A second lawsuit challenging the new Missouri law that criminalizes unauthorized sleeping or camping on state-owned land was filed this week in Cole County.
Springfield-based nonprofit Eden Village filed the first lawsuit challenging the new law (House Bill 1606) last month, saying it violates the Missouri Constitution.
The suit filed this week alleges essentially the same thing — that the bill had extra language crammed in that was unrelated to the original intention.
“The law’s provisions on homelessness were enacted as part of House Bill 1606 (H.B. 1606), which states in its title that it is enacting ‘fifty new sections relating to political subdivisions’ and which primarily contains provisions concerning political subdivisions,” a news release sent on behalf of the plaintiffs said.
The lawsuit alleges that, by including the provisions on homelessness, many of which have nothing to do with political subdivisions, HB 1606 violates three requirements in the Missouri Constitution:
- a requirement that bills contain no more than one subject;
- a requirement that the bill’s subject be clearly expressed in its title;
- a prohibition on the General Assembly amending bills so as to change their original purpose.
These requirements are intended to ensure that members of the legislature and public are fairly informed of a bill’s contents, the release said.
Suit: Taxpayers have say in the matter
To establish the plaintiffs’ standing in the matter, the petition states that the plaintiffs are Missouri taxpayers. And as taxpayers, they have an interest in HB 1606 because the law dictates how state funds for the homeless are to be used and that enforcing the law will cost taxpayer money, according to the suit.
Of the three plaintiffs named in the suit, two are Greene County residents. The other plaintiff lives in Cape Girardeau.
Plaintiff Johnathan Byrd lives and works in Greene County and is described in the suit as “a low-income worker who has experienced homelessness and housing instability and as a housing justice advocate.”
Plaintiff Jessica Honeycutt also lives and works in Greene County and is described as a “community health worker who provides services to people who are homeless and as a housing justice advocate.”
Local residents join the fight
The suit says both Byrd and Honeycutt believe HB 1606 “will harm Missourians who are unhoused or who are unstably housed.”
“I work with people who are unhoused on a daily basis, and I know HB 1606 will make their lives more difficult,” Honeycutt said in the release. “Making people criminals because they have to sleep outside is inhumane.”
“This anti-homeless law will enact policy violence on people who are unhoused,” Byrd said in the release. “I believe Missouri can and should do better by our neighbors who are struggling to find housing after a global pandemic and a time of unprecedented instability.”
STORY CONTINUES BELOW
HB 1606, which goes into effect in January, reads in part: “No person shall be permitted to use state-owned lands for unauthorized sleeping, camping or long-term shelter. Any violation shall be a Class C misdemeanor; however, the first offense shall be a warning with no citation.”
The law goes on to say that the Attorney General has “the power to bring a civil action to enjoin the political subdivision from failing to enforce any ordinances prohibiting public camping, sleeping, or obstruction of sidewalks.”
Springfield likely to lose funding
In addition to making it a misdemeanor crime to sleep or camp on state-owned property, the bill says that political subdivisions, primarily municipalities, must maintain a per-capita homelessness rate at or below the state average or enforce ordinances that comply with the law, or could face a loss in state funding or civil action by the Attorney General.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Missouri’s per capita rate of homelessness in 2021 was .000834. The per capita rate of homelessness for the Springfield/Greene, Christian and Webster County Continuum of Care was .00134 — well above the state.
The plaintiffs in the suit filed this week are represented by Legal Service of Eastern Missouri and Public Citizen Litigation Group.
“Missouri already has an extreme shortage of housing for people with low incomes,” Amanda Schneider, an attorney at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, said in the release. “This legislation will reduce access to housing and criminalize the unhoused in the middle of our affordable housing crisis.”
Adina H. Rosenbaum, an attorney at Public Citizen Litigation Group, also commented.
“The Missouri Constitution contains several protections to ensure that legislators and members of the public are not misled about the purposes and effects of proposed legislation,” Rosenbaum said. “By hiding provisions on homelessness in a bill that, as a whole, addresses a different subject, H.B. 1606 violates the state Constitution.”
Eden Village CVO happy to learn of lawsuit
Nate Schlueter, chief visionary officer for Eden Village in Springfield, said he is pleased to hear a second and similar lawsuit was filed to challenge the new law.
Eden Village I and II are tiny home communities that provide affordable housing and wrap-around services for disabled, chronically homeless people.
“We are absolutely supportive and glad that in other parts of the state, they see the same issues that we are seeing,” Schlueter said. “Our state constitution says that we’re ‘one bill, one subject.’ I think they feel like we feel: This isn’t a one-subject bill.”
According to the Gathering Tree/Eden Village petition filed in late August, House Bill 1606 violates Article 3 of the state’s constitution “in that it violates the single subject and clear title requirements on its face” and “the final version of the bill changed its original purpose.”
The amendment in HB 1606 (Section 67.2300), sponsored by Rep. Bruce DeGroot (R-District 101), was based on a Senate bill by Sen. Holly Rehder (R-District 27) and model legislation by Austin, Texas think tank The Cicero Institute.
Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin are just a few other states that have proposed or enacted similar legislation, all with The Cicero Institute’s direct influence.
Want to dive into the details of the plaintiffs’ case?
The general subject of HB 1606 is “political subdivisions.”
Both lawsuits contend that portions of the bill related to homelessness have nothing to do with political subdivisions.
“Many provisions of 67.2300 do not fairly relate to or have a natural connection with political subdivisions and are not a means to accomplish the purpose of regulating political subdivisions,” the second lawsuit reads in part. “HB 1606 contains more than one subject and violates the single-subject requirement of Article III (section) 23 of the Missouri Constitution.
The plaintiffs in the second lawsuit pointed to the portion of the Missouri Constitution that requires that the single subject of a bill “be clearly expressed in its title.”
“Many of the provisions of section 67.2300 are outside of or go beyond the subject of regulating political subdivision,” the suit reads. “The title of HB 1606 is underinclusive and violates the clear-title requirement in Article III (section) 23 of the Missouri Constitution.”
And finally, the second lawsuit notes the portion of the Missouri Constitution that says “no bill shall be so amended in its passage through either house as to change its original purpose.”
The suit states the purpose of HB 1606 was to regulate county financial statements, thereby reducing counties’ publication costs.
“None of the provisions of section 37.2300 regulates county financial statements or will reduce counties’ publication costs,” the suit reads. “HB 1606 was amended during its passage to change its original purpose and violates the original-purpose requirement in Article III (section) 23 of the Missouri Constitution.”