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02 June 2011

Dempsey: General Assembly Passes Measures Protecting Victims of Crime

As legislators, we are entrusted with a solemn duty to uphold the sacred freedoms guaranteed to all Missourians. The opening paragraphs of our State Constitution proclaim that " . . . all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness . . . [and] that all persons are created equal and are entitled to equal rights and opportunity under the law."

It goes on to say that giving ". . . security to these things is the principal office of government, and that when government does not confer this security, it fails in its chief design."

Sadly, for some of our citizens (often women and children), these fundamental liberties are threatened by unscrupulous individuals who target the vulnerable. I am pleased to report that during the recently completed Legislative session, lawmakers responded and sent several measures designed to protect these citizens to the governor for his signature.

Among these was a bill to crack down on the scourge of human trafficking. Under this legislation (SB 394), those convicted of trafficking their fellow human beings would face stiffer punishment and fines. We also updated the law to reflect the reality of how these criminals operate by including blackmail and coercion in the definition of what constitutes this crime. In addition, the legislation allows victims to recover significant financial damages from their captors in civil court.

Another important piece of legislation we passed was the “Amy Hester Student Protection Act.” Under current law, school districts are sometimes reluctant to share information regarding former employees for fear of lawsuits. As a result, teachers who engage in sexual abuse or misconduct with students may be allowed to relocate from one district to another, with the new school district unaware of the employee’s prior record.

The bill would legally protect school districts that share this information. It would also make them liable for damages if they dismiss an employee for sexual misconduct and then fail to disclose those reasons to a school district seeking to hire that individual.

Another proposal we sent on to the governor was a bill (SB 320) to protect victims of domestic violence. This legislation is a long overdue, comprehensive update of Missouri’s domestic violence laws. It irons out inconsistencies and errors in the old law that made it more cumbersome to enforce. It also streamlines the process for getting prompt orders of protection and gives judges greater flexibility in what they can include in such orders. In addition, the bill allows prior convictions in municipal court to be used to qualify a stalker for greater penalties in subsequent state court convictions.

I always appreciate hearing from you. If you have any questions about these or any other issues, please do not hesitate to contact my office.

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