News 4 Investigates: Did the Ferguson Commission help pass Senat -

News 4 Investigates: Did the Ferguson Commission help pass Senate Bill 5?

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Created by Mo. Governor Jay Nixon's executive order, the Ferguson Commission is supposed to investigate deep issues of social injustice, identify problems, come up with possible solutions and put that in a detailed report to Nixon in September .However, the road to reform is difficult and some critics say the commission is taking more credit than it deserves for some of that reform.

Earlier in May, News 4 visited a working group focusing on municipal courts. Under the direction of members of the commission, volunteers who often line up on opposite sides are now working together to identify problems and try to find solutions.

"I think what we're doing will have an impact," said  Gabriel Gore, a St. Louis attorney and a member of the Ferguson Commission.

"The goal here is to put systems in place that provide protections to all citizens in all municipal courts," Gore told News 4.

The commission and some of it's volunteers are also taking credit for reform, primarily Senate Bill 5, the municipal court bill written by Missouri State Senator Eric Schmitt, who represents parts of  St. Louis County.

"I will tell you that Senate Bill 5, while it's not the ultimate solution, it's progress and it would not have passed without the commission's advocacy," SLU Law professor Brendan Roegeder told News 4.

He's not alone.

During News 4's Craig Cheatham's interview with Ferguson Commission co-chairs Rich McClure and Starsky Wilson, both men mentioned the commission's role in pushing Senate Bill 5, though sources say McClure was more involved.

"Our job was to spotlight the issue, to bring it to the table, to make sure legislators understood what those issues were, and we're so pleased they were responsive. So, when Starsky and I were in Jefferson City and met with legislative leadership and talked with them about the priorities they understood them and they were responsive and their legislation reflects that and we're just delighted for that," McClure told News 4.

News 4 Investigates confirmed that none of the members of the Ferguson Commission testified in support of Senate Bill 5.

"For anyone in the Ferguson Commission to say that they are responsible for the passage of Senate Bill 5, they're dead wrong," State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who represents Ferguson, told News 4.

Chapelle-Nadal said she had other bills that would were a direct response to issues resulting from the Ferguson unrest, and that are being investigated by the commission, but she said the commission never offered support.

"There's another bill that dealt with body cameras, but no one from the Ferguson Commission was there. There was another bill dealing with deadly force, but no one from the Ferguson Commission was there. So, I don't think the Ferguson Commission has done it's job," said Chappelle-Nadal.

Other critics told News 4  the Commission has failed to live up to high expectations.

Rev. Phillip Duvall, a longtime civil rights activist, applied for the commission, but was not selected.

Duvall said one of the commission's biggest benefits will be the cushion it may provide for Governor Jay Nixon, who was widely criticized for decisions he made during the Ferguson protests.

"There's political theatre... .something that speaks to the way Governor Nixon handled, or mishandled, Ferguson. So, it speaks to the rest of the world that they're putting some type of effort to address it," said Duvall. 

Adolphus Pruitt, President of the St. Louis City NAACP, said one of the biggest risks of all is that the commission delivers its report, and there's inadequate funding to pay for the inevitable long list of solutions proposed in the report.

"There's enough blame to go around, so I'm sure it's helpful to point to one sector of people and say you're to blame, but rather what can we do going forward and what kind of commitments are we willing to make," said Rev. Starsky Wilson, Ferguson Commission Co-Chair.

There were at least two members of the Municipal Court Working Group who testified to state lawmakers about municipal court reform, but one of them refused to testify in support of Senate Bill 5, believing it didn't go far enough. The other one, attorney Brendan Roedeger, the working group volunteer who said it wouldn't have passed without the commission's support, admits he likely would have testified even if the Ferguson Commission didn't exist.

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