House votes to offer lifetime orders of protection to domestic abuse victims

      The House wants victims of domestic abuse to be able to get lifetime orders of protection against their abusers.  That would be possible under a bill sent to the Senate this week.

      Orders of protection are generally only effective for one year.  House Bill 744 would allow a judge, after a review of the case, to issue one for the lifetime of the abuser.

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      It is sponsored by former Department of Public Safety Director and former Joplin Police Chief, Representative Lane Roberts (R-Joplin).

      “I spent a great deal of my life having to look women in the eye and explain to them why I could not do what I knew needed to be done to help them, and I had to leave them living in fear and could not put a stop to it.  Finally I find myself in a position to actually do something about it,” said Roberts.  “If I never do anything more in this body than pass this particular bill I will still have made a contribution that I’ll take home and feel good about.”

      Under the bill a judge considering whether an order should last for a lifetime would consider the evidence of the case; the history of abuse, stalking, and threatening; an abuser’s criminal record; previous orders of protection; and whether the respondent has violated probation or parole, or previous orders of protection.

      Lane said the women who bravely came to testify on his bill shared stories of horrific abuse that had continued for years.

      “26-week pregnant women being beaten with a shovel, women who were sexually abused in a hospital while they were medicated, ex-fiancées being shot and paralyzed, women beaten so badly that they have to have facial reconstruction,” said Roberts.

      “The victims of this find themselves going to court every single year when it goes on and on.  In one case one of these victims has been to court 68 times in nine years,” said Roberts. 

      Kansas City representative Mark Ellebracht (D) is an attorney who has counseled women who are experiencing abuse.  He said it is more than frustrating to know that they must go back to court every year to deal with the case.

Representative Mark Ellebracht (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “Often when they go back to court, their abuser [can represent himself], which means he gets to cross-examine her and ask her very sensitive, very personal questions and harass her again in front of a court because of the way the system works.  This bill is designed to fix that,” said Ellebracht.  “It’s a very, very good bill.”  

      The bill would also allow courts to include pets in dealing with domestic abuse.  This would include awarding possession of a pet and considering abuse or threatened abuse of a pet in making decisions in the case.  Legislators said often abusers threaten or harm a pet in an effort to control or terrorize a victim.

       The House voted 151-2 to send that legislation to the Senate.

Earlier stories:

Lifetime order of protection would be possible under House proposal

Representative, former police chief, proposes tighter stalking laws

Pronouncers:

Ellebracht = EL-eh-brockt

Domestic abusers could not legally have guns under House proposal

      Those under a full order of protection or convicted of a crime of domestic violence would no longer be able to have or buy guns under a proposal now in the Missouri House.  Supporters say the bill would mirror Missouri law to federal law and fix a gap unintentionally created by 2016 legislation.

Representative Ron Hicks (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      House Bill 473 would require a court, when issuing an order of protection, to order that the subject of that order not be able to have firearms.  Law enforcement would be notified, to make sure the order is followed.  Those convicted of 2nd degree stalking and 4th degree assault would also not be able to possess a firearm.

      “This bill … is not about taking the 2nd Amendment rights away from you, to bear arms.  It’s about protecting the women and children and even men in our state.  This is an issue I believe all of us can agree on,” said bill sponsor Ron Hicks (R-St. Charles).

      House Bill 473 would address an issue with Missouri state law that was exacerbated with the passage of Senate Bill 656 in 2016.

      “This is something that [the House] has tried to tackle for years.  In 2016 I sat in this body when a promise was made by our former speaker … to have this put back in.  It was stricken out of a bill and all I want to do is put it back in,” said Hicks.

      Judy Kile has testified in past years on previous versions of this language.  For six years she has been the Executive Director of COPE, a shelter in Lebanon.  She told the House Committee on General Laws her twin sister was murdered by her abusive husband. 

She said at her sister’s funeral many people told her they wished there was something they could do.  She told lawmakers, “I’m gonna put that on you all.  There’s something you can do.  You can get the guns away during that time that’s so volatile.”

