House logs 372 proposals on first day of filing for 2022 session

      Wednesday at the Missouri Capitol there was a sense of new energy in the air.  Christmas decorations were going up, the weather was that of a spring day, and most of all, new bills were dropping everywhere.  December 1 is a day when Missourians get a first look at what legislators will consider as the filing of bills for the 2022 legislative session began.

Representative Cyndi Buchheit-Courtway files a piece of legislation for the 2022 session. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “Prefiling day is basically a holiday if you’re an elected official down here in Jefferson City.  It’s a good day to be back in the building, it’s exciting.  You can kind of feel in the air that it’s almost time to get back into the swing of things,” said Representative Mark Sharp (D-Kansas City).

      Farmington Republican Dale Wright said it’s often better for legislation to be filed early, as that can give it a better chance of gaining traction early in the session and a better chance at passage.  That means a lot of proposals are brought in on day 1.

      “It’s amazing how many bills get filed.  I’m always amazed at all of the work that House Research and the analysts do.  They don’t get enough credit,” said Wright.

Click here to view the bills filed in the House for the 2022 legislative session.

      For some legislators there is some strategy involved in whether they want to put a proposal forward sooner or later.

      “I’ve spoken to other members that believe if they prefile something it gives the opposition a month to work on attacking that bill,” said Representative Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon)“I’m one that’s fully transparent.  People know what I’m going to file, they know where I stand on issues, and give them an extra month, I don’t care.  I just think that voters and the constituents need to know what work is being done in the interim, what work is going to be done in 2022.”

      Wright said Missourians should know that it’s a hectic day in the Capitol.

      “I truly believe that the people who are serving up here are serving for the right reasons, and that is to be advocates and be the voice of the people back home, and wo when we file these bills it’s usually for something that helps our constituents back home, but in general, also for the State of Missouri.”

      Prefiling can feel very different for House Democrats, who face a supermajority of Republicans.  Kansas City Democrat Ashley Aune said even when proposing legislation they know will be opposed, members of her caucus can be serving a purpose.  She said one piece of advice she has held onto came from fellow Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis).

Legislators can begin filing legislation for the coming session on December 1 of the preceding year. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “She tells me that filing a piece of legislation as a member of the superminority is like starting a conversation, and that’s what this is for us, especially with the bills that we know aren’t going to go anywhere.  It gives us a chance to start a conversation not only with our constituents to signal that we are working for them and doing the work that they sent us down here to do, it gives us an opportunity to have the conversation with our colleagues across the aisle and say, ‘Hey, this is a priority for me.  Where can we meet in the middle?’”

      Sharp said the enthusiasm of filing day is encouraging, but it’s also a reminder to be thoughtful in what is filed.

      “A lot of times people swing for the fences and a lot of times that’s just not feasible in most cases, especially as a member of the superminority.  Sometimes you have to just get some of the breadcrumbs that haven’t been picked up in the past,” said Sharp.

      Joplin Representative Lane Roberts (R) said he believes it’s important for each legislator to give consideration to not only their own bills, but what others are filing, and that includes those in the opposing party.

      “The fact is that that there’s an awful lot of people on that floor who are sincere.  They want to do the right thing, and when they file bills it’s because they believe that it has some meaning.  Some, maybe more than others, but none of it is meaningless, and whether you’re one side of the aisle or the other, I’ve found that people on the opposite side of the aisle from me sometimes say very smart things,” said Roberts.  “Listening to folks who are presenting the bill, listening to what they have to say, it’s changed my mind a time or two.  It has overcome some preconceived notions that while I may not intended to have it, it just happened.”

      On Wednesday in the House, 372 measures were filed for the 2022 session.  The session begins January 5.

Lawmaker to continue focus on domestic violence issues

      A lawmaker with decades of experience in law enforcement plans to file more legislation meant to help victims of domestic violence in ways he wished he could have during his career. 

