Law changing sentencing for crack cocaine will go into effect without signature

Friday, July 13, 2012 | 6:41 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon wrapped up action on legislation passed this year by lawmakers, signing measures Friday that require periodic reviews of state regulations and that repeal old programs. Another bill that includes changes to sentencing for crack cocaine will take effect without Nixon's signature.

Nixon, a Democrat, called the measures he signed "good government" bills that would help state government operate more efficiently. The governor's office said the legislative process for the final measure could have been more "transparent and deliberative" but was sufficient for it to become law. It declined to elaborate.

The Republican-led legislature, on the final day of its session, approved broad legislation dealing with various aspects of the state's judiciary, including prison sentences for certain drug offenses. The bill reduces Missouri's 75-to-1 ratio in sentencing for the two different types of cocaine to a ratio of about 18-to-1.

Currently, a person convicted in Missouri of producing, distributing or possessing more than 2 grams of crack faces the same prison sentence as someone convicted of a similar offense involving more than 150 grams of powder cocaine. Someone with at least 6 grams of crack faces the same penalty as a person with at least 450 grams of powder.

Instead, people convicted of having more than 8 grams of crack will face the same punishment as those with at least 150 grams of powder cocaine. And those with at least 24 grams of crack will face the same prison sentence as those with at least 450 grams of powder

Republican and Democratic lawmakers praised changes in sentencing for the drug crimes. Federal drug laws in 2010 were changed to more closely align prison sentences for crack and powder cocaine, and a national group that advocated for criminal justice reforms last year urged more than a dozen states to eliminate sentencing disparities.

Bills that were not signed or vetoed by Saturday take effect automatically without the governor's signature — something Nixon has allowed the past two years for abortion bills. This year, Nixon vetoed 14 bills that were not part of the state's operating budget.

The bills signed Friday require state agencies to review their rules every five years starting in 2015. The review would include an analysis of whether a rule overlaps with any others, whether there is a less restrictive alternativeand whether the rule continues to be necessary. The other bill eliminates unfunded and obsolete state government programs.

Nixon said the measures will continue efforts by his administration to improve how state government functions.

The legislation "will help keep Missouri on that same track by requiring regular review of administrative rules, and by cleaning up our statutes through the removal of laws that pertain to obsolete programs," Nixon said.

Sen. Bob Dixon, who sponsored the Senate's version of the administrative rules legislation, said controlling the regulations developed by state agencies will help small businesses and boost economic development.

"This bill requires an unelected bureaucracy to keep its house in order," said Dixon, R-Springfield. "This legislation injects necessary discipline into the regulatory process, forcing state agencies to look back at what they have written."

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