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Missouri Senate Advances Gov. Parson’s Violent Crime Legislation

Jaclyn Driscoll
St. Louis Public Radio
In a heated 12-hour debate on Thursday, Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, opposes Gov. Mike Parson's tough-on-crime package of legislation intended to reduce violence throughout the state.

The violent crime legislation driving the 2020 special legislative session passed the Missouri Senate on Friday 27-3.

The three "no" votes came from the only Black legislators in the chamber, all from the St. Louis area and key players during the 12-hour filibuster on Thursday. Democratic Sens. Jamilah Nasheed, Karla May and Brian Williams took issue with a portion of the bill that would eliminate residency requirements for St. Louis police officers so long as they lived within a one-hour response time.

“I feel offended that you would be as disrespectful as this and not allow the senators who represent the area to be the ones to decide what’s good for those areas,” said May during the debate on Thursday.

Nasheed agreed, saying that bringing more law enforcement from outside the city to dictate what goes on within it will not solve crime. She said anyone who sees this as a cure-all for the rise in crime is “insanely mistaken” and advocated for building better relationships between police and the African American community.

Several Republican members of the chamber highlighted testimony heard in committee last month in which members of law enforcement, including St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden, said eliminating residency was necessary. Hayden told the committee that the city is down about 130 officers and that the residency rule hurts recruiting. Hayden also told senators that the city has had 150 homicides, compared to 113 at this time in 2019.

“I think this is one of the things that will create an environment that’s better for recruitment for our police force,” said Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring. “And if it moves us towards having a stronger, fully funded, fully built-out police force, I think that’s a step in the right direction.”

The topic will be on the November ballot for St. Louis residents to decide. However, lawmakers eventually agreed to a three-year sunset on the provision for this legislation during Thursday’s debate.

Another contentious portion of the legislation is juvenile certification, which would allow judges to try certain juveniles as adults. The Senate was able to reach a compromise to raise the age from 12 to 14 for felonies involving the illegal use of a gun.

Jaclyn Driscoll
St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, held the floor, along with Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, for much of the time on Thursday during the 12-hour filibuster of SB1.

This tough-on-crime package of legislation is being pushed by Gov. Mike Parson, who called for a special legislative session to begin July 27. Parson said the need to address the spike in violent crime is too great to wait for the regular session in January. However, last year at this time, the Legislative Black Caucus urged the governor to call a special session for gun violence. Instead Parson called lawmakers back to address a car sales tax issue. May was quick to point out that she believed the current special session call was a “political ploy” by Parson to garner more support from his conservative base in the upcoming election.

Parson has advocated for reducing the prison population, but a nonpartisan analysis of the legislation shows it is expected to lock up more juveniles and even eliminate the possibility of parole in some cases.

“You’re not talking about little minor juvenile violations,” Parson said. “You’re talking about people involved in violent crimes.”

Parson said he has reduced the prison population by roughly 7,000 inmates. Also, at a time when the governor is slashing budgets due to the economic effects of the coronavirus, the same analysis shows implementation of these new proposals is expected to cost the state $1.2 million in the first year.

The topic has been contentious, even before lawmakers made it back to the Capitol, as protests to end racism and police brutality continue across the state and nation. Black Lives Matter protesters managed to briefly shut down Senate debate Thursday as they left the chamber chanting, “Criminal justice reform, not rhetoric.” The group was led by Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis.

The legislation now heads to the House, where representatives are expected to begin discussion mid-week.

Jaclyn is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.

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