JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — Missouri senators passed the governor’s tough-on-crime package Friday morning after more than a 12-hour debate the day before.
Senators agreed to pass Senate Bill 1 in a 27-3 favor after a compromise was reached just before midnight Thursday. This anti-crime bill is being called bi-partisan, but Democratic senators are still not happy with the measure.
“My personal opinion, I think it’s a little tone deaf after what’s been going on the past few months in this country and in this state to not tackle anty sort of police reform,” Sen. John Rizzo, D-Jackson County, said. “It’s a shame we weren’t able to take any of those issues this session and you know as well as we do, we’re bound by what’s in the call.”
That call is Gov. Parson’s six provisions he wants lawmakers to discuss to fight violent crime.
Parson’s crime bill cleared its first hurdle Friday when it passed the Senate, but not without opposition.
“A lot of people, even outside of the building said this was a special session for election purposes,” Rizzo said. “This bill and the ones that come before it deal with crime after it happens.”
Sen. Doug Libla, R-Butler Co., carried the bill in the House.
“This legislation, to me, is going to be really, really helpful in helping not only St. Louis,” Libla said. “You know we talk about St. Louis a lot, but it’s all over the state of Missouri. I think we ended up with a good bill that’s going to make a big difference all across the state of Missouri.”
Before the bill was passed Friday, there were some changes to the original measure, like relaxing residency requirement for St. Louis public safety workers. This means St. Louis City police officers will only be required to live within a one-hour response time. Lawmakers response attached a three-year expiration to this law. St. Louis safety employees also fall under the same residency requirements
Sen. Brian Williams, D-St. Louis Co., Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis City, and Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, who all voted against the bil, think St. Louis voters should make that decision in November, when it’s a question on the ballot.
“I think the legislature needs to respect local control and allow them to make decisions on what happens in their communities,” Williams said.
“If they vote for it, then this is all for not,” Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Boone Co., said. “If they vote against it, then at some point down the road we are going to have to come back and have another conversation.”
Libla said the St. Louis City police chief says the department is losing 10 to 12 officers a month and he’s worried if that continues, but November they could be short 40 more officers.
“So that’s why we needed to keep this moving,” Libla said.
Another change to the bill is the age juveniles can be tried as an adult. The juvenile certification ages for more serious crimes was raised from 12 to 14. However, for crimes committed with unlawful use of a weapon or armed criminal action, the age restriction does not apply.
“We want juveniles to have the best access to the best resources to make sure if they’ve made a mistake, that they don’t make that mistake again,” Rowden said.
Williams said he’s against it because he doesn’t support putting kids behind bars.
“The age was raised to 14, which I still think is not an age to be able to determine and make responsible decisions when it comes to actions they are taking,” Williams said “To think that juveniles could potentially be housed with adults that have committed very dangerous crimes is something that’s far beyond me.”
When asked if he thinks there’s an age a minor should be tried as an adult, he wasn’t sure.
“I do believe that we should hold folks accountable for the decisions that they make, but I can tell you right now, when I was 14 years old, I didn’t have a clue of half the things I know now,” Williams said.
A new addition to the bill during discussion Thursday was a data collection for juveniles. This measure also now includes a data collection of petitions for juvenile certification, making data for juvenile officers, judges of juvenile courts, juvenile court commissioners, Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate. This data includes information on the juvenile’s age, race and type of convictions so judges can better use it for context to prosecutor them.
“It’s just not information that’s widely available so the ask was, let’s collect that information,” Rowden said. “I think judges having that information can be relevant as far as context when they are making their decisions.”
The ant-crime package also includes a witness protection fund with hopes more witnesses will come forward to report a crime if they can feel safe. But where will the money come from for the fund?
“The governor’s folks have the ability in the interim to use some federal grants and maybe fill some of these holes because this created a fund so there might be a way to use some federal money in the short term,” Rowden said.
Rizzo is concerned this fund could just help Parson get votes in the November election.
“If we would do a good things like the witness protection and then not fund it, but yet we would see ads from here until November,” Rizzo said.
Other changes harsher penalties for adults who give children guns without their parents’ permission.
One thing all senators agreed on, it’s time to reduce violent crime.
“While this legislation might not be, for lack of a better word, the sexist thing that we could do, I do think it’s incredibly functional in finding an understanding what some problems are and addressing them with some solutions that we think are going to be functional,” Rowden said.
Rowden says it’s possible there could be talks of police reform when regular session starts up again in January.
“We couldn’t do them here because of the nature of the special session call, but I do think we are going to continue to work to try and get some of those things across the finish line during the regular session next year,” Rowden said.
“There are many promises made in this building from session to session and we will see if it comes to fruition,” Rizzo said.
The bill now moves onto the House for debate and a vote. There are two committee hearings on SB 1 on Monday and Representatives are planned to start debating the measure Wednesday.