Greetings Friends of the 144th!
This past week when I returned from Jefferson City, I brought my two grandsons home with me. As the rest of you grandparents know, it is so much fun to have them around yet so exhausting! The boys had a fun time “working” with Meme and Grampy.
Special Session to Address Violent Crime Continues
The Missouri General Assembly is continuing its work in a special session called by the governor to address the growing problem of violent crime. After many hours of debate that lasted from Wednesday morning until the early hours of Thursday, the Missouri Senate gave final approval to two House bills, and sent three more back to the House of Representatives with changes.
The two bills truly agreed by the Senate are now on their way to Gov. Parson to be signed into law.
- HB 66 is meant to strengthen efforts to protect witnesses so they can provide key testimony that will put violent criminals behind bars. It creates the Pretrial Witness Protection Services Fund, which will allow the Department of Public Safety to disburse money to law enforcement agencies for the purposes of providing for the security of witnesses, potential witnesses, and their immediate families in criminal proceedings or investigations. The funds are subject to appropriations from the General Assembly.
- HB 46 is designed to help the City of St. Louis to fill the more than 140 open positions it currently has on its police force. The bill would eliminate the residency requirement for St. Louis law enforcement so long as the officer lives within an hour of the city. This proposal would also prohibit requiring any public safety employee for the city of St. Louis to be a resident of the City. The elimination of the existing residency requirement would last until September 1, 2023. Supporters say the bill is needed to put more “boots on the ground” to help the city address its rising homicide rate.
The bills changed by the Senate now must return to the House for additional consideration. House members will have the option to approve the changes and send them on to the governor for his approval, or they could opt to send the bills to conference where the two chambers would work out any differences they have on the issues.
- HB 2 would allow certain witness statements to be admissible in court that would otherwise not be allowed under current statute. In effect, the bill would ensure a witness is able to submit testimony in situations where the defendant has engaged in wrongdoing with the purpose of causing the unavailability of the witness.
The Senate added language to the bill that would give the attorney general the authority to prosecute for the offenses of first and second degree murder in St. Louis City. The provision would allow the attorney general’s office to act if the city’s chief law enforcement officer requested an intervention; if more than 90 days have passed since the alleged crime; or if a “complaint, information, or indictment” has “not been filed or has been filed and dismissed.” The change was added to the special session call issued by Gov. Parson. It is meant to address the backlog of murder cases in St. Louis.
- HB 11 is intended to protect the wellbeing of young people by targeting criminals who take advantage of juveniles by giving them guns and encouraging them to participate in violent crime. The bill expands the existing offense of “endangering the welfare of a child.” The current statute applies to drug offenses. The bill would expand the crime to include a person who knowingly encourages, aids, or causes a child under the age of 17 to engage in any conduct in violation of weapons offenses under the law.
The Senate made a minor technical fix to the bill that will require another vote in the House before sending the bill to the governor.
- HB 16 also focuses on adults who victimize young people through the unlawful use of firearms. The bill would stiffen the penalty for the unlawful transfer of a weapon to a minor as the lending or sale of a firearm to a person under 18 years of age for the purpose of interfering with or avoiding an arrest or investigation. It would change current law to allow such transfers to be a felony even if done with parental permission.
The Senate changed the bill to preserve current law, which makes it a crime to transfer a firearm to a minor without a guardian’s permission. The House had removed the language to prevent a scenario where a grandparent could be charged with a crime for taking a grandchild hunting. The Senate added language to create an exception so the offense wouldn’t apply to a child’s relative if the person reasonably believes they have the permission of the parent or guardian.
The House will now have the opportunity to discuss the bills that were changed by the Senate in the coming weeks. The special session called by the governor officially ends September 24.
Numerous Bills Approved by the General Assembly Are Now Law
While the 2020 legislative session was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the legislature was still able to pass numerous bills that address some of the most pressing issues facing the state. The majority of the bills approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Parson went into effect on August 28.
In total, the Missouri House and Senate approved 51 pieces of legislation during the 2020 session. That number is down from the 92 bills that made it across the legislative finish line in 2019. For 2020, 33 House bills made their way into law, with 18 of the bills being appropriations bills for the state operating budget. Sixteen pieces of Senate legislation ultimately received approval from the legislature and the governor. Gov. Parson vetoed two of the 51 bills sent to him by the legislature.
The bills passed by the General Assembly address a wide array of subjects ranging from workforce development to public safety to property tax relief. Some of the noteworthy changes that went into effect August 28 include:
License Reciprocity and Workforce Development (HB 2046)
The legislation will allow professionals moving to Missouri to continue working in their professions without delay by recognizing the licensing they have obtained in other states. It also will expand Missouri’s recognition of apprenticeships as a path to licensure and work and will allow apprentices to obtain industry licenses as part of an apprenticeship. Additionally, the bill allows prior offenders who have served their time to integrate more effectively back into society by providing a path to meaningful work without arbitrary discrimination.
Protections for Victims of Sexual Assault (SB 569)
The bill will give victims of sexual assault access to a secure electronic tracking system for their Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) kits. It also directs the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to establish a statewide telehealth network to provide forensic exams for victims of sexual assault. The bill also includes rights and protections for survivors of sexual assault during any medical examination and interactions with law enforcement, the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney.
Protecting Children (HB 1414)
This new law in Missouri makes much-needed improvements to the state’s foster care system. The legislation is meant to better protect young people by modernizing the system and making it more accountable, as well as making the data in the system more transparent. The legislation will give mental health and child care professionals the tools they need to better serve the needs of children.
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions, concerns, or suggestions you might have. As your Representative, I am here to assist you however I can. I can be reached by email at Chris.Dinkins@house.mo.gov or by phone at 573-751-2112. Please do not contact me via social media. These messages are easy to overlook and may not be responded to in a timely manner.