Missouri lawmakers recently turned back a demand from Gov. Mike Parson to add a provision to an omnibus public safety bill to allow the state attorney general to intervene in the prosecution of murder cases and related offenses in St. Louis.
Before the governor’s requested addition, the Senate had passed and the House was set to consider the bill containing a number of provisions intended to address violent crime. Those provisions would have:
• Allowed St. Louis to hire police officers who live outside the city, to make recruiting easier.
• Created a $1 million pretrial witness protection fund.
• Required judges to consider whether youths as young as 14 should be tried as adults for crimes involving guns.
• Make it a crime to assist someone 17 or younger to commit a weapons offense.
• Boost penalties for giving guns to juveniles.
The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys objected to the governor’s proposal in a statement saying: “Our system, which for 145 years has provided for independent local prosecutors, should not be abrogated in the rush of a special session. The best control is local control.”
The demand from the governor led to an abrupt recess of the special session as agreement on the omnibus bill collapsed. Lawmakers now say they will consider the measures individually when they return to session.
Empowering the state attorney general to intervene to undercut a local prosecutor’s jurisdiction is a bad idea. It has the huge potential for political abuse and is antithetical to local control, a principle the Republican-led Legislature should stand firmly behind. However, lawmakers have undercut the principle often in recent years. They blocked communities from enacting stricter gun laws, made it unlawful for cities to increase their local minimum wage, barred local bans on the use of plastic bags, stopped counties from regulating concentrated animal feeding operations and even have intervened in how early the local school year can begin
Though sound arguments can be made for uniformity of regulations within a state, local control should be our default position. Most decisions are best made by the government bodies closest to those most affected by proposed actions and accountable to the local electorate.
It is good to see lawmakers act as if they remember that.