House bill would increase penalties for ‘swatting’

      The House has voted to increase the penalties for deliberately reporting someone to law enforcement with the intent or hurting, embarrassing, or intimidating them; a practice commonly referred to as “swatting.”

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

      Under House Bill 1704 a person would be guilty of making a false report if they intentionally make, or causes to be made to any enforcement organization, a false report that could cause bodily harm as a result of the emergency response. 

      “The bill hinges on the statement that it is with reckless disregard of causing bodily harm to any person as a direct result of an emergency response,” said bill sponsor Lane Roberts (R-Joplin)“It’s an effort to keep people from weaponizing the public safety system to harm other people; sometimes physically, sometimes by reputation or intimidation.”

      “This also deals with the use of the system to humiliate, embarrass, or have people forcibly removed from premises, and this is often aimed at minorities, aimed at religious differences, sexual orientation … recent news has been replete with that kind of conduct,” said Roberts.  “This bill prohibits that kind of use of public safety to harm others, to harm their reputation, to harm them physically, or otherwise damage an individual.”

      Those who make false reports that result in a person being killed or seriously hurt could be charged with a class-B felony, punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison.  Otherwise, false reports of a felony crime would be a class-C felony (up to 7 years in prison) and false reports of a misdemeanor would be a class-B misdemeanor (up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000). 

      Roberts and other legislators have discussed in recent years how incidents of “swatting” seem to have increased, and in some cases those have resulted in deaths and serious injuries.  Roberts’ legislation is the latest attempt to address that.

      “Somebody will call in a false report that generates a response from a police agency, sometimes a SWAT team, which by its very nature, puts people at risk of injury or death, both the police officer and folks inside.”

      His proposal was sent to the Senate with unanimous bipartisan support, 142-0.  Democrats contributed to the language of HB 1704, and Representative Ashley Bland Manlove (D-Kansas City) spoke in support of it.  She said she remembers a recent “swatting” incident that happened just across the state line from her district, in Kansas.

      “Somebody he was on [a] video game with in California was apparently mad that they had lost the game and used an app to deploy SWAT to the man in Overland Park’s house saying, ‘He’s got somebody in the house and they’ve got hostages,’ so SWAT comes in hot immediately.  Unfortunately the young man was a black man,” said Bland Manlove.  “I’ve also heard of this being used, as [Representative Roberts] said, in domestic disputes.  Somebody’s mad that they don’t have the kids or they have to pay child support so then they constantly use the police, filing false reports against the other partner.”

The bill was also the product of bipartisan cooperation, with the inclusion of changes authored by Representative Robert Sauls (D-Kansas City).

      In addition to possible incarceration and fines, violations of the language of HB 1704 could result in civil penalties.   

      “Any person who makes a false report in violation of this section for the purpose of infringing on another person’s rights under the Missouri or the United States Constitution; unlawfully discriminating against another person; causing another person to be expelled from a place in which such person is lawfully located; damaging another person’s reputation or standing within the community, financial, economic, consumer or business partner interests may be required to pay punitive damages to the victim, so it addresses some of the more malicious forms of use of swatting,” said Roberts.

      HB 1704 was sent to the Senate with two full weeks remaining in the legislative session.

Bill would make cost to apply for law enforcement jobs more manageable

      A bill aimed at addressing a shortage of law enforcement officers has advanced through a House committee.

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

      House Bill 1703 is sponsored by Representative Lane Roberts (R-Joplin), who was a chief of police in multiple communities including Joplin and is a past director of the Department of Public Safety.  He said before a person can apply for employment as a law enforcement officer in Missouri they must first have their license. 

      “What that means is the officer is going to invest somewhere around $6,000 and, depending on whether they attend the day academy or night academy, four to six months of their lives with no guarantee of a job.  The result, in some cases, is they merely have a $6,000 debt,” said Roberts. 

      Roberts’ bill would create the “Peace Officer Basic Training Tuition Reimbursement Program.”  This would pay back individuals for that training over a period of four years if they find a law enforcement job and retain it for four years. 

