Gov. Mike Parson announced Wednesday that Missouri will hold a special legislative session beginning July 27 to address violent crime.
Parson cited increases in crime, especially in the state’s urban areas, as a reason to call lawmakers back to the Capitol. He compared this year’s violent crime rates to 2019, calling the climbing statistics “unacceptable.”
“These are just the grim numbers, but the effects of violent crime across our state are best measured in lives,” Parson said, “lives lost, futures cut short and families hurting.”
During the special session, lawmakers will be asked to consider amending state statues related to six different provisions:
- Modifying the offense of endangering the welfare of a child.
- Creating the Witness Protection Fund.
- Allowing certain witness statements to be admissible in courts.
- Certification for juveniles tried as adults for the offense of unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action.
- Increasing the penalty for the offense of unlawfully transferring a weapon to a child.
- Removing residency requirements for police and public safety employees in St. Louis.
Parson said the proposed legislation would give law enforcement the adequate resources to fight violent crime within their communities. He emphasized the importance of witness protection and said many people don’t testify out of fear of retaliation.
“All I want to do is give them every possible tool I can give them from the state level to do their jobs,” Parson said.
Some legislators called on Parson to broaden the scope of the session to include other measures, including police reform.
Lawmakers have urged Parson to address violent crime in Missouri in the past.
Missouri Democrats called on Parson to include gun reform legislation in last September’s special session, which focused on sales tax.
Some lawmakers remain skeptical the special session will be enough to reduce crime.
“We had hoped the governor’s special session call would be motivated by a desire to save lives,” Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said in a statement. “Instead, he only seeks to distract from his bungled response to the pandemic, and the generational economic devastation resulting from it, with misinformed tough-on-crime rhetoric that will solve nothing.”
Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, also said in a statement that if lawmakers are to address violent crime, they also need to address police reform after months of nationwide protests against police brutality — including in Columbia.
“If we want to be tough on crime, let us be tough on all crime, including those committed by men and women who swear an oath to protect and serve,” Bosley said.
Such topics are too complicated and controversial to be addressed during a special session, Parson said, and should be discussed at length during a regular legislative session.
When discussing the root causes of violent crime, however, Parson said he’s interested in addressing children and mental health programs, along with providing law enforcement with more resources in the future.
Parson has worked with local officials in the past to address violent crime in Missouri. In October, he met with mayors Brian Treece of Columbia, Ken McClure of Springfield, Lyda Krewson of St. Louis and Quinton Lucas of Kansas City to discuss strategies to combat gun violence and other crime. The meeting occurred the month after Columbia recorded five gun deaths in just 10 days.
In January, Treece said the group identified witness protection as one area for improvement in their communities. According to previous Missourian reporting, Columbia has lobbied the governor’s office for more local tools to offer witness protection.
In addition, Parson signed Senate Bill 600 earlier in July. The massive public safety bill had several provisions related to public safety, including increased prison sentences and the elimination of prison sentences for certain violent crimes. He said the bill would provide law enforcement with tools to fight criminals.
With the announcement coming less than two weeks from when lawmakers need to return to Jefferson City, Sen. John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, sent a letter to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services requesting it provide COVID-19 testing to anyone working in the capitol building before the session.
“I think that’s fine,” Parson said in response to the request. “Anything we can do to make it safe. It’ll be a good place to do testing.”