Tony Luetkemeyer on prisoners and stimulus

State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, proposed a bill that would seize physical stimulus checks from prisoners who owe restitution.

A proposed bill in the Missouri Senate would have the Missouri Department of Corrections seize stimulus checks from prisoners who owe restitution.

The proposal, sponsored by State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, would force the department of corrections to pay prisoners’ court-ordered restitution from any stimulus funds they may receive.

“You know, these stimulus checks were intended to go to people who were struggling, who had lost their jobs, who were facing economic devastation from the pandemic,” Luetkemeyer said. “I hope the intent of Congress (wasn’t) to have prisoners who raped and murdered someone to receive these checks.”

Luetkemeyer’s proposal doesn’t limit the seizures to violent crimes, and it’s silent on what the department of corrections would do with any excess funds. Presumably they’d be returned to the prisoner, but that isn’t codified in the law.

“(Congress) did not write the bill in a way that would prohibit stimulus checks from going to prisoners,” Luetkemeyer said. “I think it’s fundamentally unfair, you know, for taxpayer dollars to be going to violent criminals. If it’s being given out at all, let’s make sure it’s going to victims where it’s much needed.”

Alongside a prison sentence, judges may order an offender to pay restitution. Luetkemeyer’s bill only applies to criminal cases, not civil ones.

The text of the bill hasn’t been released, though Luetkemeyer explained its contents to News-Press NOW.

Many Americans received their latest stimulus dollars through direct deposit, which is likely outside of the department of corrections’ control. Luetkemeyer’s bill would have officials intercept checks sent by the Internal Revenue Service directly to prison institutions.

The department of corrections has ultimate control over the “inmate canteen,” a quasi bank account that allows family members to deposit money that inmates can use inside the prison system

Americans who made less than $75,000 annually were eligible for a one-time payment of $1,400 under the American Rescue Plan. However, no Republican members of Congress voted for the bill, in part, many said, because the money wasn’t targeted enough to Americans who actually need it.

“What Congress should have done, in my opinion, is they should have had much more targeted stimulus dollars, they should have made sure that stimulus dollars were going to people who actually needed the money, not just to everybody and certainly not to prisoners,” Luetkemeyer said.

The bill would need to pass both the Missouri House and Senate before becoming law if signed by Gov. Mike Parson, but the bill originates in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Luetkemeyer chairs, giving the proposal’s chances a leg up.

Matt Hoffmann can be reached at matt.hoffmann@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NpNowHoffmann.

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