- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Springfield News-Leader, March 27

Revamp criminal code now:

After at least two years of hearings, meetings and hard work, the Missouri Senate has come up with a much-needed overhaul of the state’s criminal code.

Now it looks like the governor is not quite willing to sign off on it.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said the Senate does not plan to spend more time on the bill until Republican Sen. Bob Dixon of Springfield and Democratic Sen. Jolie Justus of Kansas City can work out a way to a “path forward” with Gov. Jay Nixon.

After all the work, including 25 public hearings and support from prosecutors, the Missouri Bar Association, public defenders and victim advocates, it is frustrating for Dixon and Justus, who have spearheaded this effort, to have to go back and make changes.

But we encourage them to do just that.

The governor’s office points out that the proposed legislation of more than 1,100 pages is simply too much in one bill. He would prefer that it be broken down into more manageable pieces.

Dixon correctly points out that piecemeal efforts to fix the 1979 code is what created the problems. He would prefer to address the code as a whole.

The governor is also correct when he says that, given the high stakes of the project, there is no room for error.

Now it is time for the senators and the governor’s office to sit down and find a compromise that will both overhaul the entire system and do it in smaller bites. That way, if something needs to be tweaked it won’t hold up the entire process.

Dixon and Justus have already started the effort by working through their spring break to scale down the size of the bill by 400 pages.

It is important that the code provide prosecutors with the tools to put dangerous criminals behind bars, while giving defenders tools they need, as well.

The legislature has been committed to this project for years. Revising the criminal code was among House Speaker Tim Jones’ agenda items for 2013. Jones pointed out that the incremental changes over the decades have left the code disorganized and inconsistent.

This effort hasn’t been easy. Creating a code that is fair, addresses current realities and reflects the tough-on-crime attitude of most Missourians has taken a lot of work. It is no surprise that it has taken almost 40 years to get this done.

If a Republican and a Democrat could work together to make it happen, they should be able to deal with the governor.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 29

Health care industry bleeding jobs as Legislature sleeps:

One. Thousand. Jobs.

That is what Missouri’s health care industry has already lost because the Republicans who control the Missouri Legislature have refused to expand Medicaid to the state’s growing class of working poor.

Don’t take our word for it. Those numbers came from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the state’s largest business organization, which most of the time acts like an arm of the Missouri GOP.

On March 26, the Chamber and the Missouri Hospital Association presented the numbers at a Capitol news conference in Jefferson City, part of a joint effort to continue to plead with Republicans to pass Medicaid expansion and stop the economic bleeding.

Chamber CEO Dan Mehan called the situation “a very real and dire trend.”

Every lawmaker in the Capitol at one time or another, perhaps in every public speech they have made during an election campaign, has talked about creating jobs. It’s usually a bit of an esoteric exercise; neither party has much of a solution for job creation. Republicans want to cut taxes in an already low-tax state. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon wanted to give $2 billion worth of corporate welfare to the Boeing Co.

But real people have lost, and are continuing to lose, real jobs. Today there are 1,000 fewer health-care workers in Missouri because lawmakers refused to expand the state’s Medicaid system as called for in the Affordable Care Act.

A key provision in the law changes how hospitals are reimbursed for providing health care for the poor. It’s a good change that makes the health-care system more efficient.

Before the Affordable Care Act, poor people without health insurance often ignored health problems until they became serious enough to require care. Then they would show up at the emergency room and eventually get the care they needed, usually far more expensive care than a simple doctor visit would have entailed, if only they could afford a doctor.

The federal government reimbursed hospitals for that care. Some of the money came from those of us who have insurance, through higher rates.

Under the ACA - at least in the states that are expanding Medicaid - those same working poor people can now get health insurance, either from the state or a private exchange. (According to numbers released on March 27, 6 million Americans have done just that.) The federal government reduced payments to hospitals, instead investing up-front in providing more people access to health insurance.

But here’s what’s happening in Missouri and the other states that haven’t expanded Medicaid: The working poor still don’t have insurance. And they show up at the emergency room, and the care isn’t reimbursed by the federal government.

Hospitals and the health care industry lose.

Missouri loses.

According to the Chamber and the MHA, besides the loss of 1,000 actual jobs, another 2,100 jobs are going unfilled, frozen while hospitals figure out what’s going to happen this legislative session. About $100 million in capital projects are on hold, limiting other sectors of the economy around the state. Rural hospitals face the real possibility of closing.

Those job losses are owned by the Missouri Republican Party.

One. Thousand. Jobs.

The number is going to climb, and more Missourians are going to die prematurely, unless the Legislature decides that one of its most important industries, and the people it serves, are more important than their disdain for the man who resides in the White House.


The Joplin Globe, March 28

Good program stripped:

When Secretary of State Jason Kander announced he was taking a first-of-its kind stance on making sure the public is notified about any and all election fraud, we applauded.

His Elections Integrity Unit was a direct response to the real or alleged voter fraud we hear about so often, though there is sometimes little visible evidence of its occurrence.

Kander in November 2013 began working with county election offices across the state and created a way the public can monitor investigations as well as file complaints. However, the secretary of state’s office has not received any reports of voter impersonation fraud since 2002. Still, there continues to be a push for more restrictive voter identification laws.

Kander’s Elections Integrity Unit would have provided the facts needed about the prevalence of voter fraud in Missouri. In fact, the House Budget Committee voted unanimously to fund the program.

So we were surprised that Republicans in the Missouri House of Representatives voted … to strip $79,900 for two full-time employees from the budget. Kander was critical of the move, saying in a statement that the move shows “they are more interested in scoring political points than doing anything to take on voter fraud and voter access issues.”

Are our legislators just trying to save money? Perhaps. But we think there’s a good chance the Elections Integrity Unit would have shown that Missouri does not have a serious voter fraud problem, therefore the need to mandate voter identification is actually a non-issue.

Let’s hope the Senate will restore the funding, if its members believe there is a problem with voter fraud. If not, then there is no reason for this state to complicate voting by demanding photo identification at the polls.


St. Joseph News-Press, March 27

Another hole in KCI plan:

Proponents of building a new, single-terminal Kansas City International Airport are running out of arguments.

This debate began when we were told the current airport was well past its prime and needed to be replaced to meet modern air traffic needs. But then cost estimates showed you could update and adapt the existing structures for far less than building new.

We then were advised a new airport complex would be better for travelers by providing more shopping and dining options, and a more efficient check-in and screening process.

This is when the public overwhelmingly reminded proponents: The current setup is exceptionally convenient for travelers to and from Kansas City, and this convenience trumps most every other argument about passenger needs.

Then there was the claim it is more difficult and costly to provide security across multiple terminals. Wrong again.

No less an authority than the regional director for the Transportation Security Administration on March 25 spoke to the KCI Terminal Advisory Group appointed by Mayor Sly James. According to The Kansas City Star, he delivered this assessment:

- The current setup for security isn’t inefficient. Passenger wait times at screening checkpoints average 10 minutes and likely would not change with a new terminal. Security staffing needs are falling with advances in technology and such steps as prescreening frequent travelers.

- The current holding areas for passengers can stand improvement but don’t have security deficiencies that are concerning.

- The current layout has some security advantages, in that passengers arrive and depart in a relatively dispersed manner across multiple terminals rather than through a large central space as seen at larger airports.

What’s next for the proponents? Some have spent time recently complaining the airport makes a poor first impression for travelers because its unusual layout can be confusing and it lacks a signature terminal building with big-airport amenities.

Even if there is some truth in this view, you have to wonder how that possibly could justify spending more than $1 billion to implement the plan that has been proposed.

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