• Collaborative Solutions Key to Restoring Trust in the Justice System

    Jul 09, 2015

    This afternoon, Governor Nixon signed Senate Bill 5 into law. Missouri Senator Eric Schmitt worked with leaders on both sides of the aisle to craft a law that ensures our municipal courts can once again be seen as centers of justice rather than sources of revenue.  Now, we must turn our attention to new solutions in policing as we work together to restore trust in our justice system.

    Being and feeling safe in our homes, businesses, and communities is a fundamental right of all Americans, regardless of their race, ethnicity, where they live or how much money they make.  Being free from fear of crime and violence is also a foundation of a prosperous community. All law-abiding citizens must know that they can trust that their police departments are working to keep them safe, and that police officers and their departments meet the highest professional crime fighting standards. Police officers must also be able to trust in the support of the community they serve. 

    The events in Ferguson and the rest of our region after last August 9th revealed that in too many of our neighborhoods, that trust is broken.  It revealed that too many police departments in our region don’t even come close to meeting national standards. Some people in our region get extraordinary police protection, while others get none at all. Some of us can count on our police departments to protect our families, while others are themselves the targets of their own police forces as part of a revenue-producing machine.  

    Our region has thousands of hard-working, dedicated police officers that selflessly put their lives on the line to keep us safe. Some of our police departments can be included among the best in the country. Unfortunately, we also have people in departments that are not up to the task of keeping their communities safe; officers who spend more time writing traffic tickets than investigating crime and arresting criminals. We have some police forces that to their own citizens feel more like an occupying army than a partner against crime. In some places, decades-old racial divisions have simmered just below the surface, unaddressed, often unacknowledged. 

    That must change. It is changing.  

    In St. Louis County: County Executive Steve Stenger is leading on reforms and setting the right policy direction for policing in St Louis County. He's endorsed plans for department consolidations and is advancing new standards for policing. 

    St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar recently penned an op-ed  proposing a new model of policing for our region based on a large, stable police department that would focus on public safety and vibrant communities.  The Chief was starkly critical of the small, unaccredited police departments in much of our region.  He was equally clear that the County Police are ready to step up and regain the public’s trust throughout St. Louis County. 

    In the city of St Louis: Mayor Francis Slay, who led the effort to achieve local control of the city police department in 2013, worked with the Board of Aldermen this year to create a new Civilian Oversight Board.

    St. Louis City Police Chief Sam Dotson recognized the fundamental issue of mistrust in a blog post he wrote on New Year’s Day: “We know what is broken and what must be fixed: it's the trust. We…must work to create a society in which the feeling of safety and security is restored to those who've lost it.” Chief Dotson is matching his words with action. He has put in place a number of reforms including adopting the U.S. Justice Department’s standards on racial profiling, and creating a unit whose sole job is to work to build stronger bonds with all residents in the City. 

    There's more to do and ideas for action are emerging from many sources.  A steady series of reports over the last few months -- from the Department of Justice, Better Together, and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) -- have closely examined our policing practices and have identified real solutions that will repair the broken trust felt in some communities.

    PERF, working with Better Together, proposed 14 recommendations to improve public safety outcomes, including straightforward measures such as cross-deputizing City and County police officers, the establishment of regional hiring, training and use-of-force standards, and more complex solutions such as department mergers.  

    St. Louis is not unique. As we have seen since August 9th, these are national issues. But, nowhere else in America are these challenges being addressed like they are in St. Louis. We are encouraged to see law enforcement, civic leaders and elected officials recognizing the challenges we face and stepping up to the difficult work of reform. Engaging in honest public dialogue, working collaboratively with the broader community to understand justifiable grievances, and proposing solutions that result in systemic change are the keys to restoring trust.  The St. Louis Regional Chamber is committed to being part of this process.  It is good for business. It will help our community prosper.  We hope you will join us.

  • 2015 Missouri Session Wrap-Up

    Jun 10, 2015

    The end of the 2015 Missouri legislative session was certainly atypical, with the unexpected resignation of Speaker of the House John Diehl, a contentious vote on so-called “Right-to-Work” legislation and a days-long filibuster in the Senate that derailed a number of bills that were likely to end up on the Governor’s desk.  Despite the end-of-session drama, progress was made on a number of the St. Louis Regional Chamber’s focus issues.

