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Missouri attorney general’s priorities for 2nd year include child welfare and public safety

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the attorney general’s office in the Missouri Supreme Court in Jefferson City, Mo.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the attorney general’s office in the Missouri Supreme Court in Jefferson City, Mo.

Andrew Bailey was not exactly a stranger to the attorney general’s office when he was appointed to the post in 2022.

The Republican previously worked as an assistant attorney general before becoming Gov. Mike Parson’s general counsel. And even though his surroundings are familiar to him, Bailey said he was still discovering things.

“I had not led in a managerial role since I served as an officer in the United States Army. As attorneys, you typically manage your caseload. But it takes a while as an attorney to get into a management position,” he said. “And so, getting to lead an organization of this size is a humbling opportunity.”

Whether Bailey remains in his post for the long haul will depend on whether he can outflank fellow Republican Will Scharf in the August GOP primary and then win the general election. Elad Gross is running as a Democrat.

In terms of his office’s priorities, Bailey said Missourians can expect a continuation of some of his 2023 focuses in 2024 — including policies that enhance child welfare and public safety.

“We look across the state of Missouri and see crime not isolated to urban areas, but across rural communities as well. And victims are suffering,” Bailey said. “And it's important that we effectively deploy resources at the state level to fight back against violent crime and to find justice for victims.”

Bailey spoke this week with St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum about a variety of topics. (Questions and answers have been modified for clarity and length.)

Jason Rosenbaum:  There's been a lot of focus on crime in St. Louis and Kansas City, but there are rural parts of the state where crime is a real problem. What would you want to see the legislature do?

Andrew Bailey: I think there's always improvements that can be made to our statutes. The criminal code needs to be constantly updated to adapt to changing patterns in crime. And what we've learned through the last year is that crime is regional. It's not isolated to one county or one city. Crime doesn't understand those boundaries. Crime doesn't care that there's 46 judicial circuits of the State of Missouri.

But from the attorney general's office, what's important to me and what we started in 2023, and will continue in 2024, is traveling circuit by circuit and reintroducing ourselves to the elected prosecutors, sheriffs and police chiefs — and resetting where the attorney general's office properly fits in the criminal justice system advertising the resources we have to deploy in the fight against violent crime today.

We've seen a 133% increase in the request for the attorney general's office to assist at the trial court level and prosecutions. We filed 447 appellate briefs last year defending prosecutors' convictions on appeal. So we are currently effectively deploying those resources and need to get into those rural jurisdictions to make sure we're there to assist where appropriate.

Rosenbaum: There have been a number of ideas that have been floated to change the child welfare system from a structural standpoint: everything from moving juvenile officers to the attorney general's office, allowing private companies to make sure that a child is safe, and also increasing the starting salary for child abuse investigators. What's your thoughts on those ideas?

Bailey: I think it is high time for structural change. The system that we have in place now is clearly not meeting the needs of the children of the state of Missouri. It's the most underprivileged, underserved kids that are suffering under the system's failures today. How this structural change needs to occur is going to be left to the General Assembly. But I do think that it is an odd system in which juvenile officers who are litigants in court are under the supervision of the court system. So you've got a situation where the umpires are determining who plays in the games and still calling the balls and strikes. That's a bizarre system.

Rosenbaum: Juvenile officers I've talked to do not want to change the system. They think it's worked well.

Bailey:  I get that. But I think there is some diversity of opinion out there. Because I've talked to juvenile officers who would concede that the system is antiquated and is no longer functioning the way it should. And, look, there's two different ways of looking at this, too. You've got under the juvenile code under [state statutes]. You've got child abuse neglect cases, which are kids in foster care that are placed with the Children's Division for appropriate placement. And then you've got delinquency cases. So there's also a model in which delinquency matters would stay with local juvenile officers, but you could consolidate those child abuse and neglect cases under a different entity.

