- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Kansas City Star, May 21

Needed reforms could help fix Missouri’s perverted prison system

Missouri state Rep. Jim Hansen will long recall one female prison worker who reported that working conditions inside her facility were so horrific that she lost weight and resorted to sedatives.

She was intimidated. She was harassed. She was passed over for deserved promotions. Work, Hansen said, became her own personal hell.

“It was like she was suffering from PTSD,” Hansen said of the mental health problem often linked to front-line soldiers.

Hansen, a Republican from Frankford, spent much of the last few months appalled - his word - at what he learned about conditions inside Missouri’s prison system. Among the other failings identified were racial discrimination, retaliation for filing complaints and a good-ol’-boy system that fostered an ugly environment.

Hansen headed a special investigatory committee set up to examine these allegations that The Pitch first reported in November.

The good news: The committee just released a solid set of reforms aimed at reversing this perverted culture that has led to the state paying out millions of dollars in settlements and legal judgments.

Those recommendations include an essential zero-tolerance policy, annual sexual harassment training, new discipline guidelines, creation of a 24-hour hotline and random drug screening for employees.

Only briefly mentioned in the report is a recommendation for higher pay for experienced workers that would boost the department’s dangerously low morale and help instill more professional conduct. As things stand now, Missouri corrections officers are among the nation’s lowest paid.

Missouri’s new corrections chief, Anne Precythe, who took over the troubled department a few months ago after Gov. Eric Greitens forced out the former director, already has implemented several of these reforms. She also created an Office of Professional Standards aimed at making sure that internal investigations “are completed efficiently, fairly and timely.”

All this amounts to a solid start.

But it’s also true that many of these recommendations were already included in Department of Corrections policy. The challenge will be for department leaders to ensure that the policies are actually implemented. That responsibility falls on Precythe’s shoulders. But it also falls on Greitens, who must follow through. This is now his problem.

The Department of Corrections’ depraved culture has festered over many years. Hansen likened improving it to “turning an aircraft carrier around.”

Why? Consider the department’s size. The agency employs more than 11,000 people at more than 90 locations. Tens of thousands of prisoners are supervised.

That’s a lot of area to cover for a department that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year.

There’s another issue here, and it’s one that state Auditor Nicole Galloway should examine. Several members of Hansen’s committee complained that the legal settlements involving the department and its employees were kept secret and never revealed to the General Assembly.

“I was totally blindsided,” said Rep. Kathie Conway, a St. Charles Republican. That lack of transparency helped cover up the glaring problems inside the department.

Fortunately, Attorney General Josh Hawley is now releasing monthly reports that outline settlements and judgments against the state.

Meantime, Hansen wants to keep his committee active so that it can follow up if more problems arise. That’s smart.

Make no mistake: The Department of Corrections is broken. And it must be fixed. The state owes its employees no less.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 20

Greitens is no closer to draining the swamp with his special-session call

Gov. Eric Greitens says his decision to recall the Legislature for a special session is all about job creation. We have our doubts, mainly because so little of what the governor has said since his inauguration in January has matched his actions.

The singular stated mission of the special session is to finish work on a nearly completed bill advanced in the regular session to restart the idled smelter in New Madrid County where its previous operator, Noranda Aluminum, had employed 900 workers. Noranda filed for bankruptcy in February 2016 and idled the plant the following month, with mass layoffs plunging the area into economic turmoil.

If jobs were the sole issue here, it would be hard to argue with Greitens‘ reasoning. But one of the most generous corporate gift-givers for Greitens and the Legislature, St. Louis electric utility Ameren Corp., stands to benefit mightily if the legislation driving the special session passes. If advancing Ameren’s interests is Greitens‘ way of honoring his commitment to drain the swamp in Jefferson City, he’s got some explaining to do.

A measure sponsored in the regular session by Rep. Donald Rone, R-Portageville, would have loosened Public Service Commission rate oversight, something that even Rone’s fellow GOP lawmakers balked at. His bill would allow Ameren to apply a special rate for the smelter, which Ameren lobbied hard for in last year’s session without success. Noranda was Ameren’s biggest customer before the smelter’s closure.

