Updated 2:22 p.m. on 5/14
Gov. Jay Nixon is asking for revisions to Missouri’s updated criminal code before the legislative session ends Friday.
Nixon faced a deadline Tuesday to act on the legislation, but rather than sign or veto it, he announced he had been working with the bill’s sponsors to address concerns about the bill’s language and took no action.
He identified the major issues as areas that he said would weaken laws against drunken driving and methamphetamine production, citing concerns he had heard from law enforcement and victims’ advocate groups.
Nixon said the sponsors have committed to making the changes this week, the final days of the legislative session.
“With this commitment, Senate Bill 491 will become law without my signature,” he said.
SB491 is the first major overhaul of the state’s criminal code in 35 years. Since the current code was written in 1979, laws have been added piecemeal as needed. The biggest change in the code adds new fifth-tier felony and fourth-tier misdemeanor classes, which drafters say would give judges and juries tighter brackets of punishments to consider.
Nixon previously had been skeptical about the bill, telling reporters that “there is simply no room for error.” Legislative backers, however, said the bill has been exhaustively researched and, because it doesn’t go into effect until 2017, can be fixed if an error is found.
Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, Senate sponsor of the bill, says she is happy to see the bill at the finish line.
The House version makes 200 to 300 pages in changes to the Senate version of the bill. Legislative sponsors and staff members were working with the governor’s staff Tuesday to draft the final version.
“Every tiny little change is a big change because you’re changing it throughout. It’s a cross-reference,” Justus said. “If we can do it today, we’ll do it today.”
Justus has expressed frustration with a lack of communication between the governor’s office, the Department of Public Safety and legislators in coming to an agreement on the code.
“We have had a lot of input, and would I have loved to have all of this information a week before we got it? Sure,” she said. “But we didn’t get it, so now we’re moving forward.”