Missouri House Abruptly Ends Special Session On Violent Crime, Dumps Legislation Aimed At St. Louis Circuit Attorney
In a surprising move, the Missouri House abruptly ended the special legislative session on violent crime, failing to consider several proposals from Gov. Mike Parson after passing two others.
“I am as shocked as you all are, probably, about what just happened regarding this special session,” said Minority Leader Crystal Quade in a press conference right after lawmakers gaveled out Wednesday.
Quade, D-Springfield, said it’s shocking that, despite Republican supermajorities in both chambers, Parson got “very little” completed in the special session.
But Parson painted a much different picture in his press briefing just a couple of floors down, saying that overall, he was satisfied with what did make it across the finish line.
“We got the two main pieces that we wanted,” Parson said after the conclusion of the session. “You’re not going to hit a home run every time in this building. We’re very content with what we got. Anything we can do to help law enforcement, to help victims in this state to fight violent crime, is a win.”
The pieces Parson is referring to are eliminating residency requirements for St. Louis police officers and other emergency responders, as well as the creation of a witness protection fund. He said he will sign both of those measures into law as soon as possible.
“I don’t keep score on how many bills I pass or don’t,” Parson said. “Regardless of whether it’s Republican or Democrat, this is not a one-party issue. This violent crime affects all of us.”
Parson expanded his call for special session to include a proposal that would allow the attorney general to intervene in murder cases in St. Louis. That, along with a measure related to giving guns to minors, were two of the most contested bills that failed.
House majority leadership issued a statement that said, in part: “We are excited to have passed several significant measures to provide additional resources for law enforcement officers and protect the witnesses against violent criminals. The House is committed to continue working with Governor Parson in the next regular session in our fight to reduce the occurrences of violent crime in Missouri.”
Some Democrats are taking issue with the witness protection fund legislation because it did not include any spending authority. Some suggested the program could be funded during the veto session, which ran concurrently with the special session on Wednesday, but no bill was introduced.
Over and over again Rep Patterson said “we’ll just return at veto session in 20 days with an appropriation bill and fund it then.” Well here we are, where’s the appropriation? *crickets*— Peter Merideth (@PeterforMO) September 16, 2020
Now we’ll have 2 unfunded witness protection programs in statute. Great emergency work #moleg pic.twitter.com/jqqfbVYOO3
Parson said lawmakers can address that when they come back next month to work on the supplemental budget, and his spokeswoman said they plan to use federal grant funds to get the program started to ensure there will be no delay.
Quade offered sharp criticism of the governor, saying he wasted “$200,000 and counting in taxpayer money on a vanity special session solely intended to boost his flagging prospects for election to a full term.”
Parson called that statement “sad.” He said that he didn’t know the total cost of the special session but that he doesn’t want to put “a value” on saving lives.
“Anything I can do to protect a child, a victim of a homicide... the least of my worry is what it costs to get (the legislature) in here,” Parson said. “It’s about trying to protect people in this state right now.”
Parson called the session back in July, coming under fire from Democrats and the Legislative Black Caucus who urged him to do so in 2019. At that time, Parson said gun violence was “too controversial” an issue to be dealt with during a special session.
This year, nine police officers have been shot, and Parson said offering resources to law enforcement as violent crime surged could not wait until the 2021 general session.
The Legislature held a brief veto session Wednesday.
The House overrode Parson’s veto on a proposal that would reimburse businesses $140,000 for overcollection of use and sales taxes. But the Senate did not support the idea, and the override failed.
Follow Jaclyn Driscoll: @DriscollNPR