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

      Representative Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) said in his career, including as Joplin’s Police Chief, he was often frustrated at seeing how abusers used the court system to continue to intimidate and persecute victims.

      “What you’re looking at is … my efforts to remedy things that I’ve seen go wrong, things that I believe have been wrong, and to do it in a way that doesn’t undermine the intent of a fair and due process,” said Roberts. 

      “Over the years I found myself dealing with a number of different circumstances wherein I truly thought the right thing to do in protecting the victim, frankly, was not provided for in law.  So I wound up having to explain to victims why I couldn’t do the things that the victim and I both knew were in their best interest.  I watched abusers and, in some cases, their representatives twist, manipulate, take advantage of loopholes, doing things that I think the law provided for but not by intent,” said Roberts.  “It was a result of trying to ensure that we treated both sides of the discussion fairly.  Someone who’s been accused of a crime is innocent until they’re proven guilty, so we do need to make that acknowledgement.  We do need to make sure that they receive due process.  But, if the end result is the other side of that equation is abused or treated unfairly, that doesn’t make any sense.  There’s no balance there.”

      Jennifer Carter Dochler with the Missouri Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence says the issues the bill would address are ones seen time and time again in cases throughout Missouri.

      “Individuals who are abusive are very good at finding any loophole in the protections that we’ve helped establish.  This bill is absolutely trying to address multiple loopholes that have been identified that prevent the court from doing their best at protecting victims.”

      Roberts proposes specifying that when a person receives notice from a court that a hearing will be held on an order of protection against them, that serves as notification of any orders the court issues on the date of that hearing.  He said this is because often a person who is the subject of an order of protection will violate it, then say in their defense that they didn’t attend the hearing and therefore didn’t know the order had been put in place.  He said this amounts to pleading ignorance, and case law has supported this defense.

      “What I’m trying to do is remove the ambiguity.  You know you’ve been charged.  You’ve been made aware of the hearing.  I think the presumption needs to be the person did, in fact, get notified, not accept the presumption that they didn’t,” said Roberts.

      Carter Dochler said by the time an order of protection hearing is held, a victim has, “already asked the court for safety, and so let’s try to reduce a burden that we have continued to hear, over the years, creates safety issues.”

      Another provision would allow victims to testify in court via video conferencing.  Carter Dochler said in addition to victims having to make time to go to court over and over, each time having to incur costs for things like travel and childcare, there are many safety concerns for them when testifying in court.  Allowing them to provide testimony over video would be a simple fix.

      “Their abusive partner is going to know exactly when they’re going to be there, what time.  Although some courts try to put safety precautions in place … there’s still a safety risk for someone parking, walking into the courthouse, having to wait, how they’re going to leave,” said Carter Dochler.

      Roberts called the video conferencing language one of the pieces of the bill he’s the most committed to, because he’s seen that victims can often be reluctant to testify.

      “It’s difficult to describe, for those of us who’ve never experienced it, what it must be like to be the victim of repeated, and in some cases, vile abuse, to have to sit in the same room with [the person responsible] and have their lawyer pick you apart or have them staring at you with the intent of intimidating you,” said Roberts.  “How many people don’t show up to court because they don’t want to experience that?  How much fear does that create in the mind of somebody who maybe had it in mind that they were going to go forward and then it comes down to the reality of facing somebody in the same room?”

      The bill would also specify that victims and their witnesses don’t have to reveal home or workplace addresses when testifying in court, unless the court deems it necessary.

      “In many cases abusers and wrongdoers will continue to do things that are abusive and wrong for the purpose of advancing their interests in court, and that includes intimidating, threatening, or physically harming witnesses and victims,” said Roberts.  “What we’re really talking about here is giving them some level of comfort that people won’t know where to find them if they step up and do the right thing.”

      A provision the Coalition specifically wanted would clarify that a court can order payment of attorney fees incurred by a victim before, throughout, and after a proceeding.  Carter Dochler said because the current statute includes the word, “or,” an attorney successfully argued in one case that the abuser wouldn’t have to cover fees for all of those time periods.

      “This is another instance where grammar does matter,” said Carter Dochler.  “The intention has always been that somebody could request the respondent to cover reasonable court fees … we’re taking this opportunity to clarify what the intention was.”

      Roberts said based on the response he’s gotten from advocates, he already plans to change some of the language he’s prepared.  In particular, he expects to amend a provision that would bar prosecutors from offering plea bargains to defendants facing certain levels of domestic violence charges. 

      “Maybe we overshot on that,” said Roberts. 

      Other pieces of this bill would require anyone convicted of domestic violence to pay $1,000 to a shelter in the same city or county as the victim; and require that when they are ordered to take a class on domestic violence, they must pay for it.

      In the 2021 session Roberts proposed other domestic violence statute changes that became law in June.  These allowed for orders of protection to be extended for up to a lifetime; covered pets under orders of protection; and expanded the definition of “stalking” to include the use of technology such as GPS and social media, or the use of third parties. 

      Roberts said those pieces of legislation drew something of a “fan following” in Missouri, and for good reason.

      “Many people understand that domestic violence is a real part of everyday life for some people, and hopefully folks have begun to realize that those of us who’ve never been in those situations really cannot understand how horrible it is to live in constant fear, and in the home that’s supposed to be your haven and your safe place,” said Roberts.  “I’ve just seen it for the better part of five decades and the things that we’re talking about here are those kind of individual elements that I feel I can do to maybe remedy some of that.”

      Carter Dochler said the Coalition is grateful for Roberts’ focus on these issues.

      “Representative Roberts is doing an amazing job listening directly from constituents in his community about the barriers they’re experiencing.  He’s also taking his prior law enforcement career and barriers he experienced and he’s trying to address those things, and he’s to be commended,” said Carter Dochler.

      Roberts plans to file this legislation on or after December 1, when prefiling of bills for the 2022 session begins.

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

House proposes Capitol security changes

      The Missouri House has passed a plan to make the Capitol safer for those who work and visit it. 

Representative Ron Hicks (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      One provision of House Bill 784 would allow the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tem to appoint marshals in their respective chambers.  These marshals would have at least five years of experience in law enforcement, be licensed as a peace officer, and have to have continued training as required by the Missouri Peace Officer Standards and Training commission.

      Bill sponsor Lane Roberts (R-Joplin), a former Joplin Police chief and former director of the Department of Public Safety, said the agencies responsible for Capitol security are “fragmented” and the legislature needs a security force that falls under its control. 

      “It’s sad that in this particular day and time we would have to do a thing like this, but given the environment that we unfortunately had to watch in Washington D.C. it’s a prudent move.  These individuals would be focused on the security of the two chambers and the membership,” said Roberts.

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

      Another provision would move control of the Capitol Police out of the Department of Public Safety and to a new Capitol Police Board.  Representative Ron Hicks (R-St. Charles) has been working on this plan for several years.  He shares Roberts’ concern that the public officials who work in the Capitol have no say in its security.

      “This is just one of those steps that we are taking forward to make sure that the safety and security of the people that visit this building, not to mention ourselves and our families that come to visit us, are safe and secure in this building.  As you know we’ve been left alone in this building as far as our security and our safety goes,” said Hicks.

      The new Capitol Police Board would be made up of members appointed by the House Speaker, the Senate President, the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, and the chair of the State Capitol Commission.

      The bill passed on a nearly unanimous vote, 155-3St. Louis representative Donna Baringer (D) and other Democrats backed the ideas.

      “Unfortunately during these trying times we need security and this will do just that for us as we sit here on this floor,” Baringer said.

      The proposal now goes to the Senate.

Pronunciations:

Baringer = (BARE-in-jerr)

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.

Capitol Security an Early Session Priority for House

      An ongoing discussion about security in the Missouri State Capitol continues next week when House committees will hold hearings on two bills.

