Felons may be barred from office
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Felons may be barred from office

Date: February 1, 2010
By: Michael Bushnell
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 589

JEFFERSON CITY - With three legislators resigning after facing felony indictments, a southwest Missouri senator has brought back his bill that would bar all felons from holding elected office.

While the law already requires those who are convicted of felonies while in office to surrender their posts, convicted felons who have served their time and completed probation can hold elected office, just as they would still be able to vote and serve on juries -- with just one exception.

A felony conviction for an election law disqualifies a person from seeking public office. But for any other felony, including homicide or government corruption, there's no office-seeking ban after the sentence is served.

The bill's sponsor -- Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin -- said his bill was not prompted by the three former St. Louis lawmakers convicted of felony crimes last year. Two of them, Sen. Jeff Smith and Rep. T.D. El-Amin, both Democrats who represented many of the same areas of the city, were each sentenced to over a year in prison. If the bill passes, they would forever be forbidden from running to get their old jobs back.

Rather, Nodler said he was troubled when a constituent from rural Dade County told him in 2007 that an out-of-state felon was running to hold a post as head of a water district near Greenfield, and he first introduced the bill in 2008 to prevent a similar scenario.  He said the candidate lost and he couldn't think of any current officeholders in the state who have felonies on their record.

The law already requires those who are convicted of felonies while in office to surrender their posts, which Smith and El-Amin did even before they were convicted. Nodler said he hopes legislators try to keep  

"It's a simple bill and a simple point," Nodler said after speaking to the Senate Elections Committee. "We should expect our officeholders to have criminal records free of issues like felonies."

Two years ago, the bill passed through the Senate unanimously but didn't make it over to the House last year at all. Senate Elections Committee Chair Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, said he didn't know when the committee would take action on the bill, though he said he hoped it would be "soon." 

The head of the same committee in the House, Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, said he likes the idea in principle and would be willing to have the bill heard, something Nodler said he expects because of what he called the simplicity of the legislation.

"This is not a time consuming bill," Nodler said. "I just think we should set some standards about the types of people we want to be able to hold office in this state."

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