Missouri legislators return to Jefferson City Wednesday with a new opportunity to help St. Louis address its crime and police-staffing problems. One potential solution, to scuttle the city’s residency requirement for city employees, would remove a major barrier to police recruitment that the city’s Board of Aldermen has refused to address.
Unfortunately, other things that should happen in this legislative session almost certainly won’t, including any meaningful progress to protect the public from the scourge of gun violence. And some lawmakers, more interested in protecting their own power, will continue trying to undermine the Clean Missouri reform initiative that voters approved in 2018.
The requirement that city employees live within St. Louis’ boundaries has hobbled efforts to recruit and retain police officers, of which St. Louis has a dangerous shortage. Mayor Lyda Krewson attempted last year to get approval for a 2020 ballot measure to let city voters decide whether to scrap the residency requirement, but the Board of Aldermen balked — no doubt fearing diminished power if fewer city workers lived in their wards.
Krewson, left with little choice, has called on the state to step in. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is among the backers of a plan to change the city’s charter, via state legislation, to eliminate the residency requirement. We generally favor leaving city decisions to city residents, but aldermen have prevented that possibility by refusing to allow a referendum. Legislative intervention is the next-best approach.
Gun safety is another issue on which it’s preferable to let St. Louis address its own unique problems — and on that issue, Jefferson City is poised to continue blocking solutions. Missouri’s almost complete lack of restrictions on owning and carrying firearms has contributed to the mayhem in St. Louis’ streets, and the ideological rigidity of the Republican-held Legislature provides little hope it will change this year.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson took an important step last year by meeting with Krewson and other urban leaders, hearing them out on their need for reasonable restrictions on firearms in the cities, and publicly backing some good ideas. But faced with his own party’s intransigence, Parson appears to have surrendered the issue. That’s a mistake we hope he will remedy this year. Leadership sometimes means advocating for the right course of action even if other party leaders refuse to follow.
Meanwhile, Republicans this year will attempt to roll back the reforms that voters approved in the Clean Missouri ballot initiative, including a revamped redistricting process that reins in the gerrymandering power of the majority. This cynical attack on the will of the people demonstrates in real time why those reforms were necessary — and gives Missouri’s voters something to think about as they decide in November whether to allow continued one-party rule over the state.