Enhanced penalties for crimes against first responders spurs fierce debate in Senate

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — It certainly wasn’t a quiet start for the Senate as it came back from a week-long legislative break.

Thanks to Republican state Sen. Doug Libla’s SB 19, legislation that eliminates bail, probation, or parole for certain people convicted of assaulting emergency service providers, the legislature kicked off its Monday afternoon session with a kerfuffle. The bill would be applicable to people convicted of assault in the first, second, or third degree after Libla made some concessions with opponents.

And although the bill deals with all emergency response personnel, Monday’s debate seemed to hinge specifically on law enforcement.

“I think it’s amazing to me the disrespect our law enforcement officers are receiving across America,” Libla told The Missouri Times. “Just the mere fact you’ve got a uniform on could cost you your life and has in many instances.”

Sen. Doug Libla

“We’re just saying if you get convicted of a felony, and the judge says you have one year in jail, you have one year in jail. You don’t get out in 30 days,” he said.

Leading the charge against the bill was Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, who took umbrage with many facets of the legislation, including potential “gray areas” like possible scenarios where emergency services personnel could come into contact with someone who suffers from a mental illness.

Nasheed decried what she saw as a lack of data showcasing a need for the bill and took issue with signaling out a specific group of people with the bill, especially as some people could commit an egregious crime against non-emergency service personnel — such as rape or murder — and still receive parole.

“Make no mistake about it — if somebody assaults a law enforcement officer, you don’t even need this bill. You don’t need this bill. I’m going to tell you who needs protection. The individuals who need protection are the people who are being abused by law enforcement because you have people who are being shot down in the streets each and every day,” Nasheed said. “We’re really dealing with the wrong issue here.”

Although vehemently opposed to the bill, Nasheed said she didn’t want people to get the impression Libla had any “ill will” with his legislation.

“I believe if we talk to him, we can figure something out to get his bill passed or something like that pertaining to trying to protect law enforcement officers without being so heavy-handed,” she said.

But aside from Libla, Nasheed also went to bat against a member of her own party — Sen. Karla May. May introduced an amendment she said would make her more “comfortable,” while explicitly saying she would most likely not vote for the legislation. Her amendment stripped the bill of misdemeanor offenses and resisting arrest, she said, and seemingly had begrudging support from other lawmakers. Libla, too, said he supported the amendment “to compromise.”

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed

Nasheed said some of her colleagues were “trying too hard to compromise” with Libla.

“Sometimes you just can’t make bad bills better,” Nasheed said.

The bill was eventually laid over, but Libla said “we could bring it back up anytime.” 

Libla’s bill is also opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri.

“This bill does not promote public safety or deter crime,” Sara Baker, the group’s legislative and policy director, previously testified. “Instead, it deepens distrust between authorities and the communities they serve, eliminates judicial discretion, and blocks progress on an important area of criminal justice reform.”

“Missouri’s prisons are already operation at 105 percent. We know that every year an individual is incarcerated it costs the state $20,896.25. In the face of this and as our state considers methods to curtail our ballooning prison population, this bill goes entirely in the opposite direction,” Baker said. “As a result, this legislation could needlessly contribute to our inmate population and eliminate opportunities for second chances and economic growth.”

The fiscal note attached to SB 19 indicates of loss of less than $15,554,715 by the time the bill would be fully implemented in 2029.

Earlier Monday, bipartisan members of the state House and some advocacy groups touted a new criminal justice reform bill, called the Missouri First Step Act, mirrored, in part, after federal legislation signed into law by President Trump earlier this year. Matthew Charles, a criminal justice reform advocate who was one of Trump’s guests to the State of the Union in February, was also on hand to lend support for the legislation.

“These measures are all evidence-based, they will all help us save enormous amounts of taxpayer money while also improving public safety, and will give people who made mistakes in their lives a chance to be treated with dignity while incarcerated and to have more of a chance of rebuilding their lives when they can get out,” Rep. Shamed Dogan, the Republican championing the bill, said.

A bill from Sen. Ed Emery which gives more “freedom” for a parole board to determine if a nonviolent offender would be better suited in society rather than incarcerated was also passed out of committee Monday.

Emery told The Missouri Times the “whole concept” of criminal justice reform is “overdue” and said the legislature needs “to address deficiencies with incarceration.”