Black Caucus: No legislative progress since Ferguson

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JEFFERSON CITY - Legislators from the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus held an "awareness conference" Wednesday to discuss pending legislation on criminal justice reform in the wake of Ferguson. 

Rep. Brandon Ellington (D-Kansas City) called the legislation "common sense," but said House leadership has ignored the issue. Ellington said the legislation deals with body cameras, municipal court reform, and civilian review of law enforcement. 

"You wouldn't think there'd be any type of hesitation to pass it," he said. 

Ellington said the House majority has ignored Ferguson because the "majority of these bills are coming from so-called minority representatives."

He said, "They believe that so-called minorities are against the police department, police officers, and law enforcement, that's not the case."

Rep. Tommie Pierson (D-Bellefontaine Neighbors) said the legislature has failed to take action on Ferguson. 

"I think the legislature has not reacted to Ferguson at all," said Pierson. "There's a conscious effort around not to do anything around police justice." 

Both Pierson and Ellington said the recent Department of Justice report into alleged abuses by Ferguson's municipal courts and police department didn't surprise them.

"The only surprise I may have had is that they came out with the truth," Pierson said. 

Pierson criticized the municipal courts operating in municipalities like the ones he represents in St. Louis County, saying the courts impose an "illegal tax" by fining citizens. 

"I don't think they're fair, I don't think they intend to be fair, I think race has a lot to with it," Pierson said. "I think they need to be changed." 

House Speaker John Diehl (R-Town and Country) issued a statement responding to Rep. Ellington.

"I am disappointed with the inaccuracies reflected in the comments made today by Rep. Ellington. As he well knows, I have referred 42 of the 43 Ferguson-related bills to committee, and many of these have already received public hearings, including his HJR 17 to eliminate grand juries. It is my understanding that after the hearing was held on his HJR that Rep. Ellington asked that the matter no longer be pursued because of overwhelming opposition to the proposal, including from members of his own caucus. It is also my understanding that Rep. Ellington has failed to attend any of the public hearings to support the other Ferguson-related bills working their way through the committee process." Statement from House Speaker Diehl.pdf

(Editor's note: This story has been updated with the latest information.)