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Missouri's governor could take control of local prosecutor offices under bill passed by House

Members of the Missouri House of Representatives mingle on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, before the start of the legislative session at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the Missouri House of Representatives mingle on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, before the start of the legislative session at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.

The GOP-led legislation allows for the governor to appoint a special prosecutor for a period of up to five years if the rate of homicides in any jurisdiction exceeds 35 cases per every 100,000 people. Democrats oppose the bill, which originally targeted only St. Louis’ elected prosecutor, Kimberly Gardner, a progressive Black Democrat.

The Missouri House gave first-round approval to a crime prevention bill Wednesday, including a provision that would allow for the appointment of a special prosecutor in areas like St. Louis that exceed a set rate of homicides.

Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, said the crime rate in the state is unacceptable, particularly in St. Louis and other urban areas.

“I've been told that I should not be meddling in this community's business. And I would submit to you and anyone else who wants to listen, I'm not a meddler. I'm not an outsider. I am a Missourian,” Roberts said.

The bill is seen by many as a move against St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who has opposed it.

During a visit to the Capitol on Wednesday, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said Gardner is an elected official and is the one in control of her office.

“I know that there are times when she may reach out to the attorney general for help and assistance, just like any other prosecutors across the state do, but I think that's a little bit heavy-handed,” Jones said of the bill.

She also said the state’s weakening of gun laws has had a direct effect on crime.

“Unfortunately, we don't have the opportunity to enact common sense gun safety laws on the local level,” Jones said.

Under the legislation, the governor would be able to appoint a special prosecutor for a five-year period for any jurisdiction that exceeds 35 homicide cases per 100,000 people within the circuit.

They would be able to prosecute cases of first- and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, first- and second-degree robbery and vehicle hijacking.

The legislation is the product of a bipartisan group appointed by House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, to address crime.

Other provisions included in the bill include addressing minimum sentence requirements for offenders with prior convictions and establishing certain factors when considering bail.

However, one section not included in the legislation was prohibitions on gun possession for minors.

That legislation was a part of an amendment introduced during the committee process. Under it, anyone under 18 without adult supervision would not be able to possess a firearm on public property.

That section was later stripped out, but Rep. Donna Baringer, D-St. Louis, unsuccessfully attempted to add it during debate Wednesday.

“I cannot leave this building without representing my people who used to think it was safe to just go to Target and not have somebody who's only 12 years old block you at the grocery store and put a gun to your head,” Baringer said.

Lawmakers advanced the legislation through a voice vote Wednesday. The bill needs another vote before it can move to the Senate.

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
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