Working to Make Our State Safer For All Missourians
Several weeks ago, the governor called the Missouri General Assembly back to Jefferson City for an extraordinary session to address violent crime in our state. This comes at a time when St. Louis and Kansas City are having some of the highest homicide rates on record. In his call for an extra session, the governor put forth a range of proposals to address the rise in violence, from protecting witnesses to increasing penalties for certain gun crimes. The Senate worked to address these issues and sent a comprehensive bill over to the House of Representatives in the form of Senate Bill 1. Shortly after the House received the bill, however, the governor expanded his call for an extra session by including a new policy proposal. The House then decided to take a step back and look at each of these proposals individually. Several of these bills were sent to the Senate and were passed this week.
House Bill 46 temporarily lifts the residency requirements for police officers in the City of St. Louis. Currently, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is short over 140 officers, and requiring officers to live in the city has been cited as one of the major contributors to this shortfall. By lifting the residency requirements and allowing the city to access a larger pool of potential employees, I believe we can get more officers on the street to keep people safe and solve crimes when they occur.
House Bill 66 creates the Pretrial Witness Protection Services Fund. The fund will be used to help law enforcement agencies protect witnesses and their immediate families during investigations. By providing these resources to keep witnesses safe, many hope this legislation will encourage witnesses to come forward and help put violent criminals behind bars.
House Bills 46 and 66 are now on their way to the governor’s desk for his signature, but several other pieces of legislation are still pending. As is the nature of legislating, there are times when one chamber makes changes to legislation sent over from the other. This week was no exception, as the Senate made several changes to three bills sent from the House:
- House Bill 2, which allows certain witness statements to be admissible in court if it is found that the defendant intimidated or prevented the witness from appearing in court. The bill also includes language giving the attorney general concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute homicides in St. Louis City.
- House Bill 11, which expands the offense of endangering the welfare of a child to include knowingly encouraging, aiding or causing a child to commit a weapons or controlled substance offense.
- House Bill 16, which changes the offense of unlawful transfer of weapons to include a Class E felony for transferring a firearm to a minor for the purpose of avoiding, interfering with or preventing an arrest, detention or investigation.
Since the Senate made changes to these bills, they will go back to the House for further consideration before being able to go to the governor for his signature. Ultimately, I believe this slate of bills will help protect witnesses, hold violent criminals accountable and help make our state safer for all Missourians.
Please feel free to contact my office at (573) 751-2076. For information about my committee assignments or sponsored legislation, please visit my official Missouri Senate website at senate.mo.gov/Bernskoetter.