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Missouri governor calls special session focused on violent crime

Posted at 1:47 PM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-15 17:18:16-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday called for a special legislative session to address violent crime across the state, particularly in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas.

Flanked by law enforcement officers, Parson said at a news conference Wednesday that he is calling for a session "narrowly focused" on violent crime to begin July 27.

The Republican governor said the session will focus on amending state statutes related to violent crime. Parson said lawmakers will consider six provisions, including:

  • Police and public safety employee residency requirements for St. Louis;
  • Juvenile certification;
  • Witness statement admissibility;
  • Witness protection fund;
  • Endangering the welfare of a child; and
  • Unlawful transfer of weapons.

The announcement of a special session comes as Kansas City continues to see a drastic spike in homicides, with 101 people killed so far in 2020, largely as a result of gun violence. The city is on pace to shatter the record number of homicides reported in one year.

"Innocent children are being shot and killed way too often," Parson said at the news conference after citing record increases in violent crime in both Kansas City and St. Louis. "These are just the grim numbers, but the effects of violent crime across our state are best measured in lives."

He said law enforcement officers across the state "are also hurting" as a result of increases in violent crime and because of ongoing protests related to police reform.

"If there is ever a time to make sure we give the resources for our law enforcement officers across the state, now is that time," Parson said. " ... We cannot continue to let violent criminals destroy our cities and get away with it. We are better than that in Missouri."

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas held a news conference after Parson's announcement to say he appreciated the call for a special session, which Lucas had requested the governor do earlier this month, but said he does not believe most of the six provisions will be effective in combating violent crime.

Lucas said the provision for a witness protection fund was "outstanding" and "will make a great difference" for people in Kansas City and Missouri, but said the other five provisions were lacking.

"Our 1980s and 1990s approaches to enforcement will not address our long-term crime issues," Lucas said. "We can’t just put people in prison longer. We need to find more ways to creatively solve crimes. We need to find ways to get guns out of the hands of people who don’t need to have them."

Lucas said most of the provisions in the governor's plan focus on enhancing penalties. The mayor said he would prefer to see the legislature consider actions such as increased funding for mental health and measures to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, a cause Lucas championed in Kansas City late last year.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, also issued a statement criticizing the focus of the special session, saying the governor's "tough-on-crime rhetoric" will not solve the state's problem and does not do enough to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

“Diminishing the voice of Black communities, who are disproportionately affected by both the pandemic and the epidemic of gun violence, will not make Missouri safer," Quade said in the statement. "When this session begins, House Democrats will continue to advocate for fact-based policies to reduce gun violence and reform a criminal justice system that too often preys on people of color.”

On Wednesday, Parson expressed his disappointment that legislation "to help fight violent crime and make our communities safer" did not get passed in the regular session.

"We truly believe these are tools that can be used in many of the situations we are seeing today," Parson said.

In the last month in Kansas City, 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro was shot and killed while asleep in his bed, and two police officers were shot in the line of duty, one of them critically.

LeGend’s death spurred a federal operation, named in his honor, to decrease violent crime in the city. More than 200 federal agents will take part in the initiative, officials said Wednesday.

In St. Louis, 130 people have been killed so far in 2020, compared with 99 at this time last year, according to Parson.

Parson last year rejected calls for a special session to address gun control measures. When asked Wednesday why gun control measures, specifically one to allow jurisdictions to reinstate required permits for concealed carry, were not included in the list of provisions related to the special session, Parson said that "controversial issue" would need to be taken up in the regular session.

"I don't think a special session is the time for that," Parson said, calling the provisions he laid out "a non-partisan agenda."