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General Assembly approves Pretrial Witness Protection Fund

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s General Assembly signed off on the witness protection bill this week, sending the measure on to the governor’s desk for final approval.

HB 66, sponsored by Rep. Jon Patterson, was approved by the Senate Wednesday morning. The bill creates the Pretrial Witness Protection Fund which would disburse money from the Department of Public Safety to go toward the protection of witnesses by law enforcement. 

“With this legislation, law enforcement agencies from around the state would be able to draw from this fund and get protection from their witnesses,” Patterson, a Republican, said. “By keeping those witnesses safe, we can better ensure their safety while also providing justice as best we can and put violent criminals behind bars and make some real progress in combatting violent crime in our state.”

The bill was the subject of controversy during its tenure in the House last week, with debate on the floor centering around the lack of an appropriation source for the bill. House Budget Chair Cody Smith said a second special session would need to be called in order to secure funding — something that could happen concurrently to veto session later this month. 

House Minority Floor Leader Rep. Crystal Quade decried the lack of a funding source as part of a “political special session that truly does nothing” following its approval in the lower chamber last week.

Patterson’s bill was one of five approved by the upper chamber during a contentious day in the Senate Wednesday. Along with HB 46, which eliminates the residency requirement for public safety personnel in St. Louis, HB 66 was approved to move forward and await the governor’s signature. 

HBs 2, 11, and 16, which concern witness statements, endangering the welfare of a child, and unlawful of a weapon to a minor, respectively, will return to the House for further consideration. 

The bills are part of the ongoing special session on violent crime, first called by Gov. Mike Parson in mid-July.