With the focus shifted to the budget process this week at the Capitol, legislators were allowed more time than usual for constituent meetings and policy study. “We have several extremely important issues coming up for debate in the next few weeks: Voter ID, abortion and guns. I am going to be fully prepared to debate each one of these issues,” Sen. Jamilah Nasheed said.
On Wednesday, Senator Nasheed met with visitors from the arts and entertainment community who visited Jefferson City for Missouri Citizens for the Arts Day at the Capitol. In her office, Sen. Nasheed hosted the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, the Craft Alliance, the Repertory Theatre, the St. Louis Symphony and the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis. “The arts are a huge part of our economy in Missouri and especially in the 5th District. The governor has pledged to increase arts funding in his budget recommendations, and I will do all in my power to ensure that those recommendations make the final budget,” stated Sen. Nasheed.
On Wednesday, Feb. 17, Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, will lead a trip from St. Louis to Jefferson City to testify in favor of Senate Bill 628, Sen. Nasheed’s body cameras bill in the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure, and Public Safety Committee. The bus will leave at 7:30 a.m., from 8007 W. Florissant Ave., outside the Target parking lot. Those on the trip will have the opportunity to support Ms. McSpadden and lobby legislators in Jefferson City for the Senate Bill 628.
ON THE FLOOR
On Monday, the Senate took up Senate Bill 816, which would abolish the death penalty in Missouri. Senators from across the state weighed in with their opinions. Sen. Nasheed argued on the floor that in its current form, the application of the death penalty is biased against racial minorities and those with fewer economic resources.
During the debate on SB 816, Sen. Nasheed also spoke about her exoneration compensation bill which would increase the compensation for Missourians who were wrongly convicted of crimes and later exonerated. At the end the debate, the body could not reach a consensus and chose to put off a final vote on the bill.
On Tuesday, the Senate debated a controversial tort reform bill, SB 847, which would decrease the amount injured people could recover from the corporations and individuals who caused the injuries. Senator Nasheed and many of her Senate colleagues opposed the bill, and it was ultimately placed on the informal calendar to be taken up at a later date.
BILLS AND COMMITTEES
- Senate Bill 1015 – Hands-Free Driving — Require all drivers to drive with their phones in “hands-free” mode. This would mean emailing, dialing and texting would be prohibited, to prevent distracted driving. Senate Bill 1015 was referred to the Transportation, Infrastructure, and Public Safety Committee on Thursday, Feb. 4.
- Senate Bill 1038 – Exoneration Compensation — Changes the amount per year an unlawfully convicted person can be paid for time spent in jail. According to Sen. Nasheed, “My bill would allow individuals who have been wrongly accused to rebuild their lives.” The legislation was filed on Tuesday, Feb. 9.
- Senate Concurrent Resolution 64 – Kroenke Resolution — Urges Maryland Heights City Council not to grant tax incentives to Stan Kroenke and his associates for a recently proposed development. The resolution was sent to the Senate Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 9.
- Senate Concurrent Resolution 50- Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — Establishes September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in Missouri. The resolution will be heard by the Senate Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 9:00 a.m.
- Senate Bill 977 – Anti-Shackling – Prohibits the use of restraints on children under the age of 17 during court hearings, except in certain instances. This legislation has been referred to the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. The public hearing will be conducted on Feb. 16.
- Senate Bill 628 – Body-Worn Cameras – Requires Missouri’s largest law enforcement agencies to equip their officers with body worn-cameras when interacting with the public. “This hearing is an extremely important first step toward making this bill a reality,” Sen. Nasheed said. “Now more than ever before, we need to focus on repairing the relationship between communities and police. Body cameras will help to do that by cutting down on both police use of excessive force and frivolous complaints against officers,” she continued. The legislation has been referred to the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee. The public hearing will be conducted on Feb. 17.
- Senate Bill 691 – Lost/Stolen Firearms – Requires anyone who has a gun stolen in the City of St. Louis to report the theft allowing law enforcement to identify stolen weapons before they are sold to violent criminals on the street. The legislation has been referred to the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee. The public hearing will be conducted on Feb. 17.
The Appropriations committee this week took up the following business:
- State Tax Credits – On Monday the Committee discussed each of Missouri’s tax credit programs which redeemed $513 Million in Fiscal Year 2015
- Department of Economic Development – During the remainder of Monday and continued on Tuesday, the committee heard the Department of Economic Development present it’s FY 2017 Governor’s recommended budget, which totals $388 Million in state and federal funds.
