- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Kansas City Star, Nov. 25

New MU chancellor should reverse cowardly decision on Planned Parenthood doctor

Colleen McNicholas is a physician in good standing who serves on the faculty of Washington University and practices in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, one of St. Louis’ premiere health facilities.

Former University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin acted in pure cowardice earlier this year when, under intense political pressure, he agreed to revoke low-level admitting privileges for McNicholas at MU’s hospital, the University of Missouri Health System.

That decision means McNicholas cannot perform non-surgical abortions at Planned Parenthood’s Columbia clinic after Monday. A state law requires doctors who perform abortions to have privileges at a nearby hospital.

The university’s new leadership should correct Loftin’s mistake. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem inclined to do so.

Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid Missouri, told reporters that her efforts to meet with interim Chancellor Hank Foley this week were quashed Tuesday night, when a staffer said Foley was too busy to get together.

Mizzou has a lot going on right now, and no doubt the interim chancellor is very busy. But the Planned Parenthood situation is high on the university system’s list of urgent problems.

No academic institution should cave in to bullying state legislators seeking to score political points by attacking facilities and physicians for performing legal abortions. That’s what Loftin did when he canceled the category of hospital privileges held by McNicholas and one other doctor. Known as “refer and follow” privileges, the designation is a safeguard for physicians who rarely need to admit patients.

A failure by Foley to take a stand for academic independence will leave Planned Parenthood with the options of pursuing legal action, finding another doctor with admitting privileges at MU’s hospital to perform abortions, or securing privileges for McNicholas at nearby Boone Hospital Center in Columbia.

Because of the intimidation by legislators, especially Republican state Sen. Kurt Schaefer of Columbia, the legal avenue may be the most promising.

An indefinite shutdown of abortion services in mid-Missouri would force women to travel hundreds of miles to clinics in St. Louis and Kansas to obtain a legal medical procedure. Missouri’s flagship research university should not play a role in making that happen.


Columbia Daily Tribune, Nov. 27

Closed meetings: Auditor finds violations

State Auditor Nicole Galloway echoes findings by former Auditor Tom Schweich of many violations of open-meetings requirements of the state Sunshine Law by local government entities.

The law is written with demanding language, requiring open meetings and records unless certain conditions are met. But these conditions are necessarily broad enough to cover various possible scenarios allowing public agencies to cite excuses such as “personnel” or “legal” matters that might stretch too far. Even in Boone County, where compliance arguably is better than average, a casual observer might note questionable practices.

An auditor finding violations is important, but even more so would be attention from the state attorney general in a form intended to provide better enforcement without filing lawsuits. The general could make a giant step forward by establishing an office whose job it is to mediate complaints. The main benefit would be to educate public entities about the law, not to gain judgments and fines in court.

Often violations of the Sunshine Law occur in small jurisdictions where amateur public officials are not familiar enough with compliance rules. Providing an official tutorial from an agency with credibility could go a long way toward increasing overall compliance.

It would work this way: When someone, often a news medium, complains about an alleged violation, the assistant attorney general could hear the issue and give advice, all in public. Even if occurring after the fact in a local situation, the tutorial would in short order change behavior.

I got this idea from a helpful series of meetings staged by then-Attorney General Jay Nixon. He hosted educational sessions for local officials from all over the state. Members of his staff laid out compliance requirements. I took part a couple of times, explaining the perspective of the news media. In all cases, the attendees were genuinely interested in learning how to comply, avoiding the hassle of fighting over secrecy.

To build on this foundation, I’m thinking an informal mediation opportunity for particular cases would be very helpful.

The main problem with enforcement of the Sunshine Law is reluctance of anyone to file suit. Private plaintiffs face difficult financial hurdles against the resources of the state. Prosecutors like those in state or county offices are reluctant to sue local officials usually trying to do their jobs well. A way to resolve these issues without going to court makes sense and, in my mind, the state AG office is the agency to do the job.


St. Joseph News-Press, Dec. 1

Dedicate fuel tax to highway needs

Missouri’s roads and bridges need an infusion of cash - and for that matter, an infusion of ideas about how to raise the money without raising the ire of the public.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Catherine Hanaway, a former speaker of the Missouri House, makes headway with us by advocating for a specific proposal that would boost funding for transportation projects by roughly $200 million a year.

