Missouri lawmakers quit early; deadly force bill fails

AP News
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Posted: May 15, 2015 8:58 PM
Missouri lawmakers quit early; deadly force bill fails

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers concluded a tumultuous annual session Friday, ending their work ahead of a deadline while failing to pass a bill rewriting the state's deadly force standards for police in response to last summer's fatal shooting in Ferguson.

The House quit about 10 minutes early, and the Senate nearly three hours ahead of the mandatory 6 p.m. adjournment — conceding that there was nothing further they could pass because of partisan divisions.

Democrats stalled virtually all Senate action as a show of displeasure after the Republican majority used a rare procedural motion to shut off debate and force a vote earlier this week on a right-to-work bill barring the mandatory collection of union fees.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said Friday that he will veto the bill and gave no indication that he would call a special session for any of the unfinished business.

Democrats briefly relented from their blockade Friday to allow approval of a bill reauthorizing $3.6 billion of annual health care provider taxes for the state's Medicaid program. That was the only bill they let come to a vote.

The House spent its final day voting to send 31 measures to Nixon, often stripping off their own amendments to avoid sending the bills back to the clogged-up Senate.

But the House had its own drama. House Speaker John Diehl resigned Friday morning, two days after a news report that he had exchanged sexually suggestive text messages with a Capitol intern. House Majority Leader Todd Richardson then was elected by colleagues to take over for Diehl and pledged to get the chamber back to its businesses of passing bills.

"Obviously, over the past weeks and months, it has been a rather difficult session at times for a variety of reasons," Richardson, of Poplar Bluff, said, "but as we've had a chance to take stock of it, we are excited about what we were able to accomplish this session."

Before their troubled final week, legislators had passed a $26 billion budget, approved a bonding plan for state building improvements and overridden Nixon's veto of a bill cutting the length of time low-income families can receive welfare benefits.

They also passed a bill limiting the powers and revenues of municipal courts — prompted in part by concerns raised by protesters and a U.S. Justice Department report that said the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson has used its law enforcement system as a revenue-generating machine.

One bill that died Friday would have redefined when police can use deadly force — a response to the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black, by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

The bill needed one final vote from senators, which did not occur.

Democratic Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who represents Ferguson, denounced her colleagues for creating a "fiasco" that she described as "an embarrassment to this nation."

"Now, any person in my district can be killed (by police) and, still, the person who killed them doesn't have to be prosecuted," said Chappelle-Nadal, who participated in protests after Brown's death. "All I ask is for is the opportunity to have the deadly force bill passed."

Nixon said he would encourage lawmakers to revisit the issue next year.

A state grand jury decided not to charge Wilson for shooting Brown, and a U.S. Justice Department report later determined Wilson acted in self-defense.

Current Missouri law allows the use of deadly force when an officer believes a suspect has committed or attempted a felony, is escaping with a deadly weapon or poses a serious threat to others. Legislators have acknowledged the law probably is too broad and conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

The House-passed bill would have changed Missouri's standard to justify deadly force only when officers reasonably believe a suspect committed or attempted a felony inflicting or threatening serious physical injury, has a deadly weapon or poses a serious threat to others. It also would have required that the force be "objectively reasonable" for the situation.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a Democrat from St. Louis, said the bill still gave police too much leeway.

"It doesn't bother me a bit that it didn't (pass), because it will not do anything to deal with the issue that occurred in Ferguson," she said.

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Associated Press writers Marie French and Summer Ballentine contributed to this report.

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Follow David A. Lieb at: https://twitter.com/DavidALieb