JEFFERSON CITY — Lawmakers debated for hours Tuesday evening while creating the largest crime bill of the 2021 legislative session.

The overarching bill, Senate Bill 26, was brought to the House floor for initial approval. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, and handled in the House by Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon.

House lawmakers added 19 amendments to the already controversial bill, which was strongly opposed by Democrats.

One of the most contentious portions of the bill deals with “unlawful traffic interference” — namely, protesting on roadways.

The legislation would specify that sitting, standing, kneeling, laying or placing an object on a roadway is a criminal offense. Blocking traffic without permission would result in an infraction for the first offense. The second offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail, followed by a felony with a $10,000 fine or up to seven years in prison.

Lawmakers said this provision was brought about in response to last summer’s protest on Interstate 70, in which protesters blocked traffic in response to the May 25 killing of George Floyd.

Democrats said the bill further criminalizes protesters and divides Missourians.

Rep. Yolanda Young, D-Kansas City, said passing the bill will “extinguish the voices” of Missourians.

“We do not have the right to hinder, halt or take hostage the constitutional rights of Missourians who peacefully and lawfully protest,” Young said.

Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, was one of leaders of last summer’s protest. He said he was hurt by the bill.

“If we really care about true criminal justice reform, we will find a different avenue,” Aldridge said.

An amendment by Rep. Mark Sharp, D-Kansas City, states that if someone commits a crime before the age of 18 and is given a prison sentence, they will be eligible for parole after 15 years in prison. This would not apply to murder or capital murder.

The amendment was inspired by Bobby Bostic, a convicted felon currently serving a 241-year sentence. When Bostic was 16 years old, he robbed a group of people at gunpoint and kidnapped a woman, alongside his 18-year-old accomplice.

Bostic will not be eligible for parole until he is 112 years old.

Sharp said this legislation will benefit many Missourians, giving them a chance to return to society after committing crimes in their youth.

An amendment by Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, would alter the statewide concealed carry requirements. In particular, this brings the minimum age to obtain a concealed carry permit down to 18 years old, down from 19.

An amendment proposed by Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, would provide “protections for our ER and ambulance staff by creating a new crime: interference with a health care facility, which includes ambulances. It also gives the ability for ER staff to use initials whenever they are a victim of a crime that occurs at the hospital.”

When asked by Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, if this amendment “was motivated by protesters of Planned Parenthood causing disturbances,” Hill made sure to clarify, “no, not at all.”

The amendment specifically protects workers that are assaulted inside a health care facility, not outside those facilities.

An amendment proposed by Rep. Brian Seitz, R-Branson, would include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as an occupational disease if the person diagnosed is a first responder.

The overarching bill also:

  • creates a fund to assist peace officers in coping with stress and psychological trauma.
  • establishes vandalism of public property as a felony.
  • limits the extent to which local law enforcement budgets can be altered.
  • and specifies the process of disciplinary action for law enforcement officers.

Immediately following the bill’s adoption, the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement in opposition to the bill.

“After witnessing the importance of holding law enforcement to account, House Republicans pass laws like Senate Bill 26 that make it much more difficult to investigate police officers accused of wrongdoing. … We cannot fix unjust systems by covering up their flaws and protecting bad actors, but this bill does just that,” Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, D-Kansas City, said in the statement.

“We are supposed to be rooting out bad apples, but instead, the Missouri General Assembly is happy to let them spoil the bunch,” Bland Manlove, chair of the caucus, said.

{p dir=”ltr”}In the statement, caucus Vice-Chair Alan Gray, D-Blackjack, said that “in addition to its anti-accountability measures, Senate Bill 26 invents a new crime to penalize protesters’ tactics, potentially charging them with felonies after repeated offenses. This bill is nothing more than an attempt to threaten, intimidate, and silence Black activists for exercising their First Amendment rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech.”

The bill will be sent back to the Senate for final approval. If the Senate does not approve the changes — which is expected, given the large number of amendments — it will be taken to a conference committee.

In conference committees, lawmakers from the House and Senate gather to hash out differences in a bill.

Schroer told fellow House members to support the legislation even if they don’t like all amendments, because they can remove many of them in conference.

  • State Government Reporter, spring 2021. Studying print & digital journalism. Reach me at hannah.norton@mail.missouri.edu, on Twitter @HannahNorton89, or in the newsroom at 573-882-5700.

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