Missouri’s special session on violent crime extended due to snag in House

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s special session on violent crime could now last until September. 

This extended calendar comes after state representatives announced they want to separate each of the governor’s provisions into their own bill. 

Lawmakers in both the Senate and House thought the special session would last until the end of this week or early next week, but now they are expecting to be here for a least another two weeks.

Parson added a new provision to the session earlier this week, wanting to allow Attorney General Eric Schmitt to prosecute homicides in St. Louis

“I want to be clear, this is not about taking away authority. It is about fighting violent crime,” Parson said. “The circuit attorney still has full and fair opportunity to prosecute murderers.

“The proposal does not allow the attorney general to supervise or replace the circuit attorney. The attorney general will be able to prosecute cases only if 90 or more days have passed since a filing, since the murder was committed, the chief law enforcement officer makes the request of the attorney general and the circuit attorney has not yet filed charges.”

Before Parson made his announcement about the expansion, the Senate passed SB 1 on Friday with a 27-3 vote — but not before a lengthy 12-hour debate Thursday night. 

After the Senate passed the bill, it hit a snag in the House.

House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield; Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, R-St. Charles; and Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, released a statement Tuesday night, saying the House will take a step back to make the proposed legislation better. 

“In an effort to protect the integrity of the lawmaking process, and to ensure these important issues are thoroughly vetted, we intend to simplify the process with single-subject bills so we can focus on the merits of each bill individually to produce legislation that makes our streets and neighborhoods safer.

“Given the fact the governor expanded the call as one of our committees was considering the bill he originally proposed, we think it’s important to take a step back and give additional thought and attention to each part of the plan.

“This will provide a more deliberative process that will allow us to craft the kind of policy that will better protect Missourians from the scourge of violent crime.”

Schmitt told FOX4 he was not surprised that the governor asked him to step in and help prosecute cases in St. Louis. 

“This is not about personalities. It shouldn’t be about politics at all. It’s about public safety and victims,” Schmitt said.

“I mean, there are communities that are being terrorized right now and communities that don’t feel safe. This is not addressed in a meaningful way. There’s a human toll and there’s a toll that relates to businesses wanting to be in the St. Louis metro area.”

Schmitt said St. Louis residences should look at it like the state is lending its lawyer to help the circuit attorney’s office. 

State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, said the Senate was unaware the House was going to break up each provisions as separate bills. 

He expects this new approach could make session last for another three weeks. 

“My expectation is that the Senate will likely be doing its work the first and second week of September before we actually are able to get a bill to the governor’s desk,” Luetkemeyer said. 

Luetkemeyer said he’s in favor of the governor’s new provision because St. Louis has one of the lowest conviction rates in the country. 

“I think the families in the St. Louis area deserve justice, allowing the AG to provide additional resources and we’ll hopefully remove more murderers from the streets and ultimately make our state’s largest city safer,” Luetkemeyer said.

“She still has the opportunity whenever she is approached with a probable cause statement from the St. Louis Police Department to file charges in those cases, and it’s only after she refuses to do so, after the lapse of 90 days, the attorney general can come in.”

He does think it’s going to cause another lengthy and heated debate. 

“I’ve been following some of my Democratic colleagues on Twitter, and they’ve made no bones about it but this is a provision they intend to vigorously oppose,” Luetkemeyer said. “People are very sensitive to the issues of the attorney general having any type of shared jurisdiction in the city of St. Louis.”

Some Democrats feel the governor is just doing this to help his own campaign. 

“I can tell you for me with us being here today dealing with this ‘violent crime’ with a bill that does nothing to prevent violent crime, is that a year ago when we asked for this when the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus and the House Democrats asked for a special session to deal with the violent crime, the governor said he needed to stay in his lane,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quad, D-Springfield.

“Here we are with thousands of Missourians dying, and that’s when he decides it’s in his lane. I’m sorry, but that’s unacceptable, this is election rhetoric and all it is is a distraction.”

Lawmakers aren’t expected to return to the Capitol until next week.

Luetkemeyer said the bill containing concurrent jurisdiction is still being discussed on whether it will start in the House or the Senate. 

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