      Kile said that in her work at the shelter she has seen the patterns to domestic violence.  She said for a variety of reasons, a victim often goes back to an abuser a number of times even after an order of protection or conviction has been secured. 

      “If I took a poll I would say that 90-percent of the people – it’s women, mostly, in our shelter – that come into our shelter have had a gun held to their head in their home, and sometimes, a gun held to their children’s head.”

      The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence has been pushing for passage of this change for years.  Public Policy Director Jennifer Carter Dochler said even before SB 656 in 2016, Missouri had not mirrored the federal Violence Against Women Act.  It gave direction to judges and law enforcement about removing guns from the hands of abusers. 

      What lawmakers unintentionally struck in 2016 had denied those under orders of protection or convicted of domestic assault when they applied for concealed carry permits.  Under the 2016 law those permits are no longer needed.

      “We’re very appreciative of Representative Hicks’ leadership to close a loophole in Missouri’s law and to protect victims of domestic violence,” said Carter Dochler.

      Hicks said following the hearing he spoke to a representative of the NRA and he believes that organization will issue a letter of support for the bill.

      The committee has not voted on the legislation.

Lifetime order of protection would be possible under House proposal

Victims of domestic abuse would be able to get lifetime orders of protection from abusers under a bill offered in the Missouri House.

      Missouri law allows for orders of protection that last for one year.  That means victims who want continued protection must go back to court annually to seek extensions.  This forces them to repeatedly face their abuser and relive what they went through.  Representative Lane Roberts (R-Joplin), former chief of the Joplin Police and director of the Department of Public Safety, says that’s wrong.

Lisa Saylor told House members this represents the paperwork she has accumulated since 2011, in dealing with the court system while working to protect herself from an abuser.

      “There are people who deal with abusive friends, ex-friends, ex-boyfriends, family members, and they never get respite,” said Roberts.  Try to envision what it would be like to have to deal with something like this for two or three years and every year you’ve got to go back and get a protection order, repeatedly.  Then it dries up for a couple of years.  The protection order expires, the individual comes back, takes up where they left off, the police are called.  You get an officer who’s never heard of this before or you go in front of a judge who’s never seen it before, and the whole nightmare starts over.”

      “I can tell you from personal experience that when you have to look a woman in the eye and explain to her why the law won’t protect her, it is very difficult, and they shouldn’t have to live that way,” said Roberts.  “I think this is frankly a fairly significant step to correct what I think should be common sense.”

      Janice Thompson Gehrke is a survivor and now works with and for victims.  She told the House Committee on Judiciary people often ask her why they shake when they have to go to court, including the repeated appearances to renew an order of protection.

      “What’s happening is your body’s natural response of an adrenaline dump telling you, you are in danger.  You’re in danger because you’re putting yourself in the same place as a person that is a real danger to you.  In spite of every instinct in your body telling you to run, here you are doing what you have been told are the necessary steps to keep legal protections for yourself in place,” said Thompson Gehrke. 

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Lisa Saylor told the committee that since 2011 she has spent more than $45,000 in court costs, in part from having to repeatedly renew orders of protection.  If she doesn’t retain an attorney she runs the risk that her abuser could personally cross-examine her in a courtroom.

      “I was exhausted from my fight mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, just trying to stay safe from my abuser.  How much could one system put a victim through and expect them to survive this journey?” asked Saylor.

      The legislation, House Bill 744, would allow an order of protection to be in place through the life of the abuser.  The committee has not voted on it.

Pronunciations:

Gehrke = (GER-kee)

Representative, former police chief, proposes tighter stalking laws

      A state representative frustrated by years of having to tell stalking victims he couldn’t help them is sponsoring a bill to toughen Missouri statute.

      Retired Joplin police chief and former Department of Public Safety director Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) says technology has outpaced Missouri law.