Rosenbaum:One of the big things you were involved in in your first year was the drama over then-St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. She’s gone now and has been replaced by Gabe Gore. And the sense that I hear from legislators is there's not going to be as much focus to try and have the governor appoint a special prosecutor or placing state control back on the St. Louis Police Department. Do you think that those issues should return to be discussed?

Bailey: What we see today is a circuit attorney's office that is properly fulfilling its role in the criminal justice system by filing cases based on police reports that are referred to by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. It’s meeting its obligations under the trial docket turning over discovery, and it has the warrant office open. So when offenders or defendants are picked up on the streets, they can be held on bond. So these are important critical functions. It's working now. What I need to see is structural reform to make sure we never go back to the way things were before.

Rosenbaum: One of the other ways you were in the news in 2023 was your emergency rules about transgender health care. There was a passage of legislation that would bar most minors from getting puberty blockers, gender transition surgery or hormone therapy. But there are exceptions for people that already are on puberty blockers or hormone therapy. And also, it has a sunset. Some legislators want to get rid of the grandfather clause and the sunset. What are your thoughts about that?

Bailey: I would absolutely repeal the sunset and the grandfather clause. I think this Senate Bill 49 was an important first step in protecting children from experimentation sterilization masquerading as medicine. There were zero FDA approvals for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to be used in the treatment of pediatric gender dysphoria. So I do believe that Senate Bill 49 was an important first step. I think that I'm proud of the work my office did in defending that statute from legal attack. We're the first state in the nation to successfully defend that measure at the trial court level. 

Rosenbaum: I talked with a number of families who have transgender children that went through at least hormone therapy. And what they told me is the treatment made their children genuinely happier and made them less depressed. What would you say to families that say, ‘This treatment has made my child happier and has made life more fulfilling for them?’

Bailey: I think we've got to distinguish between causation and correlation. Were those same children provided mental health services? Or were they deprived of mental health services in favor of dangerous, powerful drugs? And the evidence that we have the victims of the sterilization industry that we put on in defense of Senate Bill 49 had the opposite story to tell that they'll never be able to have children. That they're suffering long-term medical health consequences.

Rosenbaum: We talked extensively about how your emergency rules would have also affected adults seeking hormone therapy or gender transition surgery. I've talked to a lot of Republican legislators. They don’t want to put restrictions on adults. Do you think that they're wrong?

Bailey: Well, the rule was applied to the clinics. The rule said that the clinics have to provide certain access to mental health services and certain warnings about the dangerous nature of the procedures. The public should have the maximum amount of information possible upon which to make good, individualized health care decisions.

Rosenbaum: I read the emergency rules. If you are an adult trying to get hormone therapy, you had to jump through a lot of hoops before you are able to get that, including therapy, getting screened for autism and treating and resolving mental health conditions. Do you want the legislature to put that into law?

Bailey: I'm satisfied with the policy position that the General Assembly has laid out. I think we need to continue to understand what went wrong and make sure that the proper systems are in place to prevent it from happening again. And I'll tell you, I'm proud of the work that my office did to lead on that issue to stand in the gap until Senate Bill 49 was passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor.

Rosenbaum: Your office is handling the Missouri v. Biden case, which revolves around federal agencies trying to get social media to take down content. When does that case go before the Supreme Court?

Bailey: Briefing is due at the Supreme Court now, and we'll be arguing that case I believe in March.

Rosenbaum: What do you think is at stake in that particular case?

Bailey: It's the most important First Amendment suit in this nation's history. The heart and soul of our constitutional right to free speech is at stake. Look, it's not just that Andrew Bailey is sitting here telling you I think we're going to win. We put on a quantum of evidence at the district court level. ... that justified the nationwide injunction to build a wall of separation between tech and state. We then successfully defended that injunction at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals twice.

Rosenbaum: If you're successful, what would the federal government be able to do to say: "Hey, this social media post is saying something that is clearly wrong.’’

Bailey: The remedy for disfavored speech in this nation has always been counterspeech, not government censorship. Government censorship is counterproductive, because people stopped trusting the government, and they feel that their viewpoints are being suppressed.

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon.