JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Ten representatives gathered early Wednesday morning in House Hearing Room 2, to voice their support for the passage of HB 697, better known as Hailey’s Law. It currently sits 79th on the Senate calendar of House Bills for Third Reading, and the gathering of legislators took on a life of its own beyond Hailey’s law, as several of the representatives criticized the current self-inflicted logjam in the Senate.
Rep. Curtis Trent said he acknowledged the Senate had its own difficulties, but he was still hopefully that widely well-regarded legislation like Hailey’s Law would be passed despite those problems.
“I know the Senate has many weighty issues that it’s trying to wrestle through right now,” Trent said. “We would hope the Senate would continue to wrestle with those big-ticket items without blocking the passage of important legislation like Hailey’s law.”
The story behind Hailey’s Law by now has become well-known, but it’s still remarkable. Hailey Owens, a 10-year-old girl from Springfield, was murdered in Feb. 2014, allegedly by Craig Wood, who is set to go to trial in October for her death. In a twist, Jim and Genie Wood teamed up with Hailey’s mother, Stacey Barfield, to create a new piece of legislation that would streamline the Amber Alert process and allow law enforcement to act more quickly.
“I lived within four blocks of Craig’s House,” Jim Wood said Wednesday. “I could have walked to his house and potentially stopped this tragedy from occurring.”
Former Rep. Eric Burlison had pushed the bill in 2015, and Trent, a freshman Republican from Springfield, has taken up the mantle this year. Rep. Crystal Quade, a fellow Springfield freshman, said she was impressed by Trent’s ability to build a strong bipartisan coalition on the legislation. Five Republicans and five Democrats attended the press conference.
More than that however, the union of an alleged murderer’s parents and the mother of his supposed victim showed unity could come from the absolute worst of circumstances.
“The reason [we] have joined together is, first, we want to demonstrate our support for Hailey’s Law, but that two people from two opposing sides of an issue can come together and work together for the good of all,” Wood said.
Indicative of a larger problem
That sentiment spoke to a lot of underlying frustrations with the Senate from the House members. The press conference dissolved into a platform to voice lingering tensions between the House and Senate. The House members listened to one another and nodded as several of the Republicans listed off projects that had died in the Senate chamber after trying to pass them for years.
Rep. Paul Fitzwater said people in the capitol, on both sides of the building and both aisles, needed to work together.
“We need to put our differences and our egos aside and do what’s best for people,” Fitzwater said. “We’re gridlocked up here. There’s a lot of good bills over there that would help a lot of people if we just get along.”
More than that, the current situation in the Senate was called “embarrassing” by both Fitzwater and Rep. Lynn Morris. Fitzwater decried the delays of Tuesday’s budget conferences when several physically handicapped people had travelled several hours from Southwest Missouri to watch the process. Many of them were from Morris’ district.
“I believe it’s time to start putting pressure on the senators,” Morris said. “The five years I’ve been up here, last year and this year have been the worst years I’ve been up here. We have got to start figuring out how both chambers can work together for 6 million people in this state.”
Trent defended the Senate to an extent, saying the session itself had seen major legislation – among them right-to-work, the Uber bill, and the Daubert expert witness standards – make it to Gov. Eric Greitens’ desk. Still, he admitted to his own vexations with the upper chamber.
“It’s frustrating to some degree,” Trent said. “I understand the Senate is a deliberative body that it needs to be able to debate and discuss and move cautiously on a lot of issues and the rules are there in place to facilitate that. But I think the key is that it’s supposed to be a body of deliberation, not a body of dysfunction, and I’m afraid we’ve tilted toward the latter.”