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Missouri Gov. Nixon lets criminal code revamp become law

Missouri Gov. Nixon lets criminal code revamp become law


JEFFERSON CITY • A massive bill revising the state's criminal code for the first time since 1979 will become law, even though Gov. Jay Nixon won't signed the dotted line.

Nixon previously expressed concern about the bill containing errors given it's size and scope, but legislators addressed those concerns by agreeing to advance a bill this week to correct two drafting errors. The Legislative session ends 6 p.m. Friday.

Attorneys, judges, legislators and advocacy groups worked eight years to develop the measure. The legislation streamlines existing criminal statutes, creates new classes of felonies and misdemeanors and boosts sentences for drunken drivers who kill someone.

It also has been touted as tough on crimes against children by increasing the number of felony child molestation charges and adding incest as an aggravating factor in child sex abuse cases. It also eliminates the possibility of jail time for first-time offenders convicted of possessing 10 grams or less of marijuana.

After the General Assembly passed the criminal code revamp about two weeks ago, two drafting errors were spotted: one related to evidence in drunk driving cases and the other related to the purchase of pseudoephedrine.

The bill, in its current state, makes the refusal to take a breathalyzer or other test to measure blood alcohol level inadmissible as evidence. The concern initially was raised by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the bill's sponsors admit this was a error.

Additionally, the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association raised concern over a portion of the bill that would decriminalize the purchase of pseudoephedrine over the daily and monthly limits. Sponsors have said they do not agree with this interpretation.

“I just didn’t want to put my signature on a bill that said if you are over 21, refusal doesn’t matter, or if you are a big meth dealers, you don’t have penalties,” Nixon said.

The revised criminal code would not take effect until 2017, allowing for two legislative sessions to work out any kinks and make corrections. To further safeguard against potential errors, the Supreme Court’s Standing Committee on Criminal Procedure would review the bill upon passage.

"I'm very confident the Legislature is going to solve all those problems," Nixon said.

The bill is SB 491.

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Alex Stuckey is a statehouse reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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