JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A coalition of groups have signed a letter to Gov. Mike Parson asking him to veto a massive criminal justice reform bill.
Those who signed onto the letter argued that SB 600 “takes a flawed approach to combating crime by requiring disproportionate and discredited methods that are unlikely to make Missourians safer” and would also cost taxpayers substantially. The letter was spearheaded by Americans for Prosperity Missouri (AFP-MO) and was joined by more than a dozen other groups, including the ACLU and Empower Missouri.
The amendments to the legislation contained many changes to criminal justice regulations, including provisions on dog breeds, corrections officers, and gun possession, among others. Dubbed a public safety bill when introduced in the Senate, the bill quickly fell to the same fate as many other pieces of legislation during the final week of session during the pandemic: It became an omnibus bill. The final days of session saw the amendments stripped away to the original Senate version.
“SB 600 deals with the worst-of-the-worst criminal offenders in our justice system,” Sen. Tony Luetkeymer, the GOP sponsor, told The Missouri Times. “Last year, Missouri had three of the nation’s most dangerous cities in the country. At this critical time, we need to send a strong message to dangerous felons that their days of terrorizing Missouri streets are over.”
The letter identified a number of issues with the bill, namely that it would create new offenses for crimes already covered under the law, including hijacking, conspiracy, and unlawful possession of a firearm. The letter also opposed eliminating probation possibilities for 2nd-degree murder, changing the definition of a street gang, creating an increased prison population, and requiring the funding of two new prisons by taxpayers.
“Enacting a bill that doesn’t make Missourians safer and forces taxpayers to pay half a billion dollars to pay for two new prisons is the wrong approach for our state,” AFP-MO State Director Jeremy Cady said. “We should abandon the discredited ‘tough-on-crime’ approach and follow states like Texas who have implemented smart-on-crime reforms that have resulted in the lowest crime rates since the 1960s and closed ten facilities. Vetoing this bill will be a huge step toward making our communities stronger and our criminal justice system more just and more compassionate.”
“I’m stunned this bill is controversial,” Platte County prosecutor Eric Zahnd told The Missouri Times. “It’s common sense that someone convicted of murder should not receive probation. And it’s common sense that someone who has been convicted of a dangerous felony should receive a stiffer sentence for later possessing a firearm illegally. Sadly, common sense seems to have died for many special interest groups working the halls in Jefferson City.”
An open letter backed by many of the same organizations was signed in early May, decrying omnibus bills like this one cropping up as the legislative session drew to a close prior to its eventual reduction. That letter argued that the passage of bills unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic or the state’s budget harmed Missourians who needed aid due to the crisis.
Leadership from the following groups signed onto the veto letter: AFP-MO; American Civil Liberties Union of MO; Center for Women in Transition; Clair-Fox Family Foundation; Empower Missouri; Faith and Freedom Coalitions; FreedomWorks; Missouri State Conference of the NAACP; Missouri Appleseed; Missouri Cure; Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty; MORE2; R Street Institute; Second Chance Freedom Foundation; and The Sentencing Project.
Read the letter here.