The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Kelley, R-Barton, will lessen the number of frivolous lawsuits against prisons by raising the bar from negligence to gross negligence in cases of inmate suicide. The law currently requires only negligence, which is defined as failure to use reasonable care.
Kelley's definition of gross negligence in the case of suicides would be the failure to recognize and act on a strong probability that an inmate will commit suicide.
Kelley said he believes the measure will save taxpayers money, but opponents said it could harm the families of inmates.
Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-St. Louis County, opposed the legislation, and that even now lawsuits against correctional facilities over inmate suicide are difficult for the family of the inmate.
“These are not easy cases to win, and we’re going to make it harder for the bereaved parents,” said Ellinger, who is an attorney.
Rep. Sylvester Taylor, D-St. Louis County, told a story about his cousin whose murder while incarcerated was made to look like a suicide. Taylor ended with an emotional plea to both sides of the House.
“I am saying to the people in this chamber, that not all the time, the people who are put there to protect, do the right thing. And I’m telling you right now, that this bill would hurt my family,” Taylor said.
Kelley said that his goal was not to disadvantage the families of inmates, but rather to relieve some of the burden of lawsuits. In spite of many Democratic representatives speaking in opposition to the bill, it was perfected with majority Republican support in a closing vote of 74 – 70.
The bill faces one more House vote before going to the Senate.