Legislative Column for the Week of April 27, 2015

Keeping Missouri’s Children Safe
Our Criminal Laws Strong

Legislative News

The breadth and depth of legislation the Missouri General Assembly considers each session is substantial. While every measure is important, the impact a bill can have greatly varies — from dedicating a memorial highway to addressing our state tax code. This week, the Senate passed a number of measures squarely aimed at keeping Missouri’s children safe and our criminal laws strong. As a lawmaker, nothing is more rewarding than those times when we are able to come together as a legislative body and demonstrate true bipartisan support for legislation directly impacting the safety and security of our state’s citizens, especially our youngest and most vulnerable.

On Tuesday (4-28), the Senate unanimously approved a House measure to expand the felony crime of sexual trafficking of a child to include the advertisement of a child participating in a commercial sexual act. There are no words to adequately describe the terrible atrocities children have suffered at the hands of human traffickers. Each and every step we can take to help these victims is an important one. House Bill 152 provides our state and local prosecutors with one more tool to use in the fight against human trafficking.

There are many components to keeping our children safe. Protecting them from physical injury, alone, isn’t enough — we must also look out for their mental and emotional development and well-being. Navigating the road to adulthood has never been easy. However, as technology grows and social media’s reach expands, today’s young people increasingly face situations, some of which are very troubling, that are entirely unique to their generation.  Parents and teachers, alike, must have the knowledge and resources to respond accordingly.

This week, the Senate showed overwhelming support for two pieces of legislation that would help our educators protect Missouri’s children and teenagers during the school day: House Bill 458, which strengthens laws regarding bullying in schools and establishes specific components that a district must include in its anti-bullying policy; and House Bill 501, which requires sexual education course materials to contain information regarding sexual predators, online predators and the consequences of inappropriate text messaging.

For the better part of a year now, our law enforcement agencies have been in the spotlight — their use of deadly force repeatedly called into question. In response, states across the country are examining the statues governing their use of force laws. This week, the Senate advanced Senate Bill 199, legislation updating Missouri’s use of force law and providing additional clarity for our law enforcement officers. This update will align Missouri with the 1985 U.S. Supreme Court Case Tennessee v. Garner, which clarified when a police officer can use deadly force.

If passed, SB 199 would allow an officer to use deadly force only when the officer is making an arrest and “reasonably believes” the force is immediately necessary to make the arrest. The measure would also allow for the use of deadly force if an officer is arresting or preventing an escape from custody when the person has committed, or is believed to have committed, a specific kind of felony offense as opposed to any felony offense. Additionally, SB 199 states that the use of force is not justified unless the amount of force used was “objectively reasonable” in light of all the facts and circumstances.

On Tuesday (4-28), the Senate gave its approval to Senate Bill 200, which modifies provisions relating to juveniles who commit first degree murder. In June of 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama ruled that mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile criminal offenders are unconstitutional and that a state must have two sentencing options. Current Missouri law only provides for life without parole, meaning we do not have a constitutionally satisfactory punishment for individuals who are found guilty of committing first degree murder while under the age of 18.

Senate Bill 200 brings Missouri in line with Miller v. Alabama by allowing a person who was 16 or 17 years old at the time of the crime to be sentenced to either imprisonment for at least 50 years of life or life imprisonment without parole. Furthermore, a person who was under the age of 16 may be sentenced to imprisonment for at least 35 years of life without parole.

Compact for America Guest Column

For the first time this session, I’m including a guest column. It explains why the Balanced Budget Amendment is a good option for Missouri and includes facts and figures on the national debt.

Reining in Out of Control Spending

Every child born today owes nearly $60,000 as his share of our $18.1+ trillion national debt. But that’s not all—nearly $650,000 is the average child’s share of the federal government’s estimated $210 trillion in unfunded spending programs. Many of these programs may be good and necessary, but our kids have never had an opportunity to vote for or against their advocates. The truth is that they mostly benefit other people.

If obligations of such magnitude continue to be incurred without limit, our children and their children will inevitably face taxation without representation on a scale that will dwarf the worst of the injustices that led to the American Revolution.

This is not only wrong, it is a recipe for societal conflict.

This observation is not idle speculation. Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmdorf testified only a few weeks ago that our national debt was on a “trend that could not be sustained.” A few years before that, in September 2011, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, testified “our debt is the greatest threat to our national security.” All around the world, we have seen nations like Argentina, Greece, Italy, Mexico and Spain facing crisis and economic collapse because of unsustainable debt spending by their governments.

*Chart courtesy of Compact for America


That’s why, with a bipartisan vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 433 – Compact for a Balanced Budget this week. The Compact represents a solemn promise by this state to use its constitutional power under Article V of the U.S. Constitution to advance and ratify a powerful Balanced Budget Amendment in as few as 12 months. That amendment would impose a constitutional debt limit that could not be increased without the approval of a majority of state legislatures. States would be placed in the position of imposing external discipline on the federal government to stop its abuse of debt and future generations. This would restore a crucial check and balance on the otherwise unlimited federal power to incur debt, while preserving the flexibility needed to handle genuine national emergencies.

Things would have to change if the federal government’s credit card were constitutionally limited and placed under the control of a majority of state legislatures, as proposed by the Compact for a Balanced Budget. Washington politicians would no longer be able to get away with promising anything it takes to get elected. Finally, we would have a real chance to stop the sacrifice of our kids and their kids to shortsighted political ambitions.

SB433 – Compact for a Balanced Budget now moves to the House for consideration.