The Missouri House has voted to give judges more flexibility in sentencing by easing Missouri’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
House Bill 1739 would allow judges to issue sentences below those minimums except in crimes that involved the use, attempted use, or threat of physical force, or certain non-consensual sex crimes against a minor. A case would have to have a “substantial and compelling” reason the minimum sentence would be unjust to the defendant or would not be needed to protect the public. The House voted Tuesday to send that legislation to the state Senate.
Legislative projections are that HB 1739 would save the state more than $3-million a year by the time it is fully implemented in Fiscal Year 2023, by decreasing the number of people incarcerated in state prisons. That does not account for what the state would save if it does not have to build and maintain those two new prisons.
The House voted 148-0 to send the proposal to the state Senate.
St. Louis Democrat Bruce Franks, Junior, said many Missourians won’t like that the bill would discourage companies from boycotting Israel even if those companies’ leaders hold strong or personal beliefs about that country’s policies.
Some Democrats argue HB 2179 would be unconstitutional, saying it would infringe on free speech. St. Louis representative Peter Merideth (D) said the ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court regarding a similar law in that state proves that point.
Speaker Richardson said the bill does not infringe on anyone’s right to free speech or on a corporation’s ability to boycott Israel, and said the Kansas ruling has no bearing on HB 2179 because what it proposes would not extend to individually-owned operations. Kansas’ law did extend to sole proprietorships and was challenged by one such entity.
The Missouri House has passed a Senate bill that proposes new restrictions on abortion. The House made several changes to the bill, so it goes back to the Senate for consideration.
The bill would allow the attorney general to prosecute abortion law violations without first involving local prosecutors; repeal a St. Louis ordinance that bars discrimination in housing and employment against women who have had an abortion, use birth control, or are pregnant; and require annual, unannounced state inspections of abortion facilities, among other provisions.
Franklin said a key provision for her is language that would require that all tissue removed after an abortion is sent to a pathologist, rather than a sample as is required now. A pathologist would have to account for all tissue and note any issues. The Department of Health would follow up any inconsistencies with an investigation. It would also report annually to the legislature all information it gathers regarding fetal tissue handling.
Franklin has carried various forms of such language going back several sessions, after a series of videos emerged alleging that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue after abortions.
Democrats are critical of information given out at alternatives to abortion agencies, saying it is medically inaccurate and skewed toward discouraging a woman from having an abortion. Republicans say the agencies give women information with which they can form their own decisions.
The legislature returned to Jefferson City in a special session to consider abortion legislation at the call of Governor Eric Greitens (R). Democrats used debate of SB 5 to criticize the governor for what they said was a stunt meant to help him politically.
The legislature has sent Governor Eric Greitens (R) a bill that would make it harder to prove discrimination in the workplace.
Senate Bill 43 would require a former employee to prove that his or her age, race, gender, disability or ethnicity was the main reason he or she was fired rather than one among other reasons. Republicans said the bill is needed because the courts have allowed too many cases of alleged workplace discrimination to proceed.
The bill also places limits on the damages that can be awarded to successful plaintiffs, exempts from liability supervisors and managers who are not employers, and limits protections for whistleblowers.
The legislation cleared the House on a Republican-led 98-30 vote, but it had Republican opposition.
Democrats said the legislation would make it easier for workplace discrimination to occur and go unpunished, and argue it represents a conflict of interest because its senate sponsor, Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington), is the owner of a business that is the subject of a pending discrimination lawsuit.
The House debated the bill for more than five hours Monday, rejecting five amendments, before voting to pass the bill the Senate had proposed. It’s now up to Governor Grietens whether it will become law.
The single biggest change the House made during floor debate of its budget proposal this week would continue a program that aims to help low-income youth enter into the workforce.
St. Louis City Democrat Bruce Franks, Junior, saw that Governor Eric Greitens (R) had proposed cutting all funding to the Summer Jobs League within the Department of Economic Development. Franks proposed taking $6-million from unused funds in two programs within Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to restore it, and the House voted to accept Franks’ proposal.
