Extension of restitution to all wrongly convicted prefiled for 2023 session

      People convicted of felonies in Missouri but proven innocent by DNA evidence can be paid $100 for every day they were incarcerated after their conviction.  People proven innocent by any other means get nothing.  At least one Missouri lawmaker will try to change that in the 2023 legislative session.

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

      Kansas City Democrat Mark Sharp filed on Thursday House Bill 113 to extend restitution to anyone exonerated for a felony in Missouri. 

      Sharp said the idea continues to have bipartisan support. 

      “I think most folks would agree that if somebody was wrongfully convicted it shouldn’t matter if it was through DNA tests or through any evidentiary method.”

      Similar legislation was approved by two House committees in the session that ended in May by a combined vote of 24-1, but it was never brought up on the House floor for debate. 

      Sharp said the amount of harm done to a person and their family by a wrongful conviction goes well beyond the inability to have a job during their incarceration.  It can involve difficulty finding work and housing after release, lingering issues that could require medical treatment and counseling, and relationship issues. 

      “This can devastate an entire generation, or several generations in the family when the head of a household or a man or a husband or a wife or a father or a mother or a daughter or a son, for that matter, is put away wrongfully, and for them to walk away with nothing just isn’t right,” said Sharp.  “If somebody wasn’t able to receive all the restitution payments, those payments need to be then deferred to someone else in that family.  This needs to be a full payout.”

      Sharp hopes the legislature would also look at some point into increasing the restitution amount from $100 for every day of imprisonment. 

      “It probably doesn’t go far enough, honestly.  I would hope that at some point we could have a robust discussion about what that payment should look like,” Sharp said.  “It’s not going to break the bank … this is something that happens very rarely and when it does we need to pay them accordingly.”

      Missouri’s restitution statute has been under more scrutiny in recent years as more attention was paid to the case of Kevin Strickland.  He was released from prison a year ago after serving 42 years of a life sentence for murder before being proven innocent, but because he was not exonerated based on DNA evidence he received no compensation from the State of Missouri.  

Thursday was the first day legislators could prefile bills for the new session, which begins January 4.

House again endorses Blair’s Law penalizing ‘celebratory gunfire’

      The House has taken a vote members hope will help stop a potentially deadly form of celebration before it claims more lives and damages more property.

Representative Roger Reedy (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Kansas City Police report that guns were fired into the air more than 1,100 times late on New Year’s Eve and early on New Year’s Day.  This was a decrease of about 500 rounds, according to the Department’s tracking system, but it still left two people wounded and 11 properties with damage; one of those, a police vehicle.

      Kansas City has been the center of attention for “celebratory gunfire” for years, particularly since 2011.  It was on Independence Day of that year that Blair Shanahan Lane was struck in the neck by a bullet fired into the air by a partier more than half a mile away.  She died the next day. 

The man who fired the bullet that killed Blair pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served 18 months in prison.  House Bill 1696 would have allowed prosecutors to add time to his sentence; up to 7 years in prison if it was a third offense.

      HB 1696 includes a change bearing her name, “Blair’s Law.”  It is sponsored by Representative Roger Reedy (R-Windsor)

      “This is a very important bill.  The family of [Blair Shanahan Lane] has been here many years trying to get bill passed,” Reedy told his fellow representatives.  

      This was Reedy’s second year carrying the legislation.  Last year it ran out of time in the Senate, in part, after a number of amendments were attached to it.  This year’s version deals with only one other issue, and is therefore expected to have a much better chance at reaching the governor. 

      Another lawmaker who has worked on Blair’s Law is Kansas City Democrat Mark Sharp, who was glad to see the concerted effort to move it forward after previous attempts have ended in frustration.

      “I just want to commend [Representative Reedy] for helping get this bill through cleanly.  I want to commend the chairman of the committee this bill came through with the real intention of getting this bill through [without a lot of amendments],” said Sharp. 

      He noted that the language of Blair’s Law has been amended to two other bills that have also been sent to the Senate.

      “I sure appreciate everyone’s support in sending another version, a clean version, to the Senate to help get Blair’s Law through and helping [Representative Reedy] to make sure we get this passed this year.”

      Reedy joined Sharp and a handful of other lawmakers who have worked on Blair’s Law since 2011, each time seeing their efforts frustrated.  Another of them is Rory Rowland (D-Kansas City), who worked for several years on the issue.  He told Reedy, “You have done nothing but an absolutely stellar job and I cannot say enough good things on the floor today and I just want to wish you Godspeed with this.”

      Last Thursday Rowland announced he was resigning his House seat, having just been elected mayor of Independence.  He left with optimism that more legislators would continue working to get Blair’s Law passed.  He ended his comments to Reedy with an emotional plea, “Please get it done.”