      Roberts told the Committee on Crime Prevention his bill aims to make the potential cost of training less of a barrier, particular for two groups of people he hopes to incent toward pursuing law enforcement careers.

      “I’m interested in attracting some of those people who are 27, 28, 29 years old, who have a little life experience, have some idea of what they’re getting into.  Unfortunately many of those people will have mortgages, they’ll be married, have children, and the cost of burdening their family with a $6,000 debt with no guarantee of getting a job certainly would give them pause before they would apply,” said Roberts.

      “Many of the minority categories – people that we have worked very hard to attract – find that $6,000 up-front fee to be an absolute barrier, not just an inhibitor.  This would give them the opportunity to have a law enforcement career.”

      HB 1703 would also require that law enforcement instructors and their curriculum be approved by the Department of Public Safety.  This stemmed from an amendment offered by Representative Kevin Windham (D-Hillsdale) to last year’s version of the legislation.  Windham said it was in answer to something that happened in St. Louis County.

Representative Kevin Windham (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “We had a police trainer that used some racially-charged language, and as our law stands right now that person would be able to go to any other law enforcement training facility throughout the state.  The amendment to Representative Roberts’ bill will make it where a person that participates in behavior that is less than what we would expect, they won’t be able to bounce around from law enforcement training facility to law enforcement training facility.”

      The bill carries a potential cost to the state of more than $5.5-million. 

      “While I don’t pretend that that’s not a substantial amount of money I would submit to you that at a time when we are having trouble recruiting officers, we’re having trouble finding minority officers, we’re having trouble retaining officers, that (nearly) $6-million is a fairly insignificant amount to be able to correct that in a significant way.”

      Last year’s version the legislation was approved by the House 152-1 but it stalled in the Senate.  HB 1703 has been approved by the Crime Prevention committee and needs one more committee’s action before going to the full House.

Anti-doxing bill would protect Missouri first responders

      Missouri House members are being asked to protect law enforcement officers and other first responders and their families by protecting the personal information of those individuals.

      House Bill 59 has been called the “First Responders Protection Act.”  It would bar counties from disclosing the address or personal information of law enforcement officers and first responders, upon their request.  This would be directed at county clerks, collectors, treasurers, auditors, and recorders of deeds. 

Representative Adam Schnelting (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 03-10-2020)

It would also make illegal the “doxing” of those individuals; that is, the posting of such information on the internet with the intent of causing harm to them.

The bill’s sponsor, St. Charles Republican Adam Schnelting, said such information has been used to target law enforcement officers and their loved ones.

      “Our first responders and our law enforcement officers leave their families every day to protect our own, so I think the least that we can do is to back them up, protect them so that there’s one less avenue through which their families can become a victim,” said Schnelting. 

      Dale Roberts with the Columbia Police Officers Association said Columbia officers have been targeted by those they’ve arrested.

      “They track our officers down.  They called our officers after being arrested and said, ‘I know your daughter, Amanda, goes to Grand Elementary School.  I know you live at 309 Pine Street,’ and threaten the officers and their families,” Roberts told the House Committee on Public Safety.

“We go to work every day and we understand the responsibilities, the duties, and the dangers of our job,” said Missouri Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police president Rick Inglima.  “A bill like this would be paramount in helping our officers protect themselves, to keep their information undisclosed – either online or by going through the county records, to keep our officers and their families safe.”

Backers said the legislation could save local law enforcement agencies money that is expended to protect officers who have been targeted due to access to their personal information.

The Recorders Association of Missouri testified against the bill.  Speaking for the Association, Jessica Petrie stressed that it supports the intent of the legislation but implementing it wouldn’t be practical.

“Under Missouri statute recorders do not redact records.  We don’t have the processes, we don’t have the software, we don’t have the systems in place to redact,” said Petrie. 

      She said the bill’s prohibition on the release of any data related to an officer’s address could interfere with the sale of property.

      “If you redact parcel numbers or legal descriptions you might interfere with title searches, which is a big function of our office, and if people can’t prove that they’re the only ones with claims to a title that makes the chain of property ownership very messy.”    

