Springfield council's requests to legislature: Curb gun violence, invest in mental health

Springfield’s city council wants the Missouri legislature to prioritize curbing gun violence and funding mental health services when lawmakers return next year.

The two policies are among Springfield’s new legislative priorities for the General Assembly’s 2023 session, discussed at Monday night’s council meeting. In a resolution by Mayor Ken McClure outlining those priorities (many of which remain the same as last year), the city supports “efforts to reduce gun violence in our community and across the state of Missouri,” and asks local representatives to “introduce and support legislation investing in community mental health services.”

City officials in recent months have flagged gun violence as a top public safety issue in the city. Police have responded to an increased number of “shots fired” calls in 2022, even as crime overall has fallen in the city. The resolution, which was approved unanimously by city council, cites statistics showing that Missouri was ranked 4th in firearm mortality rate and 5th for firearm homicide rate among all U.S. states in 2020. It does not make any specific policy recommendations.

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“You’re not telling the legislature how to do this,” City Manager Jason Gage said Monday evening. “What we’re saying is this is an issue across the country. Gun violence is damaging communities in a very significant way. And we’re asking our legislature to figure out how to deal with it. It’s really that simple.”

Calls for the legislature to pass new gun laws were renewed after a shooting at a St. Louis high school in October. On the same day that House Minority Leader Crystal Quade of Springfield and her Democratic colleagues called for “narrowly tailored” gun safety legislation, Hillcrest High School in Springfield locked down under what turned out to be a false alarm for an active shooter.

Leading Republicans in Jefferson City have not expressed interest in the topic, however. Their most recent legislation, in 2020, caused national controversy and litigation as it nullified some federal firearms statutes; it was the most recent in a decade-long series of bills making Missouri’s gun laws some of the loosest in the country. Republicans have touted them as a victory for supporters of the Second Amendment; Democrats like Quade have criticized the majority party as having “surrendered on this issue.”

The city is also calling for mental health programs and services to receive more support from the state.

“While progress is being made, decades of divestment has resulted in a significant need for services on the behavioral health continuum, substance use disorder treatment and safety net services,” the city’s resolution says. “We believe this investment will pay for itself many times over in both community dollars spent and lives saved.”

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Springfield will have an influential ally in the budget process in the coming years, with Sen. Lincoln Hough likely taking the gavel for the Senate committee tasked with allocating state dollars. Hough has been a vocal advocate for funding mental health services both in Springfield and around the state.

Other legislative priorities from the city include:

  • Opposing legislation with “statewide impact” being used “to address localized concerns.” Gage said it was to ensure “we don’t get thrown into that larger net when those issues are experienced in our community.”

  • Supporting legislation that will limit refinancing and cap the amount of interest charged by payday loans and car title loan companies “that tend to prey on the poor.”

  • Supporting changes or a repeal to Senate Bill 1662, which changed state law and regulations on home-based work and businesses. City staff and members of council have expressed concern that the law exceeds city statutes and could result in a “Pandora’s box to other issues.”

Galen Bacharier covers Missouri politics & government for the News-Leader. Contact him at gbacharier@news-leader.com, (573) 219-7440 or on Twitter @galenbacharier.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Council asks Missouri legislature to prioritize guns, mental health

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