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Anti-crime special session gets derailed in House; legislation to be broken down

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The multi-faceted anti-crime bill driving the special legislative session hit a snag in the House this week and will now be broken down into smaller pieces. And as for session, it has been postponed for nearly two weeks. 

The move comes after Gov. Mike Parson announced Monday the expansion of session to include concurrent jurisdiction, the ability for the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute certain homicides in St. Louis. It was immediately derided by Democrats who called the expansion a political vendetta against St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat recently re-elected to her position. 

But now, session has turned into a standoff between the Governor’s Office and the House Speaker. 

On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on SB 1, which already passed out of the upper chamber. Championed by outgoing Sen. Doug Libla, the bill includes an end to residency requirements for St. Louis police officers and other public safety personnel, certification to try certain juveniles as adults, witness statement admissibility, creation of a pre-trial witness protection fund, modification of the offense of endangering a child, and an increased penalty for illegally transferring a firearm to a minor. 

But by Tuesday, the House committee’s scheduled executive session on the legislation had been canceled and special session in the lower chamber postponed until the end of the month.

“In an effort to protect the integrity of the lawmaking process, and to ensure these important issues are thoroughly vetted, we intend to simplify the process with single-subject bills so we can focus on the merits of each bill individually to produce legislation that makes our streets and neighborhoods safe,” a joint statement from Republican House leadership said. “Given the fact the governor expanded the call as one of our committees was considering the bill he originally proposed, we think it’s important to take a step back and give additional thought and attention to each part of the plan. This will provide a more deliberative process that will allow us to craft the kind of policy that will better protect Missourians from the scourge of violent crime.” 

Aside from Speaker Elijah Haahr’s concerns — mainly surrounding portions pertaining to minors — the bill was also expected to hit a road bump in the Rules Committee chaired by state Rep. Holly Rehder. 

The Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee is now scheduled to meet on Aug. 18.

“Governor Parson committed political malpractice by calling a special session without first securing the support of lawmakers of his own party,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade told The Missouri Times. “House Democrats said from the beginning the governor was more interested in changing the subject from his failed response to the pandemic than enacting meaningful polices to address violent crime, and our Republicans colleagues seem to agree.”

In the upper chamber, a coordinated plan to filibuster the bill with any concurrent jurisdiction language had not yet been established by Tuesday, but Minority Floor Leader John Rizzo told The Missouri Times Democrats were not comfortable concurrent jurisdiction for St. Louis. 

Questions about the legality of such a move have also arisen. And former U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill called the expansion “racist.” 

“It will stomp on duly elected prosecutors and turn the rule of law in Missouri into a political circus,” she said on social media. “Why just St. Louis City? Why not all the small county prosecutors who have no experience in homicides? Why not Jackson County that also has record homicides?” 

Special session in the House, which was set to continue on Thursday, was postponed until Aug. 24. 

This story has been updated to include a statement from House Minority Leader Crystal Quade.