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Reducing gun violence is a top priority for Springfield City Council as it heads into the new year.
Council passed a slate of 2023 legislative priorities last month, and though the priorities the city communicates to state and federal lawmakers are mostly unchanged from 2022, a major addition supports the need to get gun violence under control.
The written priority cites FBI, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pew Research Center and Springfield Police Department data to note U.S. active shooter cases nearly doubled in four years, from 31 in 2017 to 61 in 2021, and 243 people were killed or wounded in 2021 alone.
In 2020, Missouri was ranked fourth for firearm mortality; by comparison, the state was ranked 17th in 2005. Missouri was fifth for homicides per 100,000 persons in 2020.
Springfield 911 calls for shots fired have increased 82% since 2019, with 227 calls in 2019 and 414 projected this year.
City Manager Jason Gage presented the list to council, noting the intent is not to tell the legislature exactly how to fix the problem but rather to identify it as a major concern.
Councilmember Craig Hosmer said he was in support of the legislative priorities.
“One thing I think is incredibly important for the city of Springfield is for the legislature to give us some tools to combat gun violence,” he said.
Gun violence is a theme Springfield Police Department Chief Paul Williams has hammered on in his reports to council. At council’s Oct. 3 meeting, he reported a continued rise in gun violence, and noted, “It’s going to continue to be a problem moving forward.”
The rise in gun violence is occurring even as the city experiences a decrease in overall reported crime this year.
Williams said his department was focusing on taking guns away from criminals and seizing illegals guns, but a problem is otherwise law-abiding, legal gun owners who use guns inappropriately.
“There’s no need to be carrying them around because it leads to bad things,” he said.
He added his department is swimming upstream to keep tabs on the amount of gunfire in the community.
Another addition to the legislative priorities is a request that legislation with statewide impact not be used to address localized concerns. This in response to House Bill 1662, passed this year as an omnibus bill in a whirlwind of activity at the end of the session, Gage said.
The new law requires a city to limit commercial activity in residential areas, aside from some narrowly applied health and safety guidelines and some vague language about traffic, Gage said.
“We’re working very hard on behalf of neighborhoods to change this,” he said.
He noted zoning rules exist to ensure peace, quiet and tranquility of residential neighborhoods. The state’s new limits on cities’ enforcement ability makes it hard to ensure those conditions.
“There are a lot of legal ambiguities and gray areas,” he said.
Another priority directly asks the local delegation to support repeal or significant amendment of HB 1662, which it says “directly pre-empts Missouri cities from applying reasonable zoning regulations necessary to adequately protect the peace, quiet and tranquility of our residential neighborhoods from an unlimited list of incompatible commercial and industrial activities.”
Other specific priorities
In the document passed by council, the city opposes legislation that would move municipal elections from April to fall or introduce partisanship into municipal elections.
Public safety priorities are supported for sustained funding for mental health service, pretrial witness protection, rape kit testing, sexual assault reduction and victim assistance needs. Additionally, the city supports amending state law to match federal law regarding possession of handguns by minors and expanding collection of DNA samples to include any person 18 or older arrested for any felony crime.
The city continues to support legislation allowing land banks to accept property through the judicial tax sale system without its prior tax obligations, and to add Springfield to the list of cities permitted to form a land bank.
The local delegation is asked to introduce legislation limiting refinancing and capping the amount of interest that can be charged by payday loan and car title loan companies. The State Commission of Finance reports the average interest rate for payday loans in Missouri in 2021 was 414%.
Under municipal court priorities, the city would like to reinstate a procedure that gives people a 30-day grace period following failure to appear in court for a traffic violation, rather that issuing immediate arrest warrants; this gives defendants a chance to address their case before suspension, resulting in a higher compliance rate locally.
Also, the city requests legislation allowing courts to use warrants for those who do not abide by court judgement and to use community service in lieu of traditional sentencing for non-indigent probationers.
Under the category of chronic nuisance properties and dangerous buildings, the city asks for a bill allowing a single, one-year notice for the abatement of tall grass and weeds, for violation notices to be sent only to owners, for flexible notice mailing alternatives and for nuisance abatement costs to run with the land.
The city also supports recovery of all direct costs associated with processing and abatement and for processing abatement costs through the county collector’s office.
The city also asks the local delegation to introduce legislation investing in community mental health services.
“We believe this investment will pay for itself many times over in both community dollars spent and lives saved,” the document states.
Other legislative priorities for the city in 2023 are as follows:
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