      Petrie said with the range of capabilities and technologies across Missouri’s 114 counties and the city of St. Louis it is hard to predict what it would take – especially in terms of cost – for all of them to get software or other items necessary to comply with the requirements of HB 59.

      The Missouri NAACP also opposes the legislation, saying it would create crimes and penalties redundant to current Missouri law.  Sharon Jones with the Association joined the Recorders Association in suggesting that many of the bill’s goals could be met by extending to law enforcement officers the Safe At Home Program, which allows survivors of domestic violence and other crimes hide their address. 

The bill’s supporters note that Safe At Home’s protections are not retroactive, so records already available through county offices would stay that way.

      The committee has not voted on HB 59.

5 years after Hailey Owens was murdered, Representative hopes to pass bill in her name

February 18 will mark the five-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook Springfield, the State of Missouri, and the nation.  State lawmakers are hoping this will be the year the legislature passes a bill meant to honor the little girl killed that day in 2014.

“Hailey’s Law” is named for 10 year old Hailey Owens.

House Bill 185 is commonly known as “Hailey’s Law,” named for Hailey Owens.  Owens was 10 years old when she was kidnapped while walking home from a friend’s house.  She was murdered and her body was found early the next morning.

“It was incredibly traumatizing,” said State Representative Curtis Trent (R-Springfield), the House sponsor of Hailey’s Law.  “As I remember the event everybody was talking about it.  Wherever you went people were commenting on it.  A lot of people, especially people with young families, were concerned that this sort of thing could happen.  I think there was a lot of concern and outrage over the length of time it took to issue the Amber Alert.  People were questioning the efficiency of that system, and so there was just a lot of uncertainty, a lot of confusion, and a lot of anger that such a thing had happened despite all the safeguards that had been attempted to be put in place to prevent it.”

Soon after the arrest of her killer, state officials and lawmakers turned their attention to the Amber Alert System.  Though witnesses saw Owens being abducted, more than two hours passed before an Amber Alert was issued to let authorities and the public statewide know to look for her, and what her kidnapper and his vehicle looked like.

Legislators then and now said that faster issuance of an Amber Alert is unlikely to have changed the outcome in Owens’ case – she is believed to have been killed too soon after her abduction – but Trent said the case highlighted a need to expedite the issuance of Alerts.

“What we are saying is that we have these safeguards in place, we have these systems in place to try to save lives.  They should operate as effectively as possible,” said Trent.

HB 185 would require the Amber Alert System to be tied into the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System (MULES), the computer system that allows all law enforcement in Missouri to communicate.  That means once an officer enters information about a missing child into MULES, it would at the same time be available to the Amber Alert system.

Law enforcement in Missouri has already instituted this change.  Trent said the purpose of passing Hailey’s Law now is twofold:  to make sure those changes remain in effect by requiring them in law, and to honor Owens by naming that law after her.

“We want to prevent any future tragedy like this from occurring, and also we call the bill ‘Hailey’s Law’ because want to create a legacy and memorial for the girl that lost her life,” said Trent.

Representative Curtis Trent (left) and Jim Wood of Springfield testify to a House Committee about Hailey’s Law. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Jim Wood is the father of the man sentenced to death for killing Hailey Owens.  He told the House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety that it was his truck his son was driving on the day of the crime, but law enforcement didn’t contact him until about five hours after the abduction.  At the time of the abduction he was at a restaurant about 2-minutes away from his son’s house, which is where Owens was murdered.

“I feel if I could’ve been informed, possibly I could have interceded.  It was walking distance to his house where I was, so expediting this situation is obvious to me,” said Wood.

HB 185 would also require the state’s Amber Alert System Oversight Committee to meet at least once a year to discuss ways to improve the system.  Currently there is no requirement for that committee to meet.

Trent said having that committee meet regularly to evaluate the system means there will be an ongoing effort toward getting alerts out more quickly.

“The speed is really what matters in these cases.  The faster the Amber Alert can be issued, the faster we can find the child, the lower the chance of having a tragic outcome,” said Trent.

