JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — State senators on Friday passed a bill proposed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson to address a surge in violent crime in Missouri's cities.
The bill would temporarily lift a requirement that St. Louis police live in the city, which Sen. Doug Libla — a Poplar Bluff Republican who sponsored the bill — said would help staffing shortages by boosting recruitment.
“It's going to make it easier, and we're going to have a bigger pool of people to draw from in the St. Louis area by relaxing the residency rules,” he said.
Other changes in the bill include strengthening witness protections and harsher penalties for adults who give children guns without their parents' permission.
A contested provision of the bill would require judges to consider certifying children as young as 14 as adults for certain weapons crimes.
While the bill passed 27-3 with bipartisan support, all three Black senators voted against it.
Sen. Brian Williams, a St. Louis Democrat, cited the required certification hearings for children as his primary concern.
“I do believe that we should hold folks accountable for decisions that they make, but I can tell you right now when I was 14 years old I didn't have a clue of half the things that I know now," he said. “We need to be pushing our children towards diversion programs, towards education opportunities.”
Williams, along with Sens. Karla May and Jamilah Nasheed, also criticized lawmakers for trying to change St. Louis police residency requirements months before St. Louis voters have the chance to weigh in on the issue when it's on the November ballot.
May called it disrespectful for lawmakers who don't live in St. Louis to push the change instead of letting St. Louis residents decide for themselves who should serve as law enforcement in the city.
The violence in St. Louis over the past couple of months has been staggering.
As of June 1, St. Louis had recorded 70 killings for 2020 — the exact same year-to-date total as 2019. St. Louis had 32 killings in June and a startling 53 in July. As of Thursday, St. Louis has seen 158 homicides — about 40 more than this time last year.
Many experts believe the coronavirus pandemic has played a role, causing historic unemployment that has hit hardest in economically disadvantaged areas that also tend to have the highest crime rates.
The bill now heads to the state House for consideration.