- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Joplin Globe, Jan. 17

Time for real reform:

No more free lunches - literally. And no more trips, tickets to sporting events or nights out on the town.

That’s how things will be if a bill, presented Jan. 14 in the Missouri House of Representatives by Rep. Kevin McManus, D-Kansas City, and Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, is passed.

Other bills have been filed by Republican Sens. John Lamping, of Ladue, and Scott Rupp, of Wentzville, as well as Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis. They too would effectively reform ethics and campaign-finance laws. We applaud the bipartisan efforts to set some standards in our state.

McManus’ bill bans lobbyists from giving legislators meals, trips and gifts. It also requires lawmakers to wait three years after leaving office before they can work as lobbyists.

Under the bill, donors would be allowed to give $2,600 to candidates for statewide office, $1,000 to candidates for state Senate and $500 to House candidates. The bill also carries fines for those who try to circumvent the law.

Missouri currently has no limit on the price of gifts that politicians can receive from lobbyists, nor does the state have limits on the number of dollars candidates can receive in the form of campaign contributions. And there is currently no waiting period for lawmakers who leave office to become lobbyists.

We’re not saying all of Missouri’s state leaders take advantage of this arrangement, but under the current set of laws - or lack of laws - it’s pay to play in our state.

If we are going to reform ethics and campaign-finance laws, then let’s make the reform real.

No more free lunches, and no more government that’s bought and paid for by special-interest groups.

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The Kansas City Star, Jan. 19

States must rethink capital punishment:

Accounts differ on how long it took the state of Ohio to execute convicted killer Dennis McGuire last week. Some witnesses said 10 minutes; others thought he took longer to lose consciousness.

Either way, reports of McGuire gasping and making choking noises for an extended period are appalling, and more evidence that states must rethink their positions on capital punishment.

The moral objections of overseas pharmaceutical companies have made it difficult for states to obtain the drug combination that for years was used to execute prisoners.

Supply issues have led Missouri to unwisely contract with an out-of-state compounding pharmacy for an anesthetic that kills in high doses, even though the pharmacy isn’t licensed to supply drugs in Missouri.

Ohio used a never-tried combination of a sedative and painkiller to kill McGuire. The prolonged execution is certain to intensify the controversy.

Kansas is holding hearings on a bill to repeal its death penalty law. Missouri should do the same.

Unfortunately, two Missouri lawmakers have filed a bill authorizing prisoners to be executed by a firing squad. That is a reprehensible suggestion that should not receive so much as a committee hearing.

States should not become executioners. Life in prison without parole protects society without making citizens complicit in a wrong.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 16

Missouri’s struggling schools:

“Great schools change lives.”

That’s the most important sentence in the 78-page education consultant’s report that the Missouri Board of Education might rely on to figure out how to turn around struggling urban school districts in St. Louis and Kansas City.

It seems so intuitive. Yet too often that truth is not central to discussions at the state and local level about how to improve schools in impoverished neighborhoods.

Lawmakers, school officials and advocates get caught up in personalities, in name-calling, in philosophical throw-downs with no middle ground. They forget what they’re supposed to be doing.

Unfortunately, with the release of the CEE-Trust report commissioned by the Board of Education, we suspect much of the same behavior that has kept the Missouri Legislature from helping to create great schools will happen again.

The report itself hints at the coming debate, including an entire section trying to explain what it is not. The section is meant to reassure teachers’ unions and opponents of charter schools. The fact that the very week that the report came out, state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, introduced a measure seeking to force education commissioner Chris Nicastro out of her job hinted at the unrest ahead.

It’s deep breath time.

Great schools change lives. So how do we get there?

The CEE-Trust report has some of the same elements that both education reformers and traditional public school backers support.

It calls for universal early childhood education in urban school districts.

It suggests the formation of a statewide “achievement district” to take over districts that fail to meet accreditation standards.

It encourages the involvement of more successful suburban school districts in improving educational opportunities for children in unaccredited school districts.

