As federal authorities are being dispatched to Kansas City amid an increase in violent crime, the Missouri Legislature will convene Monday for a special session on that topic.
Gov. Mike Parson requested the session last week and while some question the timing the week before a statewide primary election, others said it can not wait any longer.
Missouri has seen a rapid increase in crime this year, primarily in urban areas. Kansas City recently reached 101 homicides for 2020 — a 35 percent increase from 2019. In St. Louis, there have been 130 homicides so far this year compared with 99 at the same time last year.
The special session will focus on amending state statutes related to violent crime. Specifically, six different provisions will be considered: Police and public safety employee residency requirements for St. Louis; juvenile certification; witness statement admissibility; witness protection fund; endangering the welfare of a child; and unlawful transfer of weapons.
State Sen. president pro tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, sponsored legislation earlier this year regarding St. Louis police residency but it failed to pass due to the COVID-19-abbreviated session.
“We believe residency changes are necessary,” Schatz said. “They (St. Louis police) have 150 officer vacancies they are trying to fill. It will help reinforce that element of safety.”
Schatz, one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the General Assembly, said despite the super majority his party enjoys, efforts will be made to reach a consensus on all of the issues the governor wants addressed.
During the session, bills will begin in the Senate. Of them, he suspects the residency will be the most controversial issue.
As far as the timing, Schatz said it will have no impact on voting during the Aug. 4 primary since the heavy lifting will not begin in earnest until after the election.
Unlike Franklin County legislators, there are some lawmakers in the state facing heated primary races.
“It is what it is,” Schatz said. “We will go into session next week and will still be working on this after the primary.”
Schatz said Gov. Parson recently met with President Donald Trump at the White House and felt these issues needed to be addressed as soon as possible.
State Rep. John Simmons, R-Krakow, said lawmakers are in a no-win situation in addressing violent crime.
“No matter what we do, the media will drag us over the coals,” Simmons said. “I’m a fan of supporting the police.”
Simmons said the entire session may be overshadowed by those in opposition to the police, and they will get more coverage.
“They will get their day in the sun,” Simmons said. “We will get blasted for no reason, but we will do what we can and do a more robust job in January.”
Simmons said if many of the local municipalities would take care of their own issues, the Legislature would not have to step in.
“These are local decisions,” Simmons aid. “The main four or five cities having the most troubles are run by a certain party. They need to do some soul searching and focus on the laws already in place that aren’t being enforced.”
State Rep. Nate Tate, R-St. Clair, said a companion residency bill to Schatz’ circulating in the House would have passed had COVID-19 not hit.
Tate said be expects some resistance, mainly from Democrats on the matters of police reform and all ideas will be heard.
“I think anybody can support all of the issues the governor has mentioned,” Tate said. “Even with the calls to defund the police I think we will get the legislation pushed through.”
State Rep. Aaron Griesheimer, R-Washington, said representatives will report to Jefferson City next week but may not be meeting every day.
“Many of the issues may not be debated in the House until the following week,” Griesheimer said. “We’re not going to be hitting it hard and heavy until after the primary.”
Griesheimer said he is “absolutely in favor” of lifting the St. Louis police residency requirements and hopes it will bring more stabilization to city neighborhoods.
The cost to taxpayers is about $22,000 each day the General Assembly is in session.