Columbia man: law giving felons more job opportunities is making a difference for him

      Missourians with felony convictions are no longer blocked from working in places that sell lottery tickets, and face less restriction in working where alcohol is sold, under a law that took effect over the summer.  Advocates say the change is a “game changer” for people who get out of prison and want to get their lives back on track.

Henry Mikel and Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch, recently had the chance to meet and talk about her legislation, which allowed him to have his current job.

      Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) sponsored the legislation for several sessions.  It became law as a provision in Senate Bill 26, signed into law in July. She recently got to talk to some people who are taking advantage of the change.

      “I’m just thrilled.  I mean, I’m so happy, because it’s all about helping your fellow man to succeed,” said Toalson Reisch.

      One man with whom Toalson Reisch met was Henry Mikel of Columbia, who says it’s making a difference in his life.     

      “It’s very hard to get a job, man, when you’re a felon, so it’s going to help out a lot for the people that do want to change when they do get out of prison, or the people that are on probation that has committed a felony,” said Mikel. 

      Mikel is open about his past, which includes a 2nd degree assault charge, and that he is recovering from drug addiction.  He is staying at in2Action, a program that helps those released from prison transition back into life and stay out of prison.  He recently began working at a convenience store close to the facility.  It’s a job he couldn’t have gotten just a few months ago because the store sells lottery tickets.

      He thinks the new law is making a big difference for him, and will do so for others in similar circumstances.

      “I believe it’s going to help out a lot, man, because not everybody wants to stay in trouble and not everybody wants to stay in the system as a felon.  People do want to change,” said Mikel.

      He became emotional in expressing gratitude that the law passed.  He said with the holidays approaching it will allow him to do something for his two young adult children.

      “I’ll tell you, to have a job and be able to do something for my kids, man, it’s a blessing.  Being a drug addict and an alcoholic most of my life, my kids missed out on a lot, man, and I feel like a big piece of s**t over that.  Now that I’ve turned my life around, I have a relationship with my kids, I can call my kids, I can go see my kids any time.  It does help out a lot, man.  It helps out a lot.”

      Mikel expressed thanks not only to Representative Toalson Reisch, but to all the legislators who voted for her proposal, and to Governor Mike Parson (R) for signing it into law.

      “It does feel good that there are people out there that really care,” said Mikel. 

“Being an addict I can tell you one thing … not everybody wants to be an addict.  Once you become an addict … the main thing that goes through an addict’s head is, ‘How can I change?’”  Mikel said.  “I understand that a person has to want to change, truly, and they have to show it, but it’s hard to show it when you don’t have people that wants to back it up, and it’s nice to know that there are people out there that are giving people a chance and that wants to help people that want to help their self.”

      Some would dismiss or even look down on a job such as working at a convenience store, but advocates agree it is a big deal for someone in a position like Mikel’s.  He adds that he genuinely enjoys working there, and even as a child he thought it could be a fun job.

      “You see just different personalities.  I’m the type of guy that I want to help a lot of people.  I want to help the people that are weak and the people that are addicts, I want to help people in their faith, so I believe this job’s going to help me in my dream because it helps me read people and it helps me figure people out more.  I’m using it to my advantage.”

      Toalson Reisch had the opportunity to meet Mikel for the first time just a few days ago, at an in2Action Christmas Dinner. 

      “We just hit it off, and he thanked me for giving him the opportunity.  He loves his job,” said Toalson Reisch.  “When I see these success stories, like Henry, that it’s making a real impact on real people in their lives, it just gives me hope.”

      The last time Toalson Reisch’s proposal came to a vote on the House floor the vote in favor of it was 148-1. 

Earlier story: New Law a ‘game changer’ for some felons seeking work

New law a ‘game changer’ for some felons seeking work

      An advocate says a new law that began as a Missouri House bill is a “game changer” for people trying to establish new lives after felony convictions.   

Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The legislation eliminated a prohibition on those with felony convictions working in places which sell lottery tickets.  It also lifted the requirement that businesses who sell alcohol report to the state when they hire someone with a felony.  The changes have been sponsored for several years by Hallsville Republican Cheri Toalson Reisch, and was signed into law this summer and took effect August 28.

