Several Missouri senators and a group of protesters Monday outside the Missouri state Capitol made clear through filed legislation and demands that Gov. Mike Parson's desired narrow focus on violent crime in a special legislative session does not go far enough for them.
Outside the building — ahead of the noon start of the special session Parson called — protesters from the group "Missouri for a Safe Return to Campus" stood and called for more safety precautions to be in place before schools return to in-person classroom learning this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Andrew Rexroat, of Kansas City, said the group chose to protest Monday because of the special session, to get the governor's attention.
The group — which Rexroat said represents teachers and families — wants schools not to return to 100 percent in-person classroom learning until a county reports 14 days of no new COVID-19 cases.
Rexroat said the group is also seeking increased funding for remote learning infrastructure, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies for schools, as well as funding to make accommodations for special education students.
Inside the Capitol, while Parson called the special session to address a surge in violent crime in Missouri, the issue of schools safely reopening amid the pandemic was the subject of a bill filed by state Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur.
Schupp said people want schools to open again, "but they want to make sure our schools open only and if they can open safely."
Her proposed legislation would create a temporary "Smart and Safe Schools Task Force" of experts, including in health, architecture and engineering, to make recommendations for schools to open and operate safely.
The bill would also direct federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds to be used to make sure schools have the PPE they need, as well as no-cost COVID-19 testing and contact tracing resources for school personnel and students.
The bill, SB 12, also calls for school districts to report every week to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education non-personally identifiable information on the number of COVID-19 tests provided, positivity rate of the tests and any resulting absences.
SB 12 also includes protection of access to meals during school closures or remote learning for students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, protection of school funding from the state in the event of students being unable to attend in-person because of COVID-19 illness or quarantine, monthly hazard pay for teachers and staff for each month in the coming school year that in-person instruction is provided, workers' compensation protections for teachers and school staff akin to those extended to first responders earlier this year because of the pandemic, and a protection that teachers or school staff's wages and paid time off will not be affected due to an infection or quarantine of COVID-19.
Gov. Parson sticks to narrowly focused special sessionRead more
With the pandemic ongoing and cases continuing to rise, entrance into the Capitol on Monday required at least a temperature check and health screening.
Some senators in the chamber wore face masks, while others did not.
Parson called legislators back together to:
- Eliminate and prohibit the requirement for St. Louis law enforcement officers to have to live in the city, though an officer would still be required to live within an hour's response time of the city.
- Require courts to determine if a juvenile should be tried as an adult for unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action charges.
- Allow certain statements by witnesses to be admissible in court that would otherwise not be allowed under current law.
- Create a Pre-trial Witness Protection Fund.
- Criminalize knowingly encouraging, aiding or causing a child younger than 17 years old to engage in a weapons offense.
- Increase the penalty for a person who knowingly sells or delivers a firearm to a child without the consent of the child's parent or guardian.
Those provisions are contained in SB 1, filed Monday by state Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff.
The bill has a committee hearing at 12:45 p.m. today in the Senate Chamber.
Public seating in the fourth-floor gallery area of the Senate may be limited due to social distancing, but committee hearings are to be streamed, and links may be found at senate.mo.gov.
Written testimony may be submitted in lieu of in-person testimony via email to [email protected], and all submissions must be received before the hearing, according to the Senate's website.
Legislators — and another group of protesters Monday outside the Capitol — have called for Parson's special session to be expanded to include measures of accountability for police, following the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the waves of protest that have followed.
Floyd is a Black man who pleaded for air as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for several minutes. That officer has been charged with murder.
State Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, filed SB 16 on Monday, which includes — among many other provisions — the limitation of law enforcement's use of no-knock warrants, would prohibit the use of a carotid restraint or choke-hold, would modify what defines a justifiable use of deadly force, would limit when and how police may use chemical agents, and would require law enforcement agencies to report all complaints alleging excessive force to the Missouri attorney general.
"This isn't an us-versus-them conversation," Williams said, and he hoped he would not be discussed as such. He said his legislation is not anti-police or about defunding police, but about working to ensure police departments have uniform laws to eliminate subcultures of bad actors that tarnish the reputation of good officers.
He also said such measures as he proposed could help improve relationships between communities and police, which could spur people to help police solve violent crimes in their communities.
Other legislators also had ideas on policing and addressing crime, outside of the agenda called for by Parson.
Schupp also filed a bill for background checks for firearms.
State Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, filed bills that included a "Bill of Rights" for law enforcement officers under investigation.
Other bills filed by Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, were responses to the McCloskey incident — when a St. Louis couple who this summer stood outside their home with semi-automatic weapons as protesters marched by and were later charged with unlawful use of weapon charges by the St. Louis circuit attorney, according to the Associated Press.
Onder's related bills had to do with use of deadly force on private property and removal of circuit attorneys from office.
A few more bills filed Monday in special session address abortion, concealed carry of firearms and unlawful interference with traffic.