An omnibus crime bill passed and is headed to the governor’s desk after a heated debate Friday in the Missouri House of Representatives . If it becomes law, the bill would restrict which convicted criminals are eligible for probation, expand the definition of “dangerous felon” and broaden the definition of a “criminal street gang,” among other things.
S B 600 expanded the definition of “dangerous felon” to include “armed criminal action, the offense of conspiracy to commit an offense when the underlying offense is a dangerous felony, and the offense of vehicle hijacking when punished as a class A felony,” according to the bill summary.
The bill also set out new restrictions surrounding eligibility for probation. People found guilty of or who plead guilty to any dangerous felony involving a deadly weapon, for example, will no longer be eligible for probation, suspended sentences or conditional release terms.
The bill faced bipartisan opposition in the House, with representatives on both sides of the aisle characterizing the bill as a backslide into Missouri’s prior days of mass incarceration and overpopulated prisons.
Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, said the bill would ultimately imprison more Missourians.
“Long term, this bill increases the prison population by 2,500 people,” Dogan said. “That’s a new prison.”
He added that locking up more people was the exact opposite of the criminal justice reforms for which Missourians have advocated. Dogan also highlighted how much the bill was going to cost Missouri.
“Just this year, under this fiscal note, we’re going to be spending half a million dollars more on prisons,” Dogan said, adding that it could cost about $6 million in total down the road.
Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, who opposed the bill with Dogan, pointed out that the increased costs would come as cuts have been made across the state’s budget, including to areas such as education.
Other lawmakers argued that the bill was actually narrowly tailored and wouldn’t simply increase incarceration for the sake of it.
“We’re not locking people away who are just walking down the street and happen to steal a Snickers bar,” said Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon. “It’s not an all encompassing wide net that’s going to scoop up the individuals to put more people who shouldn’t be behind bars behind bars.”