Missouri Senate Plans to Look at Ferguson During 2015 Session

(AP) – Missouri senators said Thursday they hope to pursue legislation next session to address issues that have arisen from a fatal police shooting of an 18-year-old in Ferguson that sparked sometimes-violent protests.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said Republicans still are hashing out the details of what those proposals might look like.

Sen. Joe Keaveny, who was chosen to be the next Senate minority leader on Thursday, said Democrats aim to discuss topics such as school funding, job creation and other underlying issues that surfaced after Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in August.

The shooting of Brown, who was unarmed and black, by a white officer stoked underlying racial tensions in the predominantly black St. Louis suburb that is patrolled by a mostly white police force. It also has brought attention to a variety of social and legal issues, including the fact that some cities in the lower-income parts of St. Louis County draw a substantial portion of their revenues from court costs and fines.

“We need to address some of the inequities up there, and there’s a myriad,” said Keaveny, of St. Louis. “And it’s not just Ferguson.”

But Senate efforts to pass legislation related to issues that have come from Ferguson could face resistance in the House.

Newly nominated House Speaker John Diehl said Wednesday that Republican House members are reluctant to pass legislation involving the shooting.

“The temptation is to run out and say, ‘Let’s pass a law to fix this,'” said Diehl who’s from the St. Louis suburb of Town and Country. He added that he doubts statutory changes are the best way to help.

The potential division between Republicans in the House and Senate over how to address Ferguson shows that even though the GOP won commanding supermajorities in Tuesday’s elections, its members may not always agree on priorities.

But the two chambers may align more closely on budget and job issues.

Diehl and Dempsey both said helping the economy – whether through job creation or support for small businesses – was among their top priorities for next session. Republicans also could use new voter-approved powers to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s decision to freeze about $700 million in spending for state programs.

Dempsey, of St. Charles, was nominated to serve another term as president pro tem, but must be confirmed by the full Senate when it convenes in January. Diehl also must be confirmed by the House.

Democrats in the Missouri House have voted to retain their current leadership in next year’s legislative session.

The caucus on Thursday elected Jacob Hummel of St. Louis as minority leader and Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City as assistant minority leader.

Tuesday’s elections and the decision by a Democratic incumbent to join the Republican Party widened the partisan gap in the 163-member House. Republicans gained eight seats this week and head into 2015 with 118 House members to the Democrats’ 45.

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