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

Missouri House passes 5 bills in special session called to address crime

The Missouri House has given initial approval to five bills related to crime issues in Missouri.  The bills were filed in a special session of the legislature called by Governor Mike Parson (R).

Representative Johnathan Patterson (photo courtesy: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Republicans say the legislation will help address violent crime in a year when Kansas City is on pace to set a new record for the annual number of homicides, and St. Louis is in the midst of a wave of murders and other violence.  Democrats decried the legislation as accomplishing nothing and said the special session was called only for political reasons.

House Bill 66 would create a fund to pay for law enforcement agencies to protect witnesses or potential witnesses and their immediate families during an investigation or ahead of a trial.

St. Louis City representative Peter Merideth (D) said the bill would be meaningless because there would be no money in the fund until it is appropriated in budget legislation.

“If we really believed this was an emergency wouldn’t we be funding it right now?” asked Merideth.

Bill sponsor Jonathan Patterson (R-Lees Summit) said his bill will create the program and funding can come later, as is usually the case with newly created state programs.

“I trust the mayors of our state.  They say it’s an emergency.  I trust the law enforcement in our state.  They say it’s an emergency,” said Patterson.  “We could have funded it [during the special session].  You’d have to ask yourself, ‘does that fit within [the governor’s call of topics to be addressed in this special session]?’  I don’t know.”

Representative Peter Merideth (photo courtesy: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Merideth said he would still support the bill, but also expressed concern that the offer of state money to pay for a potential witness’ room and board could be used to incent false testimony and lead to wrongful convictions.

The House voted 147-3 to send HB 66 to the Senate.

House Bill 46, sponsored by Representative Ron Hicks (R-Dardenne Prarie), would temporarily lift the requirement that St. Louis Police officers, EMS personnel, and firefighters live in the City of St. Louis.  The residency requirement would be reinstated after September 1, 2023.

“Out of all the things in the governor’s call this is the one really good thing that will immediately improve the conditions of [St. Louis’] crime problem,” said Representative Justin Hill (R-Lake St. Louis), a former law enforcement officer and undercover detective.  “Men and women in blue want to to work in the city.  Right now they don’t feel empowered enough by their city to stay there.”

St. Louis area Democrats say the bill infringes on local control because St. Louis residents are set to vote on whether to remove the  residency requirement in November.

“This comes up about every eight years in our city.  It has never passed,” said St. Louis representative Wiley Price (D).

The House passed HB 46 117-35.

House Bill 11 would increase the penalty for endangering the welfare of a child from a misdemeanor to a first-degree felony.  Bill sponsor Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon) said criminals are taking advantage of juveniles by giving them guns and encouraging them to participate in violent crime.

“The issue of our youth being involved in horrific violence should be of the utmost importance to everyone in this body.  That is why I fought so hard since I’ve been in this body … to address this in one way, shape, or form,” said Schroer.

The House passed HB 11, 117-33.

House Bill 16, also sponsored by Schroer, would define the unlawful transfer of a weapon to a minor as the lending or sale of a firearm to a minor for the purpose of interfering with or avoiding an arrest or investigation.  It would change current law to allow such transfers to be a felony even if done with parental permission.

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

“It’s very important that we focus on these adults … that are victimizing our youth.  Sometimes it’s resulting in their death, sometimes it’s resulting in them going into the juvenile justice system,” said Schroer.  “Amending this law pursuant to the conversations we’ve had across the state it’s going to lead to a decrease in crime.”

St. Louis representative Rasheen Aldridge (D) said those bills will not reduce crime and won’t help his city.

“We’re not addressing the root cause of crime.  We’re not talking about after school programs.  We’re not talking about real criminal justice reform.  We’re not talking about how we make our neighborhoods not food deserts so we don’t have to travel 20 and 30 miles out.  We’re not talking about how we make education equitable for neighborhoods like ours,” said Aldridge.

HB 16 was sent to the Senate with a 103-45 vote.

