June 23, 2018
Protecting Victims of Sexual Assault (HB 1355)
This session the General Assembly approved legislation that would address several areas of need for the state’s system of law enforcement. One key component of the bill seeks to correct an issue in Missouri that has resulted in an enormous backlog of untested rape kits.
A review conducted by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office found the state has at least 4,889 rape kits that have not been submitted for DNA testing. The review covered 266 law enforcement agencies, 5 crime labs, and 66 health care providers. The review also found that no consistent practice exists regarding the retention and testing of rape kits. Some law enforcement agency locations keep rape kits indefinitely, while others only keep them for thirty days. Similar inconsistencies were found in health care provider locations.
The legislation passed this year will address these issues by implementing a statewide system for tracking rape kits and their location. The bill requires the Department of Public Safety, along with the assistance of the attorney general, to create procedures for gathering, storing, and transmitting evidence contained in rape kits. Under the bill, the kits and their contents would be monitored before, during, and after the forensic exam takes place. The bill also requires the office of the attorney general to create an electronic tracking system to monitor all rape kits. The system would let victims track their rape kits, as well as those it comes into contact with throughout the process.
In addition to the legislation approved by the House and Senate, lawmakers approved $3 million in new funding for the attorney general’s office to collect, test, and track sexual assault kits. The legislation, along with the newly-allocated funds, will give the attorney general’s office the resources it needs to address what has become a large problem in Missouri.
The bill has already been signed into law.
Reforming Missouri’s Sex Offender Registry (SB 655)
Lawmakers approved legislation that aims to strengthen Missouri’s sex offender registry, and give some sex offenders a better chance at rehabilitation.
The bill would reform Missouri’s registry so that it mirrors the federal system. It would break the registry into three tiers based on the severity of sex-related offenses. Individuals guilty of the least serious offenses would go on the first tier and could petition the courts to be removed from the registry ten years after being put on it. Those on the second tier would be guilty of more serious offenses and could petition for removal after 25 years. The third tier is for those guilty of the most heinous sex offenses and must remain on the registry for life. Those who commit additional sex crimes or other felonies while already on the registry also would not be eligible to be removed.
The sponsor of the bill said there are so many people on Missouri’s sex offender registry for all levels of crimes that it waters down the meaning of the list. He said the list in its current form treats people guilty of crimes like rape and sexual assault the same as it treats those guilty of lesser offenses.
As the sponsor said, “The list, as it grows, ceases to be as effective for public safety because if you simply see a name on the list you don’t know if they are a true problem – a possible rapist of somebody who’s molested children – or if they’re somebody who had a non-contact offense that’s still deemed a sex crime. Aside from creating the tiers, it also makes the list reflect the level that the offender is as well as what their offense was.”
The sponsor also noted that the ability for an offender to come off of the registry can decrease the likelihood that he or she will reoffend. He added, “Allowing somebody who’s not a violent sex offender to be able to get their life in order and to go get off the list will allow them to become a more productive member of society.”
The proposed registry updates have the support of the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and law enforcement.
The bill’s other provisions include one that would remove the statute of limitations in cases of sex crimes against children, and one that would set the minimum age to get married in Missouri at 16. The legislation currently awaits the governor’s signature to become law.
Addressing the Shortage of Dental School Instructors (HB 1268)
Legislation approved this session by the General Assembly is meant to help address the shortage of dental school instructors in Missouri. Missouri currently has not only a shortage of dentists throughout the state, but also a shortage of qualified instructors to train the next generation of dentists.
The legislation would create a dental faculty permit system to draw on the expertise of retired dentists from outside the state who do not have a Missouri license. These qualified dental instructors would be able to obtain a permit to teach at an accredited dental school program. They would be paid for their teaching services, but would not be able to open a practice in Missouri and would not be allowed to be otherwise compensated for the practice of dentistry.
In effect, the bill will allow qualified instructors to share their expertise with dental school students in Missouri without having to go through the extensive and difficult process of obtaining a license to practice dentistry. Missouri currently has a shortage of instructors, especially in specialized areas such as orthodontics and endodontics. By addressing the instructor shortage, supporters also hope to address the overall shortage of dentists in the state. A study done by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services found that 99 of Missouri’s 114 counties have been designated by the federal government as Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (DHPSA). Approximately 26 percent of Missourians live within a DHPSA.
The bill now awaits the governor’s signature to become law.
I want to make sure that you know that my door is always open to you if you have any questions, concerns or comments. You are always welcome to visit, call or email me. My office telephone number is 573-751-1456 or you can email me at Rebecca.Roeber@house.mo.gov. My office address is MO House of Representatives 201 West Capitol Avenue Room 201 CA. To sign up for my capitol report please email me.