The Missouri Legislature saw a controversial crime reform bill pass through both chambers this year.
As with most pieces of legislation during a session cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SB 600 grew to an omnibus bill in the legislature before it was ultimately stripped back to its original 15-page form. Having been passed on the final day of session, it awaits a signature from the governor before it can become Missouri law.
Since its passage, a number of advocacy groups on both sides of the aisle have come out against the bill, urging the governor to veto the bill. The groups cited expanded sentences, broader definitions of certain offenses, and a hefty price tag as issues with SB 600.
However, it has received support from the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
Here’s a look at what the bill would actually do and the arguments on either side.
What does SB 600 do?
SB 600, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, makes a number of changes to provisions regarding “dangerous felonies.”
The bill revised the offense of conspiracy in Missouri by allowing offenders to be charged for both conspiracy and the crime itself. It also altered the definition of a “dangerous felony” to include armed criminal action, carjacking, and conspiracy.
Additionally, it revised probation standards to deny eligibility to offenders of second-degree murder and felonies involving a deadly weapon.
The bill further created the offense of vehicle hijacking, extended sentencing minimums for offenders found guilty of armed criminal action, and moved unlawful possession of a firearm from a class D to a class C felony, altered the definition of a criminal streets gang and increased the crime to a class C felony.
The final part of the bill increased sentences for gang-related crimes by three years if the crime occurred within 1,000 feet of a school and an additional five years for a dangerous felony.
“One of the things that we know is that much of our crime is caused by a small group of repeat offenders who are on the streets because liberal prosecutors release them on probation,” Luetkemeyer told The Missouri Times. “We had crime statistics that were pulled by the Department of Public Safety, Department of Corrections, and the courts that showed that, over the last 10 years, 65 percent of dangerous felons put on probation have re-offended with a felony that carries a sentence of 10 or more years. That means the judges and prosecutors entering into these plea bargains are getting it right 35 percent of the time.”
“SB 600 ends this catch-and-release practice that allows violent offenders to re-offend, and you can see countless examples of that,” he said. “Missouri has a lot of bloodshed on its streets, and SB 600 is very narrowly focused on reigning that in.”
Since its passage through the legislature, the bill has seen opposition from a number of organizations, including the ACLU and Americans for Prosperity Missouri (AFP-MO) — both of which have urged the governor to veto the bill. The organizations cited a large cost and what they called unnecessary sentencing minimums.
“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 about the bill earlier this month. “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.”
Luetkemeyer said none of the organizations that have recently opposed his bill, with the exception of the ACLU, testified against the bill in committee. He also argued that the issues these groups have found don’t all line up with the bill’s language.
“AFP is an organization with a history of opposing lengthy sentences for non-violent offenders,” he said. “SB 600 does not deal with nonviolent crime, it deals with the worst of the worst individuals in our criminal code.”
As for the estimated cost of the bill, Luetkemeyer said: “The fiscal note was a bipartisan effort with input from various organizations. It does not find that SB 600 will cost anywhere near the billion dollars they said it will.”
He predicted it will ultimately cost around $16 million.
“This is a bill that enjoyed broad bipartisan support passing the Senate,” Luetkemeyer said. “Every single Republican and all but two Democrats voted for the bill. This bill has received a large number of endorsements from organizations and departments.”
These endorsements include one from The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys earlier this week and another from conservative group Liberty Alliance, which said that the bill “implements common-sense reforms in order to keep repeat offenders and violent criminals off the streets” earlier this month.
Luetkemeyer also noted the mayors of Kansas City and Springfield, two of the cities identified in the USA Today article, testified in favor of sections of the bill while it was in committee.