JEFFERSON CITY — Unwilling to tackle more controversial proposals aimed at addressing violence in St. Louis, Republicans who control the Missouri Legislature are moving quickly to remove the city residency requirement for police officers.
On Tuesday, a House panel will take up a measure allowing police to live outside the city limits, as long as their residence is within a one-hour response time.
Action on the legislation by the House Judiciary Committee in the first full week of the Legislature’s annual session could give St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, a Democrat, an early victory on addressing crime, as well as allow Republicans in an election year to claim they are not turning a blind eye to violence plaguing the city.
“I’m not saying this is a fix-all, but it can help,” said Rep. Ron Hicks, a Dardenne Prairie Republican who is sponsoring the residency change for a second year. “It’s just one step.”
“We wholeheartedly support these measures,” Krewson spokesman Jacob Long said Friday.
In November, Krewson and the mayors of other large cities in Missouri convinced Republican Gov. Mike Parson to back a limited number of changes in state law designed to keep guns out of the hands of minors, domestic abusers and felons.
But Parson did not clear the idea with GOP leaders in either chamber, and the package was quickly rebuffed as an encroachment on the rights afforded by the Second Amendment.
The Legislature is dominated by rural Republicans who have introduced a number of bills that would make it easier to transport firearms in cars and on public transit.
Rep. Andrew McDaniel, R-Caruthersville, is asking lawmakers to approve a law requiring everyone 21 and older to own a handgun and everyone between ages 18 and 35 to own an assault weapon.
By contrast, Democrats have proposed laws limiting gun ownership and bans on where guns may be carried.
Faced with an impasse over guns, Republican leaders and Krewson are focusing on how to improve law enforcement in a city that is short an estimated 135 officers.
Krewson turned to the Legislature for assistance after the Board of Aldermen rejected her request to put before voters a city charter amendment that would repeal the residency requirement for most city workers.
She said allowing officers to live where they want is among several steps that her administration is taking to address St. Louis’ continuing problems with violent crime, underscored by the seven killings that occurred in the first two days of the new year.
Under the city charter, anyone may apply for full-time jobs within city departments. If applicants aren’t already residents of St. Louis, they must take up residency in the city within 120 days of their initial probationary period. Applicants unwilling to move to the city cannot be considered, though there are exceptions for some police department employees and firefighters.
Aldermen opposed to repeal worry that getting rid of the residency rule would result in more and more current city employees moving to the suburbs.
That could especially hurt some of the city’s poorer areas, they argued, and hinder efforts to draw new businesses to such neighborhoods.
Hicks disagrees with that assessment.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a flood of officers leaving the city,” he said.
Hicks said he is hopeful his proposal will move through the House and Senate faster this year and said support for repealing the residency requirement from Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt could help prod the process along.
Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, has filed similar legislation in the upper chamber, signaling some version of a repeal stands a good chance of hitting Parson’s desk later this spring.
Also on tap is legislation that could assist police in dealing with witnesses.
Police say witnesses fear retaliation if they cooperate with investigations. Law enforcement officials say they believe the state’s lax gun laws are a contributing factor, including a 2017 law that allowed firearms to be carried without a permit.