The House and the Senate have in previous years passed the language of HB 185, just not in the same bill, so it’s never become law.

The language of HB 185 was first offered by then-representative Eric Burlison of Springfield, who this year became a state senator.  Burlison is now carrying his bill in the Senate.  Before Burlison was elected to the Senate the language was carried in that chamber by Senator Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia), who is now the Senate’s majority floor leader.  Trent believes having the support of those two lawmakers only increases the chance that Hailey’s Law will at last reach the governor.

The Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety will vote soon on HB 185.

Missouri legislature proposes statewide funding mechanism for 911 services

An issue that has faced lawmakers and the state’s counties for about two decades might finally have been addressed, as the Missouri House on Friday completed passage of a proposed statewide way to pay for 911 services.  This makes the first time such a bill has been approved by the legislature and sent to a governor.

An emotional Representative Jeanie Lauer presents a proposal for statewide funding for 911 that became the first such bill sent to a governor, after nearly two decades that the issue has been debated in Missouri. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

The issue consumed much of Representative Jeanie Lauer’s (R-Blue Springs) eight years in the House.  On Friday, as she is about to leave the chamber due to term limits, she got to see her work culminate in the passage of House Bill 1456.

The heart of the issue is that most 911 services in Missouri are paid for by charges on landline phones.  As fewer and fewer people have landlines, the amount of money each county receives to support local 911 has diminished, but efforts to charge the ever increasing number of cell phone users often met with too much resistance to pass.  Missouri has for years been the only state that doesn’t have a statewide 911 funding mechanism.

Lauer said that’s because there are so many players involved in deciding what such a mechanism should and should not include, it took years to come up with something they – and legislators – would all support.

“We have 114 counties and 163 representatives and 30-some senators, and everybody has something different that we’re trying to address and make sure that we can accommodate in the legislation so that everybody can be safe in Missouri,” said Lauer.  “It has been rather complex – a little bit like a Rubik’s Cube putting it together – but it came together and it is so, so exciting to have that done.”

The funding plan in HB 1456, Lauer hopes, will not only allow Missouri to have 911 service statewide – a handful of counties have no service at all – but will also allow counties to have the latest 911 technology.  That would allow emergency responders to do things like locate cell phones when a caller can’t give his or her location, receive texts, and other upgrades and functions that many Missouri counties haven’t been able to afford.

The issue has been an emotional one for Lauer.  In the eight years she’s worked on it she’s heard multiple stories of people who were in need of emergency services and their outcomes were worsened because they were in a part of Missouri where no 911 service exists, or they couldn’t be located because the 911 service hadn’t been upgraded.

“This has never been about a bill … it is about what it does,” said Lauer.  “Of all the things that we’ve done here in the Capitol and that I’ve been personally involved with, this truly has significant impact on the life and wellness of people, and I couldn’t be more gratified.”

Lauer and other lawmakers have seen several 911 funding proposals fail over the years, either for lack of support or by running out of time in the final days of a session.

HB 1456 would allow counties and certain municipalities in Missouri to seek voter approval for a fee of up to $1.00 on any device that can contact 911.  Areas adopting this new funding source would replace their current 911 funding source; they could not keep both.

Representatives Elaine Gannon and Glen Kolkmeyer congratulate Representative Jeanie Lauer upon passage of her 911 funding legislation. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

The bill would create a 3-percent charge on the purchase of prepaid phones, to go toward 911 funding.  A portion of that money would go to 911 service in the county the phone was bought in; the rest would go to a statewide fund to support and improve 911.

The bill would also address the need for 911 facilities in many parts of the state to consolidate.  Lauer said in Missouri’s 114 counties there are 185 Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAPs.

Under the bill, where consolidation is needed, voters could not be asked to approve a new funding stream unless a plan for consolidation is developed.  Lauer says some locations are ready to consolidate but need the bill to be passed to make it possible.

Now that legislature has voted to send the bill to Governor Eric Greitens, Lauer is hopeful it will be signed into law.

