The department has been under state control since the Civil War.
Last year, the bill fell 12 votes short of first-round approval, but this year it passed overwhelmingly, 123-34.
House Speaker Steven Tilley (R, Perryville), who co-sponsors the bill, says one reason for the about-face is that citizens in other Missouri cities and towns might have to start footing the bill for the St. Louis Police Department.
"When you look at the fact that taxpayers from all over the state are going to help subsidize the city of St. Louis Police Department, in times when we may have to cut education, where we may have to do some difficult things, I think it certainly helped," Tilley told reporters after the vote.
The bill's sponsor, State Representative Jamilah Nasheed (D, St. Louis), is happy with today's decision, but remains cautiously optimistic.
"It's like being in the Super Bowl, but (not having won) the Super Bowl yet...you don't pop champagne until you win the Super Bowl," Nasheed said. "I think we have a long road ahead of us with local control, but this is a great, great start."
"Folks that have talked to me were not comfortable with the provision, mainly dealing with their pension(s)," Atkins said. "That's what it came down to, bottom line."
One more House vote is needed to send the bill to the Missouri Senate.
Also, an amendment was added that would bar St. Louis police officers from lobbying lawmakers while in uniform or as official representatives of the police department. They would, however, be able to lobby as private citizens.
Updated 1:42 p.m. Feb. 17, 2011:
St. Louis mayor Francis Slay reacted on his blog this afternoon, calling today's bill action "a success":
"In Jefferson City, progress is generally measured by precedent. A bill that advances through the legislative process further than it has in previous sessions is considered to be a success. By that modest measure, the cause of returning control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to the citizens who rely on it – and pay for it – is already successful."
However, Slay also mentioned that the success was not a complete one:
"For the city’s residents and businesses, today’s step is a positive, but still preliminary, one. This is not yet a victory. A similar bill in the Senate is awaiting further action. And Gov. Jay Nixon, who currently controls the police department's governing commission, has not yet found a compelling reason to endorse the effort."