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

‘Corey’s Law:’ House proposal aims to preserve evidence in Missouri stabbing cases

Missouri House Members are looking for the right way to make sure evidence is not discarded when a person is stabbed or shot.

Corey Laykovich (right) and his mother, Michelle Metje, along with his two brothers. (photo from the family)

The bill is known as Corey’s Law for Corey Laykovich, who at the age of 22 died in a hospital after being stabbed in 2013.  The investigation of his stabbing was hindered when his clothing was discarded while he was being treated in the hospital, eliminating the possibility that DNA evidence on that clothing might have found his killer.

A man pleaded guilty to the crime five years later and was sentenced to 9 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.  Corey’s mother, Michelle Metje, believes his sentence could have been longer if the evidence had been secured.

“I like to make the point that [the man who stabbed Corey] … during the time between the time he killed my son and the time he was arrested, he was arrested eight other times … three of which were heinous crimes against individuals.  These are eight other victims that are being put through this because of what happened in the very early stages of my son’s investigation,” said Metje.

House Bill 2086 would require emergency rooms to have a secure storage unit for forensic evidence collected while treating the victim of a gunshot or stab wound.  It would require three hours of annual training for ER staff on the collection of evidence, and that ERs have evidence collection kits.  It would also require ER staff to report to law enforcement the treatment of any stab wound that is more than an inch deep.

“In the State of Missouri if it’s a gunshot wound it’s reported to the police department immediately.  If it is a dog bite it is reported to the police department, however if it’s a stabbing wound there is no indication that they have to report that.  As a matter of fact they’re told by their legal department not to report it,” said bill sponsor Rory Rowland (D-Independence).

Rowland said the loss of evidence such as in Corey’s case is “not uncommon.”

Michelle Metje and Representative Rory Rowland (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

“My goal here is not to embarrass law enforcement.  My goal here is not to embarrass hospitals.  They all have a very difficult job, but … When they’re working in a situation like this and you’ve got someone whose got mortal wounds or extremely serious wounds, number one their job is to save a life and we want them all to do that.  However when you do in fact have a fatality and that person may, in fact, have been murdered … we need to make sure that we protect the evidence,” said Rowland.

The bill was presented to the House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety.  Lawmakers on that panel voiced support for the concept of the bill but discussed with Rowland the need to change the language, particularly concerning stab wounds of once inch deep or less.

“I would rather err on the side of caution,” said Representative Justin Hill (R-Lake St. Louis), a former law enforcement officer.  “’Cause a one inch stab wound in the neck is deadly.  A one inch stab wound in the buttocks is not.”

Rowland agreed the language of the bill could need some changes and said he is open to exploring those.

Since her son’s death, Metje and Corey’s stepfather, Robert Norris, turned her social work background into Corey’s Network, Inc.  It provides support, advocacy, and services to homicide victims in the Kansas City metropolitan police precincts that have no such advocates.

Metje told the Committee the legislation is not a continuation of those efforts.

“We’re not proposing this for Corey nor for our family.  We are creating it for the parents and families that will lose a loved one to homicide in the future,” said Metje.

The Committee has not voted on the legislation.

House initially approves ‘Simon’s Law;’ would require parents be made aware of end to child’s life-sustaining care

The House is close to voting to prevent do-not-resuscitate orders from being issued for Missouri children without a parent being aware.

Representative Bill Kidd has offered Simon’s Law for four years. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 138 is commonly known as “Simon’s Law.”  It would prohibit a health care facility, nursing home, physician, nurse, or medical staff from putting such an order in a child’s file without a parent’s permission.  That permission may be written, or given orally in the presence of at least two witnesses.

“This is a parental rights bill that says only you can determine the outcome for your child,” said bill sponsor Bill Kidd (R-Buckner).

The bill is named for Simon Crosier, who died at three months old after, his parents say, a DNR order was put on his chart without their knowledge.  His parents testified to a House Committee last year that when the monitors in his room went off as he died, they didn’t understand why no medical staff responded to try to save him.

Kidd said under “Simon’s Law,” doctors will have to have a conversation with parents about the care of their child, “so that the conversation happens.  So that when the buzzers go off and your child codes, no one stands there like the Crosiers did wondering why no one shows up.”

Kidd has offered Simon’s Law in some form for four years.  Last year’s version would have required written permission from a parent or legal guardian of a patient under 18 years old before a DNR or similar order could be issued.  It was opposed by some parents and medical practitioners, some of whom said forcing a parent to sign off on such a document was “really inhumane.”

Since then, Kidd said he met with hospitals, parents, and doctors to refine the legislation.

“What I discovered in sitting across the table and talking to parents who had been through this was that for many of them it was as if they had signed their child’s death warrant,” said Kidd.  “As I listened to their emotional pain, still reliving that very action, I realized that there had to be a different way.”

Representative Rory Rowland (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

By including the ability for two witnesses to attest to a doctor having discussed the situation with parents, Kidd says that onus has been taken off of parents, and that has alleviated some opponents’ concerns.  No one testified against HB 138 when it went was heard by a House committee.

Independence Democrat Rory Rowland, who has spoken many times during debates about his son JP who has Down syndrome, spoke emotionally in favor of Kidd’s legislation.

“There will be few times when I will take the microphone and beseech all of you to vote for a bill because it is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the right thing to do,” said Rowland.  “There is no question in my mind or my soul that what we are doing today is profoundly correct for parents who have children with disabilities.”

The House gave initial approval to HB 138.  Another favorable vote would send it to the Senate.

House proposes increase in state aid to sheltered workshops

The Missouri House has voted to increase state financial support to sheltered workshops.

