Cox confident on criminal code bill

Dennis Rich

April 25, 2014

State Rep. Stan Cox (R-51) expressed confidence his efforts to revise the state’s criminal code will ultimately become law one day after the comprehensive measure was passed by state lawmakers and sent to Gov. Jay Nixon for signage.

The measure grew out of a four-year project of the Missouri Bar Association meant to see the first full scale revision of the state’s criminal code since 1979. Their recommendations were then used as a starting point for the Joint Interim Committee on the Missouri Criminal Code, co-chaired by Cox and State Sen. Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) in 2012. Those efforts resulted in legislation introduced during the Missouri General Assembly session in 2013, but which failed to secure final passage by both houses before the session ended last May.

The years of work paid off on Thursday when a substituted compromise bill worked out between Cox and Justus passed the Missouri House of Representatives by a vote of 140-15 and the Missouri Senate by a vote of 28-2.

“I am confident this is a good product,” Cox told the Democrat on Friday.

The bill touches upon nearly every aspect of the state’s set of criminal violations with an emphasis on enacting gender neutral language, creating new classes of felony and misdemeanor charges and changing the penalty of existing crimes to fit with the new classes of charges.

Cox said that while a change that would drop jail time for misdemeanor possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana has garnered much of the attention, additional provisions would increase protections for victims of child sexual abuse, streamlines and clarifies increased charges for certain assault victims, and adds those convicted of second-degree child molestation and habitual driving while intoxicated charges to the list of those who must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before being eligible for parole.

Cox said he believes the changes will help provide “more protection for young children,” noting that some offenses allowed for a defense of consent involving children as young as 12. The measure raises the bar for consent with those charges to 14.

With a code in place for nearly four decades, successive pieces of legislation created various classes of “special victims,” such as law enforcement officers. Cox said under current law, someone charged with assaulting a officer could see an upgrade in charges even if they were unaware of the person’s profession at the time of the assault.

Under the new legislation, the various “special victims” are rolled into one statute and defined as those injured in the performance of their duty or because the offender targeted them specifically because of their professional position.

The strong support shown in both houses in passage of the measure may come in handy, Cox said, with the governor raising a number of objections about the size and scope of the revisions.

If approved, the revisions would not go into effect until 2017. Cox said that means state lawmakers would have two full sessions to make any minor adjustments or corrections to the measure before it is fully implemented.

If vetoed, Cox expects state Democrats to largely support the governor in a potential veto override session, but still believes the votes are there to override a veto.

“The governor has sent clear indications he had problems with the whole process,” Cox said. “But I think it is hard for the governor to come up with an argument for his veto. I believe we can override in both houses.”