The Missouri House has passed a plan to make the Capitol safer for those who work and visit it.
One provision of House Bill 784 would allow the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tem to appoint marshals in their respective chambers. These marshals would have at least five years of experience in law enforcement, be licensed as a peace officer, and have to have continued training as required by the Missouri Peace Officer Standards and Training commission.
Bill sponsor Lane Roberts (R-Joplin), a former Joplin Police chief and former director of the Department of Public Safety, said the agencies responsible for Capitol security are “fragmented” and the legislature needs a security force that falls under its control.
Another provision would move control of the Capitol Police out of the Department of Public Safety and to a new Capitol Police Board. Representative Ron Hicks (R-St. Charles) has been working on this plan for several years. He shares Roberts’ concern that the public officials who work in the Capitol have no say in its security.
The new Capitol Police Board would be made up of members appointed by the House Speaker, the Senate President, the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, and the chair of the State Capitol Commission.
Those under a full order of protection or convicted of a crime of domestic violence would no longer be able to have or buy guns under a proposal now in the Missouri House. Supporters say the bill would mirror Missouri law to federal law and fix a gap unintentionally created by 2016 legislation.
House Bill 473 would require a court, when issuing an order of protection, to order that the subject of that order not be able to have firearms. Law enforcement would be notified, to make sure the order is followed. Those convicted of 2nd degree stalking and 4th degree assault would also not be able to possess a firearm.
Judy Kile has testified in past years on previous versions of this language. For six years she has been the Executive Director of COPE, a shelter in Lebanon. She told the House Committee on General Laws her twin sister was murdered by her abusive husband.
Kile said that in her work at the shelter she has seen the patterns to domestic violence. She said for a variety of reasons, a victim often goes back to an abuser a number of times even after an order of protection or conviction has been secured.
The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence has been pushing for passage of this change for years. Public Policy Director Jennifer Carter Dochler said even before SB 656 in 2016, Missouri had not mirrored the federal Violence Against Women Act. It gave direction to judges and law enforcement about removing guns from the hands of abusers.
What lawmakers unintentionally struck in 2016 had denied those under orders of protection or convicted of domestic assault when they applied for concealed carry permits. Under the 2016 law those permits are no longer needed.
An ongoing discussion about security in the Missouri State Capitol continues next week when House committees will hold hearings on two bills.
One would move control of the Capitol Police from the Department of Public Safety to a new Capitol Police Board, made up of members appointed by the House Speaker, the Senate President Pro Tem, the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, and the chair of the State Capitol Commission. Another would allow the House Speaker and the Senate President to appoint marshals to provide security and other duties.
Former Joplin Police Chief and Director of the Department of Public Safety Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) sponsors House Bill 784, which would create marshals for the House and Senate. He shares Hicks’ concern that the legislature has no control over Capitol security, and says the agencies responsible for that security are “fragmented.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have been concerned about Capitol security for many years. Lee’s Summit Democrat Keri Ingle is beginning her third year in the House after working in many public buildings in her career dealing with child welfare and adoption. She said compared to other public facilities, Capitol security is lacking.
The hearing will come just shy of three weeks after people protesting against the confirmation of the Electoral College Vote that saw Joe Biden become President stormed the U.S. Capitol. Rumors and threats in recent weeks that some state capitols, including Missouri’s, would be targeted on the day of Biden’s inauguration, led to heightened security. No such additional attacks occurred.
Ingle said she has supported Hicks’ legislation in past years, but she and others in her caucus believe a new Capitol Police Board should include two additional members chosen by the minority leaders in each chamber.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
The House also approved 133-11House 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.
A Missouri House Committee is considering barring local governments from having any ordinance or policy against specific breeds of dogs. Backers say such laws are unfair and punish responsible owners. Opponents say such local laws are needed to control threats frequently posed by some breeds.
House Bill 297 would allow local governments to have policies to control dogs, such as to prevent them from running at large, so long as they are not targeted at specific breeds.
Executive Director Bob Baker with the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation said HB 297 is too broad. He maintains that some breed-specific ordinances are actually good for the animals they target.
Baker told the committee Springfield and Kansas City shelters were once populated mostly by pit bulls that had been abandoned by owners, resulting in many of those dogs being euthanized. Then those cities required that pit bulls be spayed or neutered.