The Missouri House has approved a measure that would end residency requirements for police officers throughout the state.
State Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, is sponsoring the legislation that would allow officers to live anywhere within a one-hour response time to their precinct. The proposal passed the House 105-41 Monday. On the House floor before the vote, Hicks held up a stack of printouts of emails his office received from law enforcement around the state in favor of the proposal.
“I have, in my hands, a letter from a 23-year vet that says he’s tired of being handcuffed over a law like this and it’s hurting his recruitment throughout the state. It’s hurting their department, and most of all, it’s hurting the citizens of this state.”
The approval came over objections from several Democrats in the chamber, including many from the St. Louis area.
The bill initially focused on St. Louis, but an amendment expanded the provisions statewide. Several Kansas City lawmakers rejected the idea, as well.
A statement from House Democrats after passage of the plan said Republican leaders chose to “unilaterally end debate without allowing any opponents of the bill a chance to speak.”
“Once again, the voice of many St. Louisans were silenced in the House of Representatives,” said state Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis. “It is a travesty that on an issue of such importance to city residents, not a single opponent was allowed to speak. Many St. Louis residents feel strongly that police officers must live within the city to truly understand and be empathetic with its people. If the residency rule is lifted, that vital connection will be lost.”
The measure was taken up for preliminary approval last week. There was extensive debate among those in support and in opposition.
State Rep. Donna Baringer, D-St. Louis, voted in favor of the proposal after holding a town hall meeting to get feedback from her constituents. But she said she was not happy that the measure was taken up at the state level, when the issue is local.
“The last time the citizens of St. Louis voted on residency was in 1995. That’s almost 30 years ago,” she said. “I actually voted, and I voted in favor because at that time it was something you wanted. You wanted the police to live in your neighborhood; you were hoping they’d drive a police car home. It made you feel safer.”
Baringer, a former alderwoman, said things have changed because St. Louis is struggling to retain police officers due to the residency requirement. She said she believes the citizens of St. Louis should be able to vote on the issue, but the aldermen are using it as a “political football.”
“The citizens of the city of St. Louis were blocked twice from giving a voice to how they feel on residency … in 2017 and 2019,” Barringer said. “Had it been done correctly, it would have gone to the voters, but it did not."
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, Police Chief John Hayden and other public safety officials have asked for the change in an effort to make recruitment easier. St. Louis is short more than 100 officers and crime continues to increase, Hayden said in a committee hearing on the bill in January.
The Board of Aldermen has asked lawmakers and Gov. Mike Parson to reject the idea.
The measure now heads to the Senate, where Hicks said it is likely to pass. Hicks has also said the governor has signaled that he will sign the proposal into law.
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