JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — More than a dozen people — most of whom are law enforcement officials — testified in favor of the Senate legislation driving the special session on violent crime during a committee hearing Tuesday.
Republican Sen. Doug Libla’s multifaceted SB 1 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.
Eighteen people stood to support the bill during the nearly two-hour-long hearing Tuesday afternoon. Four people (only two in-person) expressed opposition to the legislation.
The bill would “give law enforcement the tools they need to combat violent crime,” David Parrish, the Lewis County sheriff and president of the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, said. “One of the things we’ve done in Missouri is a remarkable job of caring for the people who commit crimes. … I wonder if we would make that same commitment to the victims and witnesses who are involved in these violent incidents what type of change we’d actually make.”
Charles and Kelli Lowe also testified Tuesday about their experiences in St. Louis. Kelli Lowe is the president of the National Police Wives Association and her husband, who was ambushed and shot in 2015, is a sergeant in St. Louis.
Specifically, the couple expressed support for ending the residency requirement for officers in St. Louis as well as for greater mental health resources for officers and their families.
“With everything going on right now … being able to find the most well-equipped officers is so important,” Kelli Lowe said.
But the bill could be detrimental to minors as it stands now — particularly the provision that would certify a juvenile as an adult for certain weapons-related and armed criminal action crimes, Mo Del Villar of the ACLU of Missouri said.
“If you put kids in front of a judge, more kids will be certified. Period,” Del Villar said. “This presents another ramp for kids to be thrown into the criminal justice system.”
She also noted a racial discrepancy among minors who go through the certification process. Pointing to a 2017 report from the Missouri Juvenile and Family Division, Del Villar told lawmakers 74 percent of Black youth in Missouri who went through the process were ultimately certified to be tried as adults compared to just 26 percent of white minors.
“Missouri’s juvenile system has been seen [as] a model across the nation, and this bill would be breaking a system intended to help kids,” she said. “If Black lives truly matter in this state, we need to find ways to prove that within each step of the process. This is an egregious difference between how young folks are being treated.”
As the global health crisis persists, the hearing was held in the Senate chambers, with committee members sitting at their desks on the third floor and witnesses, guests, and reporters congregated on the upper level. The witness microphone was stationed next to the reporters’ area.
The committee adjourned by 2:30 p.m. and is expected to go into executive session on the bill on Aug. 5.
Libla chairs the committee although fellow Republican Sen. Lincoln Hough led Tuesday’s hearing so he could testify on behalf of his own bill. Other committee members included GOP Sens. Justin Brown, Bill Eigel, and Cindy O’Laughlin as well as Democratic Sens. Karla May and Brian Williams.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.