The House also approved 133-11 House Bill 2, sponsored by Representative Barry Hovis (R-Whitewater), which aims to clarify current law on the admissibility of witness statements when a witness has been tampered with or intimidated.  If a court finds a defendant tried to keep a witness from testifying and the witness failed to appear, an otherwise inadmissible statement from that witness could be allowed into evidence.

All of these except for HB 16 were passed with a clause that would make them effective immediately upon being signed by the governor.

House gives initial passage to changes to Missouri medical marijuana provisions

The Missouri House has given initial approval to a bill addressing issues with implementing a medical marijuana industry approved by voters in 2018.  This comes as its Special Oversight Committee continues to explore problems in the issuing of cultivation licenses.

Representative Jonathan Patterson (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 1896 would give the Department of Health and Senior Services authority to review criminal background checks to ensure no workers in the medical marijuana industry have committed a disqualifying felony criminal offense.  Article 14 of the Missouri Constitution, passed in 2018 by Missouri voters, includes the authority for DHSS to conduct criminal background checks, but the FBI does not share that information with non-law enforcement entities.

HB 1896 would give DHSS statutory authority to satisfy the FBI’s concerns.  It would also make it a Class-E felony for a state agency to share data about medical marijuana card applicants with the federal government.

The House on Thursday added a provision to the bill that would require a medical marijuana card applicant to meet in-person with a Missouri doctor in order to be certified.

That piece was proposed by Representative Jonathan Patterson (R), a Lee’s Summit surgeon, who said it would strengthen the fledgling program.

“Because if you are doing these certifications online or over the phone then the strength of the certification is really diminished, so as we’re starting this program we want everything to be above board,” said Patterson.

Some lawmakers opposed Patterson’s amendment, saying it took a narrowly focused bill to fix a problem holding up the system, and added roadblocks to some potential medical marijuana patients.

“The Department testified to us the other day that the ‘North Star’ of Amendment 2 and the ‘North Star’ of their implementation of this was patient access, and all I see in here is a limitation on the physician I can go to,” said Representative Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis).

Representative Peter Merideth (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Merideth is also critical of Patterson’s amendment having first appeared on the House floor and not being the subject of a committee hearing.

“When people passed Amendment 2 do you think they had in mind an online doctor from some other country or another state?”  Patterson asked.

“I think we should ask them,” Merideth responded.  “That’s the point of a public hearing on something like this so that they can come in and say, ‘Here’s how it impacts me,’ so I can hear from a doctor, so I can hear from a patient.”

O’Fallon attorney, Representative Nick Schroer (R), said he believes Patterson’s amendment will lead to court challenges.

“This is going to prohibit the actual implementation of what the voters intended and what the voters requested,” said Schroer.

Other lawmakers said requiring certification from only Missouri doctors would be a burden to those who live near the borders and visit doctors from neighboring states.

Patterson argued his amendment would protect patients.

“The people of Missouri … wanted a safe program that provided patients access.  They wanted a safe program of Missouri-grown marijuana sold in Missouri to Missourians certified by a Missouri physician that is licensed to practice here,” said Patterson.

The House also added a provision to require DHSS employees involved in medical marijuana regulation to disclose any “actual or perceived” conflicts of interest to the Department.

Another favorable vote would send the legislation to the Senate.

The House Special Committee on Government Oversight has held several hearings into apparent inconsistencies in the approval of licenses to cultivate marijuana for medical use in the state.  More such hearings are expected as early as next week.

Second House bill sent to Senate would increase penalties for trafficking fentanyl

The second bill the Missouri House has sent to the Senate would increase penalties for trafficking a dangerous drug, the use of which can easily result in overdoses.  Opponents worry the change will cast too broad a net, putting more users in prison for long terms.

