Date: January 29th, 2024

To: Chairman Luetkemeyer and Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee

From: Mallory Rusch, Executive Director, Empower Missouri

RE: Our opposition to SB 1115

Founded in 1901, Empower Missouri advocates for the well-being of Missourians through civic leadership, education, and research. As part of our work, we organize a statewide Community Justice Coalition with the goal of decreasing recidivism, decreasing the prison population, and decreasing Missouri’s criminal justice costs all while ensuring our communities are safe.

We have two primary concerns with SB 1115– the provisions relating to a special prosecutor and the provisions that would enhance criminalization of peaceful protest. 

Special Prosecutor

As a country, we have generally come to a consensus about the type of policies that should be handled at the federal, state and local levels. Generally, if a service is paid for by taxpayers at a local level, it is governed by local officials. If services are paid for by state taxes, they are governed by state officials. And if services are paid for by the federal government, they are governed by Congress. Municipal law enforcement budgets in Missouri are funded by local taxes, and should be governed by local governments. It is profoundly unjust to take away the power of any Missouri’s citizenry to elect their own local prosecutor.  As a lifelong St. Louis City resident and homeowner, I would be far more unlikely to stay in the City long-term if the state government comes in and starts mandating our elected officials. Residents of places like St. Louis City and Jackson County know that there are problems with crime in our communities. We’re choosing to stay in these places and work with local government leaders on solutions. Don’t take away that right. 

Enhanced Criminalization of Peaceful Protests

It is right and just for citizens to stand up and protest injustices in our communities. The First Amendment guarantees our rights to the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech.  Unfortunately, there has been a pattern of tensions between police officers and peaceful protestors escalating and those protests being deemed riots. Protests can be tense situations, and there can be a lot of confusion. It would be extremely easy for someone participating in a peaceful protest to be swept up, arrested, and charged with rioting. Categorizing rioting a dangerous felony would create overzealous consequences for those individuals who are simply seeking to make our state and our country a better place for all of our citizens.

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