Representative Lane Roberts (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 01-29-2020)

      “The use of technology – computers, tracking devices, cell phones – to be able to stalk and terrorize victims has grown exponentially over the last decade and our statute simply does not address it,” said Roberts. 

      “Having to look somebody who’s the victim of stalking in the eye and tell them why you can’t do things to help them out, knowing full well that they’re being terrorized by people, is a pretty uncomfortable and frustrating position,” said Roberts.  “Finally, frankly I’m in a position to maybe do something about it.”

      How Missouri law dealing with orders of protection defines stalking only covers the following of a person or unwanted communication.  Roberts’ proposal, House Bill 292, would broaden it to cover things like the use of cell phones, GPS, cameras, or third parties to observe, threaten, or communicate about or to someone.

      The House Committee on Crime Prevention heard from Janice Thompson Gehrke. She about her experience being harassed by her ex-husband, who is now in prison for shooting his ex-fiancé and her boyfriend.  This included sending his roommate to her workplace multiple times on the pretense of conducting business, having friends monitor her on social media, and using her information to have her phone spammed with contest and prize offers.

      “Now this may not seem like a big deal to some, but when you’re dealing with an abuser like him, you know there is a message being sent:  ‘I am watching you, and short of living your life completely off the grid, you’re not going to get away from me.’”

      She spoke of another victim who is being harassed through threats on social media, but the law does not allow her to seek an order of protection because, as she put it, “it’s not technically him.”

      “What we survivors ask is that you give us as many tools as possible to help set up as many roadblocks [as possible] preventing access to us so we have a chance to escape alive,” said Thompson Gehrke.

      Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence Public Policy Director Jennifer Carter Dochler said her organization backs HB 292.

      “Survivors deserve safety so we must continue to keep pace with the ways offenders find loopholes such as those that are remedied in House Bill 292.  We’re very appreciative of Representative Roberts, who filed this legislation after hearing from constituents the barriers they were experiencing with applying for a stalking order of protection,” said Carter Dochler.  “Our statute needs to be revised to keep up with the technological advances abusers have found to stalk their victims.”

      Roberts has also filed a bill (House Bill 744) that would allow victims to seek a lifetime order of protection against an individual.  Orders of protection are only valid for a year at a time.  That has been referred to a committee.

      He said throughout his career he was frustrated many times that he couldn’t do anything to help a victim of stalking and abuse, but one case frequently comes to mind in which a mother and elementary school-aged child were being abused.

      “It was so outrageous, and this individual was so convinced that because he was a man, it was ‘my way or the highway.’  I think what I said to him probably could be interpreted as a threat,” said Roberts.  “That kind of frustration, I think, exists for every police officer.  Every officer who knows that this victim is depending on them and we’re letting them down.”

      The committee has not voted on HB 292.

Prefiled bill aims to make domestic violence victims’ escape from abusers easier

A bill prefiled for the 2020 session of the Missouri General Assembly aims to make it easier for victims of domestic violence to escape abusive environments.

Representative Chris Dinkins (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 1300 would allow individuals, with the assistance of domestic violence shelter staff, to get free copies of birth certificates.

“Individuals who flee the abusive situation often times don’t have the opportunity to grab important documents that they may need later on.  A lot of times they just leave with the clothes on their backs,” said Representative Chris Dinkins (R-Annapolis), the sponsor of House Bill 1300.

“In order to help them get back on their feet the [resource centers] have to try to help them get jobs and get their kids in school, and all these things require a birth certificate,” said Dinkins.  “If you don’t have your driver’s license you need a birth certificate to get your driver’s license.  If you don’t have a bank account, you need some form of identification to set up a bank account … nowadays businesses do direct deposits for paychecks, so you need a bank account in order to receive your payment.”

The Missouri Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence’s Public Policy Director, Jennifer Carter Dochler, said such vital documents provide abusers with another way to control their victims.  Withholding them can make it more difficult for a victim to leave.

