Public safety is lone priority for last week of Missouri legislative session

(The Center Square) – The only bills with a chance of passing during the final week of Missouri’s legislative session deal with public safety, according to chamber leaders.

House Bill 301 was the only one mentioned by Republican leaders as a priority with adjournment looming on Friday, May 12. The bill passed 109-35 on Feb. 9.

Speaker Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, ended floor debate that day as Black Democrats spoke against the bill’s provision for Republican Gov. Mike Parson to appoint a special prosecutor in St. Louis and other areas with more than 35 homicides per 100,000 people. Legislative Black Caucus chairwoman Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis, called the speaker’s actions “blatantly racist.”

On March 6, the House passed House Bill 702 by a vote of 113-40. The bill would return control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to a governor-appointed board. The department was controlled by the state from the Civil War to approximately 10 years ago.

However, last week’s resignation of Democratic St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner apparently cooled off Republicans desiring to pass legislation dealing with St. Louis. Parson is in the process of deciding who will replace Gardner.

KMOX Radio reported 20 people were shot – five fatally – in the St. Louis region over the weekend.

“We’ve been working to fix crime in St. Louis and the state,” Plocher said. “With the prosecuting attorney resignation effective June 1, that will help St. Louis move in the right direction. We have to continue to show support for police in communities and prosecute more people to hold them accountable. We’re still asking for House Bill 301 to be pushed as hard as ever in the Senate.”

Senate President Caleb Rowden acknowledged he talked with Gardner by phone last week, but no deals were made regarding her resignation.

“I think the general view on doing something on the prosecutor issue – had she not resigned – was very much unified amongst Republicans,” Rowden said. “There’s a little more dissension on the Republican side about the merits of a state takeover. It’s a more complicated issue.”

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said there doesn’t appear to be Republican unity on the issue.

“I can tell you that the Senator [Cindy] O’Laughlin [R-Shelbina, and majority floor leader] in her e-mail … indicated she would like to see us pause 301 and give the City of St. Louis the opportunity it deserves with a new appointment, hire staff and utilize their local control over what is going on in their local community,” Quade said. “But I can tell you, I’ve heard other Republicans on this side of the building say they still want to get it done and how they’ve got to show St. Louis what’s what.”

Other bills dealing with transgender medical treatment, transgender women participating in women’s sports weren’t mentioned as a last week-priority, even though Parson mentioned he would call a special legislative session dealing with those issues. Bills creating a parent’s bill of rights in education, sports wagering and tax cuts for individuals and corporations received considerable attention earlier in the session.

“I think anything can resurface,” Minority Leader Sen. John Rizzo, D-Independence, said. “As every day ticks off, it gets easier and easier to kill bills. We’re aware of that. I think that there’s people on the far right who are also aware of that. So, we’ll try to take it as it comes, but it would not shock me at all.”

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