      Reedy’s proposal specifies that a person is guilty of the unlawful use of a weapon if they fire it, with criminal negligence, within or into the limits of a municipality.  The first offense would be a class-A misdemeanor, with third and subsequent offences being class-D felonies. 

      The bill would also allow a firearm to be discharged from a stationary vehicle as authorized under the Missouri Wildlife Code.  This provision is intended to allow farm and ranch owners to shoot animals that would threaten their livestock without facing a felony charge.

      The House voted 131-0 to send that proposal to the Senate.

House bill would require ignition interlocks after first DUI

      Missourians would have to have their vehicles equipped with ignition interlock devices after their first drunk driving conviction, under a bill under consideration in the House.

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

      Ignition interlock devices prevent a vehicle from starting if they register too great of an alcohol content in a breath test.  Current law requires a person to have a previous conviction for driving while intoxicated before restricting them to driving only vehicles equipped with such a device.  Under House Bill 1680 a court must prohibit anyone convicted of an intoxicated driving offense from driving unequipped vehicles for at least six months.

      Kansas City representative Mark Sharp (D) sponsors it.

      “It’s really about saving lives,” said Sharp.  “If you’ve had too many drinks when you’re leaving the bar and you can’t pass the test, you can’t drive.  That forces people to look at other options as far as Uber or having a friend come and pick them up, but it stops that person who is intoxicated from getting behind the wheel.”

      Sharp believes his bill would be a deterrent, not just by keeping people from driving drunk but by making them want to avoid a situation in which they could.

      “This should stop some folks from wanting to go out and getting drunk and driving too, because after your first offense you would be required to have [an ignition interlock device] instead of after your second or third,” said Sharp.  “I do think this will stop some folks.  If this gets promoted the right way hopefully we can get folks to not want to do it as much.”

      Sharp’s bill has had a hearing before the House Committee on Crime Prevention, which is chaired by former Police Chief and Department of Public Safety Director Lane Roberts (R-Joplin).  He expressed support for the idea.

      “I began my police career in 1971.  At that time the presumptive [blood alcohol content] level was .15 – nearly twice what it is today.  Even then we were killing about 25,000 people a year, nationally, due to drunk driving,” said Roberts.  “Anything that makes that activity more difficult certainly has my support and I appreciate [Representative Sharp] putting this forward.”

      Mothers Against Drunk Driving told the Committee that between 2006 and 2020, interlocks stopped 128,196 attempts to drive drunk in Missouri, with more than 11,000 of those incidents in 2020.  DUI deaths reportedly decreased by 15% in states that enacted laws such as HB 1680.

      The committee has not voted on Sharp’s legislation.

House action leads to chance at parole for man facing sentence of more than 2 centuries

      Missouri House legislation has led to a man securing a chance at parole from prison in the next year, about 69 years earlier than he expected.

Bobby Bostic

      Bobby Bostic was sentenced to 241 years in prison after an armed robbery and carjacking in 1995.  Bostic, who was 16 at the time, was tried as an adult and would not have been eligible for parole until 2091, when he would be 112. 

      A House amendment that became law this year as part of Senate Bill 26 makes eligible to apply for parole anyone sentenced to 15 years or more while a juvenile.  The change gave Bostic a chance at a parole hearing after more than 20 years in prison.  That hearing was completed recently and Bostic was granted parole.  He will be released late next year.

      Bostic’s plight became an issue for the legislature in large part through the efforts of O’Fallon Republican Nick Schroer, who was glad to hear about the parole board’s decision.

      “I’m incredibly satisfied.  These are the types of things that kind of justify us being in [the Capitol].  We saw that there was this terrible issue where this minor who committed crimes that did not result in anybody being physically harmed, did not result in anyone being murdered, he’s locked away basically for the rest of his life and taxpayers are the ones paying for him to be there,” said Schroer.

      Schroer took up Bostic’s case in 2019, and then last year with his support, Kansas City representative Mark Sharp (D) sponsored the amendment to Senate Bill 26 that led to Bostic getting a parole hearing.

      “I’m just so happy, really on cloud nine that this decision came through the way it did.  It just shows that we can have some positive impacts here in the legislature.  Even if it only affects one person that’s good enough for me.  You hope it affects more and helps more people but this legislation did exactly what it was intended to do, and that was help Mr. Bobby Bostic.”

      Soon after hearing about Bostic’s case, Schroer met with him at Jefferson City Correctional Center.  He learned that while imprisoned Bostic has earned a GED, an associate’s degree, has completed courses from Adams State University and Missouri State University, and completed more than 30 rehabilitation classes and programs.  He has helped other inmates pursue their education, and has become a published author. 

Representative Nick Schroer (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

It was after that meeting that Schroer began pressing for Bostic to have a chance at parole. 