“Other times we see an abusive partner intentionally destroying those materials.  They know it’s going to be a difficulty for an individual so they intentionally destroy them,” said Carter Dochler.

Having access to birth certificates would be key to ensuring that victims escaping abusive situations don’t have to return to them.

“Once they do take that important step to get away from [an abuser] we need to do everything that we can to keep them from falling back into that trap,” said Dinkins.

Domestic violence shelters in Missouri have been covering the cost of birth certificates for clients who need them but those shelters have limited resources and the cost is becoming an issue for them.

Dinkins offered similar legislation in the 2019 session and it nearly passed, despite being introduced on the last day for filing bills.  Lawmakers heard then that the $15 cost for a new copy of a birth certificate can be prohibitive to victims, who often have little or no money and need that very document in order to get a job.  It is a further burden when they must pay that $15 for each child under their care.

Dinkins said what slowed the bill’s progress in 2019 its estimated cost to the state, which she said was grossly overestimated.

“[The state is] already producing these birth certificates, it’s just the fact that we would no longer be charging the organizations to have them produce these … but they were saying it was going to take two to eight new full-time employees, and I don’t understand how it would take eight new full-time employees to do something that they’re already doing,” said Dinkins.

Dinkins said helping people escaping abuse get back into the work force would further offset any cost the bill could create for the state.

The 2019 bill passed out of the House and out of a Senate committee but was not voted on by the full Senate.  Dinkins is optimistic that this year’s earlier start means the legislation has a better chance of reaching Governor Mike Parson (R).

The legislative session begins January 8.

Governor signs bill to let domestic violence, sexual violence, stalking, victims break leases

Victims of domestic violence would have an easier time getting away from their abusers under bills signed into law this week by Governor Mike Parson (R).

Representative Jim Neely (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bills 243 & 544 would allow a person who has been, is, or is in imminent danger of being a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking to break a lease without penalty.

Often individuals trying to get away from abuse must find a new place to live, but if their name is on a lease that can present an obstacle.

“We hear from advocates and victims on a regular basis that they don’t feel safe where they’re living, they’re not able to get out of their lease,” said Jennifer Carter Dochler, Public Police Director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.  “They’re faced with two choices:  either continuing to live there where they don’t feel safe, or breaking their lease and then having a more difficult time getting another lease and having a financial burden due to that.”

Representative Jim Neely (R-Cameron) said he has owned properties in the past.  He said this new law could help some tenants who find themselves in dangerous positions.

“You don’t want problems within an apartment building to affect other people also, so it’s really a win-win for the person who’s being, so-to-speak, victimized and then the other tenants within a complex,” said Neely.

The legislation also keeps victims from being denied tenancy or evicted because of their status as a victim or potential victim.  Carter Dochler said this is something else that happens often.

“We recognize that landlords want to be able to protect their property and premises, yet sometimes it’s actually putting victims in a not safe circumstance.  We feel like the provisions that were put into this legislation balance both the safety needs of victims and some protections for landlords,” said Carter Dochler.

She said Missourians who need to utilize this new law, or otherwise need help dealing with an abusive situation, can find that help at domestic violence shelters throughout the state.

“That’s part of the role of the advocate, when they’re safety planning with an individual and weighing their options about relocating, is being familiar with laws such as these,” said Carter Dochler.  “Most people in the general public are probably not going to be aware that this law exists until they are connected with a service provider who’s knowledgeable about it and can share that information with them and help them navigate that process.”

Carter Dochler said while there are other issues she wants to see addressed, this is the latest in a series of laws passed by the Missouri General Assembly that will help people dealing with abuse.

“We are incredibly grateful for how much support we have received from the legislature on issues related to rape and abuse.  We had a very successful legislative session in 2018, and although the housing bill – House Bill 243 – is the only piece of priority legislation that passed in 2019, it is, for us, a huge success,” said Carter Dochler.  “This is a piece of legislation that advocates and survivors have been asking for, for many years.”

