Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed public safety legislation Tuesday that includes limits on removing police chiefs and authority for colleges and universities to establish traffic rules on roads owned or maintained by the school.
Supporters of the portion dealing with police chiefs contend it will give them some independence by requiring a legitimate reason before they can be ousted. The Missouri Municipal League said the legislation could lead to management problems and more lawsuits.
The newly signed legislation will require a two-thirds majority vote by the municipality's governing board to determine there is just cause to remove a police chief. Just cause would include when a police chief has committed a felony, has been deemed insubordinate, has committed an act that amounts to reckless disregard for public safety and several other specific instances. Police chiefs will need to be given written notice at least 10 business days before the governing board's meeting.
There have been "instances where police chiefs get caught in the middle of these political squabbles," said Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County. "I thought it was important that they have the independence they need to serve as professional law enforcement."
Richard Sheets, the deputy director of the Missouri Municipal League, said police chiefs are part of their cities' management teams and that local officials should have authority to decide who leads an important city department. He said many city managers are unhappy with legislation.
"It just takes away the management authority from the chief executive," Sheets said. "They have to have that supervisory ability over their subordinates. This kind of insulates them from that supervision."
Another portion of the legislation allows governing boards of public colleges or universities to create traffic regulations, including speed limits, to promote public safety and health and to protect property. The rules are to be codified, printed and publicly distributed. There also must be adequate signs displaying the speed limit along roads. Violations of schools' regulations will have the same effect as breaking municipal rules.
College or university police officers will be allowed to enforce the school's rules and Missouri's general motor vehicle laws on the campus.
The public safety legislation also includes provisions affecting first-responders, community paramedics and fire protection districts.
Nixon's office announced Tuesday the legislation had been signed, along with seven other bills. The governor has until mid-July to act on legislation or the bills take effect without his signature.