On Sept. 1, the Missouri General Assembly entered its second full month of deliberation on measures aimed at combating violent crime in our state. Earlier in August, the Missouri Senate passed Senate Bill 1, legislation that contained all the measures initially called for by the governor. This included easing residency requirements for the St. Louis Police Department and creating a statewide witness protection program.
The Missouri House of Representatives decided to consider all those measures separately and broke the bill down into its individual parts, considering them instead as House bills. The governor also expanded the call of the extra session to consider a bill allowing the state attorney general to prosecute homicides in St. Louis City, under certain special circumstances. The House sent us back five bills that dealt individually with the subjects covered in Senate Bill 1, but took no action on the issue of the attorney general prosecuting murders in St. Louis.
This was the situation as we returned to work this week. Committees met to consider the five bills and make changes we felt were necessary. All five passed out of committee and were taken up for debate on the Senate floor.
The first few bills went through without much disagreement. House Bill 11, relating to gun crimes and endangering the welfare of a child passed with only a few minor tweaks. The bill that creates the Missouri witness protection program was truly agreed and finally passed. House Bill 46, designed to allow the St. Louis Municipal Police Department to recruit more officers, passed after some debate.
Things got interesting after that. As the Senate discussed the merits of House Bill 2, which deals with witness statements, an amendment was offered to address the governor's expanded call and allow the attorney general to prosecute homicide cases in St. Louis City.
The City of St. Louis undeniably has a violent crime problem. It is often considered to be one of, if not the most dangerous cities in the U.S., with one of the highest homicide rates in the country. Yet, we heard during debate that prosecution of murders and violent crimes in the city has fallen off in recent years, and that the circuit attorney's office in St. Louis City is woefully understaffed.
The legislation aimed at rectifying this did not go through easily. One side argued it was overstepping the bounds of separation of powers or that it was a personal attack. The other side argued we can no longer turn a blind eye to the reality of the situation in St. Louis City and have to take steps to protect our citizens there. The debate lasted for hours and hours, well into the night.
Ultimately, well after midnight, the Senate made a choice. We can no longer sit idly by while citizens are terrorized, police officers are shot and killed, and homes and businesses are destroyed. Whatever we can do to help the situation in St. Louis we have to do, including allowing the attorney general to handle homicide cases there. And so, we voted the bill through.
The legislation will now go back to the House to consider. I anticipate these bills will fight against crime and lawlessness in this state. Ultimately, we cannot be a nation governed by people, or emotions or rhetoric. This has to be a nation of laws.
State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, represents Missouri's 6th District and shares his perspective on statehouse issues twice a month.