JEFFERSON CITY — The House passed legislation expanding police arrest powers and criminal sentences on Thursday, despite objections from black lawmakers who feared it would encourage racial profiling by law enforcement officers.
Of particular concern to black lawmakers was a provision in the bill making it a crime not to identify oneself when asked to do so after being lawfully stopped by police.
Refusing to tell the officer or to show some form of identification would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a fine of up to $300.
Some lawmakers worried the new provision would give police greater power to harass and intimidate young black men.
“This bill opens up the door for racial profiling,” said Rep. Connie Johnson, D-St. Louis.
Other black lawmakers recounted incidents in which they felt their vehicles were pulled over primarily because of their race.
“It’s not going to affect you, it’s going to affect us,” Democratic St. Louis Rep. Rodney Hubbard, who is black, said to bill sponsor Rep. Scott Lipke, who is white.
Lipke, R-Jackson, said the mandatory self-identification provision would apply only in cases where an officer has reason to suspect that a person has committed a crime or is about to do so.
The bill passed the House on a 128-28 vote, drawing support from almost all of the majority party Republicans as well as some Democrats. It now goes to the Senate.
House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, said he was sorry to hear about the experiences of his colleagues, but people need to trust law enforcement.
“I don’t think we can hesitate to pass those provisions that are in that crime bill that will actually go after criminals just because there might be a couple law enforcement officers out there doing something at least unethical, and at worst criminal acts against citizens,” Jetton said in an interview.
The Missouri attorney general compiles racial demographics on traffic stops under a law that took effect nearly five years ago. Figures for 2003 and 2002 each showed that black motorists were 40 percent more likely to be stopped by Missouri law officers than white motorists. Black drivers in 2003 were also 80 percent more likely to be searched than whites. Figures for last year are expected to be released in May.