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Missouri House Passes Bill That Makes Street Protests A Felony Crime, Bans Police Chokeholds

Protestors gathered Monday, June 1, 2020 at the St. Louis Justice Center for a protest for social justice, ignited by the recent killing of George Floyd. Legislation pending in the Missouri General Assembly could eventually make it a felony to block traffic without permission.
File photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Protesters march last June at the St. Louis Justice Center, ignited by the killing of George Floyd. Legislation pending in the Missouri General Assembly could eventually make it a felony to block traffic without permission.

The Missouri House has approved sweeping legislation that covers a wide range of law enforcement matters, most notably a provision that could make protesting in the middle of a street a felony.

Whether the many amendments that were placed on the bill Tuesday night make it past the finish line is an open question, and will largely depend on how negotiations between the House and Senate go during the final days of the session.

The House spent much of Tuesday afternoon and part of the evening debating Sen. Bill Eigel’s legislation. The St. Charles County Republican’s bill would make it a felony for protesters blocking a street a third time without permission.

The first violation of blocking a street would be an infraction, according to the bill. The second would be a misdemeanor that could bring the possibility of jail time. A third offense could bring up to four years in prison.

House members addeda number of amendments, including lowering the gun conceal and carry age from 19 to 18 years old. The legislation includes provisions that were on other bills the Senate passed, including a ban on police chokeholds and criminalizing officers having sex with detainees.

Rep. Nick Schroer acknowledged that not everything that was placed in the bill will end up going to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.

“Now more than ever, our law enforcement officers, our men and women in blue, need our support — not just our political pretty talk when it comes to election time,” said Schroer, R-St. Charles County. “Many bills are on this. Some good, some bad. But a yes vote on this will send this to conference and keep it alive so we can negotiate which good pieces stay on.”

Schroer went on to say that “if you have the back of law enforcement today, you know what to do — you’ll vote yes.”

Democrats, including state Rep. Kevin Windham, D-Hillsdale, pointed out that civil rights movements throughout the past few decades used street protests to push for widespread change in society.

“If this bill were to pass, 2021 Missouri will whack a young John Lewis with a billy club of a felony on his record,” said Windham, referring to the late congressman who became renowned for his civil rights activism. “In Missouri, convicted felons can’t run for office. In Missouri, convicted felons can’t vote or be a member of a jury until after they completed probation. In Missouri, convicted felons cannot own firearms.”

Legislation around law enforcement has been a major storyline of the 2021 session. Some Democratic lawmakers have sought to overhaul policing practices after the murder of George Floyd. Republicans, like Eigel, have sought to stiffen penalties for blocking traffic after protests over Floyd’s death, contending that they put protesters and drivers in danger.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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