Missouri’s black lawmakers accuse Republicans of ‘sitting on’ Ferguson legislation

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Less than two weeks before lawmakers here leave town for spring break – the mid-point in their five and a half month session – members of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus accused Republican leaders of stifling their bills that deal with issues raised after the Ferguson police shooting of Michael Brown, a young black man, by a white officer.

“We’re calling on the House of Representatives to stop sitting on bills,” said Brandon Ellington, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, on Wednesday.

Ellington pointed to the fact that bills requiring placing body cameras on police officers, civilian law enforcement review, enhanced police training and ones dealing with expungement are stranded in the legislative process.

Standing with a dozen other members of the Legislative Black Caucus outside a back door to Speaker of the House John Diehl’s office, Ellington, a Democrat, made his appeal directly to the top of the legislature.

“If the Speaker wants anything to move forward, we’ve seen, in and out, that it moves quickly,” he said, referring particularly to the controversial “right-to-work” bill that Diehl ushered through the legislature earlier this year and his effort last year to quickly move a tax cut and override the governor’s veto .

Inaction on Ferguson issues, Ellington said, “is unacceptable,” adding that he was dissatisfied with Diehl’s pronouncement on the first day of the session in January the legislature’s leaders have “no Ferguson agenda.”

Diehl on Wednesday did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rather than focusing on the issues surrounding policing, legislators have focused instead on issues related to municipal courts. Agencies from the Department of Justice to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster have raised concerns about disparities in Ferguson’s courts. Just this week, the Missouri Supreme Court replaced the municipal judge in Ferguson.

On Wednesday, a House committee heard legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, that would limit the amount of revenue cities can pull from traffic fines from 30 percent to 10 percent.

“We use our criminal justice system for promoting good, not for the purpose of funding government itself,” Barnes said.

Rep. Tommie Pierson, a St. Louis Democrat who leads a church in Ferguson, said he supports efforts in the legislature to address the issues in their larger context.

But, on the same day that the Ferguson police chief resigned, Pierson said change in the municipal government cannot stop there.

“It is not enough for all the king’s men to fall when the king doesn’t,” he said.

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