Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri Legislature Convenes amid Protests, Sets Priorities

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri Legislature Convenes amid Protests, Sets Priorities

Article excerpt

JEFFERSON CITY * The Missouri Legislature kicked off its 2015 session Wednesday in ceremonies that were interrupted by protesters, who demanded that legislators pass Medicaid expansion and address issues of racial justice.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican and the Senate's presiding officer, cleared the chamber's upper gallery when protesters hung banners over the railing and chanted "no justice, no peace" and "black lives matter," some of the rallying cries in last year's Ferguson protests.

Earlier, several hundred people held a rally and staged a "die in" in the rotunda. Cassidy Dansberry, 25, of Florissant, said she came to show legislators "this is not going to go away until change happens. Laws are moral choices."

The Legislature's Republican leaders said, as they have before, that Medicaid expansion is a nonstarter. As far as Ferguson issues go, newly elected House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, and Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, emphasized their support of law enforcement's role in the conflict.

Protests and violence followed the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, who was unarmed and black, by Darren Wilson, a white former Ferguson police officer.

In his opening speech, Diehl introduced five firefighters from the St. Louis area in the upper gallery. He asked the House to honor them for risking "life and limb to protect the innocent and keep the peace in the midst of growing chaos."

Chaos that Dempsey said should not be tolerated. "The criminal acts carried out against local shopkeepers, citizens and police officers by individuals who have hijacked the peaceful protests of concerned citizens have no place in a civil society where all must be subject to the rule of law," Dempsey said in his opening speech.

But Dempsey backs at least one of the reforms sparked by Ferguson: further limiting how much revenue cities can raise from traffic tickets. Some municipalities are "building their own fiefdoms on the backs of the people they are supposed to represent," he said.

Wednesday marked the first day of this year's 4-month-long session, and all 163 House members and half the 34 senators were sworn in for the terms they won in November. …

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