HBs 243 & 544 also specify what evidence a landlord must accept as proof of a domestic violence or stalking situation, and allow a landlord to access a fee for early termination of a lease.

The language also clarifies Missouri law against the nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images, better known as “revenge porn.”

The legislation becomes effective August 28.

Earlier story:

Bills would let victims of domestic or sexual violence or stalking get out of leases

Proposal would give state law enforcement, judges power to take guns from domestic abusers

House lawmakers are being asked to consider an effort late in the session to let judges take guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.

Representative Tracy McCreery (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

State law does not prevent those with full orders of protection against them from possessing firearms.  Federal law does, but that means federal agents have to enforce and prosecute such violations.  Advocates say that leaves many Missouri victims of domestic violence in terror, and many have been murdered, because their abusers were allowed to keep their guns.

House Bill 960 would match the state law to federal so that state judges could require that abusers not be allowed to possess or purchase firearms, and so that state authorities could enforce those orders.

The bill is sponsored by St. Louis representative Tracy McCreery (D).

“Adoption of this federal standard would still allow for constitutional carry, but would prevent perpetrators of domestic violence from owning a firearm,” McCreery told the House Committee on General Laws.  “I think that it’s important to empower local officials and believe that this bill’s passage would enhance our ability to assist victims.”

Colleen Coble, Director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said Missouri needs a state law against gun possession by those convicted of violence against family members, and those who have an order of protection against them after a full court hearing.

“As a result of that, 57 Missourians – women – paid for that with their lives in the last year,” said Coble.  “This is not a Second Amendment issue.  This is a homicide prevention issue.  This is about public safety, and this is about accountability for those who are known by law enforcement officers to be the most likely to continue to escalate and use violence against their victims:  those who harm family members.”

The committee heard emotional testimony from several who had lost loved ones to domestic abusers who used firearms.  Carla West, the Court Advocate at New House Domestic Violence Shelter in Kansas City, said her sister was shot to death by her husband in 2013.  He had prior convictions for domestic assault.

“My brother-in-law, other than being abusive to my sister, was pretty much a law-abiding citizen,” said West.  “I believe with all my heart that if there would have been a law preventing him from having a gun he would have thought twice about having one, and my sister might still be here today.”

McCreery, who said she owns guns herself, said this issue stems from the passage of Senate Bill 656 in 2016, which allowed for constitutional carry in Missouri, effectively replacing the concealed carry permit system that had been in place.

“Within that permitting process for concealed carry was where law enforcement had the ability to deny someone a firearm due to a past conviction, so when we wrote that law and went from concealed carry to constitutional carry, the unintentional loophole that was created is we no longer had that permitting process, so that’s the loophole that was created, and I do believe it was unintentional,” McCreery said.

The legislation has Republican backing.  As Dardenne Prairie Republican Ron Hicks told McCreery, “As one who, as you know, would definitely get on you about something [if I thought you were violating Second Amendment] rights on, I can agree with you on this.  I think it’s a loophole that might’ve been overlooked,” said Hicks.

No one spoke against the bill in the committee hearing.

Previous years’ versions of the bill have been sponsored by a Republican.  Each was heard by a House committee but did not advance.

With only four weeks remaining in the session, backers are hopeful that the language of HB 960 can be added to other legislation that is closer to passage.

The Committee has not voted on HB 960.

Story on last year’s legislation: 

Bipartisan House bills would close ‘loophole’ that allows domestic abusers to have guns

House considering free birth certificates for individuals escaping domestic violence

House lawmakers are being asked to consider another measure meant to help victims of domestic violence get away from abusers and move on with their lives.

Representative Chris Dinkins (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Often individuals who have left a home where abuse occurs have left behind birth certificates, as well as other documents and identification that they must get new copies of but cannot without those certificates.  The fee to get a new copy is often a burden to a survivor faced with numerous other expenses while trying to start down a new path in life, according to Representative Chris Dinkins (R-Annapolis).

