New committee hearings are scheduled Monday afternoon for Missouri lawmakers' bills containing Gov. Mike Parson's legislative agenda for special session, after the legislative process for that agenda's previous single Missouri Senate bill came to a halt last week.
Parson called a special session for lawmakers to address violent crime in the state by:
- Eliminating and prohibiting 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.
- Requiring courts to determine if a juvenile should be tried as an adult for unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action charges.
- Allowing certain statements by witnesses to be admissible in court that would otherwise not be allowed under current law.
- Creating a Pre-trial Witness Protection Fund.
- Criminalizing knowingly encouraging, aiding or causing a child younger than 17 years old to engage in a weapons offense.
- Increasing 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 measures were all contained in SB 1, which had been passed by the Senate 27-3 heard Aug. 10 by the Missouri House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee.
However, while the committee was in recess between testimony for and against the bill and a likely vote on whether to move the legislation forward, Parson announced an addition to the special session of a proposal for the state's attorney general to be able to take on murder cases yet to be prosecuted by the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office.
The next day, Republican leaders in the House opted to split Parson's agenda from one bill into several pieces of legislation.
Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield; Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, R-St. Charles; and Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, said in a joint statement: "In an effort to protect the integrity of the lawmaking process, and to ensure these important issues are thoroughly vetted, we intend to simplify the process with single-subject bills so we can focus on the merits of each bill individually to produce legislation that makes our streets and neighborhoods safer.
"Given the fact the governor expanded the call as one of our committees was considering the bill he originally proposed, we think it's important to take a step back and give additional thought and attention to each part of the plan. This will provide a more deliberative process that will allow us to craft the kind of policy that will better protect Missourians from the scourge of violent crime."
Kelli Jones, spokeswoman for Parson's office, said, "Gov. Parson and his administration fully understand and believe in the legislative process but also believe time is of the essence as homicides continue to increase across the state."
Parson reiterated that message Thursday at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, telling a reporter he was disappointed in the legislative delay, given that homicide rates continue to rise, and "every day more people are losing their lives."
"What's disappointing is I know how bad law enforcement are wanting these issues to be done. I don't know why we're taking so long to do this, but I'm telling you, we should do everything in the world we can to support law enforcement and make sure that we understand that victims are still out there and justice hasn't been served. And we need to take bad people off the streets," he added.
The House bills each containing separate pieces of his proposed legislative anti-crime agenda were, for the most part, filed on the first day of special session, July 27.
That's the case for HB 11 and HB 16, both sponsored by state Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O'Fallon.
HB 11 would criminalize knowingly encouraging, aiding or causing a child younger than 17 years old to engage in a weapons offense.
HB 16 would make knowingly selling, leasing, lending, giving or delivering a firearm to a child under age 18 a class E felony.
Both bills are scheduled to be heard before the House General Laws committee at noon.
Also at noon Monday, House bills 2, 46 and 66 are scheduled to be heard by the House Judiciary committee.
HB 2 — sponsored by state Rep. Barry Hovis, R-Whitewater — was filed July 27. The bill would allow otherwise inadmissible evidence into a criminal trial, if a court finds at hearing without a jury and before the case is in front of a jury that a defendant tried to prevent a witness from testifying.
The bill would also have witness tampering be a class C felony, if the defendant's original charge is a class A or unclassified felony.
HB 46 — sponsored by state Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie — was filed Aug. 7 and would address Parson's proposal for the St. Louis residency requirement for law enforcement.
HB 66 — sponsored by state Rep. Jonathan Patterson, R-Lees Summit — was filed Aug. 11 and would create the pre-trial witness protection fund.
At 2 p.m. Monday, the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice is scheduled to hear HB 12 — sponsored by Schroer.
The bill, filed July 27, would require a court to hold a juvenile certification hearing if the charge is for an unlawful use of a weapon or armed criminal action.
The compromise that had passed in SB 1 on the same issue had raised the minimum age from 12 to 14 years old for such a hearing to be required for those offenses, and offenders younger than 18 would have to be housed in correctional facilities separated from adult offenders and have educational programs available to them to earn a high school degree or equivalent.
The younger age had raised concerns from lawmakers, policy advocates and protesters that children as young as 12 would be tried as adults, and Black youth would be targeted.
The Senate's compromise on the issue also included that the distribution or manufacture of drugs would be removed from the list of felonies that mandate a juvenile certification hearing, and the state courts administrator's office would have to collect data annually on the number of certification petitions filed, the disposition of those petitions, offenses for which certification petitions are filed, the race of juveniles for whom certification petitions are filed, and the number of juveniles who waive their rights to counsel.
That information — which could document a racial bias — would also have to be shared each year with juvenile officers, juvenile court judges and commissioners, the president pro tem of the Missouri Senate and the speaker of the House.
The language of HB 12 as filed does not contain any of the compromises the Senate reached.
Three other House bills have proposals on the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office — two for the attorney general to have concurrent jurisdiction and another establishing procedures for removing someone from the elected office — though the bills were not scheduled for hearings this week, at least as of Friday afternoon.
All three bills were filed before Parson's call to expand the special session.
Lawmakers and activists have continued to advocate for Parson to expand the special session beyond his anti-crime agenda — especially to address police reform and accountability issues, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, wrote to Parson on Friday to request the session include action "to ensure every Missourian's properly postmarked, but late delivered, absentee ballot for the November 2020 general election will count."
Kendrick cites interference with U.S. Postal Service operations — including a desire by President Donald Trump "to continue underfunding the United States Postal Service in order to purposely interfere with absentee voting" — and projections of rising COVID-19 cases numbers as threats to the absentee voting process this fall.