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Gov. Parson visits Jackson day before testing COVID-19 positive, signs HB 66

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson visited the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday, Sept. 22, almost 24 hours before announcing that he and his wife Teresa had both tested positive for COVID-19.

First Lady Teresa Parson was tested Wednesday morning after displaying minor symptoms and Governor Parson was tested later that day. As of Monday, Sept. 28, the governor does not show any symptoms from COVID-19 and the first lady’s symptoms continue to be mild.

Parson is currently working remotely from the governor’s mansion in Jefferson City and will remain isolated through Oct. 3. They join over 120,000 Missourians who have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. Statewide, over 1,200 deaths due to COVID-19 have been reported.

The governor visited Jackson to hold a ceremonial signing of House Bill 66 among local law enforcement officers and public officials. House Bill 66 will establish a Pretrial Witness Protection Fund.

Missouri law enforcement agencies should soon be able to request funding from the department of public safety to provide resources for the “health, safety and welfare” of victims and witnesses, as well as their immediate families.

“The reality of it is that people retaliate against people sometimes for coming forward and doing the right thing,” Parson said. “We have to do everything we can to protect them.”

Parson said the Pretrial Witness Protection Fund will be another tool for local prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to help witnesses feel safe to cooperate with investigations and get cases to trial.

“We can take care of them, we can ensure their safety and do some things we couldn’t do before,” Parson said. “We know the federal witness protection plan has worked in many occasions, especially when it comes to really violent crime, some of the major cases. There’s no reason we can’t implement a smaller version of that in the state of Missouri.”

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Welker thanked the governor for signing the bill, saying it was “very passionate” to him because the county has many cases where there are witnesses who are afraid to come forward.

“I hope that this is one step forward in helping our cases, in helping our victims and helping our witness in putting the bad guys in jail,” Welker said.

Cape Girardeau County Sheriff Ruth Ann Dickerson joined Welker in thanking Parson for visiting the sheriff’s office and getting this “critical crime bill” signed.

“Any law enforcement officer will tell you some of the hardest components of working a case is gathering good evidence and getting a witness that will step forward and help you by testifying,” Dickerson said.

Parson said the fund will be focused on witnesses of violent crimes. “We have to take violent criminals off the street,” he said. “Homicide rates are increasing in this state. It’s not something we like to talk about, but the reality of it is that it is.”

The governor said he was hopeful that the state will be able to implement funding quickly. “I think we will be able to start the application process the first of October,” Parson said.

The bill was passed in a special legislative session along with House Bill 46, which removes the residency requirements for police and public safety workers in the City of St. Louis.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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