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

The House voted to making it a class-B felony to knowingly distribute, make, or attempt to distribute or make, more than 10 milligrams of fentanyl or its derivatives.  This would carry a penalty of five to 15 years in prison.  Making or distributing 20 or more milligrams would be a class-A felony, carrying a sentence of 10 to 30 years in prison.

Law enforcement advocates have told lawmakers that fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.  It is being trafficked frequently in Missouri – particularly illegally made – and is often mixed with other drugs like heroin or cocaine, often resulting very easily in overdose deaths.

The sponsor of House Bill 1450, O’Fallon representative Nick Schroer (R), said fentanyl trafficking has continued to increase exponentially in the past year.  He believes increased penalties will help law enforcement get to those who are making and selling fentanyl.

“Right now law enforcement and the prosecutors only have the ability to charge drug traffickers with possession, or possession with an intent [to distribute.]  We are seeing a trend across the United States from attorneys general, prosecutors, and law enforcement working with the federal government adding this to their criminal trafficking statutes, giving them a new tool in the toolbox to get to the criminal enterprises,” said Schroer.

Representative Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis City) agrees that fentanyl is dangerous and efforts should be made to get it off the streets, but he does not believe the way to do that is by increasing penalties.

“For the last many decades now we’ve been pursuing a drug war where we try and lock people up for longer times thinking that’s going to help us deal with our drug problem, and it hasn’t.  It hasn’t at all,” said Merideth.  “What we’re really doing is also pulling people out of their communities, out of their families and putting them in prison for extremely long sentences for drugs.”

Representative Peter Merideth (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Florissant representative Alan Green (D) said the longer sentences HB 1450 proposes fly in the face of recent years’ efforts toward criminal justice reform.

“We already got one prison shutting down, we’re looking at shutting down a second prison, and we’re talking about alternative sentencing and all that wonderful stuff now for the last two years, but you’re saying you want to give more to the prosecutors to give them ammunition to go after more cases, but we’re trying to close prisons, so I’m getting mixed messages here.  What are we really trying to do with criminal justice reform here?”  Green asked Schroer.

Schroer argues that criminal justice reform does not mean being “weak on crime, it means being smart on crime.”  He said fentanyl has not been addressed in Missouri and his proposal would do that.

“I agree with the governor … when he indicated that only the most violent of offenders, only society’s most harmful, need to be in our prisons, and I think anybody who’s going to bring these deadly drugs – that even [an amount the size of] a granule of salt will kill several people – those people need to be addressed,” said Schroer.  “If we lock that person up, if they just take a plea deal and are locked away we can’t get to the actual manufacturers, this will continue.  We’re not fixing the issue.  This is a tool which we have seen across this nation is starting to work.”

HB 1450 would also increase the penalties for trafficking one gram or more of Rohypnol or any amount of GHB, both of which are often used in sex crimes.

The House voted 122-33 to send the bill to the Senate for its consideration.

VIDEO: Legislation would give chance at parole to man serving 241 years in prison and others like him

An effort by state legislators to give a chance at parole to a man sentenced to 241 years in prison has led to a broader effort to offer parole to all Missouri inmates facing similar situations.

Judge Evelyn Baker and Representatives Nick Schroer and Barbara Washington talk about a legislative effort to give a chance at parole to Bobby Bostic, who Baker sentenced to 241 years in prison in 1995. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Bobby Bostic committed a series of crimes in 1995 when he was 16 and was given a series of consecutive sentences.  A 2010 Supreme Court ruling that people under 18 who did not kill anyone could not be sentenced to life without parole doesn’t apply to him because he was not sentenced to life.  He would not be eligible for parole until the age of 112.  All judicial avenues to offer Bostic an earlier release have been exhausted.

Last year more than 100 state lawmakers signed a letter to Governor Mike Parson (R) asking him to consider Bostic’s petition for clemency.  They joined those victimized in Bostic’s crimes and the judge who sentenced him in saying Bostic has reformed himself, and deserves a chance at parole.