- Office of Administration – On Wednesday and Thursday, the committee heard the Department of Administration present it’s FY 2017 Governor’s recommended budget. Topics of discussion included the following:
- Historical Society leasing land issues – OA has come to an agreement with University of Missouri-Columbia on how to proceed with the leasing of land for the new Historical Society Building;
- Fulton Mental Hospital update requested by the committee;
- Facilities Maintenance Reserve Fund (FMRF) update – No transfer in FY16, $73M planned transfer in FY17;
- Edward Jones Dome – Discussion about the Rams leaving, the details of their original contract from the 1990s and if we can renegotiate our current contract with the Regional Sports Authority (RSA);
- ITSD – Funding request to restore all cuts since 2009; the governor reduced to only restore FY16 cuts; and
- New Decision Item for increased cyber security.
JUSTICE SUES FERGUSON AFTER CITY SEEKS TO CHANGE DEAL
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in federal district court district court on Feb. 10 accusing the north St. Louis County City of Ferguson and its police department and municipal court of routinely violating the constitutional rights of citizens, policing for profit and a long list of other abuses. The lawsuit came just one day after the Ferguson City Council voted to unilaterally amend key provisions of a proposed 127-page consent decree it had negotiated with the Justice Department specifying numerous reforms the city agreed to implement in order to avoid litigation.
City officials said implementing the consent decree as written would prove too costly. One provision that drew particular objection would essentially prevent Ferguson from disbanding its 50-member police force and contracting for services with another law enforcement agency by requiring that agency to also abide by the terms of the consent decree, a burden another department would be unlikely to accept.
The department and city spent a year negotiating the consent decree following a scathing report the department issued last spring documenting a litany of abuses and constitutional violations by the Ferguson police and municipal court. The department launched its investigation following the August 2014 shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by a white Ferguson police officer.
“The residents of Ferguson have waited nearly a year for their city to adopt an agreement that would protect their rights and keep them safe,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “They have waited nearly a year for their police department to accept rules that would ensure their constitutional rights and that thousands of other police departments follow every day. They have waited nearly a year for their municipal courts to commit to basic, reasonable rules and standards. But as our report made clear, the residents of Ferguson have suffered the deprivation of their constitutional rights – the rights guaranteed to all Americans – for decades. They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer.”
According to the Washington Post, of the 67 police departments the Justice Department has investigated for alleged constitutional abuses in the last two decades, nearly all have agreed to the department’s demands. Only one, the Alamance County Sheriff‘s Department in North Carolina, has fought the department in court and prevailed. And that case, decided by a federal district court in 2015, remains under appeal.
LEGISLATURE REJECTS RAISE FOR HOME CARE WORKERS
The House of Representatives on Feb. 10 voted 125-34 to send a resolution to the governor blocking the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services from implementing an administrative rule providing a wage increase for home health care workers employed by companies under contract with the state. The Senate had earlier approved the measure, SCR 46, by a vote of 27-4.
The rule called for pay for home care workers to increase from the current minimum of $7.65 an hour to between $8.50 and $10.15 an hour. Governor Jay Nixon, whose administration adopted the rule, could veto the resolution, but an override would appear unlikely since the measure cleared both chambers with veto-proof majorities.
SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS BAN ON FELONS WITH FIREARMS
The Missouri Supreme Court on Feb. 9 ruled that a 2014 constitutional amendment rewriting the guns rights provision of the state constitution didn’t invalidate a state law prohibiting people convicted of non-violent felonies from possessing firearms. In fact, the court said the amendment made no substantive constitutional changes and merely restated the legal rights to bear arms that had already existed.
The court’s ruling was a blow for gun rights activists who contended Amendment 5, which voters ratified with 61 percent support in August 2014, created a sweeping expansion of gun rights in Missouri and imposed new limits on the state’s ability to regulate the possession and use of firearms.
In a pair of 5-2 decisions involving three unrelated cases of men charged with illegally possessing firearms because they were previously convicted of non-violent felonies, the Supreme Court rejected their claims that under Amendment 5, state law can only strip gun rights of those convicted of violent felonies, overturning lower court decisions dismissing the charges against the men. Dissenting were the court’s two most liberal members, Judges Richard Teitelman and George Draper, who would have upheld the dismissal of the charges based on Amendment 5’s changes.
In another gun-rights case decided the same day, the court unanimously ruled that a man convicted of felony forgery in 1973 but subsequently restored to his legal rights wasn’t constitutionally entitled to a permit to carry a concealed weapon. The man applied to the Jefferson County sheriff for a permit in 2013 but was denied based on the old conviction.