‘Jessica’s law’ passed by General Assembly
Bill to crack down on drunken drivers poised to become law
By Allen Palmeri
My 31, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY – Drunk drivers who kill are about to face stiffer penalties in Missouri under the terms of two companion pieces of legislation that were passed by the Missouri General Assembly and sent to Gov. Matt Blunt for his signature this summer.
Senate Bill 37, sponsored by Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, and House Bill 972, sponsored by House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, together will raise the penalty for first-degree involuntary manslaughter in Missouri from a Class C felony to a Class B, meaning that the maximum sentence allowed will increase from 7 years to 15.
The impetus behind both bills was provided by the July 30 deaths of Jessica Mann, 7, and her grandfather, James Dodson, near Joplin. They were killed when they were struck by a drunken driver as they walked to the mailbox. Jessica’s father, Mike Mann, a deacon at First Baptist Church, Joplin, pushed for the legislation and is pleased that it has passed.
“Missouri Baptists rose to this occasion,” Mann said. “It was God’s will that this be done. Christians, in general, helped out. Focus on the Family was following this and assisting through their outlet means.
“I think it is imperative that we stay engaged in the political process. This law’s an example of something that needed to be done, and it was a miracle from God. Very seldom does a bill get introduced and passed in the same session. This was really a great bill, something that Gary can be proud of. He did exactly what I asked him to do.”
Nodler introduced his bill at Mann’s request. As the legislative process developed, the senator picked up a strong ally in Jetton, who is concerned that Missouri ranked No. 8 in the nation last year with 504 alcohol-related deaths. Jetton said it is important to lower that number.
“My bill primarily is designed to go after these people who are getting multiple DWIs,” Jetton said. “They get in wrecks and kill people, so we want to stiffen the penalties on them and get them off the road and hopefully help them get over their drinking problem. The ones who are really doing the most damage are these people who are chronic drinkers and have gotten DWIs before. They’re either hiding them on their record, or they just continue to drive. Those are the ones that I was hoping that our bill could get off the road.”
Mann had hoped for a bill that would increase the penalty to a Class A felony, which could mean 30 years in prison or even life for a convicted felon. If a drunk driver kills twice, that still could happen, Mann said. Jetton noted the new Class B felony law will be a strong step in the right direction.
“Fifteen years is a pretty good price,” the House speaker said. “I think that gets people’s attention and you hope that it deters them.”
Mann said it is his understanding that the governor plans to sign the legislation into law in either Jefferson City or Joplin.