Document: Missouri House Bills 2, 11, 16, 46, and 66 with Senate SubstitutesView
Three crime bills out of five passed by the state House of Representatives last week are ready for the House to consider again, after a marathon meeting of the state Senate on Wednesday that extended into the late overnight hours.
The source of the extended Senate session Wednesday into early Thursday morning was an amendment to one of the House bills that would give the state attorney general concurrent jurisdiction over first- and second-degree murders not prosecuted by the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office.
The Senate ultimately passed that amendment, spurring criticism and concern Thursday among the state's prosecuting attorneys.
Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, had introduced such an amendment earlier in the afternoon Wednesday — reviving a call for concurrent jurisdiction that Gov. Mike Parson had added to his anti-violent crime agenda for special session but the House had not debated last week when it passed five other components of Parson's agenda.
Onder's amendment immediately rankled Senate Democrats, who alleged the move was a political ploy that jeopardized the sovereignty of elected prosecuting attorneys.
Onder said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner needed the help in what he called her understaffed office, even though she had not asked for the help.
His stated criticisms of Gardner and her office on Wednesday were somewhat lessened from July, when he had filed a bill at the start of special session that would allow for any circuit attorney to be removed from office for "crimes, misconduct, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office or incompetency."
At the time, Onder had said Gardner was not prosecuting enough crimes and added "this represents ineptitude or more likely dereliction of duty" of "epic" proportions.
He added the prosecution of Mark and Patricia McCloskey was a political stunt.
The McCloskey couple had stood outside their St. Louis home earlier this summer and brandished semi-automatic weapons as protesters marched by. The couple was later charged with unlawful use of weapons charges, and they have become figures among Republican campaigning for the November election.
Onder denied any political or other motivations for his amendment Wednesday.
After convening at about 10:20 a.m. Wednesday, the Senate adjourned shortly after 8 p.m., following the passage of four other bills and hours of attempts by Democrats to block or amend Onder's amendment.
Senators convened again shortly after 1 a.m., and by the end of their night at about 2:50 a.m., several developments had occurred.
Onder withdrew his original concurrent jurisdiction amendment but submitted a new substitute and sought to block further debate on it — known as a motion for the previous question.
The previous question move was approved by an 18-12 vote. Though the vote was mostly along partisan lines, several Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the previous question move.
Onder's substitute bill was moved to be approved by the Senate following another motion for previous question by Onder. The second previous question move also passed 18-12.
The bill was referred to a late night meeting of the Senate's Fiscal Oversight Committee, where it was recommended to pass.
The final Senate vote approving the bill — which at its core is about witness testimony being allowed in court under circumstances of witness intimidation — was 22-8, along partisan lines with Democrats opposing.
The end result of the struggle over the bill — HB 2 — is that in addition to its witness testimony component, the bill would allow for the attorney general to prosecute St. Louis first- and second-degree murder cases if a request to do so is made by the chief law enforcement officer of the investigating agency, 90 days have passed since the alleged crime, and no complaint or indictment has been filed or has been filed and dismissed.
If the attorney general commences a prosecution of such a case, he or she could also prosecute any other alleged crimes that were "part of the same course of conduct" as the murder.
The concurrent jurisdiction provisions would expire Aug. 31, 2023, but in the meantime, the power given to the attorney general would extend to murders committed before and after the effective date of the law.
Parson, at an unrelated news conference Thursday in St. Louis, said: "I think St. Louis is in a critical stage where there needs to be a little help there."
The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys disagreed, however.
The association had previously released a statement opposing concurrent jurisdiction after Parson first announced his desire for it, and MAPA released another statement Thursday against the Senate's decision to approve it.
"As elected local prosecutors who have tried countless homicide cases to Missouri juries, we are gravely concerned regarding the miscarriage of justice from the unprecedented usurpation of the authority of a locally elected prosecutor being attempted by Missouri's Attorney General," according to the statement, signed by the association's Board of Directors and legislative co-chairs — who include prosecuting attorneys of some of the most-populated counties of the state, such as St. Charles, Greene, Boone and Jackson.
"In the entire history of Missouri's statehood, the Attorney General has never had the power to prosecute homicide cases without the request and consent of the local prosecutor. Missourians believe in local control and have never wanted statewide politicians to meddle in local affairs," according to MAPA's statement.
The association warned the Senate's bill could also threaten other elected officials and law enforcement, could jeopardize any convictions made because of the allegedly unconstitutional nature of the bill, and "Missouri taxpayers will foot the bill for the Attorney General's office to become the homicide unit for the city of St. Louis."
HB 2 and the other two House bills passed by the Senate this week with amendments — HBs 11 and 16 — will now need approval by the House. The Senate also on Wednesday passed HBs 46 and 66, without amendments.
The House is currently adjourned until a technical session scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday. The Senate is adjourned until 11 a.m. Thursday.