“He has been supportive at the very beginning.  I have continued to talk to his staff and they have continued to assure support, so I would certainly hope that he would find this important,” said Layer.

Greitens could sign the bill into law, veto it, or allow it to become law without his consent.

Earlier story:  Term-limited House members hopes for, at long last, statewide 911 funding solution’s success

With victim’s family present, House passes bill to require reporting of sexual assaults in nursing homes

Several years ago a woman living in a Missouri nursing home died after being sexually assaulted in that home, and the identity of her attacker will likely never be known.  On Friday the Missouri House completed passage of a bill aimed at keeping that from happening to anyone else.

Maribeth and David Russell of Russellville, Missouri, listen as the House passes legislation Maribeth advocated for, for five years, after her mother-in-law was victimized at a nursing home and the crime was not reported to law enforcement. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

That woman was Maribeth Russell’s mother-in-law, and Russell spent the past five years pushing for a change in Missouri law.  That culminated Friday with the passage of House Bill 1635, which requires that law enforcement be notified when it is suspected that a long-term care resident 60-years of age or older has been sexually assaulted.

Russell was in the House when it gave final passage to HB 1635, 139-0.

Russell said that law enforcement was not notified by the nursing home or the hospital of the crime against her mother-in-law.  The family assumed such notification was made when the Department of Health and Senior Services was contacted.  By the time the family learned that was not the case, it was too late.

“Sexual assault is timely.  You have to quickly jump on it to try to collect evidence and that wasn’t done, so there was never an arrest made or a prosecution made at all, and I simply wanted to prevent this from happening to others down the road,” said Russell.  “Let’s change this law, let’s fill this gap that’s in the statute and prevent this from happening again.”

HB 1635 would expand Missouri law that requires abuse or neglect to be reported to the Department of Health and Senior Services.  Its reporting requirement applies to in-home care providers, adult day care workers, medical and mental health care providers, medical examiners, funeral directors, and those in numerous other professions.

Representative Mike Bernskoetter (R-Jefferson City) has worked for several years, with Russell, on the language that became HB 1635.  He agreed with other lawmakers that the issue was, “unsettling.”

“Especially a situation like this where somebody went through this kind of heinous act and then there was basically nothing [that] could be done about it because there was a hole in our statutes,” said Bernskoetter.  “Just thinking about what could have happened to [Maribeth Russell’s] mother-in-law, it could happen to your mom or your grandma or somebody that you knew.”

Russell said the passage of HB 1635 amounts to closure for her.

Representative Mike Bernskoetter (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

“Knowing that we’re helping others down the road – people who may never know we’ve helped – but we’re trying to prevent others from having to experience what we’ve experienced here,” said Russell.

She said the nursing home and hospital that treated her mother-in-law have made it their practice to report possible sexual assaults to law enforcement, and she’s thankful for that.  She wants HB 1635 to ensure that all agencies in the state are doing the same.

Bernskoetter is hopeful that, while it is unlikely, the person who attacked Russell’s mother-in-law will one day be identified.  In the meantime he hopes that 1635 will be signed into law by the governor, and will prevent the same thing from happening again.

House budget committee votes to continue barring state funding for DUI checkpoints

The House Budget Committee has proposed a state spending plan that would continue to keep state-appropriated funds from going to impaired driving checkpoints.

Representative Kathie Conway (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

Last year the House proposed that $20-million made available for grants to law enforcement agencies not be allowed for use in checkpoints.  That proposal became part of the final budget plan for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2017.  Law enforcement agencies can conduct checkpoints but have to find other ways to pay for them.

The idea was controversial but has the backing of House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob), who cited data from the Department of Transportation showing saturation efforts – periods of increased law enforcement patrols on the roads – result in more arrests per dollar.

Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles) remains adamant in her opposition to the prohibition.  She proposed letting $500,000 be used on checkpoints in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, and argued that checkpoints are effective.

