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Parson signs bevy of criminal justice, public safety bills: ‘We have to do a better job’

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson signed several bills Tuesday afternoon related to public safety and criminal justice reform. 

“As a former sheriff and law enforcement officer, I understand the challenges facing those working within the criminal justice system, and we have to do a better job,” Parson said in a statement. “These bills bring bipartisan reform to Missouri’s criminal justice system while also promoting public safety and supporting our local prosecutors.” 

Parson put his stamp of approval on HB 192, championed by Republican Rep. Bruce DeGroot, and SB 1 from Democratic Sen. Kiki Curls. The House bill strips the punishment of more prison time for someone who cannot afford initial fines, which often created an unbreakable cycle. The legislation from Curls added certain nonviolent crimes to list for possible expungement. 

“HB 192 goes hand-in-hand with the stated desire of both the Missouri Supreme Court and Gov. Mike Parson. As a state, we need to do a better job of rehabilitating our prison population by putting them back as productive members of society once they have served their term,” DeGroot told The Missouri Times. “This governor did what he said he’s going to do, and I appreciate it.” 

“Folks sometimes make mistakes as teenagers, and by the time they reach 50 or 60 [years old], it becomes very difficult for them to obtain work, jobs, or other things they’re wanting to do to live a pretty fruitful and successful life,” Curls previously said.

The governor also signed HB 243 from Republican Rep. Jim Neely. The legislation — which was pushed in the upper chamber by Democratic Sen. Lauren Arthur during the 2019 legislative session — makes it easier for victims of stalking or domestic or sexual violence to move out of an abusive home. The bill prohibits these victims from being denied tenancy, evicted from a home, or found to be in violation of a lease agreement if he or she is a victim or in imminent danger; it included protections for landlords and requires a person to produce specified documentation proving the situation. 

After the bill signing, Neely said, “It’s all about helping people.”

“Today, survivors of domestic violence are a little safer in Missouri,” Arthur told The Missouri Times. “I am proud to have ushered through this legislation, and I thank all who worked to turn this bill into a law. I am especially grateful to the survivors who bravely spoke up to tell their stories.”

Republican Sen. Wayne Wallingford’s omnibus bill modifying a range of public safety issues, particularly related to emergency communication services and wireless emergency service charges, was also signed Tuesday.

SB 291 will help clarify the administrative process. It provides the 911 taxing entities, the Department of Revenue, and telecommunication companies the clarification they need to properly implement the law,” Wallingford told The Missouri Times. “It provides the Department of Revenue explicit authority to administer, collect, and enforce the prepaid service charge. It also gives the 911 Board the authority needed to remit these funds back to the counties. Finally, it allows counties the opportunity to opt-back into the collection of the prepaid surcharge and receive the benefits that come with their participation.

Additional bills Parson signed Tuesday afternoon were: 

  • SB 12 from Sen. Mike Cunningham: expands eligibility to receive service fee for those issuing summons, writ, subpoena, or other court orders 
  • SB 83 from Cunningham: omnibus bill changing provisions regarding relocation of children covered by custody or visitation orders
  • SB 90 from Sen. Doug Libla: omnibus bill changing a variety of employment security provisions 
  • SB 306 from Sen. Bill White: modifies eligibility requirements and school registration guidelines, among other things, for military families 
  • SB 333 from Sen. John Rizzo: increases maximum rate certain fire protection districts and municipalities can propose on sales taxes 
  • HB 547 from Rep. Dave Griffith: mandates each judicial circuit must have a veterans’ treatment court
  • HB 898 from Rep. Sara Walsh: establishes a special “Back the Blue” license plate with contributions made to the Missouri Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation 

Parson’s office, in particular, lauded HB 547, which will allow prosecuting attorneys to divert certain criminal cases to a special program, as resulting in Missourians soon to “see more criminal justice reform and more support for … prosecuting attorneys.” 

Attached to HB 547 is a provision from Democratic Rep. LaKeySha Bosley which ups paid restitution for wrongfully imprisoned Missourians to $100 per day from $50 each day.

“This is about setting what was wrong … right, giving those who were wrongfully convicted a chance to rejoin society with some hope,” Bosley previously told The Missouri Times. “Even though it’s not everything, it’s a start, and we are just beginning. Criminal justice reform is not just be about those who are going in, or [are] already there; it [should] also be about those who were there and weren’t suppose to be there in the first place.”

Aside from the 11 signed in the early afternoon, Parson signed an additonal seven bills later in the day. 

Criminal justice reform advocates and organizations applauded the bill signings. 

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, SD-5: “Thank you, [Gov. Parson] for signing Senate Bill 1, which Sen. S. Kiki Curls sponsored and I co-sponsored. The expungement process provides an important path forward for ex-offenders to move on with their lives.” 

Molly Gill, vice president of policy for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM): “Today, Missouri joins the ranks of more than 30 other states that have reformed their mandatory sentencing laws. We applaud Gov. Parson for recognizing an overly-broad law and taking steps to fix it.

We are especially glad to see these reforms made retroactive, because getting a fair punishment shouldn’t depend on something as arbitrary as the day you went to court. We urge the parole board to identify eligible prisoners quickly and promptly give them parole hearings. There are many people who have served enough time and are ready to go home and contribute to our communities again.”

Jeremy Cady, AFP-Missouri state director: “Gov. Parson’s signing of this bill to roll back unnecessary mandatory minimum prison terms and reduce debtors’ prisons is a signal to all Missourians that legislators on both sides of the aisle can come together to solve critical issues in Missouri. Our laws should help individuals get back up on their feet after tough times instead of creating more obstacles on their road to redemption.

We applaud Gov. Parson for his leadership on this issue and making common-sense criminal justice reform a priority in our state. We are thankful for the opportunity to work with him and our bipartisan coalition and look forward to our joint efforts to continue moving Missouri forward.” 

Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of Empower Missouri: “During his State of the State address in January, Gov. Parson pledged not to build more prisons and talked about alternatives to incarceration. We are excited to see that he is working toward honoring that pledge.

Although there is more work to be done, HB 192, HB 547, and SB 1 all represent long-time priorities of our organization that we are happy to see signed into law.”

Sara Baker, legislative and policy director for the ACLU of Missouri: “Gov. Parson’s decision to sign bills reforming debtor’s prisons, mandatory minimum sentences, and eligibility for expungement is a landmark step forward on Missouri’s path to criminal justice reform. For far too long, Missouri’s criminal justice system has failed Missourians, fracturing families, impoverishing residents, and filling prisons beyond capacity. Today’s efforts show a willingness to give Missourians a second chance and consider alternatives to incarceration. We look forward to continued reforms in this area including ending racial profiling in our state, decriminalizing marijuana, decriminalizing HIV, upholding the right to counsel for those who cannot pay, and ensuring that those incarcerated are treated humanely.”