Legislation that adds tougher sentencing guidelines to violent offenders is advancing through the Missouri Senate.
Two bills sponsored by Parkville Republican Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer had testimony heard last week and were passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.
“We had great testimony and broad-base support,” said Luetkemeyer of the handful of representatives from law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys who spoke in favor of the measures.
The first-term legislator said opposition came from only one group.
“The only group to testify against one of the bills was the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), which I find to be a compliment,” he said. “The fact that you have an organization that is willing to stand up and defend violent criminals and say they need to be on the streets is absurd.”
Luetkemeyer’s armed criminal action bill would require consecutive sentencing for such crimes as well as increase the minimum sentence to three years for the first offense, five years for the second offense and 10 years for additional crimes committed under the statute.
The GOP senator’s focus on crime came after conversations he had with constituents and members of the administration.
“The governor and I have had a lot of conversations about the issue violent crime, and I think he realizes this is a critical issue,” Luetkemeyer said. “There is a difference of opinion among Democrats and Republicans as to how to deal with it.
“My view and the view of the governor is we need to send a message to violent criminals that their days of roaming the streets and wreaking havoc on society are over and they are going to spend a significant amount of time in prison.”
Luetkemeyer, the only practicing attorney in his caucus, said his democratic colleagues believe the answer to violent crime is more gun control.
“I believe the overwhelming majority of citizens in our state are law abiding and we don’t need to further restrict their Second Ammendment rights,” he said. “What we need to do is targeting the .1% of would-be criminals who use guns to commit acts of violence.”
Luetkemeyer said the issue of violent crime affects cities across the state.
“It’s no secret that St. Joseph in 2016 saw the seventh largest increase in violent crime of any city in America per capita,” he said.
He also pointed to a recent USA Today report that listed three of Missouri’s largest cities ranked in the top 25 most dangerous cities in the country.
Regarding probation reform, Senate Bill 600 denies the ability for an offender to receive probation for violent crimes including assault with a deadly weapon and second-degree murder. It would also deny probation for certain repeat offenders.
That measure was voted out of committee last week and awaits perfection by the entire Senate. In the meantime, the armed criminal action legislation, originally SB 601, has been merged with other crime-related measures and has also been voted out of committee.
He predicts his other crime legislation, SB 602, will be voted out of committee later this month. Under that bill, Luetkemeyer said prosecutors will have greater flexibility to bring charges against offenders engaged in organized criminal activity.