      She said it’s about worker freedom.

      “If an employer wants to hire a felon, why should the State of Missouri tell them, ‘No?’”

      Dan Hanneken is the Executive Director of In2Action, a program that helps people transition out of prison.  He says the most important factor in a convicted felon not returning to prison is their ability to find employment.

      “This particular bill might only effect maybe ten percent of the people that we serve, but the level of impact it will make on the ten percent of people will be a complete game-changer for them when they can re-enter the workforce,” said Hannekan.

      “What we want is felons … to work.  We need them to be self-supporting and we need them to support their families,” said Toalson Reisch.  “They want to work, and this gives them more opportunities to go out and get entry-level jobs, work their way up, give them experience, put work on a resume.”

      The proposal, filed by Toalson Reisch as House Bill 316, was amended to Senate Bill 26, which was passed and signed by Governor Mike Parson (R). 

      She said this bill benefit not only her home county of Boone, which she said consistently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, but the entire state.

      “Most everywhere sells lottery tickets or alcohol, whether it’s a restaurant, a grocery store, convenience store; most anyplace you walk into will have one or both of those items, and that shouldn’t hold people back who want to work, who want to have a job and earn a living.  They’ve served their debt to society.”

      The legislation had broad support, and was viewed as helping fight recidivism and unemployment while supporting criminal justice reform and helping the economy by boosting the eligible workforce.  The House voted 148-1 for the 2020 version of the bill.

      Hanneken said the law before this change was very frustrating for the people he works with, who often want to rebuild their lives, provide for their families, and simply have a path forward after prison.

      “When people are released from prison and they’re told, ‘No, you cannot even work at a convenience store,’ that was incredibly defeating for them,” said Hanneken.   

      Toalson Reisch said the reporting requirement for businesses that sell liquor was, in practice, a pointless exercise for those employers, who had to fill out a form that wasn’t used for anything.

      “All they did was send it in and I was literally told the state did nothing with this form.  They literally threw it in a file cabinet and did nothing with it, and so it was just nonsensical and had no purpose,” said Toalson Reisch.

      The bill also had broad support from groups including Empower Missouri and the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association.

Pronunciations:

Cheri Toalson Reisch = shuh-REE TOLE-sun RYSH

House votes to allow felons to work in places that sell alcohol and lottery tickets

A House Bill that would remove the restriction on felons working in businesses that sell alcohol and lottery tickets was sent Thursday to the Senate.  House Bill 1468 would also lift the requirement that employers with liquor licenses notify the state of any employees with felony convictions.

Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Bill sponsor Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) said the bill will not only make it easier for felons to find jobs, thus reducing recidivism; it will also make more workers available.  She said her county, Boone, has the lowest unemployment rate in the state and more potential workers are needed.

“We need more people to fill these entry level positions and have a place to start, and this will also enable them to support themselves and their families,” said Toalson Reisch.  “I like to use my local Casey’s General Store as an analogy.  You cannot make pizza and donuts in the back because they sell lottery tickets and alcohol in the front.”

The bill passed with broad bipartisan support.  Columbia Representative Kip Kendrick (D) said it is common sense legislation.

“These individuals who have paid their debt to society and are back out trying to make a living, we should be doing all that we can as a state to make sure that they are welcome back in their communities.  Part of welcoming back is ensuring them access to jobs and employment opportunities … to make sure that they are finding ways to make a living and reintegrate back into society,” said Kendrick.

Ballwin Republican Shamed Dogan said the bill includes a provision that would prevent an individual from selling lottery tickets if convicted of a past crime that involved those.

“[Toalson Reisch] has worked these particular business owners.  They’re very supportive of this for their own freedom to hire folks with a record and it’s something that is in line with a lot of the criminal justice reforms that we’ve supported that are pro-economic growth and pro-personal growth for these people,” said Dogan.

The legislation cleared the House 148-1.  Last year several amendments were added to the proposal and it failed to pass out of the House, but this version of the bill has no amendments.