      “I was amazed at all of the things that he had done, the rehabilitation that took place with him within our criminal justice system and it was one of my tasks to ensure that he was either granted clemency by the governor or that we could get a coalition together, get some sort of legislative fix to this issue,” said Schroer.

      That began with a letter to Governor Mike Parson (R) asking him to take executive action on Bostic’s case.  More than 100 legislators in both parties and both chambers signed that letter.

      Bostic was sentenced to 241 years in prison on a series of charges stemming from a 1995 incident in which he, then 16, and an 18 year-old robbed a group of people delivering Christmas presents to the needy.  One victim was shot and sustained a minor wound.  The pair then carjacked and robbed a woman. 

      None of the victims of Bostic’s crimes opposed him being given a chance at parole.  Some testified that he had little involvement in the crimes and that the 18 year-old was the instigator.  While Bostic received more than two centuries in prison, the accomplice pleaded guilty in exchange for a 30-year sentence.   

Retired Circuit Judge Evelyn Baker, who handed down Bostic’s sentence, has become one of the most ardent supporters of his parole and represented him at the hearing.

      Bostic is not expected to be released until late next year.  Sharp said he will spend much of the time until then preparing to return to freedom after 20 years behind bars.

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

“Now the hard work really begins for Bobby Bostic.  How do we get him back into civilization?  How do we get him a job?  How do we get him back on his feet?  Just being released really isn’t enough, so we have to make sure that he has all the tools so he can be successful upon his release,” said Sharp.

      Roughly 100 others in Missouri’s prison system could have a chance at parole under the language that helped Bostic.  Schroer said for those and others getting out of prison, there are people throughout the state who want to help them start over.

      “If anybody is willing, and I know that there are several employers in St. Charles County and around the area that have taken an interest in [Bobby Bostic’s] case and many others like him, who are hiring people fresh out of the criminal justice system that want to turn their lives around, so any of the readers that are grouped in there, that do have opportunities for people with a criminal record, I urge them to reach out to [lawmakers] so we can at least put them in contact with people like Bobby.”

      Other portions of Senate Bill 26 have led to a court challenge that could see everything in it struck down.  Sharp and Schroer say they aren’t sure what it would mean for Bostic’s case should that happen, but say they will be watching developments and remain committed to helping Bostic get a chance at freedom.

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.

VIDEO: New license plate supporting Negro Leagues Baseball Museum soon available

      A museum telling an important story in the nation’s sports and cultural histories is featured on a new license plate that will soon be available to Missourians.

      The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City began in a one-room office in 1990 and today is in a 10,000 square-foot home among the Museums at 18th & Vine in Kansas City.  It is the only museum dedicated to the Negro Leagues, which originated in Kansas City in 1920 and offered people of color a chance to play professional baseball at a time when they were barred from playing in the major and minor leagues due to racism.

      License plates bearing the Museum’s logo will soon be available. It will cost $15 more than a regular license plate registration, and applicants can opt to donate $10 to the museum.  This is the result of legislation carried by Representative Mark Sharp (D-Kansas City)

      Sharp said the legacy of the Negro Leagues goes far beyond sports, having just as much to do with United States’ history and culture, and it meant a lot to him personally.

      “Without seeing black athletes and black players I’m not sure that I would’ve had the confidence in myself to do some of these things.  To see other folks and to know the story of what these gentlemen – and a lot of women – that get lost in the Negro Leagues’ history, what they had to go through really sets the standard for moving forward,” said Sharp.  “Without those players and what they’ve done I’m not sure a lot of young athletes would have the confidence to go out there and do what they do.”

      “The license plate will, one, create a bigger awareness of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.  A lot of folks in Kansas City are aware of it but I’m not sure everyone across the state is aware of it, of this gem of a museum that we have here in our state,” said Sharp.  “Also, it will provide another funding mechanism for the museum.  For museums like this we also have to have enough ways and means to get funding to them to make sure they can stay up to date with current trends and make sure that the museum is in good condition.”

      Sharp carried Senate Bill 189 which included language that he also sponsored in House Bill 100, to create the plate.  The proposal received broad, bipartisan support in both chambers. 

      “We are just absolutely thrilled with this level of recognition and the opportunity to generation additional support,” said Museum President Bob Kendrick.  “I gotta tip my cap to all of the legislators who made this possible and what a tremendous nod that is to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.”

      SB 189 took effect August 28. When the new plates are available Missourians will be able to get them through local license offices.

House language will allow chance at parole for Bostic, others sentenced as juveniles to long terms

      A House amendment that will give some juvenile offenders in Missouri a chance at parole will become effective later this month.  The provision was driven by the case of a man sentenced to 241 years in prison when he was 16.

Bobby Bostic

      The amendment was signed into law as part of Senate Bill 26.  It would make anyone sentenced while a juvenile eligible for parole after serving 15 years of any sentence.  It doesn’t apply to convictions for first-degree or capital murder.

