Is it windy in your neighborhood today? If so, it could just be the speed with which the legislative windmill blades are turning in Jefferson City just now. Both the House and the Senate are running on coffee and adrenaline as the clock ticks down to the 6 p.m. conclusion.

May 17 is the day when advocates, legislators, lobbyists, and Missourians at large are all waiting for sine die – the Latin word used in the official motion to end the Regular Legislative Session. When this happens, we’ll be able to let the dust settle and see where everything stands and bring you a complete report in the May 21 #UDAS call

In last week’s Perspective, we talked about the roadblocks our HIV policy modernization bill hit and how we’ll persist and organize for future success. Today, though, we want to tell you about a few truly unmistakable wins that Empower Missouri saw this week.

HB192, sponsored by Rep. DeGroot (R – St. Louis County) tackles the way some municipalities have practically established debtors’ prisons by stacking fines on those unable to pay, an issue we have addressed in forums. In addition, the very good language of HB 113 and Senate Committee Substitute for Senate Bills 8 & 74 to reform mandatory minimum guidelines also passed on 192.  

Mandatory minimums require those convicted to serve a percentage of their mandatory prison term, eliminating judicial discretion to assess risk and sentence accordingly. They are a primary tool of the failed War on Drugs and a principal driver of prison population growth in our state.

The National Academies Press 2014 Report, The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences concluded that “The growth in incarceration rates in the United States over the past 40 years is historically unprecedented and internationally unique.” No other country locks up its citizens nearly as often as the United States. HB 192 enables Missouri to turn the ship of state government toward “smart on crime” instead of “tough on crime.”

We asked you on Monday to take action on Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) and nearly 100 of you did! Thank you! SB1, sponsored by Sen. Kiki Curls (D – Kansas City) extends the ability to expunge arrests and convictions related to certain non-violent crimes often associated with stealing to support a drug habit. Expungement means sealing court records of these crimes, upon completion of a very thorough risk assessment process with the courts. This allows returning citizens who have completed serving their sentence to have better access to employment, housing, and education programs.

When we convened the Smart Sentencing Coalition last August, we believed that we could have significant victories for social justice in the area of criminal justice reform, and now that has come to pass. These bills are currently on their way to Gov. Parson’s desk, ready to be signed into law. You may let him know that you hope he will do so by using this form on his webpage.

I’ll tell you about more victories on the May 21 call. Talk with you then!

Your ally in justice-making,

Jeanette Mott Oxford (JMO)

Executive Director, Empower Missouri

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