Missouri House Sends Anti-Crime Bills to Senate
After there were questions as to the scope of SB 1 and potential constitutional challenges, members of the Missouri House of Representatives spent Monday and Tuesday discussing and approving legislation meant to address the growing violent crime problem in the state. After several hours of debate, the House approved five bills ranging in subject matter from enhanced protection for witnesses to stiffer penalties for those who endanger the wellbeing of children with unlawful weapons.
The special session was called by Gov. Mike Parson to pass legislation that will support law enforcement officers, and prioritize the prevention of violent crime. Parson originally called for legislators to address six key components, and later expanded the special session call to include a seventh component. With the bills approved this week, the House sent five of the governor’s seven components to the Senate. The remaining two issues dealing with juvenile certification and concurrent jurisdiction for the attorney general have yet to receive the support necessary to move forward in the House.
The House approved the following bills this week which are individual components and have been sent to the Senate for their deliberation and approval:
HB 2 is meant to better ensure violent offenders are put behind bars. The bill 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.
HB 66 creates the Pretrial Witness Protection Services Fund. The bill is meant to strengthen efforts to protect witnesses so they can provide key testimony. It would allow the Department of Public Safety to disburse money from the fund 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. The bill’s sponsor said, “Subject to our appropriations, law enforcement agencies around the state will be able to draw from this fund and get protection for their witnesses; witnesses will come forward and tell what they saw, and maybe that will help us put violent criminals behind bars and start making some headway on violent crime in our state.”
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.
HB 11 is intended to protect the well being of young people. The bill would expand 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 weapons offense. This is a result of younger and younger offenders committing serious crimes, particularly in the more urban areas of our state.
HB 16 would define 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. There have been several incidents of people above the age of 18 handing a firearm used in the commission of a serious crime to a juvenile in order to avoid prosecutions due to the current laws. The bill’s sponsor said, “It’s very important that we focus on these adults that are victimizing our youth. Sometimes it’s resulting in their death, sometimes it’s resulting in them going into the juvenile justice system. Amending this law pursuant to the conversations we’ve had across the state is going to lead to a decrease in crime.”