      Representative Mark Sharp (D-Kansas City) sponsored the amendment, which he stresses does not automatically grant freedom to any offender.

      “Ultimately it falls into the hands of the Parole Board.  It’s up to their discretion.  Every juvenile that’s in the system currently has a different criteria they have to meet obviously.  I think it’s our duty to trust the Parole Board to do their job, and if anybody can be rehabilitated I do believe that we should put that faith into our youth.  I trust them far more than someone else to be rehabilitated in the correctional facilities,” said Sharp.

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

      Sharp and numerous other lawmakers in both parties think Bobby Bostic has been rehabilitated.  In 1995, Bostic and an accomplice robbed a group of people delivering Christmas presents to the needy.  He shot one victim, who sustained a minor wound.  The pair then carjacked and robbed a woman.  He was sentenced for 18 crimes and would not be eligible for parole until the age of 112.

      None of the victims of Bostic’s crimes oppose him being given a chance at parole.  The judge who sentenced him said that sentence was disproportionately harsh, and she favors giving him a chance at freedom.  

      O’Fallon Republican representative Nick Schroer has been among the leaders of the effort to help Bostic.  He and others say that is because Bostic has clearly reformed.

Representative Nick Schroer (Photo credit: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “He’s done so much while he’s been behind bars,” said Schroer.  “Getting rehabilitated to the point of taking it upon himself paying for different college classes, getting several different degrees, writing many books, and trying to work with communities in need within our state so juveniles that might have been on the same path he was won’t make that same decision … I believe that is what we can all agree our criminal justice system is there for.”

      Sharp said it felt meaningful to pass this legislation, especially knowing that there are more than 100 more people in Missouri’s correctional facilities in similar situations.

      “This provision just allows them to be eligible for parole, and I think that for a lot of these folks including Mr. Bobby Bostic, just being eligible will go a long way,” said Sharp.

      The language becomes effective on August 28.

Bipartisan effort would create “Blair’s Law,” criminalizing celebratory gunfire

      Three Missouri lawmakers are leading a bipartisan effort to criminalize celebratory gunfire.  Their bills would create what is called “Blair’s Law,” in honor of 11 year-old Blair Shanahan Lane, who was killed by an errant bullet fired during a 4th of July celebration in 2011.

Michelle Shanahan DeMoss talks to the House Committee on General Laws. (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      Representatives Rory Rowland (D-Independence), Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon), and Mark Sharp (D-Kansas City) have filed House Bills 722, 795, and 99, respectively.  Those were presented to the House Committee on General Laws, which heard from Blair’s mother, Michele Shanahan DeMoss.

      “It will be 10 years, July of 2021, since my daughter was fatally struck by a bullet,” said Shanahan DeMoss.

      She said her daughter died July 5 and donated six organs to five people. 

      “She gave, as I’m asking you to give the opportunity for this bill to be passed.  It’s a simple request to increase the penalty from a misdemeanor – basically, to me, a parking ticket.  A fine, and go on your way, and it happens year after year after year,” said Shanahan DeMoss.  “If we can increase the penalty of the crime maybe, maybe somebody doesn’t do it.”

Blair Shanahan Lane (courtesy; Michele Shanahan DeMoss)

      Representative Schroer said as he was growing up his family sometimes went to the basement during times of celebration because guns were being fired into the air in the region.

      “One of the pillars of responsible gun ownership is knowing where you’re pointing your gun and knowing where that projectile is going to go and where it’s going to land,” said Schroer. 

      Representative Sharp said between 6pm December 31 and 6am on January 1 in South Kansas City Missouri, at least 12 residences were hit by indiscriminate gunfire. 

He said the shot spotter technology employed by police, “indicated about 1,600 shots were fired in Kansas City alone.”

      Captain Kari Thompson is the Assistant Division Commander for the Homeland Security Division of the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department.  She said the legislation would make a common sense change in the law.

Representatives Mark Sharp (at left, holding newspaper), Rory Rowland (wearing mask), and Nick Schroer (right) have all sponsored a version of Blair’s Law. (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      “The question is not ‘if’ this will happen again, it’s ‘when.’  We want to remember that this is, for some families, a family tradition.  Let’s go out on the porch or in the back yard and shoot off our weapons in a celebratory manner for 4th of July, for New Year’s Eve, and now for Super Bowl Sundays,” said Thompson.

      Blair was hit in the neck by a bullet fired by a Kansas City man, who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.  He served 18 months in prison.  Had one of these measures been in place he could’ve faced additional prison time for the charge it would create.

      The committee has not voted on the legislation.

Pronunciations:

DeMoss = dee-moss

Kari = CAR-ee

Schroer = shroe-ur

Rory Rowland = roar-ee roe-land