O’Fallon representative Nick Schroer (R) has worked to bring attention to Bostic’s situation and has led the effort to drum up support.  He said he knows that the Parson administration is sifting through thousands of clemency requests.  While that process continues, he has filed House Bill 2201, which aims to give people sentenced to long terms and life as a juvenile a chance at parole.

“2201 fixes the technicality that prevents Bobby and others like him in this situation the ability to obtain the relief that the Supreme Court envisioned [in that 2010 ruling],” said Schroer.

Kansas City representative Barbara Washington (D) has also spearheaded this effort and is a cosponsor of HB 2201.  She said it could help others besides Bostic.

“We must think about what we’re doing with our juveniles.  We must understand that a 16 year-old who grew up in Bobby’s situation; who didn’t have anyone to look up to, who didn’t have a community that made sure he went to school, didn’t have a mentor to make sure that he got a job, who didn’t have teachers who looked at him as a good kid that was going down the wrong road.  It is important and imperative that we pass House Bill 2201 so that we make sure that no other juveniles suffer this fate,” said Washington.

Judge Evelyn Baker handed Bobby his 241-year sentence and now wants to see him given a chance at freedom.

“He’s written books, he writes poetry, he is trying to help as many people as he can in a confined environment.  He can do so much more to help others if we let him out.  I think justice cries for him to be released,” said Judge Baker.  “We talk about rehabilitation.  He is the epitome of a rehabilitated child who became a man in the true sense of the word ‘man.’”

Schroer said he does not know how many other people in situations like Bostic’s are in Missouri prisons and might benefit from passage of this bill, but he does believe there are others.

“This one case is the tip of the spear, so to speak, where we now see there are these technical issues and other issues preventing people from getting the relief when they are fully rehabilitated, so I think that we need to go forward with House Bill 2201,” said Schroer.

He said from the standpoint of being fiscally conservative, the more people who have been rehabilitated and therefore can be released from Missouri prisons, the better for the state and its economy.

“We are wasting more money locking people up that could be contributing to society as solid Missourians once again,” said Schroer.

Schroer is hopeful his bill will be assigned to a committee and receive a hearing soon.

Earlier stories:

Judge who sentenced man to 241 years meets with lawmakers seeking his clemency

State lawmakers to ask governor for clemency for man sentenced as teen to 241 years

Judge who sentenced man to 241 years meets with lawmakers seeking his clemency

A judge who sentenced a man to more than two centuries in prison now says that man deserves to be freed.  Judge Evelyn Baker is joined by numerous House members and others lobbying for clemency for Bobby Bostic.

Judge Evelyn Baker (retired) (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I will talk to anybody and everyone who is in a position to help undo an injustice,” said Judge Baker.

Baker sentenced Bostic to 241 years in prison after a string of crimes in 1995.  Now 40, Bostic would not be eligible for parole until the age of 112.

“We had that whole concept of the violent predator juveniles.  What we didn’t have was the knowledge from science in terms of brain development in adolescents,” said Baker of when she sentenced Bostic.  “The law said he is a certified juvenile, therefore can be treated as an adult.  Bobby was far from being an adult.  He was a 16-year-old kid and I treated him as if he were a hardened adult criminal.  I know now that was wrong.”

Judge Baker traveled this week to Jefferson City to meet with Representative Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon), who earlier this year began gathering lawmakers’ signatures on a letter asking Governor Mike Parson (R) to grant clemency to Bostic.  About 50 legislators have signed that letter and Schroer said more have committed to, but he put the effort on hold while the clemency process is advancing.

Bostic was 16 in 1995 when he 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.

Baker said Bostic has turned his life around in prison.  He obtained his G.E.D. and a paralegal diploma, took a victim advocate course, and completed a course in non-profit management and grantsmanship.  He’s written four non-fiction books and 8 books of poetry.

Bobby Bostic has told Judge Baker and Rep. Schroer there are others in prison who deserve to have clemency considered.

