(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Missouri Governor Mike Parson stopped in St. Joseph Tuesday morning to sign Missouri House Bill 821, St. Joseph Land Bank Bill, into law.
St. Joseph Mayor Bill McMurray said this was a historic moment for the city, saying he believes a governor has never come to St. Joseph to sign new legislation into law before.
"I don't ever remember the governor signing a bill in St. Joseph, so I think this is a historic occasion and it says a lot about Governor Parson that he's willing to come all the way to St. Joe to sign this bill," McMurray said.
The bill was pushed through the Missouri House of Representatives and the State Senate by Rep. Sheila Solon (R-St. Joseph) and Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R-34th District).
Solon said the new legislation will allow the city to create a land bank, meaning when vacant properties go up for sale through ways like foreclosures or delinquencies, the city will be able to purchase, re-purpose and put them into the hands of responsible owners.
"This is really going to help [St. Joseph] in economic growth because if you have vacant businesses - a few of them on the same street, it really is a deterrent for other businesses coming in," Solon said.
The governor echoed that statement, saying it will help improve infrastructure and workforce development throughout the city.
"To be able to do something like this is really going to help the community long term," Parson said. "I think we're helping a lot of the buildings in the process here, building St. Joe - that infrastructure up."
Parson added that blight in neighborhoods is not an issue that's isolated to St. Joseph. He said several Missouri communities are looking at or passing Land Bank legislation in an effort to reduce vacant structures.
"When you go to different towns and cities across the state and you see the older buildings or the older properties that have been abandoned - and I mean I'm not just talking about two to three places, you're talking hundreds if not thousands of buildings around there - you gotta do something with them," Parson said.
Solon added the legislation will also aim to increase property value in local neighborhoods by clearing the area of blight structures, and could help in the reduction of crime.
"These vacant properties are used as drug houses, they are many times crime scenes, and we have vagrants and squatters coming into these vacant properties doing drugs, setting them on fire," Solon said. "If you're a citizen and you have one of these vacant properties with people coming in and out all the time, it certainly doesn't make you feel safe."
The governor said he decided to come to St. Joseph after seeing the community-wide support for the bill, and the importance of it to city officials.
"One of the things you do as governor, you have the opportunity to sign legislation - important legislation for individual's communities, and that's really important sometimes to make sure I get out and try to be in those communities," Parson said.
The governor signed the bill at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning.