Child endangerment law weighed by councilmen

Fraser named council chair, Stenger to serve as vice chair

By EVAN YOUNG

Legislation that would add a section on child endangerment to St. Louis County’s petty offenses code was up for an initial vote by the County Council Tuesday — after the Call went to press.

The proposed ordinance, introduced last week, prohibits behavior that threatens the “physical, mental and emotional health of a child” less than 17 years old.

Missouri law prohibits child endangerment, but the state doesn’t take every case, County Counselor Patricia Redington said last week.

The new law would “close the gaps” and give officials the teeth to prosecute child endangerment cases at the county level, she said.

The new section identifies child endangerment as:

• Operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a child inside.

• Selling, manufacturing, possessing or using a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia in a child’s presence.

• Committing an act of domestic violence in a child’s presence.

• Allowing loaded firearms — or unloaded firearms with the ammunition nearby — to be accessible to a child, unless the weapon is locked up or “equipped with a tamper-resistant safety device.”

In unrelated business last week, the council voted unanimously to adopt an amended version of a bill that calls for a contract between the county and the Metro transit agency. The contract would require Metro to meet certain criteria before receiving revenue from a new half-cent sales tax that county voters will consider April 6.

If the April ballot measure succeeds, Metro officials have said the agency would use half of the $75 million in expected annual revenue for operations and half for light-rail and bus expansion.

But under the pending agreement, Metro would have to secure federal funding before building any extension, as well as undergo performance audits of its management every three years, to receive that sales-tax revenue.

Councilmen amended the agreement last week to include “rapid” bus service in the scope of expansion projects that would require federal funds. The measure was slated for a final vote Tuesday.

Last week the council also unanimously elected 5th District Councilman Barbara Fraser, D-University City, to serve as County Council chair for 2010. Sixth District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-south county, was elected vice chair.

Fraser, who was the council’s vice chair in 2009, replaced 1st District Councilman Hazel Erby, D-University City.