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Gov. Nixon wary of criminal code’s size

Scott Lauck//March 27, 2014

Gov. Nixon wary of criminal code’s size

Scott Lauck//March 27, 2014

Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday called for lawmakers to break up an overhaul of the state’s criminal code into a “manageable” series of bills.

“The Governor appreciates the time and effort that have gone in to this undertaking, but when it comes to changes to the criminal code, there is simply no room for error,” Nixon’s office said in a statement. “That is why, given the high stakes and massive scale of this project, the Governor has consistently encouraged members of the General Assembly to consider making these changes in a series of more manageable bills, rather than with a single piece of omnibus legislation.”

The criminal code’s last major reorganization was in 1979. This effort, backed by The Missouri Bar after several years of study, seeks to simplify the code and clear up inconsistencies, but supporters say it isn’t meant to create or remove any crimes.

Among the changes is to create a new class of felonies, allowing for more gradual transitions between the penalties for each of the five classes. Depending on formatting, versions of the bill are between 700 and 1,100 pages in length.

A new version of the code passed the Missouri House last year, but the bill ran out of time in the Senate. The bill has been the subject of dozens of hearings over the past few years.

The Senate began debate on the bill this year but didn’t come to a vote, and Senate leaders have indicated that they will not resume debate without signs of Nixon’s support.

In an open letter Thursday, Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia and the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said he’d never seen a bill “so meticulously vetted” and urged the governor to support it.

“Reasonable caution in Governors and Legislators — even legislators who are running for statewide office — is prudent,” Kelly wrote. “We should not, however, allow political timidity to derail the passage of this long overdue, thoroughly vetted, and vital legislative reform.”

Kelly said lawmakers were offering to push the new code’s effective date back by a year, to Jan. 1, 2017.

The Senate bill is SB491. The House bill is HB1371.

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