- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The St. Joseph News-Leader, Oct. 20

Missouri higher education leaders didn’t invent the program known as “15 to Finish,” but give them credit for borrowing something that makes a lot of sense.

Like some other states, Missouri has launched an initiative to encourage full-time college students to take at least 15 credit hours a semester. When you do the math, this puts these students on track to complete an associate’s degree in two years or a bachelor’s degree in four years.

Fair enough, but what’s the rush?

Well, for one thing, college costs less - a lot less - when you spend less time there.

Finishing a bachelor’s degree in four years also means you will spend less time drawing down student loans, and become employable quicker, leading to less debt and greater potential lifetime earnings.

There also is a public policy interest. The Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education earlier this year adopted a new blueprint to guide higher education. It cites a big skills gap - about half of adults in the state have a degree or professional certificate, but soon about 60 percent of the available jobs will require such a credential.

More than a problem isolated to individuals, a slow path to graduation is a drag on our economy and future economic outlook. Without a ready and able workforce, the odds increase that an employer requiring a highly educated team will look elsewhere.

Two of the state board’s top goals are to increase educational attainment of working-age adults, and attain a Top 10 ranking for college affordability. These goals - both with target dates of 2025 - will be unattainable without an improvement in this area.

As it stands, less than one-third of college students in Missouri earn an average of 15 credit hours per semester, “making it impossible in most cases for students to graduate on time,” higher ed leaders say.

We agree with the move to incentivize students to take a course load of 15 credit hours, starting in their first semester on campus. Studies show this step helps to prepare students for the rigors of college they encounter later.

Among these incentives: directing financial aid to students who work to stay on track, and discounting the cost of credit hours taken above a minimum of 12 hours.

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The Kansas City Star, Oct. 18

Republican senators’ obstruction of justice continues

The U.S. Supreme Court returned to work this month still short one justice. That doesn’t appear likely to change, at least not before Election Day and perhaps not before a new president is sworn in in January. In the meantime, having only eight justices continues to cause headaches, but a little history helps to put it all in perspective.

It might surprise some Americans to learn that the Constitution does not specify how many justices should serve on the nation’s highest court and that it has not always had nine of them. The original court had six justices. The number increased with the number of judicial circuits, reaching a maximum of 10 justices in the 19th century before Congress lowered the number back to nine in 1869.

There have been nine justices since then, except in the case of vacancies. President Franklin D. Roosevelt briefly tried to stack the court with 15 justices, but he failed.

Thanks to the refusal of Senate Republicans to do their job and confirm or deny President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the court is gaveled in to its new term with an empty seat for the first time in decades.

Scalia’s seat has been vacant for more than 200 days, and there is no end in sight. Most nominees have received a vote in less than half that time.

The Republican inaction is damaging the function of the court. The vacancy leaves eight justices. Eight is, of course, an even number, meaning votes can end in ties. Sure, back in its earliest days, the court had six members, also an even number, but its importance as the nation’s legal referee has grown tremendously since then.

With a tie vote, lower court rulings stand, even if they are contradictory. That means critical issues often remain unsettled. The law in states under one appeals circuit may be different from the law in other states.

Following Scalia’s death, the court handed down several major split decisions that left significant legal issues unresolved - about Obama’s immigration program, the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirements and public-sector unions.

Going into the new term, the court seems hesitant to take on new cases that might result in a split.

The current ideological makeup of the court is evenly split between four conservative and four liberal justices - which is why Republicans are so adamant about blocking Obama’s nominee.

Never mind that Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, is not an ideologue and was actually cited as an example of a suitable consensus choice by Republicans prior to Scalia’s death. He would give the liberal wing of the court a majority, though probably not on as many issues as progressives would like.

Republicans could, if they chose, try to force through a bill to shrink the size of the court. If they thought eight was the right number, nothing prevents having that many, or seven or even just one.

That’s not really their goal, though. The current impasse is grounded in partisan politics, plain and simple.

The nation deserves a fully functioning Supreme Court, and Republican senators are abdicating that responsibility. In an upcoming editorial, we will consider what could and should happen next with Obama’s nomination.

Meanwhile, on Nov. 8, nearly a third of senators are up for re-election, including Kansas’ Sen. Jerry Moran and Missouri’s Sen. Roy Blunt, both Republicans. Voters should keep in mind which ones did their jobs and which ones refused.

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The Springfield News-Leader, Oct. 22

Our Voice: Sheriff should reduce vehicle pursuits

The vehicle pursuit policies of law enforcement agencies are varied.

It’s a difficult policy to outline because pursuits are risky, and unlike the typical risk-reward question, vehicle pursuits are more a risk-risk question.

Does an officer risk losing an offender who could get free to commit more crimes, or risk injuring a bystander? It’s always the underlying question, and different agencies answer it differently.

In the case of two local agencies, Springfield Police and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, Greene County deputies more often choose to pursue.

The risks of pursuits have been weighed locally, and discussed openly - particularly with News-Leader coverage in 2013.

While most members of the editorial board have changed since then, our position has not. Greene County should implement a pursuit policy that leads them to make fewer pursuits, especially those through the middle of Springfield.

Sheriff Jim Arnott has explained his philosophy and pursuits, and it’s understandable. Enforcing the law is naturally dangerous, and vehicle pursuits are one aspect of that enforcement.

He sees the risks of a pursuit as necessary to keeping the community safe, by getting offenders off the streets.

However, studies tend to show what we feel in our gut - chases aren’t worth the danger.

A 2015 study by USA Today found that over the last 35 years, more than 5,000 bystanders and passengers have been killed in police car chases.

The Justice Department has recognized that danger and has urged officers to avoid or abort pursuits that endanger pedestrians, nearby motorists or themselves.

The department gave that warning in 1990, but agencies apparently did not take the advice. The annual number of chase-related deaths remains about the same as it did then.

The Police Policy Studies Council has suggested departments develop and use a “pursuit management continuum.”

Such a system ranks the threat a suspect poses when free to commit crimes versus the level of control an officer must use to apprehend that suspect.

It’s a general idea that both Springfield and Greene County have in their pursuit policies. Springfield Police just happen to be more conservative on that scale.

At a time when use of force policies are under the spotlight, police pursuits are one form of force that deserves more attention.

On such a scale, vehicle pursuits should be considered a high use of force, because speeding vehicles are deadly.

Many crimes are bad. Not many are deadly.

Arnott has said he doesn’t want to let criminals think they can avoid consequences just by running from police.

We understand how that can be a difficult decision when your duty is to protect the people of the community. It might make the risk of a criminal getting away feel worse than the risk of a harmful crash.

So far, the community hasn’t had to factor injury or death into its conversations about the risks of chases.

That’s the position the Lake County Sheriff’s Office in Florida found itself in last year.

A deputy chased a suspect for 26 miles through side streets, stop signs, red lights and oncoming traffic, according to reports from the Daily Commercial.

Two women were injured in that crash, leading the department to change its pursuit policy.

We have the opportunity to change policy now, before tragedy forces our hand.

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