“To come up with $15 per kid to get them enrolled in school is sometimes a pretty [significant] hardship on them,” said Dinkins.

Dinkins is sponsoring House Bill 1135, which would allow people working with a shelter to get free copies of birth certificates.

She was presented with the proposal by the Southeast Missouri Family Violence Council.  Assistant Director Tracy Carroll told the House Committee on Children and Families that abusers often use vital documents in their efforts to control a victim.

“The abuser either burns or throws away or keeps in a lock box their driver’s license, social security, their birth certificate, and so that’s a form of abuse – control, and so what I found was we had to start from the very bottom with them and try to get their identification,” said Carroll.

Carroll said most of the women that come into their shelter need this kind of help.  Last year that included 200 of the 263 people that came in, yet the shelter, which is a nonprofit agency, had no budget for securing new copies of documents.

“We scrounged that money … we were digging through our purses because everybody needs a birth certificate.  They can’t get a job, they can’t send their kids to school,” said Carroll.

In one case Carroll said a mother in the shelter had eight children.  At $15 dollars apiece, that was a particular hardship for her as she tried to get them enrolled in school while escaping an abusive situation.

Carroll said any cost the State of Missouri sees would be offset by victims being able to get their lives on track.

“They’ll be able to be employed, they’ll be able to get an education, they’ll be able to vote,” said Carroll.  “Most of the women in our shelter have not been allowed to vote.”

Committee chair Sheila Solon (R-St. Joseph) said people escaping abuse have good reason for not having these documents on hand.

“I know when I’ve had constituents call my office and it’s a domestic violence situation, I always tell them, ‘Don’t go back home.  Get to the shelter,’ so that’s probably, most of the time, why they don’t have their documents,” said Solon.  “They’re doing the wise thing and not returning and trying to retrieve those.”

An individual would have to provide documentation from a shelter to prove that he or she is involved with such an agency.  The bill would only allow the fee for each eligible individual’s birth certificate to be waived one time.

The committee has not voted on HB 1135.

Bills would let victims of domestic or sexual violence or stalking get out of leases

When a person is trying to get out of a domestic violence situation one of their needs is a place to live, sometimes for children as well as their self.  If that person is under a lease agreement, property owners are under no legal obligation to release that person.  This could have lasting repercussions both financially and in finding another place to live.

Representative Jean Evans (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bills 243, 544, and 683 Sponsored by Representatives Jim Neely (R-Cameron), Jean Evans (R-Manchester), and Raychel Proudie (D-Ferguson), are aimed at helping such individuals.

“This legislation would go a long way to help victims get a safe place to live,” said Heather Silverman with the National Council of Jewish Women – St. Louis.

Those bills would prevent anyone at risk of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking from being evicted, being denied tenancy, or violating a lease agreement as a result of that risk.  A person who was a victim or in imminent danger of being victimized would be able to use that as a defense if a landlord takes them to court.  The bills would establish what evidence a landlord must accept as proof of such situations.

Kate Heinen with the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault told the House Committee on Children and Families, “In 2014 … 23,000 women and children were denied shelter [in Missouri] because the shelters were full, and shelters are often full because people arrive in one and then realize that there’s going to be a much longer trajectory before they can access safe housing because of their disrupted rental history, because there’s no laws to protect them.

Representative Raychel Proudie (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Allowing someone to be resolved of their lease agreement when they show some supporting documentation from a local program agency – an order of protection, a court record, anything that’s listed in the bill – is profound.  It’s huge.  It’s going to save lives,” said Heinen.

Heinen said individuals attempting to escape domestic violence often find it difficult to find a new place to live after facing problems getting out of a former residence.

“Either an eviction judgement on their record as a result of experiencing violence and being seen as a troubled tenant, or their rental history looks spotty because they’re seen as a troubled tenant as a result of experiencing violence, and then it makes it impossible for them to rent in their city or other places in their state,” said Heinen.

