KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri now has its first witness protection program after Gov. Mike Parson signed the bill into law Monday in Kansas City, but the problem is there’s no money budgeted for the fund.
This bill, House Bill 66, was one of the six provisions the governor asked for during his eight-week special session on crime. The goal of this legislation is to protect witnesses and get them to speak up about violent crime.
The governor signed his name on the bill Monday, turning it into law immediately after lawmakers passed an emergency clause earlier this month.
“This witness protection plan is something we have been working on with every mayor in the state,” Parson said. “Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbia, Springfield, we met on multiple occasions to figure out what we could do.”
Republican Rep. Jon Patterson from the Kansas City area sponsored the bill during special session.
“From a humanitarian perspective, we had almost a person a day in Missouri shot and killed,” Patterson said. “With this bill, I think we will have the means to protect them (witnesses) and have these people come forward so we can finally start to put some of these criminals behind bars.”
This program allows law enforcement officers around the state to request funds and provide resources to protect witnesses and their immediate families involved in a violent crime.
“In the past, police officers have actually used their own money to help relocate witnesses due to the lack of funding from a state-wide program,” the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Kansas City, said. “It gives local law enforcement the ability to request funds to help provide security for witnesses both before and during criminal investigations.”
The law is considered a bipartisan effort, but some lawmakers have concerns on how the program will be funded since the General Assembly has not appropriated funds to the program.
“We plan on funding the program in some way,” Parson said. “Most of them (law enforcement agencies) have some form of this already, it’s probably not been as much funding at this level at the state to be able to bring resources that we have.”
Democratic St Louis Rep. Peter Merideth released a statement Monday about the bill signing.
“Instead of actually taking action to keep communities safe, the governor is signing a law that is completely unfunded — and as a result it will do little to reduce crime. The governor should have ensured the program was funded during the special session. The truth is the governor is more interested in photo-ops than doing the critical work to tackle the causes of crime. Missourians deserve real action to make our communities safer — not Gov. Parson’s political stunts.”
“This is not a Democrat or a Republican issue and there is so many things by working together on both sides of the aisle we can accomplish if we put our minds together,” Parson said.
Law enforcement said this is a tool they need to help fight violent crime.
“What we have here is a bill that gives the potential to set up our witnesses for success and not failure and that sets up the criminal justice system for sucess, not failure,” Kansas City Police Chief Richard Smith said.
Parson said Monday he hopes to fund the program during another special session next month. He said lawmakers will come back to Jefferson City for a session on the supplemental budget to talk about the state’s CARES Act funding.
Patterson said because the bill is a law now, law enforcement agencies across the state can start applying for funds through the Department of Public Safety, even though there is no appropriation for the program.
He said he hopes lawmakers appropriate $1 million during next month’s special session.