Committee hears pitches for criminal code

Lobbyists for several groups thanked the Senate’s Judiciary Committee Monday afternoon for considering an 1,100-page bill rewriting Missouri’s criminal code — then added some suggestions for more changes.

In general, the bill proposes renaming and renumbering some crimes, consolidating others and eliminating some considered obsolete or duplications of other, existing laws.

Colleen Coble of the Missouri Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence thanked the lawmakers for keeping domestic violence “as a separate crime, when so many of the other assault crimes were put into one section” of the proposed new law.

She also was pleased the proposal keeps “the stalking laws ... separate and strong in the state of Missouri.”

But she encouraged the committee to add into the criminal code language from a separate bill, that includes rape charges that “the victim was incapacitated or was unable to consent.”

Emily van Schenkhof, deputy director of Missouri Kids First, which works to prevent child abuse, highlighted “three concerns” with the bill — which she also called “one of the most important things we’re considering in the General Assembly, because this is, basically, what is a crime, and what isn’t.”

Her concerns included making the kidnapping of a child, over 2 years-old, a Class B felony, which carries a less-serious potential punishment than the current Class A charge; reducing the penalty for endangering the welfare of a child; and decriminalizing sexual contact between people who are 14-16 and those who are 18-20.

“This was, obviously, done to address a very legitimate public policy concern of individuals of similar ages engaging in consensual sexual activity,” van Schenkhof said. “We very much validate that concern.

“The unfortunate reality is that girls — particularly ages 14, 15 and 16 — are uniquely vulnerable to sexual abuse and sexual assault. A woman’s risk of being raped peaks at the age of 14.”

And many older teen males prey on those younger girls, she said.

Randy Scheer, representing the Missouri Library Assistant., asked the committee to keep a 1986 law on the books that allowed libraries to get help from prosecutors in getting books returned after long periods of time.

Judiciary Chairman Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, said the committee still is taking public comments through its website, atwww.senate.mo.gov/CrimCode/CrimCode.aspx.

“This is, potentially, the largest bill that the Legislature has ever considered,” Dixon told reporters. “And it’s the first time that we’ve looked at making a wholesale revision to the criminal code since the late-1970s.”

Even with just six weeks before the Legislature must end this year’s session, Dixon said lawmakers won’t rush to get the bill passed.

“It’s very possible that we could allow the bill to ‘breathe’ over this next few weeks, and allow members the opportunity to discuss it with their constituents in detail over the summer,” he said. “If we reach consensus on it, I’m not opposed to moving on it before this six-week period is up.”

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