Legislation creating a new statewide witness protection fund and increasing penalties for involving minors in weapons or drug-related offenses received final approval from the Missouri Senate on Wednesday.
The Senate passed House Bill 66, which creates a “Pretrial Witness Protection Services Fund” to increase security for witnesses, potential witnesses and their families.
Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, said there is already an existing witness protection fund that provides $96,000 to prosecutors across the state and is funded out of general revenue.
Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, said there are key differences between the two witness protection funds. Luetkemeyer stated one of the differences is the Department of Public Safety authorizes the funds to be allocated to law enforcement agencies, as opposed to the prosecuting attorney’s office.
Luetkemeyer also said there is a greater financial investment in the new witness protection fund. “I think if you look at the fiscal note, it indicates that the fiscal impact is just a little over $1 million for the first three years,” Luetkemeyer said. “I think that’s reflective of what the governor is asking for in terms of funding the program.”
The Senate also passed House Bill 11 which makes it a felony, rather than a misdemeanor, to knowingly encourage or aid a child under the age of 17 to engage in substance or weapon-related crimes.
May asked Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St.Louis, about the difference between the prosecution of felonies and misdemeanors in the bill.
“Adults charged under this section currently today can be charged with a felony for inciting a misdemeanor, which is what the amendment is trying to avoid” by listing specific crimes, Sifton said.
The Senate passed House Bill 46 which states public safety employees in St. Louis cannot be forced to reside in the city, but may be required to reside within a one-hour response time. The bill would expire Sept. 1, 2023.
But senators spent most of the day on House Bill 2, which would allow witness claims to be permitted in criminal trials even if a subpoenaed witness has died or fails to attend. That’s because Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, attempted to add an amendment that would allow the attorney general to prosecute cases in St. Louis. The move was seen as an attack on St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, argued Gardner has been an important asset to criminal justice reform in St. Louis and that it is obvious the community trusts her after she won 69% of the vote in her recent primary race. Onder responded by saying that Gardner is not taking necessary legal action to help the community and that she loses 80% of prosecutions.
Senators were debating the bill into the evening Wednesday.