Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Missouri Senate committee debates wide-ranging crime legislation

By Quinn Coffman

The Missouri Senate Judiciary Committee briefly debated a House crime bill Monday that mirrors legislation vetoed by Gov. Mike Parson last year.

The sponsor of the bill, Republican state Rep. Lane Roberts of Joplin (pictured), said he crafted the bill to update Missouri criminal law in multiple ways while avoiding the veto that befell last session’s version.

One new provision added to the bill would keep 12- and 13-year-old felony offenders from being tried as adults.

Currently, offenders between the ages of 12 and 18 can be certified to stand trial as adults if they are charged with a “dangerous felony,” defined as murder, serious injury, or an attempt at either.

This bill would raise the minimum age to 14 for a child to be charged as an adult.

Marcia Hazelhorst, executive director of the Missouri Juvenile Justice Association, testified in favor of raising the minimum age.

“Certifying a young person as an adult is a pretty serious event,” Hazelhorst said. “One that you only do as the last resort when the court has determined there are no existing resources within the juvenile court system to support trying to rehabilitate a young person.”

Legislative leaders hope to pass an omnibus crime bill that would address a variety of issues without drawing Parson’s veto.

While the governor was largely in favor of last year’s omnibus crime bill, his office took umbrage with a provision that would require the state to pay out restitution to offenders who were exonerated with DNA evidence after their initial trial.

The governor’s office highlighted that such trials take place on the local level, with a locally elected prosecutor and locally selected jury, so the burden of paying restitution to exonerated offenders should come from local budgets — not the state’s.

Finally, there was concern that it would be possible for some sex offenders, including those who committed sexual exploitation of a minor, to have their records expunged.

The bill debated Monday doesn’t include any of the same provisions that caused the governor heartburn.

However, a Senate version of the crime bill with a similar focus includes a criminal exoneration provision that would disallow expungement for sex offenders convicted of promoting sexual performance of a child.

“There’s still plenty of time left in the session. If (the legislation) could get out of the Senate in its current position, then it has a real shot,” Roberts said. “I think the governor will look at this bill, and the provisions that are in the bill are such that he would sign it.”

Other provisions in the crime bill include:

“Blair’s Law,” which would create harsher punishments for those who endanger others with celebratory gunfire.

“Max’s Law,” which would create harsher punishments for offenders who injure or kill law enforcement animals.

Creation of a “Stop Cyberstalking and Harassment Task Force,” responsible for making recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly on how to prevent specific cyber crimes.

A provision that would allow a municipality to create a division of civilian oversight within its police department.

(Photo by Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications)

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