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Parson Calls Special Session To Address Violent Crime, Some Lawmakers Want To Include Police Reform

Parson announces special legislative session on Wednesday, July 15
Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio
Surrounded by law enforcement from across the state, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced a special legislative session to address violent crime beginning July 27.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced Wednesday that he was calling lawmakers back to the state Capitol on Monday, July 27, for a special legislative session to address violent crime. 

“As your governor and former law enforcement officer for 22 years, protecting our citizens and upholding the laws of our state are of the utmost importance to my administration,” Parson said at a news conference Wednesday surrounded by law enforcement officers from across the state. 

Parson said St. Louis’ homicides have increased by 31% compared to the same time in 2019, Kansas City is up 35%, and St. Louis County has seen a 19% increase in aggravated assaults with a firearm. 

Laying out a tough-on-crime agenda, the former sheriff said the session will focus on six topics. These include: endangering the welfare of a child, a witness protection fund, witness statement admissibility, juvenile certifications, unlawful transfer of weapons and removing residency requirements for St. Louis police. 

Critics swiftly said the topics were too “pro-police,” but Parson said “most everybody is on board” with what he called a “nonpartisan agenda.” 

“If there was ever a time to stand up for law enforcement, now is the time,” Parson said. “They are the front-line response for Missourians. We must support them and give them the respect they deserve because we cannot fix this problem without them.”

Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, the only Black Republican in the House of Representatives, tweeted that he supported the governor’s call for the special session. But he also called on Parson to expand the agenda to include police reform. 

“Just as we can walk and chew gum at the same time, we can also support law enforcement and oppose police misconduct at the same time,” Dogan said. 

Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, and Rep. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, echoed Dogan calling to also include police reform to the agenda. Roberts, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said the group sent Parson a letter last month to address police accountability. Roberts said the creation of a database to track officers who have been fired for misconduct and banning the use of chokeholds were requests included in that letter. He said it is “disappointing” to see that these requests are not being considered. 

“If Governor Parson wants to call a special session, its focus should be police reform,” Roberts said. “The communities he openly identified in his call today, namely Kansas City and St. Louis, have spent decades begging for institutional change in law enforcement.” 

Last year, Missouri Democrats and the Legislative Black Caucus urged the governor to call a special session to address gun violence after a deadly summer in St. Louis and other urban areas. The governor instead called a session to correct a motor vehicle sales tax technicality that ran concurrently with the state’s annual veto session. At the time, Parson said there was not enough time in a special session to result in any change. 

“Special session, you want to do something in the limited time you think you can get a fix to,” he said in August. “I’m not for sure you get anything from a special session on the gun violence.” 

When asked why he felt a special session on violent crime was suitable now, as opposed to 2019, Parson said he couldn’t be sure legislators asked for one. But he said “all the controversy going on in our state right now” is one difference compared to last year, referencing the ongoing protests after the killing of George Floyd. 

Bosley, who met with Parson last year to discuss violent crime with the rest of the Black Caucus, said in a series of tweets that it was “a slap in the face” for the governor to say he wasn’t sure lawmakers called for a special session last year. 

“I am truly disappointed at the attempt to overlook and dismiss the work and call we Black lawmakers in St. Louis City, Kansas City, and St. Louis County did last summer to protect our citizens,” Bosley said.

Coronavirus in the Capitol 

Moments before the governor’s announcement, St. Louis Public Radio obtained an email sent to legislative staff that said two House employees tested positive for the coronavirus. 

“These employees are currently self-quarantining at home and are not working in the building,” the email said. “However there is a possibility that direct or indirect exposure to others may have occurred before the employees were tested.” 

Parson did not suggest any safety precautions for the legislative session despite the state seeing a significant increase in cases recently. 

Senate Minority President John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, requested that the state provide COVID-19 testing for staff working in the Statehouse during the special session. Parson said he would support that, saying “it would be a good place to do testing.” 

Parson wears face mask to press conference on Wednesday, July 15
Credit Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, days after President Donald Trump was first seen wearing a mask in public, wore a face mask to his news conference to announce a special legislative session on violent crime.

Parson, who has said on multiple occasions that wearing a face mask has become “political,” wore one to the news conference on Wednesday. 

There has been no additional information given about precautions that will be taken during the special session to ensure the health and safety of lawmakers and staff.

Follow Jaclyn on Twitter: @DriscollNPR

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Jaclyn is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.