn’t apply to a child’s relative if the person reasonably believes they have the permission of the parent or guardian.
The House will now have the opportunity to discuss the bills that were changed by the Senate in the coming weeks. The special session called by the governor officially ends September 24.
As always, it is an honor to serve you.
Allen Andrews, State Representative - District 1, Missouri State Capitol, 201 West Capitol Avenue, Jefferson City, MO 65101; Telephone: 573-751-9465; Allen.Andrews@house.mo.gov
Allen Andrews is the First District State Representative.