This week the General Assembly heard from Chief Justice Zell Fischer with the annual State of the Judiciary speech. Bills have begun to move, and one passed out of the House this week. These items will be treated in detail below. However, the first section has some higher education news, a feature I intend to continue for some time, mostly as an update of where your tax dollars are going, but also to illustrate the fields of accomplishment of our various colleges and universities.
Missouri Universities are Emphasizing Hi-Tech
Missouri higher education is serving our students by providing leadership in hi-tech fields. The University of Central Missouri is now offering a cybersecurity program, one of only a few such programs to be accredited by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET).
Anyone using the Internet or following the news knows that cybersecurity is a critical issue in today’s world. The program at UCM provides hands-on training in in all of cybersecurity. The coursework includes cryptography, secure programming, network security, web applications security, cyber-physical systems security, information assurance, as well as computer forensics. The program is within the guidelines of the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CDE) Education Program Knowledge Units, the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Also on the hi-tech front, the University of Missouri System has acquired a $7.2 million grant and a $7.7 million contract from the Office of Naval Security to develop counter-drone technology. In today’s world, drones can be used for a variety of good or bad services. This federal money is intended to develop responses to the bad side of drones that can result in a variety of potentially disastrous scenarios. Of the large variety of potentially dangerous outcomes with drones is the destruction of large aircraft, whether intended our accidental. This new money will provide for ten Ph.D. students and 12 undergraduate researchers to develop an array of drone countermeasures. Missouri S & T as well as the MU campus will assist the UMKC facility in this research. You may read more at https://news.mst.edu/2018/03/missouri-st-partners-with-umkc-mu-on-national-security- research-involving-uavs/ .
Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Delivers Annual State of the Judiciary Address
Members of the House and Senate gathered in the House Chamber this week to get an update on the state of Missouri’s judicial branch. Lawmakers listened to the annual State of the Judiciary Address delivered by Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Zel Fischer.
Fischer used his speech to address a variety of topics ranging from the importance of treatment courts to a new rule to benefit military spouses to a rule change that will make pretrial release conditions fairer for low-income defendants. As he talked about the benefits of treatment courts, Fischer explained to the House and Senate members that it’s not enough for the courts to simply resolve cases. Instead, courts must help change lives by breaking the cycle of crime among nonviolent offenders and make them more productive. Fischer also praised Gov. Parson for his commitment to not build another prison while he is in office. Fischer said, “Let’s save our prisons for those we are afraid of, not just mad at.”
Fischer outlined how the courts have created a pathway for military spouses who are licensed attorneys to practice law while they are in Missouri. The new rule went into effect at the beginning of the year to allow lawyers with licenses in good standing in other jurisdictions and whose spouses are active service members stationed in Missouri or a contiguous state to apply for temporary admission to practice law in Missouri. Fischer said. “Allowing these qualified attorneys to share their legal talents with our citizens while they are in our state will honor the sacrifice they make as military spouses and will serve Missourians well.”
In discussing the change to the rules covering pretrial release. The rule change will require judges to first consider non- monetary conditions of release and will allow monetary conditions only if they are necessary and only in an amount that doesn’t exceed what is necessary to ensure safety.
Protecting Victims of Sex Trafficking (HB 397)
House members gave overwhelming approval this week to legislation meant to protect underage victims of sex trafficking from prosecution. Lawmakers endorsed the change to ensure young people who are forced into prostitution have a way out.
Current law in Missouri makes it an affirmative defense for a minor charged with prostitution to have been acting under coercion at the time of the crime. House Bill 397 would remove the coercion requirement and make it an affirmative defense that the defendant was under the age of 18.
“This is a common sense provision in the first part of the bill that says if you can’t consent to a tattoo or to have your ears pierced, that you cannot consent to prostitution,” said state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, who sponsors the bill. She also pointed out that the average age a girl is forced into prostitution is 14, and her life expectancy after entering into prostitution is seven years. Coleman also noted it can be difficult for minors to prove coercion because trafficking victims have often been forced to abuse drugs. “By the time that she’s arrested it’s difficult to untangle and prove force or coercion because at that point she may be paying off fines and paying off her drug use,” said Coleman.
The legislation would also allow a person guilty of prostitution while a minor to apply to the courts to have records of that crime expunged. In addition, it would add some offenses related to child abuse and sex trafficking to the state law’s definition of “pattern of criminal gang activity.” Advocates say the provision is necessary because the frequency of trafficking operations being conducted by gangs has increased in recent years. The bill now moves to the Senate.