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Crackdown on highway protests passes Missouri House

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s Republican-led House passed on Tuesday legislation to crack down on protesters who block roadways, after amending the measure to cram in provisions from dozens of other loosely related bills.

The main bill, approved 98-50, would make it a felony to repeatedly block traffic without permission, a tactic that has been used to draw attention to racial injustice.

Republican bill sponsor Sen. Bill Eigel has said he thought of the idea after protesters angered by the death of George Floyd blocked traffic on Interstate 70 in the St. Louis area last summer. He’s argued that blocking highways puts protesters and drivers in danger.

Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, said during debate on the House floor that lawmakers needed to address the root issues that pushed Missourians to take to the streets.

She said the bill’s Tuesday passage instead showed that the Legislature was trying to stifle protests.

“We are telling them time and time again that we are upset that you’re disrupting our happy little lives, that you are telling us and showing us our inequities and how wrong we are,” Bosley said.

The legislation also would require offenders who commit dangerous felonies against police, firefighters or other first responders to serve their full sentence without the opportunity for probation.

Another provision sets up guidelines for internal reviews of potential police misconduct. The bill would set a 90-day limit for internal investigations of alleged police misconduct, with exceptions. Among other provisions, the measure would make all records of those internal police investigations closed to the public.

“If you have the back of law enforcement today, you know what to. You will vote yes,” Rep. Nick Schroer, R-St. Charles County, said. “If you don’t have the back of the men and women in blue, you know what to do: Vote no.”

Lawmakers added on Tuesday provisions ranging from a ban on police use of chokeholds to allowing concealed firearms in places of worship without the permission of religious leaders.

The tactic of packing multiple bills into an omnibus package is commonly used by lawmakers near the end of session, which this year is May 14.

The goal is to squeeze in as many priorities as possible in hopes that the primary bill will make it across the finish line, carrying the other measures to success.

The House’s extensive additions almost certainly guarantee that the bill’s Senate sponsor will ask to strip some of the new provisions from the measure before it goes back to the House and Senate for a final vote.

Among other things, the bill also would:

  • Lower the age when someone can first get a concealed carry permit from 19 to 18
  • Legalize brass knuckles
  • Make it a crime for police to have sex with detainees, prisoners or anyone else if they’re on duty and use coercion
  • Allow judges to take away driver’s licenses if people fail to appear in court twice, a change criticized by champions of court reforms adopted after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson

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