    Missouri Technology Corporation

    The Chamber and its partners, including the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, Arch Grants, BioSTL and MOBIO, successfully advocated with both Governor Nixon and the Missouri General Assembly for strong support of MTC in FY 2016.  On May 6, Governor Nixon announced the release of an additional $2 million in withheld funding for MTC, bringing the total FY 2015 funding to over $17 million.  The General Assembly passed, and the Governor signed into law, a budget bill that had the highest ever level of core MTC funding, at $15.86 million for FY 2016.

    Medicaid Reform and Expansion

    Despite unified support from more than 60 business organizations and chambers of commerce across Missouri, no Medicaid expansion bill was able to surmount the significant opposition in the Missouri legislature.  Positive reports from states that have expanded coverage, along with two expansion bills filed by Missouri Senator Ryan Silvey, spurred additional discussion and media coverage on the benefit expansion would bring to Missouri.  In coordination with BJC HealthCare and the Missouri Hospital Alliance, the Regional Chamber advocated for expansion as a way to reduce employers’ insurance premiums and as a regional job creator in discussions with legislators and as part of our 2015 St. Louis Day at the Capitol. 

    Municipal Court Reform

    The St. Louis Regional Chamber is committed to policies that ensure trust in the justice system.  Many of the municipal courts in St. Louis County lost the trust of their communities through a lack of oversight and an overreliance on court fines and fees.  Senator Eric Schmitt’s municipal court reform bill (Senate Bill 5), which Governor Nixon is expected to sign into law, reduced the percentage of general revenue municipalities are allowed to generate through court fines and fees for traffic-related offenses to 12.5% in St. Louis County and 20% in the rest of the state.  In addition, the  will cap the amount of fines and fees for traffic violations at $300, and require municipalities in St. Louis County to adhere to certain standards of service or face possible disincorporation.  These standards include requiring police department accreditation, along with written use of force and police pursuit policies. 

    Effective and Inclusive Employment Law Reform

    Attracting and retaining a highly-skilled and diverse workforce and fostering an inclusive business community is one of the Regional Chamber’s three strategic goals.  We also support policies that will strengthen the region’s business climate by ensuring employers are provided a just, efficient and consistent legal system.  Legislation that adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in Missouri law, in conjunction with important employment law reforms, will result in a fair and balanced legal system that better protects employees and employers.  The Regional Chamber gave testimony in favor of House Bills 1019 and 407, each of which supports on aspect of this policy position.  HB1019 (employment law reform) passed the House and Senate committee vote but did not receive a Senate floor vote before the end of session.  HB407 (Missouri Nondiscrimination Act) received a public hearing but did not pass out of committee.

    Transportation Funding

    The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is expected to transition from a $1.3 billion budget in 2009 to a $325 million budget by 2017.  Missouri has the 7th largest state highway system in the nation and falls 46st in revenue generated per mile.  The cuts to transportation funding will have severe effects for the 34,000 miles of roads and 10,400 bridges across the state, with MoDOT claiming it will not have sufficient funds to maintain the current infrastructure under the 2017 budget.  Of particular concern is that under the “325 System” plan, Missouri will lose millions of dollars in federal matching funds, money which Missouri residents already pay in federal gas taxes.  The Chamber supported Senate Bill 540, which would have increased the state fuel tax to provide additional funding for infrastructure and prevent the loss of federal funds.  The bill passed the Senate committee vote but did not receive a Senate floor vote.

    School Transfer

    The Regional Chamber supports school transfer policies that provide every child access to a quality education while ensuring both sending and receiving districts remain financially sound. Transfer policies should be designed to accommodate students in an efficient manner until their local school or district returns to accredited status.  The Missouri General Assembly passed House Bill 42, which changes the existing school transfer law by expanding the potential use of charter and virtual schools, provides for the accreditation of schools by building rather than district, encourages receiving districts to accept reduced tuition rates for students from unaccredited schools, and requires unaccredited districts to provide transportation to at least one accredited school district, among other changes.  Governor Nixon has not yet indicated whether he will sign the bill, which but does not have enough votes to overcome a veto. 

    Use of Deadly Force Law

    Both law enforcement officers and private citizens should have a clear understanding of when officers are authorized to use deadly force to protect the public and themselves.  Missouri’s current statute allows an officer to use deadly force to make an arrest for any felony or attempted felony, even for non-violent crimes and even if the officer is not in danger.  This directly conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor, which allow deadly force only when the officer is threatened with a weapon or if the suspect has inflicted or threatened to inflict serious physical harm.  Senate Bill 199 would have resolved this lack of consistency between state law and federal requirements.  The bill was held up in the end-of-session Senate filibuster and did not pass.