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Missouri Senate Passes Wide-Ranging Law Enforcement And Criminal Justice Bill

Members of a conference committee speak on May 12, 2021, about a law enforcement bill. The legislation, which includes a ban on police chokeholds and use of force database, passed the Senate with minimal opposition.
Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio
Members of a conference committee speak on Wednesday about a law enforcement bill. The legislation, which includes a ban on police chokeholds and use of force database, passed the Senate with minimal opposition.

The Missouri Senate approved wide-ranging law enforcement changes on Wednesday.

The bill includes a host of ideas that have been pushed since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, as well as the removal of the residency requirement for the Kansas City Police Department.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, would, among other things, create a use-of-force database, seek to better track officers with problematic records, bar officers from using chokeholds and prohibit police officers from having sex with detainees. It also features a number of provisions related to juvenile offenders and pay for county sheriffs.

Luetkemeyer’s legislation passed 31-2. It needs another vote in the House to go to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.

Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, said the bill sends a big message to the rest of the country that the state can make meaningful progress on overhauling criminal justice and how law enforcement operates.

“Michael Brown or George Floyd could have easily been me,” said Williams, one of two Black men who serve in the Missouri Senate. “That’s why I made this a primary focus of mine. We’ve really had a conversation for the first time since the death of Michael Brown that Black lives matter in the state of Missouri.”

The bill seemed to be in jeopardy on Tuesday when members of a conference committee didn’t agree on a provision upping the penalties for committing perjury or obstruction of the General Assembly. That measure was a priority for House Speaker Rob Vescovo, but Gov. Mike Parson said he would veto the entire bill if the provision remained in place.

Ultimately, the conference committee decided to get rid of that proposal. House members like Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, indicated that they would try to push for the General Assembly provisions next year.

“This is a good bill,” Roberts said. “There were a lot of concessions made, and I think the end result is going to benefit a lot of people. It’s a very inclusive bill.”

Parson and several other conferees felt that the lying to the General Assembly provisions gave too much power to House and Senate leadership. But Sen. Bob Onder said he was disappointed Parson issued a veto threat, considering that other executive agencies have the ability to subpoena people — and extract penalties for noncompliance.

“We are a co-equal branch of government,” said Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis. “And when the governor issued his veto threat over that provision, part of me said, ‘Great, let’s put it on his desk and let’s see what he wants to do about it,’ if he wants to veto all these things to retain the prerogative of his branch of government over our branch of government.”

Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, said that while she supports some of the provisions in the bill, she didn’t support lifting the Kansas City Police Department residency requirement. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has also been critical of that element of the bill.

“I really appreciate putting things in there that will help the young people of the state of Missouri so they’ll have a second chance,” Washington said. “My community is very, very adamant with residency with our police officers. For that reason, I can’t vote yes on what has been a really, really good criminal justice reform bill.”

The bill does not include any language that could eventually make it a felony if someone repeatedly blocks traffic during demonstrations. That was widely seen as targeting protesters who used the tactic after police killed a Black person.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page is hoping the Board of Freeholders can provoke important policy conversations throughout St. Louis.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
The Senate passed a bill that would require the county council to renew public health orders. The measure was inspired by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page's COVID-19 response.

Public health order restrictions

Meanwhile, Missouri lawmakers have voted to place limits on how long public health orders can last without a vote by a county council or commission.

The proposal was part of a larger local government bill the House and Senate sent to Parson on Wednesday.

Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis County, said many of those restrictions will probably be lifted by the time the bill takes effect in late August. But he says the change is important for future pandemics.

“This was one that we clearly, we gave, we gave a lot of faith in the local government. And they didn't all act the way they should,” Murphy said. “So this just makes it across the board a way to act in the future.”

The bill was a major priority, especially for St. Louis County lawmakers who were upset with County Executive Sam Page’s response to COVID-19. While St. Louis County has begun to pare down its restrictions, some remain — including a mask mandate.

In a statement, Page spokesman Doug Moore said, “public health decisions are best made by public health experts in the Department of Public Health.”

“When the bill becomes effective, members of the County Council will participate in the very difficult decisions on protecting the health and safety of those in our most vulnerable communities,” Moore said.

State Rep. Dan Shaul speaks on the floor of the Missouri House on March 25, 2021.
Tim Bommel
House Communications
Rep. Dan Shaul speaks on the floor of the Missouri House on March 25. Shaul wants a special session for election-related items.

Special session on election measures

One major policy initiative left unfinished as of Wednesday afternoon involves implementing a photo identification requirement to vote, as well as a separate ballot item raising the bar to get constitutional amendments on the ballot and to pass them.

Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, who heads the House Elections Committee, said he was calling on Parson to call a special session on these issues. He said he wants to make sure there are multiple pathways for these proposals to pass this year.

“One of them is certainly trying to get something through by Friday,” said Shaul, referring to when lawmakers will adjourn. “I’m not real confident in that. But I’d welcome that opportunity still. If not, our next logical step is to try to do something in the interim.”

During a recent episode of Politically Speaking, Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, said Democrats were willing to speak out against legislation with the photo identification requirement — which, given the limited amount of time, could make those proposals more difficult to pass.

Democrats would have less leverage in a special session to block either the photo identification bill or the ballot items that raise the threshold for constitutional amendments.

“The purpose of having a special session, in my mind, was we would have total focus on election reform,” Shaul said. “Right now, there’s probably five or six large priorities looming. And everybody’s chasing their shiny object. If we’re able to bring it in a special session, if the governor would so choose that, it gives us an opportunity to focus on elections.”

Lawmakers will be returning to the Capitol later this year to pass a congressional redistricting map. Shaul said he would want the election-related special session in the late summer or early fall before the redistricting session.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.