“Checkpoints are not really used to catch drunk drivers and impaired drivers.  They’re mostly to make the public aware of the risk of being caught,” said Conway.  “There’s been ten studies reported in five separate papers that the impact of sobriety checkpoints showed relative decrease in alcohol-related crash fatalities of 9-percent, and that’s just the fatalities.  Two of these studies showed a decrease of 64-percent in one and 28-percent in the other of blood alcohol content above the legal limit.”

Those who supported barring state-appropriated funds from going to checkpoints last year stood by their decision.  Representative Justin Hill (R-Lake St. Louis) said what’s happened in the last year shows it was correct.

“We were pretty confident last year when we spoke about focusing this fund to methods that work and actually remove drunk drivers off the road because after all, that is the goal – to arrest drunk drivers and get them off the road to make our roads safer,” said Hill.  “In the first six months, without using these funds to use checkpoints, we saw an increase of 15-percent statewide in DWI arrests, and you know some may say that’s kind of a long shot to say that’s due to the lack of checkpoints, but I truly believe that sometimes this body has to make tough decisions to force the hand to do what not only is right, but to do what’s effective and efficient.”

Representative Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis) supported the partial opening up of state funds to checkpoints.  He said he believes checkpoints are effective, at least when used in conjunction with other things like saturation efforts.  He also believes checkpoints are fairer.

“What I would point out is that when we rely solely on individual officers pulling over individual vehicles we have significant research and evidence that those stops much more disproportionately impact poor and minority communities, and at the very least a checkpoint is a uniform way to check everybody fairly, regardless of your color, regardless of the type of car you drive,” said Merideth.

Representative Justin Hill (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

Many backers of the prohibition on state funds being used for checkpoints say checkpoints are unconstitutional because vehicles are stopped without probable cause.  Yukon Republican Robert Ross said while he supports law enforcement and knows Conway does too, he said the issue is one of due process.

“Checkpoints are a system of being guilty until you can prove yourself innocent.  That’s exactly counterintuitive to the way this country was set up and how we should operate,” said Ross.

The committee rejected Conway’s amendment.  If that decision stands through the completion of a budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2019, the prohibition on state-appropriated funds being used for checkpoints would continue.  Conway said she would continue to try to lift it.

“I’ve stood in crowds of 200 and 300 police officers that were going out to do saturation and/or DUI checkpoints.  They’re very enthusiastic about their programs.  I’ve stood and talked with parents and spouses and children of people that were killed by drunk driving and they’re very supportive of DUI checkpoints; in some places it’s up to a 70-percent approval of the citizens where checkpoints are used,” said Conway.  “For some it simply boils down to a constitutional issue and their minds will not be changed, but I think it’s also – since it has been found constitutional under both Missouri and United States Supreme Courts – that until that changes we have to go with the constitutionality of it, and I must say that public safety is always at the forefront of most things that I do.”

The full House, when lawmakers return from spring break next week, will debate the proposal that was passed out of the chamber’s Budget Committee.  The issue could be debated again then.

Term-limited House member hopes for, at long last, statewide 911 funding solution’s success

The latest effort in a House lawmaker’s years-long quest to address 911 funding in Missouri has been sent to the state senate.

Representative Jeanie Lauer, who is in her final term in the House, has worked during most of her legislative career to create a statewide funding mechanism for 911 services. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click photo for larger version)

Representative Jeanie Lauer has been working for six years on a statewide way to fund 911 services.  That’s because some counties in Missouri don’t have it, and many that have it don’t have the latest technology that can locate cell phones or accept emergency text and video messages.  As fewer and fewer people use landlines – charges on which are one of the primary ways 911 services are paid for – counties are having more and more trouble paying for even outdated 911 service.

Lauer said the issue has long been personal for her.  Each year she has heard more and more stories of people who have needed emergency help and didn’t get it in time because they were in an area with poor or no 911 service.

“It is not just a bill.  This truly is something that is dealing with people’s life and their wellness, and at the end of every session it truly hits me emotionally to not have it accomplished like we would like to because I know until the next session we’re still going to lose people through death because of this situation,” said Lauer.