Representative Rory Rowland’s has a son, JP, who has Down syndrome and loves working in a Kansas City-area workshop. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

House Bill 2644 would increase from $19 to $21 dollars the amount the state pays to workshops for every six-hour or longer day worked by a handicapped employee. Backers say the boost would give those workshops and their employees more financial stability, while reaffirming the state’s support for them and the work they do.

HB 2644 is sponsored by Representative Rory Rowland (D-Independence), whose son JP has Down syndrome and works in a Kansas City-area workshop.

“I want to thank everyone in this body for your kindness and support of this,” an emotional Rowland told his House colleagues. “This means so much to my family [and] my son.”

Many lawmakers spoke while HB 2644 was before the House about the workshops in their districts and what those mean to their communities, and their employees.

Representative David Wood (R-Versailles) has been on the board of directors for a workshop in his district for more than 30 years. He said the employees of that workshop would rather be there than have a day off even on holidays.

“You see these workers not grumbling about being there. They want don’t want to take off. They want to be at work. They want the socialization. They want to feel a worth,” said Wood. “When you’re packaging something that they can go to Wal-Mart and see on the shelf and say, ‘Hey, I packaged that. I did that work,’ it gives them a feeling of self-worth that nothing else can.”

Representative Richard Brown (D-Kansas City) is the parent of a daughter with cerebral palsy who died at the age of 15.

Representative David Wood has been on the board of directors for a sheltered workshop for more than 30 years.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

“As a parent I often wondered, ‘Where would my child be able to go to work?’” Brown told his House colleagues. “A lot of the kids that she went to school with, they work at a sheltered workshop in my district called Southeast Enterprises, and when I look at kids like Dwayne Bell or Tiffany Johnson I see the joy that comes from their heart from going to work every day and having the ability to maintain a job and having a sense of purpose and a sense of self-worth from doing a job each day.”

Hermann Republican Justin Alferman said the value of workshops doesn’t only come from what they mean to their employees. He spoke about a component for air conditioner compressors that is made at a workshop in his district.

“It’s not just about giving these individuals a job. They are huge economic drivers of our communities,” said Alferman.

Wood said because of a combination of lagging state support and a pencil producer moving its operation from his district to the country of Mexico, the workshop he sits on the board of had to cut 45 of its employees.

“The state aid is extremely important. This is an extremely important program to the State of Missouri. They do work that you wouldn’t believe,” said Wood.

Rowland and other lawmakers thanked Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) and House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) for their support of the legislation.

HB 2644 goes to the Senate with less than two weeks left in the legislative session, but Rowland is optimistic that because of its subject matter it will receive enough attention to pass before the session’s end.

Earlier story:  Effort to reaffirm House support for sheltered workshops led by lawmaker whose son works in one

Effort to reaffirm House support for sheltered workshops led by lawmaker whose son works in one

A representative who says sheltered workshops make a huge difference in his son’s life spearheaded an effort to signal the legislature’s continued backing for those facilities.

Representative Rory Rowland (right) introduces his son JP on the Missouri House Floor (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Independence Democrat Rory Rowland offered House Concurrent Resolution 28, which was adopted by both the House and Senate and declares those chambers’ support for sheltered workshops.

Rowland’s son JP has Down syndrome and works in a Kansas City-area workshop.

“A sheltered workshop is a great opportunity.  For my son, he loves it.  I actually asked him to come down and lobby with me on a variety of days for this resolution and he actually would rather go to work at a sheltered workshop, and I found that remarkable,” said Rowland.  “It was a great testament to the success of sheltered workshops for people with disabilities.  It gives him something that he feels is worthwhile and gives him a sense of accomplishment.”

Rowland said he was inspired to propose the resolution in response to the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.  He was told by relatives of sheltered workshop employees, and by workshop managers, that the Act was having unintended consequences.

Rowland said the Act makes it more difficult for people with intellectual disabilities between the ages of 21 and 25 to get employment at a sheltered workshop.

“They really created what I call a, ‘bridge to nowhere.’  Between the age of 21 to 25 there’s no way that these young people can get in there unless they jump through a number of hoops that I think are really unrealistic in regards to what they have to do,” said Rowland.

Rowland believes the Act’s aim is to get more people with intellectual disabilities into competitive employment, but he said that doesn’t work for everyone – including his son.

“We tried to get competitive employment for my son and he got rejected time after time after time.  He’s just not one of those people that’s eligible for competitive employment … we then sought out a sheltered workshop and found out the limitations in regards to the Workforce Innovation Act and how difficult it is now to get into a sheltered workshop if you’re under the age of 25,” said Rowland.

Rowland said he filed the resolution to raise attention about the impacts of the Act.

“The resolution was really designed to give the opportunity family members [of employees], and managers of sheltered workshops the opportunity to talk to their federal legislators and say, ‘I think we need to rethink the Workforce Innovation Act,’” said Rowland.

He said the resolution’s path through and adoption by the legislature generated a great deal of news coverage and other attention that he thinks could be its greatest effect – to generate attention.

Meanwhile JP Rowland is doing well at the workshop he works at.

“If he didn’t have a sheltered workshop he literally would be home today watching TV or playing video games, and I don’t think any of us after a while would feel like we should leave high school and be retired,” said Rowland.  “He now gets a chance to go to work, develop some skills, but also from a family member’s standpoint, you know he’s got three brothers and sisters and they get to talk about their job when we have family gatherings, and now they get to ask him about his job and he feels like he’s a contributing part of society.  I think that’s an important key – for him to have that sense of accomplishment, that sense of achievement, that sense of belonging.”

Rowland’s resolution passed out of the House 152-1.

He said that during the 2018 session he anticipates the possible formation of a task force to delve into issues faced by those with intellectual disabilities when seeking competitive employment.