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Missouri House Democrats say GOP was racist to end debate on special prosecutor bill

Rep. Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis County, speaks at a podium in the Missouri House Lounge. She is surrounded by fellow democratic lawmakers.
Sarah Kellogg
St. Louis Public Radio
Rep. Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis County, along with other Democrats, spoke Thursday against the decision by House Republican leaders to end debate on a bill allowing for the appointment of a special prosecutor before some Black lawmakers were able to speak on it.

Some House Democrats are calling a move by Republican leaders to cut off debate on a bill Thursday before several Black lawmakers could speak on it racist.

Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, said both the bill, which would allow the governor to appoint a special violent crime prosecutor in cities, and the decision to end debate are racist.

“It is blatantly racist when they get up on the floor and say there's a crime problem in the city of St. Louis and the majority of the people that live there are African American,” Bosley said. “And yet you won't let the Black representatives or even those who represent those Black folks to have a conversation.”

Speaking on the decision to cut off debate, House Floor Leader Jon Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, said he felt the conversation on Thursday was devolving.

“My concern was for the body as a whole when the debate became very emotional and we stopped talking about the substance of the bill,” Patterson said.

Patterson said that lawmakers discussed the same bill for over three hours on Wednesday and that with a body of 163 people, debate has to end at some point.

The House voted 109-35 to pass legislation allowing the governor to appoint a special prosecutor for a five-year period for cities like St. Louis to address violent crimes such as murder and assault.

The vote came one day after lawmakers gave it first-round approval. The bill now goes to the Senate.

The legislation is seen by many as an attack on St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who has spoken out against it.

House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said that while he doesn’t think this bill alone will reduce the number of homicides in St. Louis immediately, it’s not the only measure the House will look at.

“It's beginning the process in the right direction. You cannot expect to have the will of law upheld if you're not enforcing it,” Plocher said.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said the bill does nothing to prevent crime on the front end.

Before the legislation passed Thursday, House leadership motioned to end debate, preventing lawmakers from further discussing it, including several Black lawmakers from the St. Louis area who planned on speaking.

One of the lawmakers who stood up to speak was Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson.

“We know we're outnumbered. We knew how this vote was going to go, but at a minimum, allowing those of us who rarely see a committee hearing, have the opportunity to speak our piece on behalf of the nearly 40,000 people we represent would have been the courteous thing to do,” Proudie said.

Quade said while she went into the session with optimism about working with House Republican Leadership, this changes things.

“I was very hopeful that we would be able to operate a little bit differently. I think what's disappointing about this is, we were so hopeful,” Quade said. “With other leaders, it's been very apparent what the agenda was. And this one, I think, caught us by surprise, which is unfortunate.”

Rep. Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis County, who is the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said it's time for community members to see how they are being treated in the Capitol.

“Our gloves are off, we will stand on the floor, we will shout out. Everybody behind me has bills that are decent for their community, it's going to help children, our schools. They're taking us backwards. We're going backwards. And I'm tired of it,” Terry said.

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.