A bill meant to make it easier for sex trafficking victims to avoid being prosecuted for prostitution is advancing through the Missouri House.
Missouri law makes it an affirmative defense for a minor charged with prostitution to have been acting under coercion at the time of the crime. Under House Bill 397 it would be an affirmative defense that the defendant was under the age of 18. It would also allow a person guilty of prostitution while a minor to apply to the courts to have records of that crime expunged.
The bill would also add some offenses related to child abuse and sex trafficking to the state law’s definition of “pattern of criminal gang activity.” Advocates say the frequency of trafficking operations being conducted by gangs has increased in recent years.
Office of Child Advocate Director Kelly Schultz spoke in support of that provision. She told the committee about the handling of a case when a child in the state’s foster system was found to have been trafficked.
The Missouri House voted to override the governor’s vetoes of four items in the state operating budget that became law in July. The Senate has opted not to take up those items for consideration, so the governor’s vetoes will stand.
The House voted to override Governor Mike Parson’s (R) vetoes on line-items that support juvenile advocacy units in the Kansas City and St. Louis offices of the state public defender; time-critical centers for heart attack and stroke patients in Missouri hospitals; independent reviews by the Office of Child Advocate of local offices that serve troubled youths; and the oversight of grants to organizations that serve the deaf and blind. The four items totaled more than $785,000.
House budget leaders said those items will be brought up for consideration when the legislature meets again in January, for the start of its regular session.
The House voted only on five budget items during its annual veto session, which began and ended Wednesday. On the fifth budget item, $50,000 for grants to law enforcement agencies for the purchase of tourniquets for officers, the House fell short of the constitutional majority needed for an override.
Money for inspections of state-certified heart attack and stroke trauma centers
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said after the governor vetoed money to fund inspections and certification of time-critical trauma centers for heart attack and stroke patients, his administration then said those inspections would be conducted anyway. Fitzpatrick said he wants to see the inspections continue, but for them to be funded by pulling money from parts of the budget not intended for them violates the role of the legislature in the budget process.
Money for Office of Child Advocate review of local abuse investigations
$100,000 for the Office of Child Advocate would pay for two people that St. Charles Republican Kurt Bahr said would conduct a thorough review of how child abuses cases are processed. He said the office needs those two additional staff members to keep up with that extra work.
Money for oversight of grants to organizations serving Missouri’s deaf and blind
The $45,000 for the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing would pay for a person to oversee grants to organizations serving the deaf and blind. That position was created as part of House Bill 1696 passed in 2016, which was sponsored by Representative Lyle Rowland (R-Cedarcreek). He said those grants have been fully funded for the past two years.
Money for public defenders for juveniles in Kansas City and St. Louis
Fitzpatrick said the $487,000 for juvenile advocacy units in the St. Louis and Kansas City offices of the public defender system would ensure that the constitutional right to counsel for juveniles in those regions would be met.