Representative Ron Hicks (R-Defiance) said goodbye to his colleagues on Friday as his term in the House is drawing to a close, due to term limits. He spent the vast majority of that time offering his thanks to his colleagues and House staff and to specific individuals therein, and to his family.
Anyone exonerated of a crime in Missouri would be eligible for restitution under a plan that has been advanced by a House committee.
Missouri law allows anyone freed from prison based on DNA evidence to receive restitution. House Bills 2412 and 2474 would allow those exonerated by any other proof to receive up to $100 a day, up to $36,500 per fiscal year.
“The bottom line to legislation like this is correcting what we’ve done wrong. As a society, we put people away. We’ve incarcerated them for years … and then we release them with nothing,” said Hicks. “We’re not returning them to the way they were when we incarcerated them. We’re not making them whole again … and when I mean ‘whole again,’ that’s vaguely used because you’ll never make someone whole again once you’ve taken their life away from them and then you hand it back.”
Missouri’s restitution statute drew attention following the release late last year of Kevin Strickland, who spent 42 years in prison for a crime of which he was cleared but not by DNA evidence.
“Under Missouri law he is not eligible for compensation from the state of Missouri, so thankfully he was able to get a lot of national attention to his case. He had a GoFundMe. They’ve raised over $1-million to this point. My belief … is that folks like him … should get compensation from the state because … they were done wrong,” said Dogan.
Many members expressed support for the proposal, but brought up things they’d like to see added.
Kansas City Democrat Ashley Aune said she wants to see an addition to the bill to ensure exonerees are provided with assistance upon release, in areas like housing and healthcare.
Columbia representative David Smith (D) was the only vote against the bill. He opposed it because it would prohibit exonerees from taking the state to court if they receive restitution under this plan.
Smith suggested allowing exonerees to sue the state and subtracting any resulting settlement from the amount they receive in restitution.
Supporters of the bill include the Missouri Chapter of the NAACP, whose president, Nimrod Chapel, enthusiastically said the bill, “may not be perfect, but it is a damn site better than where we have been.”
Another organization offering support is the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. Cole County prosecutor Locke Thompson said, “As prosecutors we work with people daily, usually victims of crimes, trying to make them whole after they’ve been victimized. It seems only right that when something as awful as a wrongful conviction happens and we have an actually innocent person in that we make amends to try and make those individuals whole as well.”
The bills, which have identical language, would also require that an exoneree automatically receive an order of expungement.
The committee voted 13-1 to send HB 2474 to another committee. From there it could go to the full House.
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.
“It’s sad that in this particular day and time we would have to do a thing like this, but given the environment that we unfortunately had to watch in Washington D.C. it’s a prudent move. These individuals would be focused on the security of the two chambers and the membership,” said Roberts.
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.
“This is just one of those steps that we are taking forward to make sure that the safety and security of the people that visit this building, not to mention ourselves and our families that come to visit us, are safe and secure in this building. As you know we’ve been left alone in this building as far as our security and our safety goes,” said Hicks.
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.
The proposal now goes to the Senate.
Baringer = (BARE-in-jerr)
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.
“This bill … is not about taking the 2nd Amendment rights away from you, to bear arms. It’s about protecting the women and children and even men in our state. This is an issue I believe all of us can agree on,” said bill sponsor Ron Hicks (R-St. Charles).
House Bill 473 would address an issue with Missouri state law that was exacerbated with the passage of Senate Bill 656 in 2016.
“This is something that [the House] has tried to tackle for years. In 2016 I sat in this body when a promise was made by our former speaker … to have this put back in. It was stricken out of a bill and all I want to do is put it back in,” said Hicks.
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.
She said at her sister’s funeral many people told her they wished there was something they could do. She told lawmakers, “I’m gonna put that on you all. There’s something you can do. You can get the guns away during that time that’s so volatile.”
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.
“If I took a poll I would say that 90-percent of the people – it’s women, mostly, in our shelter – that come into our shelter have had a gun held to their head in their home, and sometimes, a gun held to their children’s head.”
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.
Hicks said following the hearing he spoke to a representative of the NRA and he believes that organization will issue a letter of support for the bill.