      One would move control of the Capitol Police from the Department of Public Safety to a new Capitol Police Board, made up of members appointed by the House Speaker, the Senate President Pro Tem, the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, and the chair of the State Capitol Commission.  Another would allow the House Speaker and the Senate President to appoint marshals to provide security and other duties.

Representative Ron Hicks (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 05-14-2020)

      House Bill 785, which would create the Capitol Police Board, is sponsored by St. Charles Republican Ron Hicks.  He says legislators and other public officials in the Capitol have no control over the security.

      “Over the years Capitol Police just seems like it’s been kind of a neglected police department.  They’ve been the most underpaid department in, just about in the state,” said Hicks.  “One of the problems we have with it is security.  We’re in the House and the Senate and we do not have control of the security that happens in our building.”

      Former Joplin Police Chief and Director of the Department of Public Safety Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) sponsors House Bill 784, which would create marshals for the House and Senate.  He shares Hicks’ concern that the legislature has no control over Capitol security, and says the agencies responsible for that security are “fragmented.”

      “We have several different law enforcement agencies directed by a number of different entities,” said Roberts.  “Right now the assembly would have to make a request of somebody else and hope that request would be [granted].  This would give the Assembly the ability to determine for itself the level of security that it gets.”

      Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have been concerned about Capitol security for many years.  Lee’s Summit Democrat Keri Ingle is beginning her third year in the House after working in many public buildings in her career dealing with child welfare and adoption.  She said compared to other public facilities, Capitol security is lacking.

      “Right now I would say it’s one of our greatest priorities,” said Ingle.  “As someone who’s worked in crisis situations and someone who’s studied this particular problem, I would say that emergency preparedness is something that we should do outside of a crisis situation … we can’t wait until something happens to start developing a plan for when it happens again.”

      The hearing will come just shy of three weeks after people protesting against the confirmation of the Electoral College Vote that saw Joe Biden become President stormed the U.S. Capitol.  Rumors and threats in recent weeks that some state capitols, including Missouri’s, would be targeted on the day of Biden’s inauguration, led to heightened security.  No such additional attacks occurred.

      All three legislators agree those events highlight the importance of making changes.  Representative Roberts said recent events were something of a “reality check … for people who would like to believe that everybody in the world is actually civilized.  In truth there’s some fairly uncivilized people out there,” said Roberts.  “The reality of where we are was brought home to us in a pretty ugly fashion.”

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 02-26-2020)

      Hicks said the increased security during the inauguration of Governor Mike Parson (R) and again this week during President Biden’s inauguration highlights one of his main concerns.

      “The point has been proven … [Wednesday there were] probably 50 or so Highway Patrol officers in [the Capitol].  That means there are 50 or so Highway Patrol officers that are not doing what they normally do for us.  That means we’re borrowing.  I’ve noticed, too, the park rangers have been walking around in our building … they don’t even know where they are in that building,” said Hicks.  “There’s a lot of ins and outs in that building that there’s a lot of people don’t understand or even know how it operates or works.  And we don’t want to be borrowing.  What about when the time comes where all this settles back down and we’re all back in the legislature, does [security] all go away again?  It does.”

      Ingle said she has supported Hicks’ legislation in past years, but she and others in her caucus believe a new Capitol Police Board should include two additional members chosen by the minority leaders in each chamber. 

      “It’s really important that all of the members of the House feel that this board is looking out for the best interests of everyone and that we have a say in that as well,” said Ingle.

      Ingle said a “glaring” concern to her and other Democrats is that people can carry firearms into the Capitol. 

Representative Keri Ingle (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 04-29-2020)

      “There’s nothing to stop them from entering someone’s office or entering the [chamber] floor.  Obviously we have doormen, but as we were told during a security briefing there’s not really anything to stop someone who’s armed from entering our balconies.  Even though they are not supposed to, they are not checked in any way after they go through that initial security screening when they enter the building,” said Ingle. 

