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Massive Crime Bill Perfected in House

April 13, 1999
By: Melissa Miller
State Capital Bureau
Links: HS HB 283

JEFFERSON CITY - The mentally retarded would be exempt from the death penalty under a massive crime bill given first-round approval by Missouri's House Tuesday.

One of the most controversial points contained in this crime legislation would exempt the mentally retarded from the death penalty. The definition of mental retardation has many legislators worried the law could be misused.

"A crafty defense attorney may be able to get defendant defined as mentally retarded even if they are really not," said Rep. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville.

Eleven states have this exemption and the sponsor Rep. Mike Shilling, D-Springfield, said he had not seen any evidence to suggest that is a problem.

But Ridgway warned the issue could be a sticking point that may lead to the bills defeat when it comes up for a final reading later this session.

Another provision in the bill would be to make a specific crime identity theft -- that is using someone else's name or Social Security number to get a credit card.

"This gives victims of identity theft victim status and gives local prosecutors a tool," said Rep. John Louden, R-St. Louis County. He sponsored the measure after a constituent was a victim.

In many cases the people whose identity's are stolen are not seen as the victims under the current fraud laws and their credit rating is left in ruin.

Hosmer estimates each case of identity theft costs $50,000. "All of us who have credit cards and bank accounts offset this cost," he said.

Other provisions in the bill would:

* Increase the amount of time someone can be held after an arrest from 20 hours to 48 hours.

"Twenty hours is the lowest hold-time in the nation," said Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield and chairman of the House Criminal Law Committee. "Increasing it to 48 hours will allow time for the forensic testing that is often needed before police can charge someone with a crime."

* Make it a felony to allude an officer when there is a chance for danger, for example, if someone is in a reckless car chase with the police. Avoiding the police currently is a misdemeanor.

* Expand the felony-level penalty for theft to property valued between $250 and $750 -- amounts that currently are a misdemeanor.

* Add the date rape drug GHB to the illicit drug list.

* Allow victims to be present at a trial even if they are a witness.

The omnibus bill combines what was previously 13 bills and had 29 amendments proposed to it on the House floor Tuesday.

"With bill that encompasses so many issues there is something in it for everyone to hate," said Ridgway. "The 29 amendments give people more reason not to like it."

The bill faces one more vote in the House before going to the Senate.