Debate on a public safety omnibus bill that reached the House floor Tuesday focused heavily on gun legislation, as lawmakers proposed amendments that focus on preserving Second Amendment rights and eliminating many “gun-free zones” in Missouri.
As the penultimate week of the 2020 legislative session ramped up, lawmakers continued the end-of-session trend of adding as many amendments to bills as possible in the hopes that some of their legislation will become law.
Along with the gun amendments, many other changes to Senate Bill 600, a public safety omnibus bill, were proposed. These amendments covered a wide range of topics, including reducing Fentanyl trafficking, permitting EMTs in Missouri to honor out-of-state Do Not Resuscitate orders, allowing Missourians to kill feral hogs and more. But the proposed gun legislation sparked the most heated debate among lawmakers.
Second Amendment Preservation Act
A bill known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act, which had a whopping 86 co-sponsors, was the fourth amendment proposed to the public safety bill. The bill didn’t make it to the floor on its own, but Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, said the omnibus public safety bill was “the perfect vehicle” to get it made into law.
“This bill is a pro-law enforcement bill that protects law enforcement by not requiring them to enforce federal gun laws,” Taylor said. “They still could be enforced by federal agents; we just wouldn’t be doing it on a state level.”
Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, was one of two Republicans who said they have strong support for the Second Amendment with hesitations about the bill, which also proposed penalties for police officers who decide to enforce federal gun laws.
“You will note that (the bill) creates an untenable position for police officers. It creates a conflict with their oath of office, and it essentially throws them under the bus and makes them the whipping children for this issue,” Roberts said.
Roberts also took issue with the penalties officers can face if they uphold federal gun laws.
“They can be civilly sued. They can be personally liable. They lose their license. They can be prohibited from being a police officer for the rest of their natural-born days,” Roberts said. “What has that got to do with protection of the Second Amendment?”
He also noted that asking local law enforcement not to enforce federal laws could create tensions with the federal agencies Missourians rely on and need to cooperate with.
Taylor responded by pointing out that he had dozens of co-sponsors on the bill and that current and former law enforcement officers have testified in support of the bill in the past.
“You know, the guys on the streets — the ones who are actually enforcing the laws — who would be forced to be the ones to go do the knocking and the seizure of AR-15s and AK-47s,” Taylor said. “They’re the ones that I’m trying to protect. And they’re the ones that say, ‘Absolutely, we need this.’”
Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, spoke in strong support of the bill, saying constituents have come up to her in the grocery store asking her to support it.
As the debate on the Second Amendment Preservation Act amendment came to a close, Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon, added an amendment to the amendment that legalized the possession of brass knuckles. As a whole, the new amendment was adopted.
Eliminating gun-free zones
Taylor also proposed an amendment to the public safety bill that would eliminate many of Missouri’s “gun-free zones,” or allow private property owners to determine whether to allow guns on the premises.
Gun-free zones are areas where firearms are prohibited with or without a permit. The bill would remove some areas from that category, including churches, bars and amusement parks. Those institutions could decide their own policies.
Taylor said mass shootings often happen in gun-free zones because people know they can carry out an attack without being stopped in a rapid fashion.
“There’s not going to be anyone there to be able to defend themselves or their family if the need were to arise,” Taylor said. He added that it takes law enforcement time to respond and said the gun-free zones make people “easy targets.”
The debate on the amendment was heated at times, but, ultimately, the elimination of gun-free zones amendment was also adopted into the public safety omnibus bill.
Redirecting federal coronavirus funds
Following additional federal guidance that was released Monday night, lawmakers’ concerns about legislation that would allow the state to make federal coronavirus money available to cover a short-term budget shortfall all but disappeared.
House Bill 2015 would allow the state to make $750 million in federal coronavirus relief funds available to address short-term cash flow issues, which have arisen because the deadline to file state taxes was pushed from April 15 to July 15.
There was some pushback on the bill when it was heard in committee because it seemed unclear if this was a permissible use of federal relief funds.
Monday night, according to lawmakers, the U.S. Treasury Department released the following guidance: “If a government deposits fund payments into a government’s general account, it may use those funds to meet immediate cash management needs, provided that the full amount of the payment is used to cover necessary expenditures.”
With that guidance in mind, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, who had voiced concerns with the bill when it was in committee, said he believed the bill was acceptable and in line with the federal government.