Its supporters include the Missouri Petroleum Marketers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, Empower Missouri, and the Missouri Catholic Conference.

House Committee votes to let felons work where alcohol and lottery tickets are sold

A House committee has voted to allow felons in Missouri to work in businesses that sell alcohol and lottery tickets.

Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 1468 would bar the state from prohibiting felons from selling alcohol only because they have been guilty of a felony, and from keeping someone convicted of a crime from selling lottery tickets.  It would also lift the requirement that employers with liquor licenses notify the state of any employees with felony convictions.

“I term this an employer freedom bill/criminal justice reform bill because it does two things:  it lessens the regulations and requirements on employers and it helps give prior felons a second chance,” said bill sponsor, Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville).

Toalson Reisch told the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice her county, Boone, has the lowest unemployment rate in the state at less than two percent, and employers struggle to find enough workers.

“We need to give these felons jobs so they do not recidivate,” said Toalson Reisch.  “You can go into Casey’s and they can’t even hire you as a prior felon to make donuts and pizza in the back because they sell lottery tickets in the front.”

ACLU Legislative and Policy Director Sara Baker said the legislation is, “an excellent step towards giving folks a chance at getting back on their feet after incarceration.”

“The biggest predictor of recidivism is if you can get a job or not when you’re out from incarceration, and so the more we can do to lower barriers to getting back to employment, the better chance we have for true criminal justice reform in this state,” said Baker.

Last year the proposal advanced well through the legislative process but became bogged down when it was attached to other legislation.  Toalson Reisch is optimistic about its chances of becoming law this year because it is being debated early in the session and because it continues to have broad, bipartisan support.  She hopes to keep the bill free of other language so it can stand on its own.

The committee voted unanimously to advance the bill.  If approved by a second committee it will be considered by the full House.

Sweeping criminal justice reform package prepared for consideration

The House Speaker has said criminal justice reform is a priority in the remaining weeks of the session, and a bill containing several proposed reforms has just been compiled.  It has the backing of a man made famous by President Donald Trump earlier this year.

Representative Shamed Dogan (left, in red tie) listens as Matthew Charles talks about his release under the federal First Step Act, and his support for HCB 2, the Missouri First Step Act. (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Committee Bill 2, also being called the Missouri First Step Act, was assembled by the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice.  It is a compilation of several individual bills, some of which have already been passed by the House.

Trump featured Matthew Charles during his State of the Union Address.  Charles is the first person released from prison under the federal First Step Act, a federal reform bill signed into law by Trump in December.

In 1996 Charles was sentenced to 35 years in prison for selling crack cocaine.  In prison he turned his life around and earned an early release in 2016.  Though he was living a productive life, a court decision overturned his release and sent him back to prison until he was released under the First Step Act.

He’s excited about a provision in HCB 2 that would let judges ignore mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes in Missouri.

“It would allow the probation officer as well as the judge to make an assessment on the amount of time that needed to be imposed on somebody for that crime, or the amount of time they will actually serve for that offense, whereas rehabilitation has been taken away from prison for a long time,” said Charles.

The stand-alone mandatory minimum sentences legislation, House Bill 113 sponsored by Representative Cody Smith (R-Carthage), has been sent to the Senate and awaits a committee hearing.

HCB 2 will be carried by the committee’s chairman, Representative Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin), who has been a proponent of criminal justice reform during his five years in the House.

“These measures are all evidence-based.  They will all help us save enormous amounts of taxpayer money while also improving public safety, and they’ll give people who’ve made mistakes in their lives a chance to be treated with dignity while incarcerated and to have more of a chance of rebuilding their lives whenever they get out,” said Dogan.

HCB 2 would apply the state’s law restricting the use of restraints on pregnant offenders to county or city jails.  That bars the use of restraints on a woman in the third trimester of pregnancy and through 48-hours after delivery while they’re being transported except in extraordinary circumstances, which must be documented and reviewed.

Representative Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-Arnold) sponsors that legislation (House Bill 1122).  She said it’s about the safety of those offenders, but also of their babies.

