The Missouri House has overwhelmingly approved a wide-ranging criminal justice bill that would revamp the state’s system.
Among other things, the measure ends the statute of limitations for prosecuting sex crimes when the victim is under the age of 19.
The House also has passed a different bill, which includes a provision that would allow the lieutenant governor to step in and appoint members of boards and commissions if the governor fails to make those appointments within six months after the posts become vacant.
Those are just a sampling of the General Assembly’s actions Tuesday during marathon sessions that, in the case of the House, spanned 12 hours.
Both chambers are trying to get as much legislation passed as possible before this session ends at 6 p.m. Friday.
But in many cases, the House and Senate actions could be for naught if the other chamber fails to go along with the changes within the next three days. In that case, the bills could die. So far, the two chambers have given final approval to 75 bills since the 2018 regular session began in January.
The Senate’s actions Tuesday included final votes on three bills that already have House approval:
- One strikes down the current requirement that landlords keep security deposits in separate bank accounts. The current law also makes it illegal to co-mingle deposits with other funds.
- Two others modify financial transactions by public entities, and make changes to the amount of money some court reporters have to pay to prepare transcripts.
All three bills next go to Gov. Eric Greitens’ desk. However, Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, a Republican from Joplin, has generated speculation that he may hold off sending legislation to the governor because of concerns that Greitens might veto bills of lawmakers who’ve called on him to resign.
The Senate also made changes to several House bills, including the lower chamber’s version of the benevolent tax credit bill. That measure includes increased tax breaks for so-called crisis pregnancy centers run by religious groups opposed to abortion.
House debate heated over crime and punishment
In the House, much of the day’s activity focused on the criminal justice bill and a flurry of amendments.
The bill’s chief objective is to end the state’s Probation and Parole Board’s independence status and make it a division of the Missouri Department of Corrections. The change had been recommended by a commission.
The House voted 128-16 to pass the bill. Most of Tuesday’s debate was over proposed changes. In the end, the House approved 19 amendments.
One of them, sponsored by Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, sets up a review process to monitor local law enforcement agencies to ensure they don’t engage in racial profiling. The bill calls for counseling, training and potential discipline for officers found to have engaged in discriminatory policing.
Amid spirited GOP questioning, Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis, said racial profiling is a serious problem. “Driving while black is real,’’ he said.
Other approved amendments on the bill include:
- Restoration of “whistleblower’’ protections for public employees that had been stripped away last year by a measure, now law, that was primarily intended to make it harder for employees to sue private businesses for discrimination.
- Allowing the parole of inmates age 65 and over, even if they have life sentences, if the inmate is determined to no longer be a threat to the public. Inmates with multiple convictions would be excluded.
- Granting some nonviolent felons credit for good behavior;
- Charging some prison inmates 25 cents every time they sought medical help for what a physician determined was an unnecessary visit. The amendment lists a number of medical conditions, such as pregnancy, that would be excluded from the charge.
State Rep. Rick Brattin, a Republican from Harrisonville, sponsored the amendment, saying it could save the state money. He cited cost savings in other states.
Late Tuesday night, the House passed a resolution calling for a national constitutional convention to consider term limits for members of Congress.
Backers say term limits would make Congress more responsive to the public; opponents contended term limits would put outside interests in charge, with some contending that’s what has happened to the Missouri General Assembly since voters approved legislative term limits in 1992.
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