JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers are set to get another chance at legislation that could expand drug treatment courts and offer new options to counties. This time the bill is expected to be far more narrowly tailored than what was sent to the governor’s desk.

Gov. Mike Parson has called the General Assembly to a special session — which will happen simultaneously with veto session, September 10-14 — to focus on two topics: STEM education and treatment courts. The bills on each topic were vetoed by Parson for various reasons.  

“I want to express my great appreciation for the governor and his staff for looking at [treatment courts], for considering it, and recognizing the importance,” said Rep. Kevin Austin, the sponsor of House Bill 2562. “Running the special session with the veto session, it’s not gonna be costly because we have to be there anyways according to the Constitution.”

Austin said that for the special session he plans to introduce treatment court legislation that is narrowly focused and more similar to the original bill he filed than what was ultimately approved by both chambers.

“I’m sure [the bill] will be very narrowly tailored…scale it back to my original House Bill,” said Austin.

HB 2562 passed out of two House committees unanimously and was approved by the lower chamber with only one “no” vote without any amendments or alterations. However, once in the Senate, the bill that was originally focused only on treatment courts was expanded in a Senate Substitute to include provisions relating to nuisance properties, salary cap increase for Kansas City police officers, judicial eligibility for MOSERS, and several other topics.

The number of different topics in the bill given final approval by the General Assembly was specifically mentioned in Parson’s veto letter.

“House Bill No. 2562 contains at least thirteen different subjects, many of which do not appear to relate to the final title of ‘courts,’” stated Parson. The letter specifically calls out abandoned property, nuisance abatement, and salaries of police offices as having “nothing to do with treatment courts or courts in general.”

The goal of focusing on the issue during the special session is to work “together to come up with a more narrowly defined focus” and to not slow down the expansion of treatment courts.

“Treatment courts are the most successful intervention in our nation’s history for holding accountable people living with substance use and mental health disorders, and leading them out of the justice system into lives of recovery and stability,” said Judge Alan Blankenship, 39th Circuit Court and President of Missouri Association of Treatment Court Professionals, after the special session was announced.

Austin noted that treatment courts have proven to be effective. He cited recent statistics from Greene County that identified treatment courts lowering recidivism rates by 76 percent for misdemeanor offenders and by 49 percent for felony offenders.

“Treatment courts just don’t sentence a prisoner, they treat the whole person. That’s how they become so successful,” stated Austin. “They have been shown to be effective and we don’t want to slow this down. Slowing this down could cost a life, actually, and it certainly would cause a lot of heartaches and a lot of problems in our state.”

The original bill Austin filed was narrowly focused on establishing treatment courts, previously called drug courts. That bill created different divisions of treatment courts including Adult Treatment Court, Driving While Intoxicated Court, Family Treatment Court, Juvenile Treatment Court, and Veterans Treatment Court.

It was left up to the discretion of each division on who would be eligible for that treatment courts and what would constitute successful completion of the program.

Another element of the bill was the ability to transfer cases. If a county doesn’t have a treatment court, yet has a person that would qualify, under the legislation they would be able to transfer that person to a county that does have a treatment court.

“Treatment courts are trying to change lifestyles and not just one behavior,” said Austin.

Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at alisha@themissouritimes.com.