JEFFERSON CITY, MO – By the end of the week, Governor Mike Parson signed 13 remaining pieces of legislation into law, concluding bill singings for the 2021 legislative session. Several of those bills address critical child and family safety issues.
As announced by House Judiciary Chair David Evans, “We were able to focus in the House Judiciary Committee this year on important child and family safety issues, and we had a very strong session. It was also great working with Senator Tony Luetkemeyer on this legislation. Tony is Chair of Senate Judiciary, and is a smart, straight shooting guy. Working together, we were able to get strong child safety laws passed with bipartisan support.”
One of the new bills signed this past week was a comprehensive justice bill titled “SB 53.” Marcia Hazelhorst, Executive Director of the Missouri Juvenile Justice Association, is an enthusiastic supporter of the new law. “Senate Bill 53 is a huge piece of legislation for Missouri’s youth and families. There are many juvenile justice reforms in this legislation-right to counsel, holding certified youth in detention, raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction clean-up language, extending the age of commitment to Division of Youth Services and establishing the Juvenile Justice Preservation Fund as a local fund to assist juvenile officers in providing programs and services for youth as a result of the expansion of jurisdiction over 17-year old’s. Missouri Juvenile Justice Association is grateful for Representative (former Judge) David Evans’ support and movement of this legislation!”
Another bill signed into law this week by Governor Parson was HB 557. Representative Rudy Veit (Vice-chair of House Judiciary) describes this bill as “a highpoint for me and a rewarding experience. This bill was desperately needed to help protect our most vulnerable children placed in residential care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.” This law extends child safety laws to children placed and living in all residential facilities even those self-designated as being “religious based.”
Because the present law of Missouri does not apply to “religious based” facilities, it gave the perfect opportunity for sexual predators to claim religious status and evade inspection by the state.” This new law “takes important steps to require basic things of these facilities such as notifying the state of their existence and background checks for employees which good facilities already do anyway.”
In another section of SB 53, Governor Parson approved new and extended protections to victimized children and their families. Under current law, an order of protection lasts only 1 year and possibly 1 year longer if renewed. This law allows victims of abuse and severe stalking to obtain an extended order of protection lasting from 2 years up to the life of the perpetrator when the judge finds that a victim is in serious danger of further physical harm or of continuous stalking. As described by Representative Lane Roberts, “This may be the most important bill I have ever helped pass. Even if I never pass anything else, passing this bill makes my time as a legislator worthwhile.”
Another signed bill helps protect young passengers of Head Start buses getting on and off those buses. Under current law, drivers are required to stop for school buses discharging students if the buses display the flashing lights and signs. But because of a loophole in the law, drivers did not have to stop for Head Start buses even though the buses are identical in appearance. This law closes that loophole and provides the same protections to all children getting into and off school and Head Start buses. Representative Evans states the loophole was first explained to him by concerned Head Start bus drivers in West Plains expressing their serious concerns about the safety of their young passengers. Evans states, “It’s great to get this law signed and the same protections extended to our young Head Start kids.”