Hold the applause: the devil is in the details on Ferguson reform bills

You may have noticed some Missouri legislators slapping their own back over movement on legislation alleged to address some of the needed reforms highlighted in the Department of Justice’s report on Ferguson.

One positive development is that the legislature has sent Sen. Eric Schmitt’s (R-Glendale) municipal reform bill to Governor Nixon. The reforms in the bill are solid - limiting minor traffic fines to $300, prohibiting cities from piling on extra “failure to appear” charges because of missed a court dates, and prohibiting municipalities from jailing traffic offenders for failing to pay fines.

But Schmitt's bill does nothing to address the problem of racially biased policing, or any of the systemic issues that lead to Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson.

As for other Ferguson related legislation...

Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal’s racial profiling bill (SB 559), which would have strengthened reporting and added some accountability to the racial profiling law, didn’t even get a hearing.

Senator Bob Dixon’s deadly force bill had what few teeth it did contain removed through amendments. One amendment takes out civil rights language requested by Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal. Another adds “independent investigation” language that is actually just another law enforcement department, and thus not independent.

And Dixon’s bill fails to remove the “violent felons can be shot even if they are unarmed and fleeing” language, which is not in line with a Supreme Court of the United States ruling that held that, under the Fourth Amendment, when a law enforcement officer is pursuing a fleeing suspect, he or she may not use deadly force to prevent escape unless the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect could cause death or serious bodily injury to another person. Committing a violent felony and running away cannot be the solitary basis for shooting a suspect, and Dixon’s bill fails to revise the language to bring Missouri law in line with that fact.

Meanwhile key measures that would create citizen review boards, mandate body cameras for police officers, and establish training protocols for police officers haven’t moved forward.

About 60 percent of the Ferguson-related bills filed have been sent to a House or Senate committee but not heard by members.

The legislature will end this first session since the unrest in Ferguson having failed to act on the majority of Ferguson reform bills.

That's not impressive, MOLeg - one doesn’t applaud a singer for clearing his throat.


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