The Summer Jobs League gives 16- to 24-year-olds from low-income homes in the St. Louis or Kansas City areas the chance to work in a business in a field they’re interested in.
The largest portion of the state’s appropriation to the Summer Jobs League will pay the salaries of the youth participants – up to $8.50 an hour for up to 240 hours. Franks said that is part of the incentive for businesses to participate.
One of the things House Democrats wanted in the chamber’s proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year, they got.
The House voted to move $1.5-million from an election administration improvements fund in the Secretary of State’s office to go to the implementation of the voter photo ID law approved by voters in November. Specifically that money is for educating voters about the new law so that they can comply with it when they go to the polls.
The change would bump the funding available for voter photo ID education to nearly $3-million. The House’s earlier proposal for funding it with about $1.4-million was based on what the Secretary of State had asked for.
Representative Bruce Franks, Junior (D), has been chosen by House Speaker Todd Richardson (R) and Representative Don Phillips (R), the chairman of the House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety, to chair the newly formed Subcommittee on Police/Community Relations.
Franks discusses why the House Republican supermajority’s leadership considers him an “ideal choice” to head this committee, even though he is a member of the Democratic minority. He also talks about the work the committee will do and how he plans to approach that task.
Franks sits down to discuss the new subcommittee with House Communications’ Mike Lear.
Franks said the bill would make June 7, “Youth Violence Prevention Day,” in Missouri. He said it would be more than, “having another day where we name a day after somebody, but we spark a day of advocacy, a day of action, and a day against youth violence.”
Franks, as he has done with many other issues, urged his fellows not to think of gun violence as an issue limited to any one part or few parts of the state.
Franks asked that the legislators remember what happened to his brother and work to educate others statewide about youth violence prevention.
He recalled that when he and other freshmen members of the legislature toured the state, they saw the statue of his brother that stands outside of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis.
A top Department of Corrections official has told a House subcommittee poor training, bureaucracy, and the Department’s growth have contributed to problems with harassment and retaliation among Missouri prison employees.
Dave Dormire is the Department’s Director of Adult Institutions and has been in the Department more than 40 years. He has announced he will retire April 1.
He talked to the House Subcommittee on Corrections Workforce Environment and Conduct after it had heard testimony from several other department officials, employees, and former employees.
The subcommittee was formed after news articles shed light on cases in which Department employees alleged they’d been harassed and, in some cases, retaliated against. Several of those cases have gone to court, and several of those resulted in settlements costing the state millions of dollars.
Since September, 2011, Dormire has been responsible for some staff appointments, overseeing the safety of staff and inmates, and for disciplinary decisions.
Dormire was asked why some of the people who had been involved in those incidents still work for the Department. He told lawmakers some allegations go unsustained, and some efforts are made to correct employees rather than fire them after a first incident.
Committee members also asked Dormire about reports they’ve heard of nepotism in the Department’s hiring and promotion practices. At an earlier hearing, they heard from a former employee that wardens often ignore the recommendations of panels assigned to recommend employees for promotion. The system was described as one of “good ol’boys” hiring and promoting friends and relatives.
Dormire told lawmakers the Department used the state’s Merit system, created in state law to prevent favoritism, political influence, or arbitrary decisions in hiring and other employment decisions.
Committee members asked Dormire about allegations raised by recent articles by Pitch.com suggesting that he had been involved in retaliation against employees, and had been deceptive in his answers in some investigations. Dormire denied those allegations.
The Missouri House has again voted to reduce the length of time people can claim unemployment benefits.
House Bill 288, sent to the Senate Thursday, would cut that time period from 20 to 13 weeks if the state’s unemployment rate is less than 6-percent. It could increase if the jobless rate increases, reaching a maximum of 20 weeks if that rate exceeds 9-percent.
Republicans said the measure is meant to keep the state’s unemployment fund solvent when the economy takes a downturn. Missouri has had to borrow money from the federal government to cover benefits in past economic slowdowns, and business owners have had to pay millions of dollars in interest on those loans.