Emily Donaldson

JEFFERSON CITY (MDN) – With six weeks left in the legislative session, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee concedes a proposed criminal code overhaul reducing the penalties given to non-violent offenders could fail to pass for the second straight year.

“If both houses can reach an agreement, I wouldn’t be opposed to moving on it before this six-week period is up, May 17 being our last day,” Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Greene County, said, “But something of this magnitude I am very hesitant to rush.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, lessens the penalties assigned to non-violent criminals. For example, a person facing a first time charge for possession of marijuana would be classified under a Class D instead of a Class A misdemeanor. This is a difference of receiving a fine of $300 or a fine of up to $1000 and serving up to a year in prison.

Justus’s bill also introduces a new class of felony and misdemeanor. Currently, felonies range from Classes A through D and misdemeanors range from Classes A through C. This bill would create two new classifications, a Class E felony and Class D misdemeanor.

Lawmakers last reviewed the criminal code in 1979. The current bill updates much of the language and introduces gender-neutral wording and more specific terms. Words such as “crime” and “female sex organ” are changed to “offense” and “female genitalia.”

Marc Levin, the director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said this lessening of non-violent penalties would lower the incarceration and crime rate in Missouri, as it had in Texas.

“We have seen about a 20 percent drop in crime in Texas over the last 20 years, at the same time having about a 10 percent drop in our incarceration rate,” Levin said.

Other states, such as Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania and South Dakota have also recently revised their criminal codes.

Dixon said if the bill does not reach the governor’s desk this session, he would not rule out the possibility of a special session to pass the revision measure.

A similar House version of the bill is only slightly further along in the legislative process. It was voted out of committee last week and now heads to the House floor for debate.


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