JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Lawmakers in Missouri will return to the Capitol Monday for a special session on violent crime. This comes as seven House staffers have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Chief Clerk of the House.
Governor Mike Parson called this special session after the state is on track to set record homicide numbers this year.
The House and the Senate both gavel in at noon on Monday to begin what could be nearly a month-long special session addressing violent crime. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree the special session is necessary, but they don’t agree on the topics planned for discussion.
“I think this is a critical issue at this point in time for one very simple reason,” Senator Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Kansas City, said. “We have a record number of homicides that are going on in the state of Missouri right now.”
For the first time since May, lawmakers are headed back into session, but this time, just for violent crime.
“The issues that the governor decided for us to focus on during the special session, all target crime,” Luetkemeyer said.
Luetkemeyer says it’s time to address the rapid increase of homicides in the state. He said the six provisions the governor wants to discuss during session will stop the catch and release of criminals in the state.
“If dangerous felons are arrested and actually put in prison because they can be prosecuted the first time, they don’t have to be rearrested by law enforcement,” Luetkemeyer said. “It’s hard to attract businesses to your largest metro areas when they are ranked some of the most dangerous in the country.”
One of the provisions up for discussion in the special session is a witness protection fund. A bill Luetkemeyer filed last session.
“Witnesses are normally intimidated and refuse to testify particularly in dangerous cases like homicides,” Luetkemeyer said. “I think if we wouldn’t have had an abbreviated session, it’s something that would have been signed into law already.”
Across the aisle, Democratic Representative Crystal Quade from Springfield said the governor’s provisions will only fill prisons.
“Everything that he’s addressing is after the crime has already been committed and those are changes as we wanted to see them,” Quade said.”Yes, we want to deal with violent crime, but if you look at the call for the special session, none of these things that he’s talking about deals with crime before it happens.”
Quade said she’s hearing from the community, people want lawmakers to discuss police reform.
“It’s a combination of what can we do better to make sure our law enforcement officers have the resources they need but then also what could we be doing better to make sure our citizens are protected and there is accountability.”
Gov. Parson said Thursday during his stop in Columbia while on his tour discussing violent crime, these provisions help everyone in the system.
“You want to be able to give the prosectors the ability to take somebody off the street which helps the law enforcement officers so they don’t have to deal with them and it helps the citizen out there in that community,” Parson said.
Quade said members of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus along with House Democrats asked the governor for a special session last summer to deal with violent crime.
“We asked Governor Parson to do this a year ago and at that point in time he said that he needed to stay in his lane and this was not really special session worthy,” Quade said. “I’m ready to have a real conversation about how we prevent crime, not just how we increase penalties after the fact which I believe the governor is doing.”
Besides crime and police reform, Quade would like lawmakers to discuss the state’s recovery from COVID-19.
“The number one thing I’m contacted about right now is going back to school during COVID,” Quade said. “What that means for our jobs, what that means for our employers.”
COVID testing will be available for those that work inside the Capitol Monday and Tuesday next week.
The special session will focus on six different provisions:
Police and Public Safety Employee Residency Requirements for St. Louis – The proposal to be considered would eliminate the residency requirement for St. Louis law enforcement so long as the officer lives within an hour of the city. This proposal would also prohibit requiring any public safety employee for the city of St. Louis to be a resident of the city.
Juvenile Certification – This proposal requires the court to determine if a juvenile should be certified for trial as an adult for the offense of unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action.
Witness Statement Admissibility – This proposal would allow certain statements to be admissible in court that would otherwise not be allowed under the current statute.
Witness Protection Fund – This proposal creates the Pretrial Witness Protection Fund.
Endangering the Welfare of a Child – This proposal modifies the offense of endangering the welfare of a child for a person who encourages a child to engage in any weapons offense.
Unlawful Transfer of Weapons – This proposal would increase the penalty for a person who knowingly sells or delivers any firearm to a child less than 18 years without the consent of the child’s parent or guardian.