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Missouri passes bill to limit police use of chokeholds

May 13, 2021 GMT

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s Legislature on Thursday passed a wide-ranging bill that would, among other things, limit when police can use chokeholds, in an effort to respond to the outcry over police violence.

The Republican-led House voted 140-4 to send the bill to Republican Gov. Mike Parson, a former sheriff.

Missouri’s Republican Legislature has done little to enact rules on police accountability since a white Ferguson police officer fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was Black, in 2014. This bill was prompted by the death of another Black man, Minnesota’s George Floyd. A white officer last year pressed his knee on the neck of Floyd, who was handcuffed, until Floyd stopped breathing. Derek Chauvin was convicted last month of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.

Under the Missouri bill, police could only use chokeholds in self-defense, meaning a suspect presents a serious danger to the officer or someone else.

St. Louis Democratic Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, who was among protesters who took to the streets after Brown’s death, acknowledged that Missouri for years lagged in responding to complaints of police mistreatment of Black people.

He said the chokehold bill represents a change.

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“Missouri can be one of the first states (to pass such a law) after we’ve seen an individual have a knee on his neck for 9 minutes, and the process said that the officer was wrong, and we’re actually doing something about it,” Aldridge told colleagues on the House floor Thursday.

At least 16 other states either ban the use of chokeholds or only permit the tactic in limited circumstances, similar to the Missouri bill, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The measure passed the Republican-led Legislature overwhelmingly, including a 30-2 vote in the Senate, but it faced some bipartisan criticism.

Complaints centered on the laundry list of other measures crammed in the bill, not the chokeholds rule.

Some Kansas City-area Democrats spoke out against a provision that would end the requirement that Kansas City police live in that city, arguing that living in the city helps police connect with the community and build trust.

“The lack of residency requirements will further decrease the trust level between the police department and members of the community,” Kansas City NAACP President Rev. Rodney Williams said in a statement. “This is another step in the wrong direction. This is another step in the direction that puts them against us.”

Republicans raised issues with one change in the bill that would tie sheriff salaries to the pay of local judges, which would give some a pay bump. GOP lawmakers called that an unfunded mandate that would stress local governments’ budgets.

Parson had threatened to veto the bill over a provision that would have given lawmakers the power to issue subpoenas requiring people to testify before legislative committees. He said that would give lawmakers too much power.

House members have said the subpoena provision was necessary because the Parson administration has not complied with lawmakers’ requests for information.

Republican bill sponsor Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer stripped that provision from the final version in response to Parson’s complaints.

A spokeswoman for Parson said the bill will be reviewed but didn’t indicate whether he’ll sign it into law.

The proposal also would require more reporting on police use of force in Missouri.

Other provisions include making pointing a laser pointer at police punishable by up to a year in jail. The measure would make it a felony punishable by up to four years in prison for police to have sex with prisoners, detainees or other offenders.

Another change would allow prosecutors to try to vacate wrongful convictions of the innocent.

That would allow Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to ask a judge to clear the conviction of a Kansas City man imprisoned for a 1978 triple homicide that she said he didn’t commit, the Kansas City Star reported.