Parson signs massive public safety bill to address violent crime

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JEFFERSON CITY —Gov. Mike Parson will sign an omnibus bill that increases prison sentences and eliminates probation for certain violent crimes.

Senate Bill 600, the massive public safety bill, passed during the final hours of the legislative session. The bill modifies several criminal justice policies, many of which result in longer prison sentences. Along with changes to mandatory minimum sentences and probation, the bill includes other provisions that Parson said would help address violent crime in Missouri.

"The legislation is a large step towards safety and justice for our communities," Parson said during a news conference Monday announcing that he would sign the legislation. "These tools are just the beginning of the work that needs to be done to fight violent criminals."

SB 600 increases minimum sentencing requirements for armed criminal action if the crime is committed with a firearm the perpetrator unlawfully possessed. The first offense was bumped from three to five years in prison, and subsequent offenses would be at least 15 years.

The bill also adds the offense of vehicle hijacking, changes how the state defines a street gang and eliminates probation eligibility for second-degree murder and some dangerous felonies if a person has a past conviction. 

Parson said the main component of the bill was the modification to the offense of conspiracy. Under SB 600, prosecutors can charge people with both conspiracy to commit a crime and the criminal act itself. Sentences for both crimes would be served one after the other.

“Under current law, a person cannot be convicted of an offense based upon a conspiracy to commit the offense unless he or she committed an overt act,” Parson said in a news release after his 3 p.m. press conference. “SB 600 independently criminalizes an agreement to commit a criminal offense, allowing law enforcement and prosecutors to hold individuals who plan criminal enterprises accountable.

The bill has been criticized, however, for both its potential cost and effectiveness. In June, several advocacy groups sent a letter to Parson urging him to veto the bill.

"Locking up more people does not result in safer neighborhoods, but rather harms taxpayers and needlessly rips families and communities apart," Jeremy Cady, the director of Americans for Prosperity—Missouri, said in a statement Monday. "We urge Governor Parson to embrace smart-on-crime policies that increase justice and compassion in our criminal justice system and are proven to reduce crime.”

The bill will also have a “significant fiscal impact” once fully enacted, according to a fiscal statement accompanying the bill that was released in June. The bill will bring with it about $580,663 in costs from the state’s general revenue fund during fiscal 2021.

The law will lead to an increase of about 821 people in prison and 269 more people under supervision by fiscal 2030, according to the fiscal note.

The long-term impacts of the bill are much more stark, as the Missouri Department of Corrections estimated in the fiscal note that the prison population could increase by 2,500 in 18 years due to longer sentences.

Reducing Missouri's prison population has been a priority for Parson in the past. In 2019, he announced that the Crossroads Correctional Facility in Cameron would close, saying he did not want to build more prisons in Missouri.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, also condemned the move.

“As people across Missouri and the nation demand criminal justice reform, the governor instead is embracing the same failed approach that too often produces unjust results, over-incarcerates Black men and does nothing to keep us safe," Quade said in a statement. "By supporting Senate Bill 600, the governor guarantees that the inequities in the system will get worse, and the protests for justice will continue.”

Despite the criticism, others believe SB 600 will be an effective tool to ensure public safety. In June, Missouri prosecutors and law enforcement organizations sent a letter to Parson in support of the legislation.

"Simply stated, Senate Bill 600 will protect Missourians from the most dangerous and violent criminals in our state," the letter said. "It will not fill our prisons with low-level, nonviolent offenders — because it's provisions only address violent and serious offenses."