“It’s making sure that when women are in labor, when women are in advanced stages of pregnancy, and when they have really no risk of harm that we’re really treating people as people and that we’re being appropriate as well,” said Coleman.  “It’s not about trying to be lax on people who have committed crimes.  They’re paying their costs, but a pregnant woman is very vulnerable and we want to make sure that she and her child are delivered safely.”

Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (at podium) speaks about her portion of HCB 2, the Missouri First Step Act (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Another piece of HCB 2 coming from a bill sponsored by Coleman (House Bill 920) would require that feminine hygiene products are available to women being held in the state’s prisons or on state charges in county and city jails.

“That is not an issue that I expected to be tackling but you find out certain things and you think, ‘How is it possible that as a state we’re not providing adequate hygiene supplies to those who are in our care and custody?’” said Coleman.

Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) sponsored House Bill 189, to allow people convicted of felonies to work in certain businesses that sell alcohol or lottery tickets, such as grocery or convenience stores.  That is also included in HCB 2.

“Where I’m from in Boone County we have 1.5-percent unemployment.  This is the second lowest in the country.  We cannot find enough employees.  We would like to put these felons to work,” said Toalson Reisch.  “We need them to avoid recidivism and make better lives for themselves and their families.”

Two of the other pieces of HCB 2 would restrict the use of drug and alcohol testing by privately operated probation supervisors (House Bill 80Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis); and would keep courts from putting people in jail for failing to pay the costs associated with prior jail time (House Bill 192Bruce DeGroot, R-Chesterfield).  Both of those stand-alone bills have been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

HCB 2 includes language to allow for the early parole of certain inmates over the age of 65 (House Bill 352, Tom Hannegan, R-St. Charles); to stop the confiscation of assets from a person who hasn’t been convicted of a crime (House Bill 444, Dogan); and to prohibit discriminatory policing (House Bill 484, Dogan).

HCB 2 awaits a hearing by a House committee before it can be sent to the full chamber for debate.

Earlier stories on two of the bills that are part of HCB 2:

House votes to prevent jailing of Missourians for failing to pay jail bills (HB 192)

Missouri House endorses elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes (House Bill 113)

Missouri legislature honors sheriff, 1st trooper killed in line of duty, as nation honors police

The state legislature has voted to memorialize two law enforcement officers fatally shot in 1933 by naming sections of Interstate 70 for them.

Missouri Highway Patrol Sergeant Ben Booth (left) and Boone County Sheriff Roger Isaac Wilson

Highway Patrol Sergeant Benjamin Booth was the first member of the Missouri State Highway Patrol to be killed in the line of duty.  He and Boone County Sheriff Roger Isaac Wilson were killed by two men they had stopped at the intersection of Highways 40 and 63.

On June 14, 1933, Booth was on a day off when Wilson called him in to help set up a roadblock as part of an effort to catch two men who robbed a bank in Mexico earlier that day.  The two men they stopped were not the robbers but were armed, and when their vehicle was stopped they shot the two law enforcement officers.  Wilson, 43, died at the scene.  Booth, 37, died on the way to a hospital.

Senate Bill 999 would designate I-70 in Columbia from Rangeline Street to Business Loop 70 the “Sergeant Benjamin Booth Memorial Highway,” and would make I-70 from Highway 63 to Rangeline the “Sheriff Roger I. Wilson Memorial Highway.”  The House finalized passage of that bill last week, ahead of National Police Week.

It was sponsored by Columbia senator Caleb Rowden (R) and carried in the House by Hallsville Republican Cheri Toalson Reisch.

The Missouri State Capitol’s dome is illuminated in blue through the month of May to honor Missouri law enforcement officers who gave their lives in the line of duty.

“These men were killed in cold blood in Boone County … and it is our duty to honor these men especially in light of law enforcement memorial month,” said Toalson Reisch.

Wilson is the grandfather of former Missouri Governor Roger Wilson, whose father was 15 when Sheriff Wilson was killed.  He told House Communications the recognition will mean a lot to the Wilson and Booth families.

“I think the recognition on the highways will probably mean more to the families than anybody else but I think it’ll also mean something to our community, so I’m glad that this is taking place,” said the former governor.