She addressed her plan at a recent political forum and in a later interview with The Cass County Democrat Missourian. She describes three points:

? Ensure money collected from the fuel tax is spent efficiently. This is an idea she shares with most other candidates of both parties.

? Offer incentives to local communities that make large investments in roads.

? Dedicate fuel tax proceeds to transportation only. This would free up about $200 million in fuel tax funding currently provided to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which has a statewide law enforcement mandate and which she suggests could be funded from the state general fund.

Switching funding for the highway patrol would make some advocates of the agency uncomfortable, in part because it could prompt closer oversight of the agency’s spending. However, it also is possible the agency would fare well in comparisons with others competing for general fund dollars.

While $200 million is short of what road experts say is needed, it would amount to a nearly two-thirds increase in the $325 million that is expected to be available for road and bridge work in 2017.

Money is needed because lawmakers, business interests and the public have been unable to reach agreement for several years on a new comprehensive approach to funding. Road work hit a high in 2009 when bond sales pushed spending to $1.3 billion.

Investments in transportation universally are hailed as important to the public’s safety and as a catalyst for economic development. But where to find the money when it has been hard to muster support for a gas tax increase, sales tax or toll road?

At worst, restricting the fuel tax to transportation projects would be a $200 million step in the right direction.


Springfield News-Leader, Nov. 21

Reasoned responses on refugees wanted

The Western world paused Friday, Nov. 13, turning to the horror in the streets of Paris. Even as the number of victims continued to rise, President Obama addressed the press to pledge support to “our oldest ally.”

You know it’s going to be a bad one when the president starts talking before it’s over. And you know it’s going to last a while.

In times of peril and uncertainty, there’s no shortage of ideas of how to fix what’s broken. With presidential hopefuls falling all over each other to prove they are the kind of decisive, intelligent leader we need, there’s a bounty of political wheat and chaff to sift through.

But it’s hard to know where to begin with Mike Moon’s letter to Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson.

The letter, published online by the Kansas City Star on Wednesday, outlined the District 157 legislator’s concerns about refugees from the Syrian civil war and Muslims in Missouri. The state seal emblazoned across the top, the letter carried a request that Speaker Richardson call a special session of the General Assembly to “tie the Governor’s hands, putting a stop to the potential Islamization of Missouri.”

Misspellings aside, the language of the letter was perplexing. What good would it do to tie the governor’s hands when he seems so committed to sitting firmly atop them? And what on earth is the Islamization of Missouri? Would disallowing groups entry into Missouri stop other “undesirable” outcomes? What other ‘izations’ might befall this great state if people are not stopped at the border to the neighboring seven states? Povertization? Cajunization? Jawhawkization? Nipplization?

The possibilities are endless! If we play our cards right, we can ensure that everyone in our melting pot is just like us.

Moon, reached for comment by the News-Leader, clarified some of his positions. Moon, who never intended the letter to be public despite it bearing his letterhead, said he should have provided more explanation for his comments. He says he has Muslim friends and that his interactions with them have been positive. But he also feels that there’s a group of Muslims who want to do us harm because of their religion. Islam is a religion of peace, he said, but that peace comes through either assimilation or total domination, up to and including death. And until we can be certain that people who don’t want to dominate the citizens of our state will be denied entry, Moon says, the United States needs to put a halt on Muslim immigration, especially into Missouri.

Asked for a timeline, Moon said those creating the process would be better equipped to answer that question.

So, according to Moon and others, the few represent the whole. What if we applied that argument to other social issues? Take the case for unrestricted access to firearms - the argument is the opposite. Our gun culture is acceptable because most people use guns responsibly and shouldn’t be penalized with laws restricting access because of the actions of a few crazy people. Using Moon’s logic, we’d ban all guns to keep us safe.

We’re not going to do that. But isn’t closing our country to Syrian refugees - people fleeing the very terrorists we also fear - comparable to banning guns to stop all threat of gun violence? If banning guns will not keep us safe, as many contend, then how will banning refugees keep out terrorists?

How can we indict them all because of the actions of a few? We should not.

Keeping our state safe is no easy task, but as the Paris attacks bring Sept. 11 echoes to our minds, we’re aware of the long road ahead. Moon’s letter was the hasty, ill-informed reaction of an elected official attempting to do right by the people who elected him. But the path forward to safety and security for the people of Missouri, and Syria, will be paved with reasoned, informed response.

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