Controversial penalty bill passed

Related Story

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House  overwhelmingly passed a bill that would enforce harsher penalties on those who commit certain crimes against police officers.

“Unfortunately, police officers are being targeted. And I think this goes back to, if police officers weren’t being targeted, we wouldn’t have an issue,” said Rep. Shawn Rhoads, R-West Plains, a 29-year police officer himself. 

The bill passed 130-25 on Thursday afternoon and is now headed to the Senate.

If it becomes law, voluntary manslaughter – which is currently a class-B felony -- would become a class-A felony.

Proponents of the bill said it also enforces stricter penalties for involuntary manslaughter, harassment of an officer, and rioting. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis, said the recent slaying of a St. Louis officer motivated her to bring the bill forward.

“After Blake Snyder’s incident, and his funeral, when you saw how St. Louis County all came out for him, I was more determined to get this bill passed this year.”

Assault against first responders is already categorized as a more serious offense in Missouri, as part of the Special Victims Code. Haefner said her bill covers other areas where she believes officers need protection.

“This adds additional penalties for certain crimes made specifically against law enforcement officers, such as harassment and rioting,” Haefner said.

Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Kansas City, has been called the most vocal opponent to this bill, a title he embraces. 

“The ideology behind this new wave of legislation, in my opinion, is being pinpointed and targeted at so-called minority groups,” he said.

But Rhoads said he believes anyone who is targeted based on their profession deserves elevated protection.

“First of all, anybody that gets targeted, whether it’s race or sexual orientation or anything like that, it should be an elevated crime,” Rhoads said. “And when you get targeted for wearing a uniform, that should also be an elevated crime." 

Rhoads said he would vote for similar legislation if people in other lines of work were being targeted.

“If military personnel start getting targeted, we’re going to go to something like that. It’s the same with teachers, or doctors, or nurses,” he said.

Haefner said criminals should take note that officers will be protected.

“I just hope that this sends a message that we stand with them, one hundred percent.”