“He’s turned into a responsible young man who accepts full responsibility for his actions.  He doesn’t minimize what happened.  He doesn’t excuse what happened,” said Baker.  “My experience as a judge has always been that people who accept full responsibility, make no excuses for their actions, express true remorse … don’t come back into the system again, and that’s Bobby.”

Schroer and Baker both believe that being sent to prison was actually a benefit to Bostic, who himself told the judge he expected to be dead in his early 20s.

“God is working miracles.  It if wasn’t for the judge cracking down and being as hard as she was on Bobby, it wouldn’t have probably opened his eyes to create the man that he is today,” said Schroer.  “If she would’ve been soft on him he might’ve been back out on the street to commit more crimes and actually become a more hardened criminal.”

Schroer has talked to the governor and First Lady Teresa Parson about Bostic’s case and said they are both receptive.  He also hopes that in this effort to see Bostic be granted clemency, it will open doors for others in Missouri’s prisons who have similar arguments to be made.

“Bobby’s not the only Bobby.  There are Bobbys and Bobbetts not only in the Missouri Department of Corrections but all throughout this country,” said Baker.

Representative Nick Schroer and Judge Evelyn Baker (retired) (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Schroer said he learned that the governor’s office has a stack of clemency requests that date back to the administration of Governor Bob Holden (D), who left the office in 2005.  He hopes to see those examined.

“The Parson administration has indicated that they were taking a fresh look at all of those petitions and I know that they are still doing it right now … but whether we need to form a task force or a committee to help expedite that process, I’m wide open to forming something like that,” said Schroer.

“My time up here is to serve the people of Missouri, and what better way to serve the people than look at their pocketbooks, look where the money’s going, and look at the people that have actually been placed under the control of the state to see how we can actually get them out [to] become a productive member of society,” said Schroer.

Judge Baker said she has corresponded with Bostic regularly and she plans to meet with him in prison.

Schroer said it could be a couple of months before he submits legislators’ signatures with the letter urging Governor Parson to grant clemency to Bostic, while other parts of that effort move forward.

House plan would ease late payment penalties, interest, in response to surprise tax bills

The House has given preliminary approval to giving Missourians a break on late payment of taxes, because many Missourians might have been surprised this year with a higher-than-anticipated tax debt.

Representative Dean Dohrman (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I’m also frustrated with the situation that brought us here, but today we can’t do anything about that,” said La Monte representative Dean Dohrman (R), the sponsor of House Bill 1094“But today, as Winston Churchill once said, ‘We can do the best we can with what we got.’”

HB 1094 would block late payment penalties on tax debt owed to the state by individual taxpayers through the end of this year.  It would also waive any interest owed on such debt until May 15.  For those who might pay penalties before the bill would become law, it would require that those Missourians receive refunds.

The bill is a bipartisan response to an issue with the Department of Revenue’s tax tables that resulted in many Missourians being faced with greater debt than expected.  Lawmakers heard stories of individuals who anticipated a tax refund from the state instead getting hit with bills for hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.

Representative Nick Schroer (R-St. Charles) is the vice-chairman of the House oversight committee that’s been investigating that situation.  He said the Department’s explanations have changed, and he blames its former director, who resigned last month amid the crisis.

Representative Crystal Quade (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“We still don’t really know the true cause of what is happening.  We’re still digging and trying to figure that out, but I think this is one way that we can lessen this tax burden on these people who … dollars count to these people, whether it’s diapers, groceries,” said Schroer.

That oversight committee has continued to schedule hearings to investigate what caused the problems and how the Department responded.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (D-Springfield) also sits on that oversight committee, and pre-filed similar legislation in December.  She said the Department knew about the tax issue as early as September yet didn’t act for months to notify taxpayers.  She said she’s frustrated the House is only now taking action.

“Tax day’s in five days.  If folks in this body … I mean I hate to say it; if we were really concerned about these surprise tax bills and what was happening to citizens, we would’ve dealt with this much, much sooner,” said Quade.