The issue has been around for more than a decade, predating Lauer’s legislative career.  At its core is that cell phone use continues to increase but Missouri remains the only state that does not collect a fee on cell phone usage to pay for 911.  Previous efforts to institute a charge on cell phones met with resistance, but Lauer thinks she has finally arrived at the solution.

House Bill 1456 would allow counties and certain municipalities in Missouri to seek voter approval for a fee of up to $1.00 on any device that can contact 911.  That fee could go up to $1.50 per device with special justification and approval from the state 911 service board.  Areas adopting this new funding source would replace their current 911 funding source; they could not keep both.

The bill would create a 3-percent charge on the purchase of prepaid phones, to go toward 911 funding.  A portion of that money would go to 911 service in the county the phone was bought in; the rest would go to a statewide fund to support and improve 911.

The bill would also address the need for 911 facilities in many parts of the state to consolidate.  Lauer said in Missouri’s 114 counties there are 185 Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAPs.

“That is ridiculous.  These facilities are so small they’re not providing the level of service, they’re usurping moneys that the areas don’t have to fund it, so it’s inefficient, it’s ineffective, and we’re not getting the response times to people that we need,” said Lauer.  “It’s doing a disservice to our citizenry because constitutionally we are required to keep our people safe, and we’re not.”

Under the bill, where consolidation is needed, voters could not be asked to approve a new funding stream without a plan for consolidation.  Lauer says some locations are ready to consolidate but need the bill to be passed to make it possible.

In recent years the House has approved legislation similar to HB 1456 but like so much legislation, it stalled out in the Senate.  Lauer is cautiously optimistic for better results this year.

“The difference this year may be that we have been able to run the Senate version of the bill through the Senate committee, and that was actually voted out by a vote of 9-1,” said Lauer.  “Then we come to the same point of getting on the floor in the Senate.”

HB 1456 was sent to the Senate on a vote of 111-31.

Legislature’s budget bars use of state-appropriated funds for DUI checkpoints

Missouri drivers could see fewer impaired driving checkpoints under the budget proposed by the legislature.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (left) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Dan Brown (right) conduct a budget conference committee hearing in the House Lounge on May 3, 2017. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (left) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Dan Brown (right) conduct a budget conference committee hearing in the House Lounge on May 3, 2017. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Language added by the House would prevent money in that budget from being used on checkpoints.  It could still be used for other enforcement efforts, and many lawmakers said they would prefer to see it used for saturation efforts – periods of increased numbers of law enforcement personnel on the roads.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said saturation efforts are more effective.

“Once the subcommittee passed that amendment, made that recommendation, I researched the issue, and the reality is that saturation patrols result in a greater number of arrests and at less cost per arrest,” said Fitzpatrick.  “To me what we should do as a budget committee is make sure that we’re spending the money in a way that gets the most number of drunk drivers off the road.”

Representative Kathie Conway (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Kathie Conway (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The shift was strongly opposed by the Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles), who chairs the subcommittee on the Department of Public Safety’s budget.

“I think that any time we take funds away that help law enforcement stop DWIs, it’s shameful,” said Conway.  “These two different methods – the saturation and the DUI checkpoints – work in harmony in the more populous areas … what I wanted to see allowed, either or, or a combination, it did not restrict it, and I very much do not like the House version of it.”

Several House Democrats agreed that they would rather have seen law enforcement allowed to continue using state appropriated funds for checkpoints, however the change was supported by several members of the legislature with law enforcement backgrounds.

Fitzpatrick said he wants to at least see some results.

“I would like to get a year’s worth of data on this.  I think it will result in more arrests,” said Fitzpatrick.

The change means that for the fiscal year beginning July 1, law enforcement agencies can still conduct DUI checkpoints, but they cannot use funds allocated by the state budget to pay for them.

The House and Senate voted Thursday to send that budget plan to Governor Eric Greitens (R), one day ahead of its constitutional deadline.

House endorses tougher penalties for crimes against law enforcement

The state House is close to proposing greater penalties for those who commit certain crimes against law enforcement officers.

