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Missouri Supreme Court strikes down law creating penalty for unauthorized sleeping on state-owned land

Introduced to the Missouri House of Representatives in January 2022, HB 1606 originally changed requirements for county financial statements and limited the amount newspapers could charge counties for publishing those statements. It did so by repealing Sections 50.800, 50.810, and 50.820 and enacting two new sections. As HB 1606 moved through the Missouri Legislature, lawmakers added 49 more sections including a controversial Section 67.2300.5, that, among other things, regulated homelessness funding in Missouri and made unauthorized sleeping on state-owned land a class C misdemeanor. The bill was signed into law by Governor Parson in June 2022 and went into effect in January 2023.

In Byrd et al. v. State of Missouri, HB 1606 was challenged on the grounds that the new law violated the single subject requirement of Article III, Section 23 of the Missouri Constitution. The Plaintiffs argued the addition of § 67.2300 to a bill primarily “relating to political subdivisions” tainted the legislation’s constitutionality because “[n]o bill shall contain more than one subject which shall be clearly expressed in its title,” according to Article III, Section 23 (the “single subject” requirement). The circuit court disagreed, holding HB 1606 contained a single subject: the operation and regulation of political subdivisions.

However, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the ruling, finding the inclusion of § 67.2300 in HB 1606 did violate the single subject requirement of Article III, Section 23. While § 67.2300 contained homelessness related provisions applicable to political subdivisions, those provisions were also applicable to every entity receiving state funds (e.g. state agencies, non-profits, etc.) and even some private individuals or entities. “[T]he connection between 67.2300 and the subject ‘political subdivisions’ [was] remote at best and, in some instances, completely missing,” the Court said. After concluding the inclusion of § 67.2300 violated the Constitution, the Court struck down HB 1606 in its entirety. Severing § 67.2300 from HB 1606 would have only been appropriate if there was evidence to convince the Court beyond a reasonable doubt that the legislature would have passed the bill without the additional provisions and that the provisions were not essential to the efficacy of the bill. In the Court’s words, there must be an “extraordinary showing to convince this Court to engage in judicial surgery to save a bill infected with the otherwise fatal constitutional disease of multiple subjects[.]” 

As a result, the ban on unauthorized sleeping on public land is invalid, as is the rest of HB 1606. Local governments should no longer enforce the penalty provision. However, with more and more states looking to pass similar legislation, local governments should keep in mind that similar bills may reappear in the 2024 legislative session – this time without the constitutional flaws.  

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