Kelly Allen of Springfield, Illinois, is the granddaughter of Ben Booth’s widow.  She says her grandmother and others often talked about the kind of man he was.

“He was an honest, good, working man, family man, and he was an honorable trooper,” said Allen.  “I’m just really honored and thrilled.  I know my mother and my grandmother would be so pleased that people still remember.”

Allen said when Booth was killed her grandmother struggled to raise the couple’s 7-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.

“No safety net, no social security – of course that wasn’t invented yet – no pension, nothing.  The patrol was very good to her as what they could do but being during The Depression, everybody was having hard times,” said Allen.

Wilson said a lot has changed in law enforcement since his grandfather was the sheriff.

“We have lost the era when police officers of all stripes could actually be protectors, and almost parents, of our children – bringing somebody home and informing a parent instead of taking them down to the station and booking them is probably out the window because of all the liability now and the sensitivity around law enforcement.  I feel that’s a lost, constructive thing for society,” said Wilson.

SB 999 has been sent to the governor to await his attention.

The murders of Sheriff Wilson and Sergeant Booth triggered a massive manhunt including the use of roadblocks and airplanes.  Authorities eventually caught up to the two men responsible.  One of them was later hung in one of the last state executions by hanging in Missouri.  The other man, who testified against his partner, spent 12 years in state prison before being paroled.  He moved to Iowa, married and had four children, and his sentence was eventually commuted.

Missouri House proposes repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law

The Missouri House has proposed repealing the state’s prevailing wage law.  Backers say the bill will allow more public works projects to move forward.  Opponents say it will lower wages and drive more people onto public assistance programs.

Representative Jeffery Justus (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Missouri’s prevailing wage law sets a minimum salary that must be paid to individuals working on public projects, such as the construction or repair of bridges, school buildings, and fire stations.  If House Bills 1729, 1621, and 1436 pass, bidders on such projects would pay the state or federal minimum wage, whichever is higher.

The bills are being carried on the House Floor by Representative Jeffery Justus (R-Branson).  He is one of those who say eliminating the prevailing wage would allow public tax dollars to accomplish more in any given project because the law artificially inflates the wages paid to workers.

“Imagine our state as we go into the future being able to, at the same cost of building a road for 100 miles, be able to build 110 miles; imagine being able to repair 11 bridges for the same cost for what you can [repair] 10 bridges for now.  Imagine school buildings – being able to build where get an extra four or five rooms for what we’re paying for less now.  Imagine a sewer plant having the capacity of 5-million gallons being able to do 5-million 500-thousand gallons for the same amount of money,” said Justus.

Democrats argued that repealing prevailing wage would cause workers to receive less in wages and benefits.  St. Louis representative Karla May, a member of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), said that law exists for a reason.

“The reason why the government had to step in to create prevailing wage is because of the greed of companies and contractors not willing to pay workers and not willing to maintain good working conditions,” said May.  “The only reason laws exist is because we have bad actors.”

Representative Doug Beck (D-St. Louis), a pipefitter for the UA Local 562, told lawmakers that voting to repeal the prevailing wage law would be “foolish.”

Representative Karla May (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“You’re telling your constituents – especially your construction constituents – that you want them to make less money.  That is what will happen; that is a fact.  They will also have less healthcare.  Job fatalities go up.  Safety issues go up – they all go up.  That’s what happens.  Less pensions; we’ll be paying for this through the state some way or another  way,” said Beck.

Republican Cheri Toalson Reisch (Hallsville), who worked as the city clerk and later mayor of Hallsville, said prevailing wage is not a union vs. non-union issue.

“This is a taxpayer issue.  I don’t care if you’re a union representative or not.  That has nothing to do with this bill,” said Reisch.  “I’ve spent almost my entire life being a taxpayer watchdog.  I have personally done millions upon millions and millions of water, sewer, street, and building construction projects that had to go prevailing wage.  I can tell you it does add 30-percent to the cost to my taxpayers.”

The House voted 89-62 to send the bill to the Senate.  Last year a similar proposal was sent to the Senate but that chamber failed to pass it.