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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Revision of the state's criminal code is highest priority

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 | 1:23 p.m. CDT; updated 1:39 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 1, 2014

After at least two years of hearings, meetings and hard work, the Missouri Senate has come up with a much-needed overhaul of the state's criminal code.

Now it looks like the governor is not quite willing to sign off on it.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said the Senate does not plan to spend more time on the bill until Republican Sen. Bob Dixon of Springfield and Democratic Sen. Jolie Justus of Kansas City can work out a way to a "path forward" with Gov. Jay Nixon.

After all the work, including 25 public hearings and support from prosecutors, the Missouri Bar Association, public defenders and victim advocates, it is frustrating for Dixon and Justus, who have spearheaded this effort, to have to go back and make changes.

But we encourage them to do just that.

The governor's office points out that the proposed legislation of more than 1,100 pages is simply too much in one bill. He would prefer that it be broken down into more manageable pieces.

Dixon correctly points out that piecemeal efforts to fix the 1979 code is what created the problems. He would prefer to address the code as a whole.

The governor is also correct when he says that, given the high stakes of the project, there is no room for error.

Now it is time for the senators and the governor's office to sit down and find a compromise that will both overhaul the entire system and do it in smaller bites. That way, if something needs to be tweaked it won't hold up the entire process.

Dixon and Justus have already started the effort by working through their spring break to scale down the size of the bill by 400 pages.

It is important that the code provide prosecutors with the tools to put dangerous criminals behind bars, while giving defenders tools they need, as well.

The legislature has been committed to this project for years. Revising the criminal code was among House Speaker Tim Jones' agenda items for 2013. Jones pointed out that the incremental changes over the decades have left the code disorganized and inconsistent.

This effort hasn't been easy. Creating a code that is fair, addresses current realities and reflects the tough-on-crime attitude of most Missourians has taken a lot of work. It is no surprise that it has taken almost 40 years to get this done.

If a Republican and a Democrat could work together to make it happen, they should be able to deal with the governor.

Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Distributed by the Associated Press.


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