Representative Marsha Haefner (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Marsha Haefner (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 57 aims to increase by one degree the penalty for voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, first- or second-degree property damage, unlawful use of a weapon, rioting, or first-degree trespassing, when those crimes are committed against a law enforcement officer.

It’s sponsored by St. Louis Republican Marsha Haefner, who said she hoped the bill would deter the committing of crimes against law enfrocment.

“It is intended to show meaningful and additional support for our officers across the state.  It is also to express the level of intolerance Missourians have for those who commit crimes against the very people who have taken an oath to protect and serve us and protect our property,” said Haefner.

Some Republicans expressed reservations about the proposal.  Cedar Hill Representative Shane Roden, a firefighter and reserve deputy sheriff, said he was not supportive of changes from an earlier version that would have increased penalties in crimes committed against other first responders, including firefighters.  He spoke of an attack on his wife, who was attacked in the back of an ambulance two years ago.

“Our men and women from the fire service, from the ambulance side of things, are just as likely to end up getting attacked as the first responders,” said Roden.

Roden attempted to change the bill to extend to all first responders, but his amendment was defeated.

Kansas City Democrat Brandon Ellington believes the House shouldn’t be debating this issue when he and many Democrats believe it hasn’t done enough to respond to the 2014 shooting by a Ferguson police officer of Michael Brown or the unrest that followed.

“We haven’t had one officer that’s been shot down in the street and left there for six hours.  Not one.  But we’ve had other people of other colors that’s been left in the streets for over six hours and we can’t work on any kind of accountability legislation,” said Ellington.  “The only thing we want to do is give increased protections to those that aren’t in jeopardy.”

St. Charles Republican Kathie Conway is married to a retired police officer.  She said the bill would reinforce the legislature’s commitment to law enforcement.

“It’s not that the people that were out there ten or twelve years ago are any more dangerous, it’s that they are emboldened,” said Conway.  “I don’t remember the last time, before the incident in New York, that people walked up and shot two officers sitting in a squad car.  I don’t remember a time before when a peaceful march was taking place in Dallas and someone opened fire only to kill police officers.”

Representatives Brandon Ellington (left) and Bruce Franks, Jr. (right) stand on either side of Representative Tommie Pierson, Jr.   (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representatives Brandon Ellington (left) and Bruce Franks, Jr. (right) stand on either side of Representative Tommie Pierson, Jr. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Louis City Democrat Bruce Franks, Junior, cited two of his family members who were law enforcement officers that were shot and killed.  He said for that and other reasons, it is difficult to oppose House Bill 57.

“You never want anybody to think that you don’t care about law enforcement or you don’t feel that law enforcement should be protected each and every day and they shouldn’t return home.  That’s not my objective and that’s not where my heart is,” said Franks.  “We have measures in place … to put more into that, it doesn’t deter.  It won’t keep officers safe.  Nobody’s going to think about the fact that they have this enhanced penalty in the back of their head when they go do something horrendous to an officer, which is sad, but when somebody makes that decision, they’ve already made that decision.”

Kimberling City Republican Don Phillips, a retired Highway Patrol trooper, said he has no problem with the bill treating law enforcement like they are special.

“I can tell you when you get up in the morning and you get ready to go to work and the first thing you do is strap on a bullet proof vest, you strap on a – in my case – a .40-calibur Glock automatic and put 47 rounds of ammunition around your waist, you’ve got handcuffs with you, you’ve got an expandable baton, you’ve got another baton in your car, you’ve got a 12-gauge shotgun that’s loaded for riot situations if it comes down to that, you’ve got pepper mace, Mister Speaker when those are the tools of your trade, you’re not a normal citizen.  You’re a special person in society.  You’re a person that represents our law and order,” said Phillips.

The House also gave initial approval to House Bills 302 and 228, which would create a Blue Alert System.  It would be meant to help identify, find, and apprehend anyone suspected of seriously injuring or killing a law enforcement officer.  The system would send out messages over television and radio about those suspected of such crimes.

House Bills 302, 228, and 57 all need one more favorable vote to be sent to the state Senate.