Missouri legislature passes wide-ranging crime bill

Friday, May 15, 2009 | 4:16 p.m. CDT; updated 10:26 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 20, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — Lawmakers have passed a wide-ranging crime bill that would add new restrictions on sex offenders, ban text messaging while driving and impose new penalties on owners of dangerous dogs.

The legislation also would increase penalties for cattle rustlers and ban beer bongs and kegs from many rivers.

The 126-page bill was approved by lawmakers in both the House and Senate just hours before the end of the legislative session on Friday. It now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon.

Under the bill, sex offenders would face several new restrictions. They could not be within 500 feet of a park that has playground equipment or a swimming pool. They also could not be a coach or trainer of a sports team that has a member who is younger than 17.

Sex offenders also would be prohibited from going within 500 feet of a child care facility if children are present. That provision would not affect a person visiting their own child.

Under the bill, so-called Romeo and Juliet offenders could have their names removed from the state's sex-offender registry. Currently, sex offenders 19 or younger can ask to have their names removed two years after a conviction if the victim was older than 13 and the crime was a misdemeanor that did not involve force.

The change would allow those 18 and younger to immediately ask to have their names removed for misdemeanor child molestation and sexual misconduct crimes committed against a victim older than 13.

Among other provisions in the bill:

  • People 21 or younger could face a $200 fine if they send or receive a text message while driving.
  • Owning machines that turn alcohol into a mist that can be inhaled could be punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine on the first offense, or up to four years in prison for a second violation.
  • Bringing beer bongs or kegs onto most Missouri rivers and streams would be punishable by up to a year in jail. Certain coolers would also be banned, but people could still bring most plastic foam coolers.
  • Cattle rustlers who steal more than $3,000 worth of livestock could face up to 15 years in prison and would be required to serve at least 80 percent of their sentences before being eligible for probation or parole.
  • Penalties would increase for owners of dangerous dogs. If a dog that has previously bitten someone attacks another person, the owner could face a $500 fine. Fines could be increased if the attack causes a serious injury.

Those who kill a dog while facing "imminent harmful contact" would not be held liable in a lawsuit for the dog's death. Owners of dogs that bite someone while on public property could have to pay damages caused by the attack and would have to pay an additional $1,000 fine.



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