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Blair’s Law and other public safety changes on their way to Missouri governor

Michelle Shanahan DeMoss, of Peculiar, Mo., hugs Missouri State Rep. Yolanda Young, D-Kansas City, on Friday, May 17, 2024, during the last day of the legislative session in Jefferson City. DeMoss’ daughter, Blair, was killed by celebratory gunfire in 2011.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Michelle Shanahan DeMoss, of Peculiar, Mo., hugs Missouri state Rep. Yolanda Young, D-Kansas City, on Friday during the last day of the legislative session in Jefferson City. DeMoss’ daughter, Blair, was killed by celebratory gunfire in 2011. Young's son was killed in November 2022.

Missouri lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Friday to send a major public safety bill to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.

The measure makes several changes to the state’s criminal code, including establishing state penalties for celebratory gunfire in a measure known as “Blair’s Law,” named for a Kansas City girl who was killed by a stray bullet on the 4th of July 2011.

“Right now, there’s nothing in state statute addressing this issue,” said Rep. Mark Sharp, D-Kansas City. “So with this bill, in coordination with police chiefs across the state, we should be able to put a plan in place to make sure that on Fourth of July and New Year's Eve, our communities are a little safer.”

Sharp said he was never concerned about the measure crossing the finish line this year, even as the state Senate descended into chaos and adjourned at 10 a.m. Friday.

“It always seems like we're saving the public safety bill to be a third read and truly agreed on the last day of session. So I figured that's what we were going to do again, and here we are,” he said.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted last year to establish a municipal offense of unlawful discharge of a firearm.

The bill designates EMS personnel, 911 dispatchers and volunteer firefighters as first responders, making them eligible for a state program designed to combat post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues.

Lawmakers also voted to allow the state to create its own conviction integrity unit that would allow defendants, even those who plead guilty, to request to have their cases reviewed. This year’s bill, however, does not include language that would have made more people eligible for restitution in the case of a wrongful conviction and increases the payments they would receive.

That provision was part of the reason Parson vetoed the bill last year, saying he did not believe that “every taxpayer across the state should be responsible for prosecutorial errors made at the local level.”

State Sen. Tony Luektemeyer, R-Parkville, who sponsored the restitution language, said he will bring the issue up again as separate legislation in the future.

Other provisions in this year’s public safety omnibus include:

  • Changes to the jurisdiction of juvenile courts, as well as in the crimes that require a hearing to charge a minor under age 18 as an adult.
  • Language mandating that any outside money to support the state public defender offices goes into a separate fund, rather than become part of the state’s general revenue.
  • Narrowing the scope of authority of police civilian review boards to disciplinary recommendations only.

Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia, attempted to carve out his city’s civilian oversight board from the bill. But such a change would have killed the entire thing as the Senate had already adjourned for the day. That amendment was defeated with 107 no votes from both parties.

  • Stiffer penalties for people who knowingly distribute drugs that are combined with others like fentanyl that then cause serious injury or death.

Rep. Robert Sauls, D-Independence, said he had hoped to pass the House’s version of that provision, which he said would have made it easier for prosecutors to charge someone. “It would have been nice to go to conference to work some of these things out, but I guess we don’t get to do that,” he said.
“This is the only public safety bill of the year,” responded his Republican colleague, Rep. Lane Roberts of Joplin.

“That’s it, so I’ll support it,” Sauls replied.

  • The establishment of a cybercrimes task force, with membership that includes lawmakers, law enforcement, mental health service providers and advocates for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.