Press "Enter" to skip to content

House Budget committee discusses bills to increase funding for law enforcement agencies

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – While the House Budget committee may not be working on producing a balanced budget, they have found ways to be productive while waiting for Governor Eric Greitens’ budget plan.

The committee met Wednesday morning to hear two bills, both sponsored by Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles, addressing budgetary issues in the law enforcement realm.

HB 191 looks to change the law concerning the Alcohol and Tobacco Control Fund.

Under the proposed legislation, it would require that the dedicated fund be used only by the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC). It also changes the current law’s language to include “administering, implementing, and enforcing” under the allowed usage of the funds.

Conway says that would allow for the hiring of much-needed staff for the ATC, putting more field investigators out on the streets to better serve and survey businesses and companies.

Conway
Conway

“Years ago, we had 30-40 field investigators, and somehow the executive branch caught on to the fact that this was a cash cow and started stripping money from them, leading to less investigators in the field,” Conway said. “This is a public safety issue, in my opinion. Too many crimes start with alcohol being sold illegally to minors, staying open late, allowing open containers to go out in parking lots. They’re depending on local law enforcement, who is not trained in all of the areas of liquor control.”

Conway said that Gov. Jay Nixon had found a loophole and pulled all of the core funding. Conway says this legislation closes that loophole and allows only for the funding to support investigative services for ATC.

She expects this would generate roughly $3 million annually, with the funds coming from the licensing fees. Conway says that the companies support the legislation, and want to make sure that their payments go to the right place.

HB 192 focuses on the funds in relation to boat title and registration fees and putting some of that revenue toward funding the Missouri State Water Patrol.

Under the current state law, the first $2 million collected each year from those fees is placed into the General Revenue. Anything after that goes to the Water Patrol Division of the State Highway Patrol.

Conway’s bill would instead reduce the number of funds going toward general revenue to $1 million, allowing for more funding for the Water Patrol, and only for their usage.

“We found, lately, that the Water Patrol has lost a lot of major federal funding through the federal forfeiture, and we need to find a way to replace that money,” Conway said. “Does it take away from the general revenue? Yes. But it is my belief that people who are using waterways and expecting the services of the Water Patrol should be paying for that.”

Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, asked how the bill would be affected if the Water Patrol and Highway Patrol were split into two divisions.

“I don’t think it would,” Conway responded. “They have essentially, within the framework of the Highway Patrol, set up almost a parallel department that reflects a lot of the Highway Patrol. Even if they split them up, that changes nothing in this statute.”

Rep. Michael Butler, D-St. Louis, questioned the wisdom of removing money from a budget that is already facing a shortfall.

Conway responded, referencing the death of Brandon Ellingson at the Lake of the Ozarks after being put in the custody of the Patrol in 2014. The lawsuit cost the state an estimated $9 million.

“I think it’s fair for the people on our waterways to expect that our Water Patrol is trained to the highest standard and that this type of thing doesn’t happen again,” Conway said. “Will it cost a million out of general revenue? Yes. Will it save millions down the road, lives or safety, that’s the aim. I think that trumps what’s going on.”

Both bills have been second read and their public hearing in the Budget committee completed.