House proposes Capitol security changes

      The Missouri House has passed a plan to make the Capitol safer for those who work and visit it. 

Representative Ron Hicks (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      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.

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      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 bill passed on a nearly unanimous vote, 155-3St. Louis representative Donna Baringer (D) and other Democrats backed the ideas.

      “Unfortunately during these trying times we need security and this will do just that for us as we sit here on this floor,” Baringer said.

      The proposal now goes to the Senate.

Pronunciations:

Baringer = (BARE-in-jerr)

Domestic abusers could not legally have guns under House proposal

      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.

Representative Ron Hicks (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      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.

      “We’re very appreciative of Representative Hicks’ leadership to close a loophole in Missouri’s law and to protect victims of domestic violence,” said Carter Dochler.

      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.

Capitol Security an Early Session Priority for House

      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.

Representative Ron Hicks (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 05-14-2020)

      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.”

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 02-26-2020)

      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. 

      “It’s really important that all of the members of the House feel that this board is looking out for the best interests of everyone and that we have a say in that as well,” said Ingle.

      Ingle said a “glaring” concern to her and other Democrats is that people can carry firearms into the Capitol. 

Representative Keri Ingle (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications, 04-29-2020)

      “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 House Committee on Crime Prevention will hold a hearing on HB 784 at the same time.  That live stream will be available here.

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 Committee considers proposal to bar breed-specific local laws

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.

Representative Ron Hicks (photo; Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

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.

“We need to start punishing the individual for the crime that they do.  If they train an animal to attack or be violent then they should pay the price,” said Hicks.

“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.

“They were very, very successful.  Both Kansas City and Springfield reduced their shelter population of pit bulls by 50-percent,” said Baker.  “We wouldn’t want that to be overturned.”

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.