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Government, Politics & Issues

Parson Touts Special Legislative Session To Combat Violent Crime In Cities Like St. Louis

Gov. Mike Parson speaks to reporters on July 23, 2020, at the St. Louis Police Department headquarters after meeting with law enforcement and political leaders.
Bill Greenblatt I UPI
Gov. Mike Parson speaks to reporters Thursday at St. Louis Police Department headquarters after meeting with law enforcement and political leaders.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson brought his statewide tour promoting a special legislative session he called to St. Louis on Wednesday, saying the agenda will help reduce violence in the state’s big cities.

Lawmakers aren’t planning to take up some of Parson's ideas until after the August primary, and Democrats have been critical that the special session won’t incorporate ideas from nationwide demonstrations that decried police killing Black people.

Flanked by law enforcement and elected officials at the St. Louis Police Department, Parson urged the GOP-controlled Legislature to pass his public safety agenda — which includes protections for witnesses and increasing penalties for people who sell weapons to minors without parental consent.

“One of the things we all know with this situation is the homicide rates is going up in our state,” Parson said. “And we've got to deal with that situation. And that's why I called a special session.”

Parson is also backing a proposal to remove a residency requirement for St. Louis police officers, which has been a priority for Mayor Lyda Krewson. St. Louis voters are slated to decide in November whether most city employees need to live within the city.

“We need to be able to hire more officers. We need to be able to have a more diverse police force,” Krewson said. “We need to be able to do that so that our officers can also develop better relationships with the people in the community. When you're that short, it’s very hard to develop those relationships.” 

Krewson and other proponents of the idea said it will make it easier to recruit officers to the city police department. Detractors have said it will create a police force of people disconnected from the city, which in turn could engender distrust between officers and residents.

Parson said removing the residency requirement goes hand in hand with his push to improve public safety. 

“The reality is, since I've been governor, there's been a shortage of officers in St. Louis,” Parson said. “We need officers on the streets to fight violent crime.”

Misplaced focus?

Thousands of people marched from St. Louis City Hall to police headquarters and back Sunday, June 7, 2020, as protests over police brutality continue in the region and nation.
File photo I Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

While Parson’s special session is set to begin on Monday, lawmakers will not actually start debating bills until after the primary elections on Aug. 4. The House isn’t slated to begin its session until Aug. 12.

Asked about the timing of when lawmakers may actually act, Parson replied: “I know there's elections coming up. I know there's lots of reasons, maybe not to come. But every day we delay on this, somebody has died and we all know that.” Parson was alluding to how a number of House members in both parties are running in Aug. 4 state Senate elections in which winning the primary is tantamount to election.

“Anything we can do to speed this process up to give law enforcement and prosecutors the advantage … I would like to see it done as soon as possible,” Parson said.

Some Democrats have criticized Parson for not including overhauls to police practices on the special session agenda — especially after nationwide protests after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Sen. Brian Williams wants lawmakers to outlaw no-knock warrants and expand the availability of civilian review boards of law enforcement agencies. He stressed that public safety and police accountability are not mutually exclusive.

“I think the Legislature can walk in and chew gum at the same time,” said Williams, D-University City. “So I don't think that we have to wait into a regular session to address police reform, or gun violence. And I think, contrary to the governor's belief, these things work hand in hand. There's no witness protection program if there's no one in the community that feels comfortable coming forward to law enforcement.”

Williams was referring to Parson’s previous statements, which the governor reiterated on Thursday, that lawmakers should use the regular session to deal with overhauling police practices.

“That does need to go to the committee process,” Parson said. “Testimony needs to be heard on that. That is going to be a lengthy process, I believe, to get that. That's what the legislative sessions are for.” 

Parson noted that he met with a number of lawmakers from both parties before he talked to the press. That included St. Louis Democrats like Sen. Karla May and Reps. Rasheen Aldridge and Wiley Price.

“So, again, as I talked to legislators today,” Parson said, “I think those discussions will be there. I just don't see how you will get that done in a special session. And again, I think the violent crime right now that we’re seeing, the homicide rate — we got to do everything we can to slow that down.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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