JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri House has reaffirmed their intent to support law enforcement officers this week, passing two bills seeking to place protections on the men and women serving as police officers.
Just two days after perfecting HB 57, the bill filed by Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis, and HB 302 and 228, sponsored by Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, and Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, the House took both bills up once again for third reading.
Haefner’s bill would enhance penalties for crimes against law enforcement officers, while Dogan and Hill’s bill would establish the Blue Alert system.
The Blue Alert, which has been heavily endorsed by Gov. Eric Greitens, seeks to put a program in place that would notify people when an officer in the area has been assaulted or attacked, using a system similar to Amber Alerts issued for missing children.
HB 57 passed the House by a vote of 120-35, which Haefner said showed the bipartisan efforts to pass the bill. Critics of the bill say that the legislature is willing to increase penalties for crimes against law enforcement, but have not done enough to address some of the issues following the events in Ferguson.
“It may be, but those are two entirely different subjects,” Haefner said. “We do need to have some discussions on the events that happened in Ferguson, but that has nothing to do with this bill.”
Haefner also denied that the bill was an anti-protest measure, saying that it was only intended to show meaningful support for the law enforcement officers across the state.
Hill and Dogan’s Blue Alert measure was passed Thursday with nearly unanimous consent, 146-6. Greitens took to Twitter Thursday afternoon to congratulate the two representatives for their effort.
— Eric Greitens (@EricGreitens) February 16, 2017
“It’s great that Missouri now has this tool to aid law enforcement and to expedite the sharing of information for not only when our officers are injured, but general public safety is helped with this measure as well,” Hill said.
Greitens had budgeted for $250,000 to be put towards the Blue Alert program, $60,000 of which Hill says is estimated for the software.
“The governor putting forward $250,000, I think that’s great, but will we take it? We just don’t know yet,” Hill said. “I think it was just a good comfortable number to make sure that one of his priorities is accomplished.”
Hill says that assuming the bill becomes law, Missourians could see the first Blue Alerts issued within a year.
House Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann-Beatty said that, while she understands the motivation behind the bills, she says the legislature has “done absolutely nothing to protect our police officers.”
“Until we deal with that problem, we’re not going to come up with solutions,” she said.
Beatty says that she believes one way to address the issue to protecting law enforcement is her bill requiring judges to appoint a special prosecutor in officer-involved shooting or death cases.
“It addresses the fact that the general public no longer has faith in our legal system,” she said. Her bill was heard in a House Committee this week and awaits a vote in executive session.
As for the two newly-passed police protection bills, they now head to the Senate for approval.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.