Updated Aug. 5:
The Missouri Senate passed the package of legislation out of committee on Wednesday. It now heads to the full Senate and is expected to be sent to the House on Friday.
Original story from July 26:
The Missouri Senate held the first hearing of a special legislative session on Tuesday, kicking off Gov. Mike Parson’s push for a tough-on-crime agenda.
Parson, a former sheriff, said the session will be “narrowly focused” on violent crime and will address six topics. Those include endangering the welfare of a child, a witness protection fund, witness statement admissibility, juvenile certifications as adults, unlawful transfer of weapons and removing residency requirements for St. Louis police.
Senators in the hearing heard testimony from several police leaders and prosecutors in favor of the package of legislation.
Jimmie Edwards, public safety director for St. Louis, spoke on a specific provision that would allow judges to try children between the ages of 12 and 18 as adults for armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon. He said that because the Legislature allowed permitless gun carry starting in 2017, more youth are carrying firearms.
“With respect to gun usage by youngsters, it has absolutely surged,” Edwards told the committee.
In addition, Edwards said the number of killings in the city committed by those under 18 is increasing.
“I don’t know the exact number, but I can tell you that a significant number of homicides have been committed by youngsters that are 18 and below.”
The proposal is drawing sharp criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union, whose representative was one of two witnesses who spoke in opposition to the package.
“This presents another ramp for juveniles to be thrown into the criminal justice system,” said Mo Del Villar of the ACLU. “As with many issues in Missouri, there is certainly a racial bias concern.”
Del Villar cited an annual report completed by the Missouri Juvenile and Family Division in 2017 that showed 74% of juveniles certified were African Americans. While she said the percentages leveled out in 2018, Del Villar said there is a “nationwide trend where Black youth are 8.6 times more likely than their white peers to receive an adult prison sentence.”
The proposal would also eliminate residency requirements for St. Louis police officers. Now, police officers must reside within city limits for seven years. Despite the issue being placed on the ballot in November for city residents to decide, Parson said it must be addressed sooner.
St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden said that the city is down about 130 officers and that the residency rule hurts recruiting. Hayden also told senators that the city has had 150 homicides compared to 113 at this time in 2019.
“In an unprecedented surge in gun violence over the past nine weeks, St. Louis has averaged 10 homicides a week,” Hayden said.
If lawmakers approve the legislation, it would allow officers to live anywhere within a one-hour response time.
Empower Missouri, a social justice organization, submitted written testimony in opposition of lifting the rules, calling the issue a “matter of local control.”
“The reasons cited by police officers for their need to move out of the city generally reflect the legacy of structural racism in our state and nation,” said Jeanette Mott Oxford, the group’s director.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson lobbied the Legislature in January after years of city officials trying and failing to get the policy changed. She commended Parson for calling the special session to get the residency rule lifted.
The package would also establish a witness protection fund led by the Department of Public Safety, and it would stiffen penalties for a person who knowingly sells a firearm to a minor.
The committee is scheduled to return Aug. 5 to vote on moving the plan to the Senate floor.