It’s easy to dismiss Gov. Parson’s special session on violent crime, which concluded this past week, as a bust.
Lawmakers passed only two of Parson’s six proposals: legislation allowing St. Louis police to live outside the city and a bill creating a fund for witness protection services, which lawmakers failed to put money into.
Predictably, Democrats labeled it a failure and embarrassment.
“The governor has wasted $200,000 and counting in taxpayer money on a vanity special session solely intended to boost his flagging prospects for election to a full term,” complained House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield.
The governor shrugged off the criticism, saying, “You’re not going to hit a home run every time in this building. We’re very content with what we got moving. Anything we can do to help law enforcement, to help victims in this state (and) to fight violent crime is a win, no matter how big or small it is.”
In this case, Democratic lawmakers and Parson each have a point.
First and foremost, the session was a missed opportunity to address the state’s No. 1 problem — the surge in violent crime in the state’s largest urban areas. Anyone who doesn’t view violent crime as a major impediment to moving our state forward isn’t dealing in reality.
Parson, a former sheriff, is viewed as an honest broker on this issue. He is law and order by nature but also open to criminal justice reforms. Ultimately, his agenda for the session derailed because it contained too much law and order and not enough reform to build a bipartisan coalition to get more done.
The governor seriously miscalculated on a proposal to give the Missouri attorney general the power to intervene in St. Louis homicide cases, which ended up consuming much of the time and energy of the session and ultimately died in the House, which is dominated by Republicans.
But the session did result in a bill eliminating the residency requirement for St. Louis police officers, which St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden said was the greatest challenge for his department in terms of recruitment and retention.
The bill is a major victory for the St. Louis Police Department, which has been operating with a deficit of 100 or more officers for months, and ultimately should help quell violence in that city.
But overall, the special session was an expensive disappointment and a huge missed opportunity for our state.