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Richard: Senate open for debate on all issues

Richard: Senate open for debate on all issues

January 9th, 2014 in News

Any bill that wins a Senate committee's support this year has a chance to be debated by the full Senate, Floor Leader Ron Richard said Wednesday.

Richard, R-Joplin, ultimately determines which bills will be called up for floor debate - and how much debate time they get.

"If it gets on the calendar, and sponsors give me reasons to go to debate, I'll be happy to do that," he told reporters Wednesday, after the state Senate's 20-minute opening session of the 2014 General Assembly.

Additionally, Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said, "We will seriously consider any legislation passed by the House."

But, Dempsey noted, the Senate's rules allow a small number of senators to use a filibuster to block an issue they don't like.

"That gets to how we're able to work together," he told reporters. "I still think there are instances where this propensity to say, "I'm a senator. I must kill things' is not a good, long-term perspective for people who want to make good policy."

Dempsey, R-St. Charles, wants lawmakers this year to revise Missouri's criminal code.

Lawmakers last approved a major revision of the criminal laws 37 years ago.

"It doesn't resonate with voters like other issues that we work with," he said, "but it's important to how the state of Missouri functions, in relation to our criminal justice system.

"And a lot of people have put a lot of work into it, over a number of years - it deserves to have its time on the floor."

A Missouri Bar committee looked at the issue for several years, and its executive committee endorsed the proposed changes in late 2012.

The revision keeps many, but not all of the state's criminal laws, and moves many of them around so they are included in the law with other crimes that are similar.

"There is the addition of a Class E felony, which would help give some better stair-stepping for the tools that are available for both criminal defense lawyers and for prosecutors," said Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, a member of the Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of the criminal code bill.

"We want to make sure that our streets are safe, but that we're also getting the right mix of people (sentenced) to the Department of Corrections," she explained, "because we've found that, if you have the right mix of people in the Department of Corrections, you have less recidivism - at less cost to the state."

The bill was introduced last year in both the House and Senate.

Justice said the biggest change in her bill this year is the elimination of current language on "sentencing related to juveniles who are charged with first-degree murder."

Adults charged with first-degree murder can be sentenced to death, but federal law prohibits that punishment for anyone younger than 18.

Current state law requires a teen convicted of first-degree murder to be sentenced to life in prison, without parole. But a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling said that punishment, without any other option, also is unconstitutional.

"We were not able to come to an agreement between prosecutors and defense lawyers," about that issue, Justus told reporters, "so I have removed that issue altogether from the criminal code (bill), so we can debate that issue as a standalone issue."