Missouri lawmakers pass criminal code overhaul

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 1:33 p.m. CDT; updated 7:35 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 24, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers on Thursday sent Gov. Jay Nixon the first comprehensive rewrite of the state's criminal laws in decades, but supporters still face the tough task of convincing a skeptical governor that the bill doesn't contain mistakes.

The House voted 140-15 to pass the measure, and the Senate followed with a 29-2 vote about an hour later. That vote tally would be enough votes to override a potential veto.

The legislation would create new classes of felonies and misdemeanors, and it would reorganize crimes to fit the new penalty structure. Supporters said the overhaul would put violent and persistent offenders behind bars while also keeping some first-time criminals out of prison.

It would keep jail time off the table for first-time offenders convicted of possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana. Also under the bill, people who sexually abuse their family members would face longer prison sentences than under current law.

"Good, law-abiding citizens want to know that their government and the criminal justice system is doing things that keep the public safe and are doing it in a cost-effective manner," said bill sponsor Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City.

Nixon has expressed reservations that the bill would change too much at one time. He said lawmakers should break the overhaul down into separate bills and that there is "no room for error" when discussing the state's criminal laws. That sentiment was shared by one of the two senators who voted against the bill.

"The impact on victims and victim's families if something doesn't go right is terrible," said Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.

If enacted, the measure would take effect in 2017. Supporters said the delayed effective date gives the legislature time to fix any errors.

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