Wed, 10/14/2020 - 1:48pm admin
David Evans, (R-154)
At the Capitol, we finished a special session on violent crime. Governor Mike Parson called us back (the Missouri House and Senate) into extraordinary or special session to work on legislation combating the rise of violent crime in Missouri. The Governor and I agree that one of the most important jobs of any government is to protect its citizens against harm both foreign, domestic, and internal (from within the government itself).
In Missouri, four of our biggest cities, (St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Columbia) have been struggling to contain annual increases in felony crime. For several years, Kansas City and St. Louis have consistently had 2 of the highest homicide rates in the country. Over the last 2 years, we have been talking to community leaders and local law enforcement in a special task force on violent crime and were able to pass 2 new laws addressing some of their concerns.
The first new law is intended to help provide better protections for victims and witnesses of crime. House Bill 66 was passed to begin this mission. This new law creates a “Pretrial Protection Services Fund” to be used solely for the housing, safety, and welfare of victims and witnesses, and their immediate families. At House hearings, officers described witnesses and victims of crime being afraid to come forward and testify. Witness and victim intimidation happens everywhere but is even a bigger problem in large cities that are also battling organized crime and gangs. This bill is a good start to victim/witness protection, but we must continue this fight in future sessions and provide additional funding to victim/witness protection as tight budgets allow.
House Bill 46 was also passed. At several House hearings, the mayor, police chief, fire chief, and public safety director, all from the City of St. Louis, testified in strong support. This new law basically eliminates the old residence requirements for police and public safety officers that any such officer must live within the city limits of St. Louis. The new police and other safety officers no longer have to live in St. Louis City but do have to live within a one-hour response time to the city.
At first, I was reluctant to support the bill, but testimony from local St. Louis leadership was compelling. They each confirmed the fact that the city has been down between 125 to 150 police officers for many years and that the shortage of officers directly affects public safety. The St. Louise fire chief also testified in support describing similar problems hiring and retaining his officers. These officers are desperately needed to better protect St. Louis citizens, but change has been bogged down for some reason by local politics so city leadership asked for state help. In passing this new law, we had to weigh public safety against local politics. In the end, the bill was passed to help provide better protection and safety for local people.
To wrap up this report, I’ll mention 2 bills that we didn’t pass. Many people in this District have told me that it is at least as important to stop bad bills from becoming law as it to make and pass new laws. I agree. These two bills that failed started out in special session as good ideas, but bad amendments were added.
One of these bills was a juvenile justice “reform” bill. In my last job, I had the honor of working to enforce both juvenile and adult criminal laws. I support common sense improvements to reduce crime and to help our kids, but I cannot support “sound bite” proposals written to sound good but not do good. The bad amendment that was added in House committee to this bill would have prohibited a juvenile judge from certifying any child under the age of 16 from standing trial as an adult.
We heard testimony in the House that certification for young offenders has only been ordered in Missouri a couple of times over the last 20 years. Nevertheless, this amendment was sold to the media as important to protect juveniles, but as written, it was just a bad idea. Right now, juvenile judges have the discretion to certify young juveniles to stand trial as an adult. It’s certainly not required but is optional and can only be ordered after a full hearing and after a careful consideration and weighing of all evidence.
Unfortunately, certification should not be eliminated because sometimes even young offenders can and do commit very bad, violent crimes. In these exceptional circumstances, the juvenile judge must be allowed at least the discretion to certify even young offenders to stand trial as an adult. Without the possibility of certification, the longest a juvenile offender could be detained or held even for multiple rapes or murders is up to age 21. Because the bill couldn’t be fixed within the short time period of special session, it died, and common sense juvenile justice reform will be debated again next year.
Similarly, another bill that didn’t make it pass the finish line in special session was a criminal bill on transferring a firearm to a minor. It started out as a bill to criminalize transfer of a weapon to a minor for the purpose of committing another crime or for the purpose of avoiding or evading criminal charges. It was changed by amendment in the Senate so that even innocent gifts of guns (such as a gift from grandparent to grandchild) could be prosecuted as a crime. Under our constitution, due process requires that criminal laws be written clearly so that each of us can knowingly conform our behavior to the law. In other words, if you can’t understand the criminal law, you can’t follow it. The amendment sounded good, but when carefully read and reviewed, it could have caused very bad results to unsuspecting people. Again, we couldn’t get the amendment stripped out and back to the Senate within the special session so it died.
I am proud to have helped lead the fight to defeat these unfair and unjust amendments as well as help pass the 2 other solid criminal justice bills. If you have thoughts about how we can better support our law enforcement officers in Missouri and how we can further reduce violent crime in this state, please contact me.
If you have other concerns and suggestions, please let me know. I look forward to going back to session representing the common sense, conservative values of the Ozarks. If you would like to schedule a specific time to meet locally, please call Sarah in my office at 573-751-1455, or please contact my office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.