It urges local schools to provide “wraparound” services to students who daily face obstacles to learning, obstacles like hunger, poor health care and lack of supervision before or after school.

It proposes a solution that keeps most children educated close to home, in their neighborhood schools, with additional accountability measures to make sure those schools improve.

Each of those ideas finds common ground with similar proposals made by the Missouri Association of School Administrators and approaches advocated by the Rex Sinquefield-funded Children’s Educational Alliance of Missouri. There is also crossover between the CEE-Trust report and the bipartisan legislation filed by a group of St. Louis-area senators, including Democrats Gina Walsh and Scott Sifton, and Republicans Eric Schmitt and Scott Rupp.

Among the more promising ideas, the consultants’ report also touches on the current school transfer crisis engulfing the Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts: Rather than bus students from the urban districts to the suburbs, the suburban districts should operate certain schools in failing school districts.

This is how the entire region takes responsibility for all of its children.

We share resources and knowledge of what it takes to create a great school. We create a cooperative effort rather than one that has divided us by north and south, white and black.

None of this will happen, of course, if Missouri lawmakers don’t put their money where their mouths have been and pull the Show-Me State out of the bottom tier of states for education funding.

This is where the CEE-Trust report falls short. It implies that there are enough savings in reconfiguring school districts - while also creating a new state bureaucracy - to shift money to local schools and also create a fund for universal preschool. We have no doubt there is waste in many urban school districts. The improved financial condition of the St. Louis Public Schools since its state takeover proves the point.

But to imply that money is not a problem ignores Missouri’s historically poor state funding - currently 40th lowest - for K-12 education compared to other states. If there is no money problem, why does the CEE-Trust report suggest creating a special fund for private donations to help pay for the “wraparound” services?

This is both a recipe for disaster and an admission that the biggest obstacle to providing great schools in urban areas is overcoming massive poverty.

Great schools take money, and the Missouri Constitution makes it crystal clear that it’s the state’s job to provide that money.

A serious conversation in Missouri about providing great schools in failing districts must include these elements:

- Adequate funding.

- Universal quality preschools.

- A regional approach to educating all children regardless of political boundaries.

If all the voices in this raucous and important debate were committed to those common ground principles, 2014 could be the year that Missouri makes a real promise to all of its children. It will be the year that Missouri makes a commitment to its own future.

Great schools change lives.

___

Jefferson City News Tribune, Jan. 18

Wise approach to revise criminal code:

Missouri’s criminal laws are among those that deserve to be addressed together rather than separately.

A massive, 739-page bill revamping criminal statutes is being expedited by supporters in the Legislature. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Dixon wants the revised criminal code advanced out of committee by the end of January to permit a “thorough job of vetting” by lawmakers.

A wholesale, rather than piecemeal, approach is not always, or often, the better approach.

As a rule, specific, targeted legislation reduces errors and unintended consequences.

An exception to the rule is the criminal code. Another is tax credit reform. And both are exceptions for the same two reasons.

First, piecemeal changes over the years have created imbalances. Although a change, in and of itself, may be reasonable, it may be unfair or inequitable when viewed from a broader perspective.

When this happens, a periodic, comprehensive review and revision is in order.

Second, the revised criminal code is neither a slap-dash nor rush job.

The state’s criminal laws last were rewritten and reorganized in the 1970s, and have been in effect since 1979 - then added to numerous times since then.

Sponsoring Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, points out the Missouri Bar began reviewing the existing criminal code about eight years ago. Prosecutors, public defenders and private practice attorneys worked on recommendations before seeking legislative revision in 2012.

The criminal code was discussed and debated last year - the House passed its version late in the session, but the Senate ran out of time before it could debate the House bill - and the Senate committee already has held 13 hearings on the bill.

Justus characterized the proposal as a “consensus document,” and added: Both sides said they felt a little bit of heartburn over it, but both sides felt it was necessary for the administration of justice. …”

The revised code is a massive bill that deserves a thorough vetting, but it always reflects a wise approach to eliminate inconsistencies and inequities in the state’s criminal statutes.

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