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Advocates for the unhoused sue over Missouri’s ban on sleeping on public land

The suing activists challenge the law on largely procedural grounds related to the passage of the bill.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) — A group of homeless advocates filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging a Missouri law they claim will harm those who are unhoused or unstably housed.

At issue is a recently passed law, known as House Bill 1606, which in relevant part makes it a crime to sleep on state-owned land without authorization and places strict restrictions on the use of state funds for the homeless, for example by barring use of state money for constructing permanent housing.

Johnathan Byrd, Jessica Honeycutt and Allison Miles filed the lawsuit in Cole County against the state of Missouri, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and the state’s commission for housing development and economic development department.

“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 a statement. “Making people criminals because they have to sleep outside is inhumane.”

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office held off on commenting on the lawsuit to Courthouse News.

The plaintiffs say the law is unconstitutional because it violates the one-subject clause in the Missouri Constitution, which prohibits any bill from addressing more than one subject and requires that subject to be clearly expressed in its title. They say the rules regulating the homeless are part of a political subdivision bill.

“HB 1606, as enacted, primarily contains provisions relating to political subdivisions,” the complaint states. “For example, in addition to provisions relating to county financial statements, it contains a provision extending to all non-charter counties the authorization for county coroners to receive a raise; a provision allowing any political subdivision to elect to cover emergency telecommunicators, jailors and emergency medical service personnel as public safety personnel members of the Missouri local government employees’ retirement system; and a provision adding county and municipal park ranger vehicles to the definition of ‘emergency vehicles.’”

They go on to argue that the bill’s nine subsections that address the state’s policy toward homelessness have nothing to do with political subdivisions’ utilities or county accounting and payroll practices.

The homeless subsections “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 complaint says.

Plaintiffs also claim that the bill violates the original-purpose requirement of the Missouri Constitution, which states that no bill should be amended in its passage through either house so as to change its original purpose.

“Missouri already has an extreme shortage of housing for people with low incomes,” attorney Amanda Schneider, of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, said in a statement for the plaintiffs. “This legislation will reduce access to housing and criminalize the unhoused in the middle of our affordable housing crisis.”

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