The committee has not voted on the legislation.
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.
House Bill 785, which would create the Capitol Police Board, is sponsored by St. Charles Republican Ron Hicks. He says legislators and other public officials in the Capitol have no control over the security.
“Over the years Capitol Police just seems like it’s been kind of a neglected police department. They’ve been the most underpaid department in, just about in the state,” said Hicks. “One of the problems we have with it is security. We’re in the House and the Senate and we do not have control of the security that happens in our building.”
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.”
“We have several different law enforcement agencies directed by a number of different entities,” said Roberts. “Right now the assembly would have to make a request of somebody else and hope that request would be [granted]. This would give the Assembly the ability to determine for itself the level of security that it gets.”
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.
“Right now I would say it’s one of our greatest priorities,” said Ingle. “As someone who’s worked in crisis situations and someone who’s studied this particular problem, I would say that emergency preparedness is something that we should do outside of a crisis situation … we can’t wait until something happens to start developing a plan for when it happens again.”
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.
All three legislators agree those events highlight the importance of making changes. Representative Roberts said recent events were something of a “reality check … for people who would like to believe that everybody in the world is actually civilized. In truth there’s some fairly uncivilized people out there,” said Roberts. “The reality of where we are was brought home to us in a pretty ugly fashion.”
Hicks said the increased security during the inauguration of Governor Mike Parson (R) and again this week during President Biden’s inauguration highlights one of his main concerns.
“The point has been proven … [Wednesday there were] probably 50 or so Highway Patrol officers in [the Capitol]. That means there are 50 or so Highway Patrol officers that are not doing what they normally do for us. That means we’re borrowing. I’ve noticed, too, the park rangers have been walking around in our building … they don’t even know where they are in that building,” said Hicks. “There’s a lot of ins and outs in that building that there’s a lot of people don’t understand or even know how it operates or works. And we don’t want to be borrowing. What about when the time comes where all this settles back down and we’re all back in the legislature, does [security] all go away again? It does.”
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.
Ingle said a “glaring” concern to her and other Democrats is that people can carry firearms into the Capitol.
“There’s nothing to stop them from entering someone’s office or entering the [chamber] floor. Obviously we have doormen, but as we were told during a security briefing there’s not really anything to stop someone who’s armed from entering our balconies. Even though they are not supposed to, they are not checked in any way after they go through that initial security screening when they enter the building,” said Ingle.
HB 785 will go before the House Special Committee on Homeland Security, Monday at noon. A live stream of that hearing will be available here.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“The bottom line here is they’re trying to tell us we can’t own pit bulls,” bill sponsor Ron Hicks (R-Dardenne Prarie) told the House Special Committee on Urban Issues. “I own my property. I own my home. I own the land that my home sits on. I don’t think I should be told that I cannot own a certain type of domesticated animal.”
Hicks told the committee he knows dogs are sometimes associated with dog fighting rings, drug dealing, or other illegal activities.
“I’m not telling [local governments] they can’t have leash laws. I’m not saying they can’t have fence laws. I’m not saying they can’t create their own laws if a dog were to bite somebody and then quarantine it – things like that. I’m simply asking that you allow me to own my dog and you allow me to be responsible for it. If my dog breaks the law you come to me, just like if my child breaks the law you come to me,” Hicks said.
Numerous pet owners and several organizations spoke in favor of Hicks’ legislation, while four people representing three groups, spoke in opposition.
Dana Strunk with the group Safety Before Dangerous Dogs argued that breed-specific laws are needed to offset owners who don’t take proper care of their animals.
“As Americans, Missourians have a right to live in a safe community. They have a right to walk their dog down the street, work in their garden, ride their bike, and without fear of being attacked by a dog,” Strunk told the committee. “If you prohibit [breed-specific laws] where will your constituents go who don’t want to live next door to a public safety threat? Is it fair to force them to live in worry whether the owner is responsible or not?”
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.
Legislators on the committee questioned Baker’s data and his position that breed-specific ordinances benefited animals. They asked him to provide more information to the committee.
The Missouri Municipal League opposes HB 297 saying dog regulations should be up to local governments.
The Committee has not voted on the bill.