Columbia representatives split on omnibus House judiciary bill

Thursday, March 25, 2010 | 8:45 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's House approved by an overwhelming margin a measure that includes expansion of the "Castle Doctrine," which provides a legal defense for killing an unwanted intruder on one's property.

Currently, the "Castle Doctrine" applies to dwellings, residences and vehicles. The House measure would add private and leased property to the grounds upon which one can use deadly force against an intruder.

What supporters call the "Castle Doctrine" allows a person to use physical force to defend against an intruder if the person believes the intruder is going to cause harm with "unlawful force." 

Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, said he proposed this amendment to protect business owners, who, according to Stevenson, would fall under the category of "private property."

Stevenson cited an armed robbery that occurred at a pharmacy near his law practice, and said under current law, the owner had an "obligation to retreat" and could not legally defend himself physically.

Representatives voted 130 to 21 in favor of Stevenson's amendment, with the majority of opposition coming from Democratic legislators representing urban areas. The amendment was to an omnibus judiciary bill, and Senate approval is needed before it becomes law.

Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, voted against the amendment. Still said legislators had "bigger issues" to discuss.

"I don't think that amendment belonged in that bill," she said.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, voted in favor of the amendment which he said featured "carefully written language."

"I don't have a problem with 'Castle Doctrine,'" Kelly said. "People should be able to defend their property. I think a lot of the issues with it are ninety-nine percent perception and one percent reality."

The amended legislation is an omnibus judiciary bill covering several unrelated issues, such as conceal and carry rights, adoption records and personal privacy.

Kelly, who also voted in favor of the over-arching law, said he was inclined to do so "primarily because it's the overall judiciary omnibus bill" and because "it will help the courts in Boone County, in every county."

Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, also supported the bill.

"This (legislation) will definitely affect Columbians," Webber said. "It protects individuals' Social Security numbers. Personal privacy is a big issue."

Under the proposed legislation, a person could request that his or her Social Security number be removed  from any filings, judgments or pleadings before they are released to the public.

Webber acknowledged that having several components in a single bill could make it difficult to agree with every statute.

"With all that in one bill, it's tough to be for or against all of it," Webber said. "Some people had parts they didn't like. The open adoption records were kind of controversial."

Still said she voted against the bill because of the adoption provisions, which would open records such as birth certificates and medical histories to adoptees over the age of 18.

"I felt there was a lack of protection for birth mothers and too much court intrusion in personal, family matters," she said.

The legislation — originally limited to real estate licensing — will move to the Senate for consideration.


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