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Senators team up on criminal justice reform proposal


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Two senators from different sides of the aisle teamed up to tackle criminal justice reform Monday. 

State Sens. Ed Emery, a Republican, and Karla May, a Democrat, joined forces before the Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Monday to present their identical committee substitutes to tackle required minimum prison sentences for those with multiple felony convictions. 

The committee substitutes — provided for their bills SB 8 and SB 74 respectively — gives more “freedom” for a parole board to determine if a nonviolent offender would be better suited in society rather than incarcerated, those in support of the proposal testified. As it’s currently written, the plan has specifically designated which felonies which would make minimum prison terms applicable.

“When you get someone in prison who has maybe had multiple felony convictions, but none of them have really provided a threat to bodily harm, then it gets back to … the question we’ve asked is: are we afraid of these people, are we afraid of what they might do in society, or do we think there’s a chance of redemption here?” Emery told The Missouri Times. 

He said he believes the “potential of moving people back into being productive members of society” would be valuable both from both an “individual redemption” and a budgetary standpoint.

“This is a way to step back, take a deep breath, take a look at a variety of crimes and say, ‘Are these crimes that are not necessarily ones that we want to absolutely lock someone up [for] and throw away the key?'” Emery said.

No one testified in opposition to the proposal Monday, but Sens. Bob Onder and Bill White — Republican members of the committee — both expressed hesitation and concerns. 

Onder maintained the proposal “still needs more work” but contended it was better, in his opinion, then what the committee had seen before. He also reiterated his position on drug crimes as a “violent” offense. 

“I reject this idea that drug felonies are automatically ‘nonviolent’ crimes,” Onder said. “First of all, people are dying of fentanyl and heroin overdoes every day in this state.”

“Although the word ’violent crime’ doesn’t appear in [the state’s] statute books, I reject the dichotomy that drug crimes are automatically nonviolent,” he also said. “Heroin kills people in our streets every day.”

Emery said he believes the committee substitute is a good “reconciliation” for differing viewpoints on the issue. He said he hopes his and May’s work with the committee substitute will come out of the committee as a combined bill.