Representative Proudie’s legislative assistant, Holly Bickmeyer, told the committee she was 14 when she lost her mother due to domestic violence.  She thinks legislation like these bills could have made a difference in her life.

Representative Jim Neely (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I feel like if something like this had been in place to where we would have been able to leave, it’s entirely possible that I would still have my mother today,” said Bickmeyer.  “Speaking as someone who has lived through that, I can tell you how much of a help something like this would have been.”

The committee held hearings on HBs 243 and 544 on Tuesday morning.  There was no opposition voiced.  Daryl Dewe, a registered lobbyist for the St. Louis Apartment Association, joined those testifying in support.

“Our landlords, most of all, we want our tenants to be safe and secure,” said Dewe.  “If that means, in a situation like this, helping them to a safe space more easily, then it’s the right thing to do.”

The bills would allow landlords to impose a termination fee when a tenant or lessee wants to terminate a lease early.

The committee has not yet voted on HBs 243 and 544.

Bipartisan House bills would close ‘loophole’ that allows domestic abusers to have guns

A bipartisan effort to change Missouri gun laws aims to keep domestic abusers from having firearms.

Representatives Donna Lichtenegger (left) and Tracy McCreery co-present their bills aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of individuals with a history of domestic violence. (photo; Chris Moreland, Missouri House Communications)

House Bills 2276 and 1849 are sponsored by Representatives Donna Lichtenegger (R-Jackson) and Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis), respectively.  Both bills would expand the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm to include those who have been convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or who have a full order of protection against them.

Representative Lichtenegger said the issue is personal for her because of her own experience with domestic violence.

“When I was four I can vividly remember my mother getting beaten nightly by my drunken father.  Because of that I ended up in a children’s home because he threatened to throw acid in my face,” said Lichtenegger.  “When I was 15 or 16 – don’t remember the age, really, because I don’t remember the night very well – but someone came into my room and beat the crap out of my head.  There’s just no other way to put that.”

Both representatives say the bill would fill in a “loophole” in Missouri law created by the passage of Senate Bill 656 in 2016.  Under the state’s original concealed carry law, Missourians who were found guilty of a domestic violence misdemeanor or who were subject to an order of protection were denied concealed carry permits.  That prohibition was nullified by SB 656.  Federal law denies guns to those with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions or full orders of protection against them, but since Missouri law doesn’t, only federal agents and courts can pursue such cases in Missouri.

“This has been part of federal law since 1997 but the only place that it appeared in Missouri law prior to the enactment of SB 656 was in our CCW chapter, so when we passed 656 we kind of accidentally took those protections out,” said McCreery.  “This actually, truly is an issue that shouldn’t be about political party, so I hope the fact that we’ve worked together on this kind of symbolizes how this is just a good, sensible public policy.”

The bill was presented Tuesday night to the House Committee on General Laws.  Several advocates for domestic violence victims told lawmakers they strongly support the legislation.

Judy Kile, Executive Director of COPE, a shelter in Lebanon, told the committee her twin sister’s husband shot and killed her in a murder-suicide.  He had a history of domestic violence.

“Yesterday was our birthday but one of us isn’t here,” said Kile.  “We need to get the guns out of their hands if they are known to be domestic violence offenders.”

Carla Simpson, who works for New House Shelter in Kansas City, said her sister’s husband also shot her to death in a murder-suicide.

“My brother-in-law was pretty much a law-abiding citizen except for the domestic violence; except for the abuse he caused my sister and he had been to court and he had been convicted of domestic violence,” said Simpson.

She said if a judge had been able to order that her brother-in-law not be allowed to have guns, “I think that Mike would have thought twice about having guns in his house and my sister may still be alive today.  I’m here in her memory.”

Both bills also make gun possession illegal in Missouri for those who are unlawfully in the country or have renounced his or her citizenship.

No one spoke against the proposals in Tuesday night’s hearing.  The committee has not voted on either bill.  Last year similar legislation received a hearing by a House committee but that panel did not vote on it.