Yesterday evening, Governor Parson vetoed SB 189, a criminal justice omnibus bill that included a number of provisions that Empower Missouri worked on last session. You can read his veto statement here. This was the only bill passed during the 2023 legislative session to be vetoed by the governor.
We are deeply disappointed in this decision, because this veto means a number of critical criminal justice reform provisions will not become law in Missouri. To be clear, the governor vetoed the bill based on two provisions. The full package was over 140 pages long and amended nearly 50 sections of Missouri law, drawn from over 25 separately filed bills at the beginning of session. As a result of this veto:
- Missourians will continue to routinely end up in jail for unpaid traffic tickets or missed court appearances for a minor infraction. SB 189 would have banned the use of arrest warrants for any infractions, opting to utilize alternative methods to collect outstanding fines. This policy would have positively impacted thousands of poor Missourians jailed every year for their simple inability to pay government-levied fines.
- Missourians who have been wrongly convicted of crimes they didn’t commit will continue to have limited options in having those convictions overturned and their freedom restored. Missouri taxpayers will continue to bear the cost of incarcerating innocent people, while lawmakers and the governor bicker over who should fund the settlements upon their release.
- Missouri children under 14 will still be able to be charged as adults for a wide range of criminal offenses.
- Missouri’s 18.75 to 1 sentencing disparity for cocaine base (crack) compared to powder cocaine, which has a well-documented history of being created to impose harsher punishments on Black drug users, will remain in place.
- Missouri will continue to limit the manufacturing, possessing, selling, delivering, or using any form of testing to determine the presence of fentanyl or closely related chemicals, blocking the use of important harm reduction tools that would have greatly reduced the community’s exposure to fentanyl. This could have saved many lives.
- Despite fighting for nearly a decade, Blair Shanahan Lane’s family has yet again been denied the passage of a law banning the negligent discharge of firearms within municipalities. All Missourians are less safe while this action remains legal.
At Empower Missouri, we have three key takeaways from this situation:
- Missouri legislators need to stop relying on omnibus bills to pass legislation. This year, 2,323 pieces of legislation were filed by Missouri legislators. Forty bills (less than two percent) were truly agreed to and finally passed. Thirty-five of those were passed during the final week of session. More and more, bills are held until the end of session so that they can be used as bartering chips for various legislators to get the votes needed to pass their priority legislation, and too often these changes and additions are misunderstood by lawmakers, advocates, and staff. Bills should be individually reviewed, weighed and passed on their own merit, and we shouldn’t wait until the final days of session to pass everything. We have a five month session in Missouri; there is no need for the frenzied work that happens in the last two weeks. This is how mistakes get made.
- When it comes to lawmaking, every tiny detail matters. The Governor’s objection to expanding the availability of the state’s expungement process to include some sex offenders is not unreasonable. As an organization who works extensively on issues related to expungement, we’re not aware of anyone in the capitol who is actually advocating for this change. We agree with the Governor’s assessment that its inclusion in the bill was likely unintentional, a case of tweaking language without fully investigating the consequences of that language shift. This issue was not raised in a single hearing on the original bill or any subsequent versions to our knowledge. This raises an important question: how did this possibly make it all the way to the governor’s desk without anyone flagging this issue? How many legislators, staffers, and advocates read the language and contributed to this massive oversight?
- Letting perfect be the enemy of good is one of the single biggest threats to productive policymaking. SB 189 was a powerful piece of legislation that would have benefited thousands of Missourians. Dozens of lawmakers and hundreds of community advocates worked hard for its passage. All of that work was wasted in order to oppose two relatively minor measures that would impact very few people and could have been easily overturned in a subsequent legislative session.
We’re deeply disappointed in this action by the governor, but we will be back in the capitol in January advocating for all of these provisions to be passed again by the legislature. We’re grateful to Senators Washington, Williams, and Rizzo as well as Representatives Roberts and Perkins for their work on this bill, and we’re eager to work with you again next year.