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Missouri Supreme Court hears arguments over law boosting protections for police

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday over a law that creates new protections for police officers who are under investigation for misconduct.

Lawyers for St. Louis argued Wednesday before the Missouri Supreme Court that it should strike down a law that creates new protections for police officers who are under investigation for misconduct.

The law, passed in 2021 by the Republican-controlled state legislature, requires the city to give officers written notice of an allegation before starting an investigation.

It also limits misconduct investigations to 90 days and makes records from an investigation confidential instead of being subject to the Sunshine Law.

St. Louis sued the state over the law, but a Cole County Court judge ruled against the city. The city then appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Associate City Counselor Erin McGowan told the judges the law violates the Missouri Constitution and its Hancock amendment by creating an unfunded mandate.

She said the city would have to deal with increased attorneys fees, more money for settlements and reimbursements to officers who are not found to have committed misconduct and lost pay during an investigation.

The city also argued that the law violates the requirement that any piece of legislation stay under a single subject.

The law, titled “Creates provisions relating to public safety,” contains more than 20 separate provisions. Some of them, city lawyers argued in court documents, have nothing to do with public safety.

The law also changes the definition of an excursion gambling boat and increases the penalty of institutional vandalism to a Class E felony.

Jason Lewis, chief counsel for the Missouri attorney general’s office, told the judges that the circuit court correctly ruled that the city did not have standing to sue.

Lewis also said St. Louis has not brought enough evidence to prove the Hancock violation claim, including an estimation of what the law would cost the city.

However, some judges pushed back on Lewis’ argument. Judge Paul Wilson said Lewis’ objections were procedural.

“Are you asking that we vacate and send it back for further proceedings? Or are you asking that we affirm the judgment that was entered in your favor, because that seems inconsistent with the argument that the allegations were just too general,” Wilson said.

Lewis said the state wants the judges to affirm the lower court’s ruling.

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