Lawmakers will reconvene in Jefferson City this week with one main focus: quelling crime.
Governor Mike Parson used his constitutional authority to call legislators back to the capitol earlier this month. The Republican outlined specific areas in which he would like lawmakers to focus on passing in an attempt to curb violent crime across the state.
The six wide-ranging policy proposals are aimed at are:
Unlawful transfer of aweapon to a minor
Changes the penalty for this offense from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E Felony.
Endangering the welfare of a child
The proposal would add an offense for knowingly giving a minor a firearm for any weapons offense.
A pretrial witness protection fund
A fund that would provide security and protection for witnesses and their associates in certain criminal proceedings.
Witness statement admissibility
This measure would allow the use of an initial witness statement regardless of their appearance in court out of fear of retribution.
This legislation would let juvenile offenders be tried as adults if they committed either violent crime of unlawful use of a weapon or armed criminal actions. It wouldn’t necessarily mean the juvenile would be tried as an adult, but this would give courts the option.
Removing residency requirement for St. Louis Police Officers
This proposal would eliminate the existing residency requirement for public safety employees in the City of St. Louis. The department is down several hundred officers and this measure looks to repeal that requirement to recruit new officers outside of the City’s limit.
Local lawmakers said despite the ongoing pandemic, crime continues to rise.
”Crime is up. We see it right here in St. Joseph with all of these drive-by shootings,” said Rep. Sheila Solon, R-St. Joseph. “There has been an uptick and our governor has a background in law enforcement and so he’s trying to give all of the municipalities and cities and law enforcement agencies all of the tools that they need, including the prosecutors, to get these violent criminals off the streets.”
But unlike some other states that are considering police reforms in the wake of racial injustice protests, Missouri lawmakers will focus on measures that would strengthen laws and put more pressure on violent offenders. The leader of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus said he was disappointed that police reform is not on the table.
Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, applauded the scope of the special session, saying it would give law enforcement agencies and prosecutors the tools they need to keep violent offenders off the streets.
Luetkemeyer, a practicing attorney, said special sessions in Missouri are set up so that the governor essentially decides what areas lawmakers are to debate over. Other issues, Luetkemeyer said, won’t be considered because it doesn’t fall under the parameters of the call of the special session.
”So if it does not fall within the narrow set of six categories of legislation that the governor wants to see, it’s not proper to bring up during special,” Luetkemeyer said.
Even with the specific policy parameters in place, it doesn’t mean the legislature has to pass all or any of the measures Parson wants the legislative body to consider.
While the worst of the crime is in St. Louis and Kansas City, Parson called it a “Missouri problem.”
“All of this is unacceptable,” Parson said. “We are better than that in Missouri, and we must hold violent criminals accountable for their actions.”
St. Louis and Kansas City both had among the highest homicide rates in the nation in 2019, and the trend is far worse in 2020. Both cities are seeing higher numbers of murders than at this point last year.
Solon said another possible solution already is underway to the south of St. Joe as an increased number of federal law enforcement agents are in Kansas City as a part of Operation Legend. In addition to roughly 400 federal agents already working in Kansas City, the new surge of 225 agents range from the FBI, DEA, ATF and the U.S. Marshals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.