JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri House passed legislation Friday re-defining when police can use deadly force – a response to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson last summer – but the bill still faced a high hurdle to become law on the Legislature’s final day.
The House vote sent the bill back to the Senate, where some Democrats were continuing a weeklong blockade as a display of their frustration that majority Republicans had forced passage of a bill limiting union powers.
As a constitutionally required 6 p.m. deadline neared to pass legislation, tensions were mounting over the continued Senate standstill.
Democratic Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who represents Ferguson, denounced her colleagues for creating a “fiasco” that she described as “an embarrassment to this nation.”
“Now, any person in my district can be killed (by police) and, still, the person who killed them doesn’t have to be prosecuted,” said Chappelle-Nadal, who participated in protests after Brown’s Aug. 9 death. “All I ask is for is the opportunity to have the deadly force bill passed.”
In November, a state grand jury decided not to charge former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson for shooting Brown, and a U.S. Justice Department report released in March determined Wilson acted in self-defense.
Current Missouri law allows the use of deadly force when an officer believes a suspect has committed or attempted a felony, is escaping with a deadly weapon or poses a serious threat to others. Legislators have acknowledged that the law probably is too broad and conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
The House-passed bill would change Missouri’s standard to justify deadly force only when officers reasonably believe a suspect committed or attempted a felony inflicting or threatening serious physical injury, has a deadly weapon or poses a serious threat to others. It also requires the force be “objectively reasonable” when considering the situation.
Senators took no immediate action Friday on the House version of the bill. The chamber instead recessed for a 2 1 / 2-hour lunch break as Republican and Democratic leaders tried to negotiate a truce.
The Senate has done little work all week. Minority-party Democrats have prevented votes on virtually everything – even mundane votes – after Republicans employed a rarely used procedural motion to shut off debate Tuesday evening and force a vote on a right-to-work bill.
The House then gave the measure final approval Wednesday, sending it to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who is likely to veto it. The bill would bar workplace contracts that impose mandatory union fees on all employees, even those who are not union members.
Democrats, who strongly oppose it, were particularly upset about the Republicans’ strong-arm tactics.
“The defiance that we are engaged in is a consequence of the tyranny of the majority,” said state Sen. Jason Holsman, a Democrat from Kansas City.
Also hanging in the balance Friday is a bill to reauthorize $3.6 billion of annual taxes on health care providers that are due to expire Sept. 30. An extension is necessary to avoid punching a large hole in Missouri’s $9.4 billion Medicaid health care program for low-income residents.
If the reauthorization fails Friday, some legislators suggested a special session would be needed to try again to pass the bill.