“I heard time and time again from the director of revenue as well as the liaison that this isn’t a lot of money – that we’re talking an average of $85 or it could be upwards of several hundred dollars, and as I said before we have [legislative assistants] in this building who are seeing swings of $3500,” said Quade.

Lawmakers including Columbia Democrat Kip Kendrick, another oversight committee member, want Missourians to understand that their issues with tax debt might not be over after this year.

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

“If they’re concerned with their bill this year then they need to go back and look at their W-4 because next year, 2019, their current year, it’s going to be a full four quarters of potential under-withholding and not just three quarters,” said Kendrick.

Republicans, including Noel representative and oversight committee member Dirk Deaton, maintain that while some Missourians could see greater tax bills this year, changes in the federal tax code mean their overall debt is down.

“Missourians are keeping more money in their pockets, so we’ve got to fix this withholding thing but at the end of the day Missourians, as they should, are keeping more of their hard-earned money,” said Deaton.  “That’s what I think people need to realize.”

Another favorable vote would send HB 1094 to the Senate.

House endorses adding fentanyl, ‘date rape’ drugs to trafficking laws

The Missouri House has proposed strengthening the state’s trafficking laws to include the potent pain reliever fentanyl and its derivatives, as well as Rohypnol or GHB – both commonly known as “date rape” drugs.

Representative Nick Schroer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 239 would make possession or trafficking of those drugs a felony.  Penalties range from three years to life in prison, depending on the amount of the drug involved.  Missouri laws against trafficking do not include any of those substances.

Lawmakers heard that the abuse of fentanyl steadily increased between 2013 and 2017, and doctors said many people are being treated in emergency rooms because they took heroin mixed with fentanyl.

Bill sponsor Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon) said there is a hole in Missouri’s trafficking law, so prosecutors often must charge for whatever drug fentanyl is laced with.  He said more and more it’s being trafficked by itself, as it’s becoming more popular to abuse.

“I have two beautiful, amazing daughters that I kind of want to ensure … that they are not going to be exposed to these things such as fentanyl and carfentanyl and these other drugs of choice that are so dangerous that being prescribed in a micro-milligram fashion can actually kill you,” said Schroer.

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and is legally used to manage pain, especially after surgery.

“We saw right before the hearing [on HB 239] that there was a record bust in the United States – 260 pounds was busted at the [U.S.] border … but in years past we’ve had many different seizures on Highway 44, Highway 70, where it was 30, 40 pounds, which was enough to kill not only everybody who’s in this Capitol right now, and this Capitol is full, it could kill many Missourians,” said Schroer.

As a criminal defense attorney Schroer represented a number of people who had battled heroin addiction.  That’s how he became aware of the rise of fentanyl.

“The majority of those people said, ‘Once fentanyl came into the picture a lot of my friends either died or a lot of my friends became so hooked that we thought it was a lost cause,’” said Schroer.

Representative Gina Mitten (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Gina Mitten (D-St. Louis) sponsored the amendment that would make possessing or trafficking Rohypnol or GHB punishable by the same penalties as those for other controlled substances.

“If you’ve got somebody at a party that’s got 37 grams of marijuana, why would they have received a greater sentence than somebody that has less than a gram of Rohypnol or GHB?” asked Mitten.  “My amendment … ensured that there was parity between those substances, because personally I believe that the ‘date rape’ drugs are apt to do a heck of a lot more damage than a large amount of marijuana or even heroin.”

Schroer and Mitten both acknowledged that Rohypnol and GHB are also used extensively in sex trafficking.

“If we’re going to take a hard stance on human trafficking it needs to include these substances,” said Mitten.

Schroer anticipates some in the Senate might try to make additions to HB 239 and then send the bill back to the House.  He is optimistic that Governor Mike Parson (R) would sign the bill if it gets to him.

