Bowling Green legislator seeks to abolish death penalty in Missouri

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Chad Perkins | Photo courtesy of Chad Perkins

BOWLING GREEN, Mo. — A local legislator is seeking to end the death penalty in Missouri.

House Bill 1780, sponsored by Rep. Chad Perkins of District 40, which represents parts of Ralls, Pike, Monroe and Lincoln counties, abolishes the death penalty and specifies that any person who received the death penalty must instead be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 13 people in Missouri have been sentenced to death, with 10 of those now eligible for execution by choice of lethal injection or gas. Missouri has executed 97 people since 1976.

Missouri was one of five states last year to execute prisoners. The four who died by lethal injection were Amber McLaughlin, Michael Tisius, Johnny Johnson and Leonard Taylor.

The Death Penalty Information Center also reported that 196 death row prisoners nationwide have been exonerated and freed since 1976.

Perkins’ bill had a first and second reading on Jan. 3-4 during the first week of the Missouri legislative session. He said the bill is not likely to pass this year but is optimistic it eventually will happen.

“I don’t think that everyone is on the same page yet, but I think most people are prepared to start having the conversation,” Perkins said. “I think over the next five to 10 years, it could start to become a reality.”

Perkins said the bill is supported by organizations like the NAACP and the Missouri Catholic Conference.

Perkins said his opinion on the death penalty has changed during the last 10 to 15 years, and his sponsorship of the bill stems from his pro-life stance. 

“I would call it a moral conviction that says the government doesn’t get to put people to death,” he said. “I think we are close to getting to a point in society where we all say, ‘You know, not even the government gets to do that.’”

Perkins is sponsoring more than 20 bills, and one goes to bat for the First Amendment.

The “Uniform Public Expression Protect Act,” known as House Bill 750, introduces anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) legislation. Perkins said the bill protects Missourians exercising their First Amendment rights from meritless lawsuits meant to silence or punish defendants for speaking out by forcing them to pay exuberant legal fees. 

“(SLAPP) aims to financially harm speakers with costly litigation. If a speaker were to fight said lawsuit and win legal costs, it still discourages others from fighting their own individual cases,” Perkins said.

Perkins said only 31 states have anti-SLAPP laws, and Missouri ranks among the worst in protecting threats against free speech.

“First, the bill would expand the scope of speech covered by our laws, protecting all exercise of First Amendment rights in any form on a matter of public concern. Broadening the scope of the law is essential to protecting the wide range of public speech that is possible in the modern era,” he said.

Perkins said the bill will allow an immediate appeal for an anti-SLAPP motion without waiting for the trial to end.

“Without this procedural protection, a speaker who loses an anti-SLAPP motion may be forced to continue to litigate the entire trial. This is expensive and very stressful,” he said.

Lastly, House Bill 750 requires a plaintiff to show up front a real case can be won.

“Our current law does not contain this essential feature,” he said.

Perkins said the bill puts Missouri among the top states concerning anti-SLAPPS. He also believes it’s a bill that transcends parties.

“It’s not partisan because it’s a bill that has passed in recent years in California, Illinois, Florida and Texas. So there’s nothing Democrat or Republican about it,” he said.

Perkins said anyone is welcome to come to Jefferson City to the Missouri State Capitol Building and join them for legislative sessions.

“If anyone wants to stop by room 404, we’d be glad to host them there,” he said.

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