JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri senators debated two different proposals regarding the use of force Monday: one that would ban police from using chokeholds and another that would create liability protections for drivers who strike protesters.
The proposed legislation comes after a summer of protests around the state last year in response to the killing of George Floyd.
Senate Bill 60 — led by Sen. Brian Williams, D–University City — would prohibit officers from administering chokeholds and raise penalties for officers who engage in sexual misconduct on the job.
In his opening statement, Williams said the bill is about improving the relationship between police officers and their communities.
“Men and women in law enforcement risk their lives every single day,” he said, “and they need to know that we’re doing everything we can to protect the integrity of what I would consider an honorable profession.”
The proposal received no opposition from public witnesses.
KC’s Fraternal Order of Police President Brian Lemon said he “truly supports this and hopes that this gets through quickly.”
“We’re incredibly proud that we were able to sit side by side and work together over this project for the last six to nine months,” Lemon said.
Sean Rosen of Missouri Sheriffs United praised the bill, saying it also allows police chiefs to communicate with each other regarding officer transfers between departments.
“Normally, they would open up the personnel file and say ‘Hey, that’s all I can show you,’” he said. “What this allows is that line of communication to say ‘Hey, this is what happened.’”
Sharon Jones, a lawyer representing the Missouri NAACP, said she supports the bill and believes it’s a “good first step towards a lot of the reforms that we’ve been seeing not only in Missouri but nationwide.”
“There is no reason for someone’s airway to be restricted during an arrest,” Jones said.
She said there are “many other strategies” that law enforcement can substitute for chokeholds.
Williams said he believes those partnerships with law enforcement are evidence that “there is more (that) unites us than divides us,” adding that trust and accountability are “the foundation of public safety and move our state forward together.”
Driver Liability Protections
SB 66, sponsored by Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, aims to shield drivers that strike protestors with their vehicles.
The bill includes a slew of provisions, including:
- Withhold state funding of local governments for cutting police budgets below 12%
- Revocation of government employee benefits as a result of protest participation
- Waiving sovereign immunity from local governments and allowing private citizens to sue (for not protecting them during protests)
- Stricter bail for protesters
- No parole for those who assault an emergency service employee
- Enhanced penalties for harassment in a public space
- Upgrading the penalty for obstructing traffic to a Class E felony
- Increasing penalties for defacing monuments on public property
Lemon supported the proposal, saying he “feels confident that these are the type of things we’re looking for.”
The proposal also received considerable pushback from those concerned about its encroachment on rights to speech and assembly.
Gulf War veteran Thomas True said he was concerned about silencing freedom of assembly and described the move as “oppressive legislative action.”
“The Supreme Court has determined that free speech has a wide variety of presentations, including putting up artwork in your yard,” True said.
Luetkemeyer asked True to explain how obstructing traffic is considered free speech.
“So, you cannot do a protest on a public sidewalk instead?” Luetkemeyer asked.
“There’s never been a roadblock where there weren’t avenues for people to get around otherwise,” True said in response.
Jones, of the NAACP, said she believes the language encourages vigilantism by allowing “an individual” blanket protection for defending private property, even if they don’t own it.
“We think that telling people there is no consequence to using deadly force against someone who is entering not your own building but a building that you just happen to be near is a very dangerous precedent set,” she said.