Missouri Gov. Mike Parson expanded the agenda of the special legislative session underway, as the Senate bill containing his original anti-crime agenda began to be heard Monday before Missouri House of Representatives committees.
The new addition to Parson's proposals is that the state's attorney general will have power to take on murder cases yet to be prosecuted by the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office.
Parson announced the addition in an afternoon news conference at the door of his office at the Missouri State Capitol, while the House Judiciary committee continued a longer than announced recess between taking testimony on SB 1 and what presumably would be a vote on whether to move that bill forward.
A hearing on the bill containing Parson's special session agenda before the House Rules-Administrative Oversight committee that had been previously scheduled to follow the Judiciary hearing Monday afternoon was canceled.
Parson — citing increasing numbers of homicides in St. Louis since 2018 and fewer murder charges being filed over the same time period — said his proposal to let the state attorney general step in to prosecute some murder cases "is not about taking away authority," especially from elected St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.
Gardner has become the focus of criticism, especially from Republican leaders and particularly in light of her charging of a St. Louis couple this summer with unlawful use of weapon charges after they stood outside their home with semi-automatic weapons as protesters marched by.
Parson reiterated Monday, though, that his move to expand the special session was not about Gardner and that his proposal does not go as far as checks and balances enacted by other states between attorneys general and prosecutors.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said "this is about an all-hands-on-deck moment."
"We've got to address this issue for the people up there, and the victims that are out there, and the families that are going through the shootings that are happening every day and every night," Parson said. "We've got to address this issue, and we've got to quit talking about it and try to figure out what we'll really put in place, all the way from boots on the ground, to the prosecution, to the courts — all those different entities have to come together to fight violent crime."
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His proposal would not allow the attorney general to supervise or replace the St. Louis circuit attorney, and the attorney general would be able to prosecute murder cases if at least 90 days have passed, the chief law enforcement officer requests the attorney general's assistance and the circuit attorney has not yet filed charges.
SB 1 — as it came before the Judiciary committee Monday, before Parson's announcement — would:
Eliminate and prohibit the requirement for St. Louis law enforcement officers to have to live in the city, though an officer would still be required to live within an hour's response time of the city.
Require courts to determine if a juvenile should be tried as an adult for unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action charges.
Allow certain statements by witnesses to be admissible in court that would otherwise not be allowed under current law.
Create a Pre-trial Witness Protection Fund.
Criminalize knowingly encouraging, aiding or causing a child younger than 17 years old to engage in a weapons offense.
Increase the penalty for a person who knowingly sells or delivers a firearm to a child without the consent of the child's parent or guardian.
The proposed changes to the residency requirement and those that pertain to witnesses have been getting the most numerous supporters in testimony, but critics including lawmakers and protesters at the Capitol in recent days have especially taken issue with the juvenile certification component.
Concerns about children as young as 12 being tried as adults and Black youth being targeted did lead to a set of compromises in the Senate that included raising the minimum age for the proposed certification hearings to 14. Also, data that could show racial disparities would have to be collected and shared with courts and the Legislature.
Support and opposition to the bill continued Monday along those same lines, and largely from the same individuals and groups as previously.