Republican state senators have expressed concerns that the legislation would allow Ameren to boost rates for other customers regardless of whether the smelter reopens. Other major Ameren business customers such as Boeing and Anheuser-Busch InBev objected previously, arguing that it’s unfair for a publicly regulated utility to apply a special rate for one customer without offering special deals for others.

The problem with special rates is that someone ultimately winds up footing the bill, because Ameren isn’t operating a charity. If one customer receives electricity at a lower price, other business customers and consumers would have to make up the difference. There’s no guarantee that Greitens can overcome the skeptics in his party, so his special session call is a gamble.

We don’t fault Ameren for trying. It’s a business whose job is to get the best deal it can for its shareholders. But the Legislature has a different mandate - to get the best deal it can for Missouri taxpayers.

By focusing the special session on jobs, Greitens conveniently sidesteps the Legislature’s most glaring failure in the regular session: creating a prescription drug monitoring program to address the state’s growing opioid-addiction problem. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., wrote to Greitens on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to revive the monitoring program.

Greitens appears to have ignored her. Which leaves us wondering: Who is the governor fighting for?

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The Joplin Globe, May 18

Focus on local effort

Even though we all saw it coming, the repeated failure - 12 times, if you are counting - of the Missouri Legislature to pass a prescription drug monitoring program is disappointing - even insulting - to doctors, pharmacists, lawmakers, first responders, parents and those in Missouri who struggle to fight an opioid addiction.

But while a push for a statewide program died on Friday with the end of this year’s legislative session, we are encouraged that the Healthy Living/Wellness Committee of the Joplin Vision 2022 has recommended that the Joplin City Council direct the research and development of a collaborative prescription drug monitoring program for Jasper and Newton counties.

With Missouri being the only state in the nation without a program to track patient prescription history with the intent of preventing “doctor shopping” or patients going to multiple doctors seeking drugs, St. Louis County created its own program in March 2016, allowing other counties and municipalities to join.

Already 27 counties and cities, including Vernon County and Nevada, have joined and more than half of Missouri’s population will be covered under the database.

In a report presented Monday to the Joplin City Council, the committee stated: “We can stop or reduce many overdoses and drug-related crimes simply by recording who gets multiple prescriptions and where. This program will protect residents.”

We’ve been hammering the Legislature for years to adopt the program. Let’s do what it won’t and join other counties and cities in keeping pill shoppers out of our state.

Yes, legislators will bring the measure back again in 2018. But there’s no reason for us to wait. Let your county commissioner or City Council representative know how important a prescription drug monitoring program is to the health of our community.

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The Jefferson City News-Tribune, May 19

Let’s hold officials accountable for possible wrongdoings

Among the relatively few bills passed by the Missouri Legislature this year was SB128, which, among other things, will make it easier to hold public officials accountable for wrongdoing, by letting the state auditor do investigations not currently allowed by state law.

Public officials often get a bad rap based on the behavior of a few. The Capitol still is tainted by high-profile incidents that have occurred there in recent years. Still, we believe the vast majority of our public officials are true servants and honorable people.

In other words, we don’t share the cynicism of political satirist P.J. O’Roarke, who said: “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”

So while the bill may target politicians, the long-term effect, we expect, will be to reduce corruption and, in turn, better the public’s perception of our elected officials.

One such official, State Auditor Nicole Galloway, said the bipartisan legislation will increase her ability to work with law enforcement to hold public officials accountable for wrongdoing.

The bill, if signed into law, would allow Missouri prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement agencies to request assistance from the state auditor in investigating financial malfeasance when inappropriate or illegal activity is suspected, Galloway said. It was sponsored by Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, with the support of law enforcement and the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

“As a certified fraud examiner, I recognize the barriers to identifying fraud and am committed to ensuring Missouri’s law enforcement community has the tools necessary to clean up government,” Galloway said. “When public officials breach the public trust, prosecutors, law enforcement and my office must be able to effectively work together to protect citizens and remove bad actors from office.”

The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys also applauded passage of the bill.

We urge Gov. Eric Greitens to sign this common-sense legislation.

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