Proposed bill would lessen penalties for pot possession in Mo.

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by JORDAN SHAPIRO

AP

Posted on May 9, 2014 at 9:52 PM

Updated Saturday, May 10 at 4:43 AM

 JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's office told a group of state lawmakers Friday that the governor would not veto a massive overhaul of the state's criminal laws, despite previously expressing misgivings about the legislation's scope.

Sen. Jolie Justus, the bill's sponsor, said she met with Nixon's chief-of-staff and legal counsel who indicated that Nixon won't stop the measure from becoming law. The Democratic governor faces a Tuesday deadline to sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature.

Justus, a Kansas City Democrat and Senate minority leader, said she was "thrilled" with the governor's decision to not oppose the legislation.

 "It is really great news," she said. "I am hoping that a lot of the work we did in the public eye helped his decision-making process."

Nixon expressed concerns earlier this year that the bill tried to do too much at one time and said there was "no room for error" when overhauling the criminal code for the first time since 1979.

Supporters argued the bill has been thoroughly vetted with dozens of public hearings and input from multiple organizations. Justus also said the Legislature would try to pass a cleanup bill before it adjourns May 16 to correct some drafting mistakes the governor's office had identified. The bill passed the House and Senate with enough votes to override a potential veto.

A spokesman for Nixon said Friday the governor's office is continuing to work with interested parties "to address issues surrounding this legislation."

The measure would create new classes of felonies and misdemeanors, and reorganize crimes to fit the new penalty structure.

It would create a new felony punishment range that carries a three- to 10-year prison term for certain crimes, bridging the gap between existing classes that carry an authorized jail term between five and 15 years and one that stipulates a maximum four-year prison stint. A new misdemeanor class would be created that wouldn't include jail time as a possibility, an option that currently doesn't exist.

The overhaul would also reduce the penalties for certain nonviolent crimes, while proscribing longer jail sentences for others.

Jail time would be off the table for first-time offenders convicted of possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana. Possessing up to 35 grams of the drug is currently punishable by up to a year in prison.

On the other hand, incest would be added as an aggravating factor for all sex crimes, which would let people be charged at a higher crime classification with stiffer jail terms. Drunken drivers who kill someone while on the road would also face a higher maximum prison sentences.

The provisions in the bill would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2017.

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