      HB 785 will go before the House Special Committee on Homeland Security, Monday at noon.  A live stream of that hearing will be available here.

      The House Committee on Crime Prevention will hold a hearing on HB 784 at the same time.  That live stream will be available here.

House proposes a chance at parole for certain inmates over 65 serving life

The House has voted to ensure that Missouri inmates who are at least 65 years old get a chance at parole.

Representative Tom Hannegan (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 352 would apply to a small number of inmates who have served at least 30 years of a sentence, who have no prior violent felony convictions, are not convicted sex offenders, and are serving a sentence of life without parole with a 50-year minimum.

St. Charles Republican Tom Hannegan sponsors the bill.  He said that sentence was replaced with a 30-year minimum in the 1980s.

“We are trying to give these folks, who have become elderly in prison and are a burden on the Missouri department of justice health system, the same opportunity for parole that they would’ve had if they had committed their crimes a few years after they were convicted,” said Hannegan.

Democrats strongly supported the bill.  Representative Barbara Washington (D-Kansas City) said just as modern DNA has proven some people innocent in old cases, this legislation reflects how the state’s law has changed to eliminate overly harsh prison terms.

“This is an opportunity to correct some of the miscarriage of justice that we’ve had in the past,” said Washington.

Some Republicans opposed the bill, saying the victims of the crimes committed by the inmates this bill would affect deserve justice by having the original sentences carried out.

Carl Junction representative Bob Bromley (R) said a high school friend of his was murdered, as was the sister of a friend of his.  He reached out to relatives of both of those victims about HB 352.

“They are adamantly opposed to this because they believe we are re-litigating what has already been litigated in the past.  They believe that they have a written contract with the judicial system and also with the State of Missouri that these people were going to be put away for life,” said Bromley.

Former Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) said sentences of life without parole are often offered as an alternative to the death sentence in particularly egregious crimes.  That is generally after the victim’s family has agreed to accept that as an outcome.

“When someone is sentenced under a statute that says, ‘Life without parole means a 50-year minimum,’ that’s the promise that we made to the family at the time,” said Roberts.  “The promise doesn’t change just because our philosophy changes.”

“Whenever we take today’s philosophy and apply it to yesterday’s conduct, somehow the victims fade into the landscape like they never existed,” said Roberts.

Hannegan said the bill wouldn’t fly in the face of past sentences.

“The [legislature] has already made the change in the sentencing law.  Therefore this is not breaking a contract with the jury, but rather allowing equivalent sentencing across the board,” said Hannegan.

Representative Lane Roberts (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Steve Butz’s (D-St. Louis) sister was raped and murdered about 10 years ago in Washington State.  He described to his colleagues having to identify her body, having to wait several days before her body was released to be buried, and going through the court trial.

He said her killer is serving the same kind of sentence as the people this bill would affect.

“Our family, consistent with our [belief that] ‘every life is important,’ we requested that this perpetrator not be given the death penalty, and he was not.  My mother, my father, and all 10 of the surviving siblings testified to that case,” said Butz.

He said forgiveness is key for a family to heal.

“With all the other requirements that this inmate in this case would have to meet, it’s for those reasons that I urge the body to support this bill,” said Butz.  “It’s great to be merciful.”

HB 352 is part of a larger, overall focus on criminal justice reform that is a bipartisan priority this year.  Its language has been included in a broad reform package, House Committee Bill 2.  That bill is still before a House committee.

An inmate receiving a parole hearing under this bill must be found by the parole board to have met certain criteria to be eligible for parole.  He or she must have a record of good conduct while in prison; must have demonstrated rehabilitation; must have an institutional risk factor score of no more than one and a mental health score of no more than three; and must have a workable parole plan that includes the support of family and community.

An offender who is not granted parole would be reconsidered every two years.

With a vote of 90-60, HB 352 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.