Parson will sign Missouri bills on KCPD residency, school choice, police bill of rights

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Kansas City police will be able to live outside the city, and a voucher-like school choice program will launch in Missouri, under new laws Gov. Mike Parson will sign next week.

Parson on Friday announced several measures he will sign next Wednesday, his deadline to either sign or veto bills on his desk before they become law on their own.

They include a controversial “bill of rights” for police, the school choice bill, a long-sought hike to the gas tax and oversight to curb abuse in unlicensed, religious boarding schools.

Along with lifting the police residency requirement, one soon-to-be new law will ban police chokeholds in Missouri and allow Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to ask a court to toss the conviction of Kevin Strickland — a Kansas City man who’s served more than 40 years in prison for a triple murder Baker said he did not commit.

The announcements came after Parson vetoed four bills, including one that would have allowed registered lobbyists to maintain campaign committees and another giving businesses shut down during the pandemic a property tax break.

Lawmakers can override the vetoes with a two-thirds majority in each chamber when they return to Jefferson City in September.

Here are the bills that will soon become law.

Criminal justice, police

One measure will lift the residency requirement for Kansas City police officers, ban chokeholds and provide local prosecutors some power to overturn wrongful convictions.

The bill was one of the larger bipartisan criminal justice reform packages passed by Missouri lawmakers this year. It makes it a crime for police to have sex with detainees and requires departments to look into officers’ history with other agencies before hiring them.

But it has received mixed reviews from some local elected officials, including Mayor Quinton Lucas, who fought the lifting of the residency requirement. Starting Aug. 28, police will be allowed to move anywhere within 30 miles of the city limits, but not across the state line.

The Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police supported the measure. While opponents said it would weaken police relationships with local neighborhoods, bill sponsor Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, a Parkville Republican, said he expects it to help the department recruit new officers.

Along with changes to policing is a pathway for local prosecutors to ask a judge to toss out sentences in wrongful conviction cases.

Peters Baker, who has advocated for that piece of the proposed law, says there should be an easier way for prosecutors to seek corrections when people are wrongfully convicted. Such a change, Peters Baker said, could help in the case of Strickland, a Kansas City man who has spent 43 years in prison for a triple murder she says he did not commit.

Parson, meanwhile, has said he is unsure of Strickland’s innocence amid calls for him to issue a pardon. The governor has said the new law could allow another avenue for Strickland to seek freedom.

He also will sign a bill establishing a “police bill of rights.” It gives officers legal protections during internal investigations of misconduct and seals the misconduct records from public view, except by court order or subpoena.

And it prohibits cities from cutting their police budgets by more than 12%.

Like the KCPD measure, the bill also includes bipartisan criminal justice reforms.. It will allow minors convicted of non-homicide crimes to become eligible for parole after serving at least 15 years. It will enable Bobby Bostic, a Missouri prisoner who has gained attention for getting a 241-year sentence for a robbery when he was 17, to apply for parole.

It is expected to give the same opportunity to about 100 other prisoners, the Department of Corrections has said.

Education

Creation of a voucher-like program for private school scholarships was a top priority for Republican leaders in the Missouri House and Senate this year.

Under HB 349, public school students in larger counties and urban areas would be eligible for “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts” funded by private organizations for private school tuition or related expenses. Unlike vouchers, the ESAs program would operate through tax credits for donors who provide the scholarships.

Opponents have said the measure will siphon funds from the public school system’s budget and have pushed to improve traditional public schools instead.

Parson plans to sign the bill Wednesday along with several others following a virtual meeting with Missouri Mayors United and a graduation ceremony for state government employees.

He will also sign a bill prohibiting school district employees from using public funds to support or oppose ballot measures.

That bill includes limitations on the scholarships that were needed to secure more votes for the controversial program. With both laws signed, the scholarships program will cost the state $25 million in the first year (half the size of an earlier proposal) with a limit of 10 scholarship-giving organizations in Missouri. No more than six can operate in the state’s five largest counties, including Jackson County.

Protections for children

Former students of Missouri’s unlicensed, religious boarding schools will celebrate a hard-fought victory when Parson signs a bill providing state oversight of the facilities for the first time in at least four decades.

Lawmakers proposed it after revelations of abuse and neglect allegations at several Missouri schools, uncovered in a Kansas City Star investigation.

Among the facilities are Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch, whose owners now face 102 criminal charges of abuse and neglect, and Agape Boarding School. Both are under investigation by the Missouri Attorney General’s office and Cedar County authorities.

Such schools were allowed to operate under a 1982 Missouri law that exempts them from a state licensing requirement.

The new law, effective immediately after Parson signs it Wednesday, will require all faith-based boarding schools to register with the state and mandate federal criminal background checks for all employees and volunteers. Failure to comply could result in the school being shut down or the children removed.

Another bill Parson intends to sign limits the use of seclusion and restraint as a form of punishment in schools. Under the law, schools will be required to restrict confinement of a student to situations where there is imminent danger of physical harm to the student or others present.

Schools must also notify a parent or guardian within one hour after a student has been punished by seclusion or restraint. Each institution in the state receiving public funds must track the instances when those punishments are used, annually evaluate its policies and train employees in proper seclusion and restraint techniques.

Gas tax

The state’s relatively low tax on gasoline will rise by 12.5 cents per gallon over the next five years under a measure Parson intends to sign next week.

It begins with a 2.5-cent-per-gallon hike in October. Missouri drivers can “opt out” if they keep their receipts and apply for reimbursement.

Missouri boasts the nation’s second-lowest gas tax rate. Transportation advocates have long sought an increase for repairs to aging highways and bridges. It is expected to raise more than $500 million each year for the Missouri Department of Transportation and local governments.

Lukitsch reported from Kansas City.

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