Local Control Bill Passes House, Moves to Senate

Sep 13, 2011 at 8:12 am
The local control bill's passage seems like a sure bet... but then again, so was Tyson over Douglas. Its fate lies in the hands of the State Senate.
The local control bill's passage seems like a sure bet... but then again, so was Tyson over Douglas. Its fate lies in the hands of the State Senate.

On Friday the Missouri House of Representatives passed the bill that would return control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department back to the city. The bill passed easily, just as it did in February.

So, once again, local control is in the hands of the state Senate, which is where it died back in May when a group of Senators held it hostage in an attempt to resolve an unrelated tax reform issue. The bill's prospects look brighter in this special session, though.

As reported in last month's cover story Just Who Does Jamilah Nasheed Think She Is?, the parties involved-- Mayor Francis Slay, business manager of the Police Officers Association Jeff Roorda, Speaker of the House Steven Tilley, the bill's sponsor in the House Nasheed, and its sponsor in the Senate Joe Keaveny -- all believe that the bill will pass. After the POA, which is the union representing the officers, got behind the bill for the first time ever in May, the block of opposition vanished. Even State Senator Jim Lembke, once a vocal opponent of local control, has jumped on board.

But it's unclear when the bill will reach the Senate floor. The legislators remain locked in a debate over the economic development bill, which includes the Aerotropolis proposal. The "Facebook bill" is also ahead in the agenda's queue.

The only visible potential opposition in the Senate appears to be State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, and even then, her skepticism toward the bill feels trivial compared to her intense rhetoric earlier in the year.

She told the Post-Dispatch on Wednesday that she wanted to read over the adjustments made in the bill over the summer, before casting a final judgement. Regardless, her stance may be moot, as there is noticeably little vocal opposition at this point.

Those who have opposed local control mainly asserted that they are defending the benefits of police officers. For instance, Chappelle-Nadal likened her stance to that of those who protested against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's plan to eliminate public workers' collective bargaining rights.

As recently as July, though, she acknowledged that she was satisfied with how the bill had evolved since passing the House, with provisions added to overtly ensure that the most important benefits would be protected. "As the bill stands, I'm OK with it," she said in an interview for last month's cover story.

Joe Steiger, vice president of the police union, testified in support of the bill during a House committee hearing on Thursday. With the POA in support, there is much less rhetorical space to argue against local control. State Representative Kathie Conway, of St. Charles, was the only member of the House to voice opposition to the bill when it reached the floor last week. She argued that the police union is only supporting local control because they were "backed into a corner" by the ballot initiative funded by billionaire Rex Sinquefield. Which is a true, but incomplete characterization. St. Louis voters did their part as well.

As last month's story stated:

For the union, local control seemed unavoidable. In November, 61 percent of St. Louis voters checked "yes" on Proposition L, a proposal to measure public support for local control. Billionaire Rex Sinquefield was pushing to get a local-control ballot initiative for 2012. Plus, the bill breezed through the House, signifying a paradigm shift in how legislators perceived local control. If this was going to happen, Roorda and the union decided, they might as well help shape it.

St. Louis' residents, St. Louis' mayor, St. Louis' well-known billionaire, St. Louis' police union, and out-state Republican Speaker of the House Tilley are all behind the local control bill.

It would be surprising, and telling, if this line-up of political force can't get local control passed.