Laws, in general, do not remotely resemble “plain english” and are therefore very difficult to navigate. While individual laws may be intended to “stand alone” and address a specific concern, the courts have pretty uniformly stated that everything must be taken in context–so if the legislature passes laws that contradict each other then we must find a way to reconcile the intent, function, and impact in the broader context. It can be pretty confusing for a fire chief, which is why I do what I do.
Based on an anonymous inquiry recently, I looked into whether RSMO 561.021 would keep a person with a past felony from serving as a volunteer firefighter. The relevant parts of RSMO 561.021 state the following:
561.021. Forfeiture of public office — disqualification. — 1. A person holding any public office, elective or appointive, under the government of this state or any agency or political subdivision thereof, who is convicted of an offense shall, upon sentencing, forfeit such office if:
(1) He or she is convicted under the laws of this state of a felony or under the laws of another jurisdiction of an offense which, if committed within this state, would be a felony, or he or she pleads guilty or nolo contendere of such an offense; or …
2. Except as provided in subsection 3 of this section, a person who pleads guilty or nolo contendere or is convicted under the laws of this state of a felony or under the laws of another jurisdiction of an offense which, if committed within this state, would be a felony, shall be ineligible to hold any public office, elective or appointive, under the government of this state or any agency or political subdivision thereof, until the completion of his or her sentence or period of probation. (Emphasis added)
Clear as mud, right?
At first glance it would appear that this statute would prohibit any who has been 1) convicted, 2) pled guilty, 3) or pled no contest to a Missouri felony, or something that would be a felony in Missouri if committed elsewhere, then that person is prohibited from any elective or appointive public office. This is why context matters. The key term is: “Public Office.” The position of firefighter is not considered a “public office” in this context even though it is a public sector position. The courts have backed up this approach as well–I have found no instance where this statute has been applied by the courts outside of elected officials within the State. The rulings in the applicable cases do not even entertain the notion of applicability beyond an elected position.
To go one step further, even if we stretch the statute and make it apply to the appointment of a volunteer firefighter (which I believe to be an incorrect application), once the individual has served their sentence and/or completed any probation they would become eligible for appointment to public office under this statute. To be clear: I still maintain that this statute is not intended to be applied in this way–but even if it is, once the individual has completed a sentence/probation, the law clearly states the period of ineligibility is lifted and does not apply. This would only be inapplicable in a few very specific circumstances.
If your department chooses to implement a policy regarding past felonies and volunteering that will fall outside this explanation. Policies that address past criminal records and employment are allowable, but you should consult your city attorney or district attorney before implementing any policy of this type to avoid putting a prohibited discriminatory policy in place.