House approves ethics reforms for local officials, open records exemption changes

The Missouri House has voted to enact a number of ethics reforms for local  officials, but support for the bill was tempered by an amendment that creates exemptions to the state’s open records, or “Sunshine,” law.

Representatives Nick Schroer (left) offered an amendment adding exemptions to Missouri’s open records law to a bill sponsored by Representative Shamed Dogan that dealt with ethics reform for local officials. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 445 extends to local officials the ethics policies that state lawmakers and statewide officials are now subject to.  It would bar lobbyists from making expenditures for local government officials, superintendents, or members of school boards or charter school governing boards.  Such expenditures could also not be made for those officials’ staffs or specific members of their families.

The bill would also keep elected or appointed local officials from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving office.  It would limit to $5 per day the amount a gift to such officials can cost, and cap at $2000 any campaign contributions for municipal, political subdivision, and special district office races.

Bill sponsor Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) has proposed that language for several years, based on how he saw local officials being lobbied while he was a city councilman in Ballwin.

“This is simply making sure that that same ethical standard to which we hold ourselves is also going to apply to our local elected officials, who have the same level of public trust, who are also trusted with taxpayer dollars, and who we also expect not to profit from their public service,” said Dogan.

A previous year’s version of Dogan’s bill received 149 votes when the House sent it to the Senate.  This year’s version passed out of the House on Thursday, 103-47.  Democrats said the lessening of support was due to an amendment to Dogan’s bill that they say “guts” Missouri’s open records law that has been in place since 1973.

“I appreciate [Representative Dogan] and his quest to make Missouri a better place and also improve the perception that people have and the confidence that folks have in their elected officials,” said Kansas City Democrat Jon Carpenter.

“But at the same time I’m going to vote against House Bill 445 today because unfortunately it doesn’t just do those things.  It also upends almost five decades of open records and transparency law in this state.  In fact almost unquestionably, when this bill passes it’s going to be the most radical undermining of open records and transparency law in state history,” said Carpenter.

The amendment, offered by Representative Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon), would add to exemptions from the Sunshine law any personal cell phone numbers, social security numbers or home addresses; records of constituent case files including any correspondence between an elected official and a constituent; and any document or record “received or prepared by or on behalf of” an elected or appointed official “consisting of advice, opinions, and recommendations in connection with the deliberative decision-making process of said body.”

“I took a massive interest in trying to protect the integrity of our positions,” said Schroer.

Schroer discussed with Representative Steve Helms (R-Springfield) incidents in the news that he said are the types of things he wants to prevent.

Representative Jon Carpenter and other Democrats said the changes HB 445 would make to Missouri’s open records law go too far. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications

“The Huffington Post ruined an entire family for one person’s tweets, doxing them,” said Schroer.

“So you mean the Huffington Post printed private, personal information out on social media because they disagreed with a tweet that one of the family members made?” asked Helms.

“Correct,” said Schroer.  “They accessed personal information just like I am trying to protect here.”

Democrats were largely unmoved by the concerns Schroer cited.

“I believe [Representative Schroer] protests way too much,” said Representative Deb Lavender (D-Kirkwood)“I don’t think the statute we have currently in place allows half of what he’s just told us is sunshineable … I don’t hand out people’s social security numbers.  I won’t give addresses.  I’m covered in the law that we have today.”

Dogan said he felt the provisions offered by Schroer regarding constituent information were necessary.

“I am concerned about people’s e-mail addresses, phone numbers, other personal information being a part of the public disclosure and us not being able to redact that information really is concerning,” said Dogan.  “With that said I’m not sure about the portion that has been the most controversial where it’s talking about all communications.  I think that might have been an unintentional kind of overreach, so I’m a little bit concerned about that section and I would be willing to work on toning that language down somewhat.”

Several Republicans voted against HB 445.  Dogan said most or all of those were likely opposed to campaign finance limits, which many Republicans believe limit free speech.

Today’s vote sends the legislation to the Senate, where several lawmakers in both parties said they expect it will undergo further revisions.

State lawmakers to ask governor for clemency for man sentenced as teen to 241 years

A growing body of Missouri legislators wants to ask Governor Mike Parson (R) to act on behalf of a man in state prison with a sentence that they feel far exceeds his crimes.

Bobby Bostic is currently in the Jefferson City Correctional Center serving a 214 sentence for crimes he committed in one night in 1995. (photo supplied by Representative Nick Schroer)

Bobby Bostic is serving a sentence of 241 years in prison.  Now 40, he would be eligible for parole at the age of 112.  Appeals filed on his behalf have been denied, even one on the grounds that the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that people under 18 who didn’t kill anyone couldn’t be sentenced to life without parole.  That didn’t apply to Bostic because he wasn’t sentenced to life; he was sentenced for 18 crimes.

Bostic was 16 in 1995 when he and an 18-year-old accomplice robbed a group of people delivering Christmas presents for the needy.  Each man shot a victim, leaving one slightly injured.  The pair carjacked another woman and put a gun to her head.  The accomplice robbed and groped her before she was let go.

“When you look at the cases from around that time – the late ‘90s – there are murderers that are already back out on our streets that were sent [to prison],” said Representative Nick Schroer.

Schroer, an O’Fallon Republican, says he happened upon the case when someone posted an old story about Bostic on Twitter.  He sent Bostic a letter and the two began talking, and shortly thereafter Schroer and other representatives met with Bostic at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.  It was then that Schroer decided he wanted to see the man given a chance at freedom.

Representative Nick Schroer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communciations)

“I think he should do time for the mistakes that he made and the choices that he’s made, but to put him there on a taxpayer dime for 241 years I think is unjust,” said Schroer.

One of the lawmakers that joined Schroer in that visit to JCCC is Representative Barbara Washington (D-Kansas City).  She came to the same conclusion – that the sentence was too harsh.  She and Schroer agreed to work with their respective parties to get as many lawmakers as possible to sign a letter to Governor Parson asking for clemency for Bostic.

“That’s all he has.  That’s the only thing he has.  The Supreme Court did deny his brief.  They denied to hear the case on the U.S. Supreme Court level.  I believe he’s had some appeals that have been denied on the state court level, and so at this point this is the only opportunity that this young man has had,” said Washington.  “He’s lost his whole life for 24 years.  Had he not been tried in adult court he probably would’ve been out at 25.”

Schroer and Washington say Bostic has worked to better himself during his time in prison.

“I’m not saying he’s a model prisoner – I don’t know his whole record – but what I do know is that he’s tried to take advantage of the opportunities that you can take in prison,” said Washington.  “He didn’t even have a high school diploma or GED when he went in.  He has received a GED and he’s soon to be completing his associate degree.”

Representative Barbara Washington (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Schroer said Bostic’s efforts to get an education show he’s on the right path, and said some of his actions on the night of his crimes showed at least some of his thoughts were on the right path.

“The female victim indicated that while Bobby was driving, the 18-year-old, while he was trying to find her money, groped her and then threatened to rape her, but it was the 16-year-old Bobby Bostic … that stopped any rape from occurring and got her out of the car,” said Schroer.

“It’s interesting to note,” Washington adds, “that he was 16, his co-defendant was 18, and his co-defendant will be up for parole next year.”

The judge who handed Bostic his sentence has said publicly that she now regrets, “deeply,” that decision, and wants to meet with Bostic.  Schroer believes something another judge – Missouri’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Zel Fischer – said in his State of the Judiciary Address this week also applies.

“He indicated that we should be using our prisons to house the most serious – the criminals that we, as a society, are afraid of, not the ones that we’re mad at,” said Schroer.  “I think listening to our chief justice it’s time that we give this man a second chance.”

By Thursday afternoon around 15 lawmakers had signed on to the letter started by Representatives Schroer and Washington – lawmakers from both parties and from both the House and Senate, with more having agreed to sign it.