- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Southeast Missourian, Feb. 8

Rejecting state pay raises the right, only choice:

In recent days Missouri lawmakers decided they and statewide elected officials would not get a raise after all, after senators blocked a proposed pay increase.

It was the right move, from political and practical perspectives.

According to a story from The Associated Press, a proposal called for $4,000 more per year over two years for lawmakers and an 8 percent raise for statewide officials in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. The governor, according to the article, who is paid $133,821 per year, would have seen more than a $22,000 raise as a result of this proposal.

The timing of such increases would’ve set off political land mines. The governor has withheld about $700 million from programs statewide. Last year, the state apparently didn’t have enough money to fund a Cape Girardeau residential treatment facility for children dealing with mental health problems. Apparently in a few years the state will only have enough money to properly maintain about 25 percent of the state’s roads. Critics have also pointed out there are no plans in place to give state employees raises next year.

Raises such as the ones proposed by a committee make politicians easy targets.

But it should be noted that periodic pay increases should be considered at some point. Eight percent raises seem absurd, given the current economic realities.

But the last time legislators and statewide officials got a raise was the 2009 fiscal year. In 1994, according to the AP, the state constitution was amended to remove lawmakers from the decision of setting new salaries. Instead, every two years a committee called The Missouri Citizens Commission on Compensation makes recommendations, which may be rejected by lawmakers.

Currently lawmakers earn $35,915 per year, according to The Associated Press. It’s a tough job that requires intense, long hours while the government is in session. But the General Assembly is in session for about five months of the year. There are commitments, too, beyond being in session. Lawmakers are involved locally in countless meetings and appearances and remain involved with constituent services.

It’s not reasonable to think politicians and government executives should never be given raises. It would make sense if compensation adjustments could be tied somehow to statewide economics. Perhaps pay increases (and pay cuts, perhaps?) could or should be tied to a formula rather than influenced by political and emotional static.

Regardless, politicians didn’t really have a choice here. Raising salaries by 8 percent would have given future political foes easy ammunition in future races. Rejecting the increase was the right thing. But it wasn’t a choice at all once it reached the Senate floor.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 9

Civilian Oversight Board can be where trust begins:

Underlying the controversy over the proposed Civilian Oversight Board for the St. Louis Police Department are some fundamental issues of trust. As in most political disputes, the differences are most pronounced on the ends of the spectrum where the true believers hang out.

On one end of the police-community relations spectrum are old-school police officers and their supporters who don’t believe anyone can judge a cop who’s not a cop. They argue that police work is not only dangerous, but nuanced in ways outsiders can’t easily understand.

At the other end of the spectrum is a newly emboldened cadre of police critics, many - but not all - of whom are African-American. They believe that too many white cops are reflexively hostile to people of color.

This phenomenon is not unique to St. Louis. But because of the continuing repercussions of events in Ferguson last summer, and because the police department is now back under city control for the first time since the Civil War, police politics are more volatile than they have been in 150 years.

On Monday, a committee of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen advanced Board Bill 208, creating a police review board. The full board is expected to pass the bill, and Mayor Francis Slay is expected to sign it. It won’t create trust overnight, but it’s vitally important for ongoing relationships between the people of St. Louis and police officers who protect them.

Board Bill 208 is the product of months, if not years, of hard work and compromise. It passed the aldermanic Public Safety Committee after contentious debate, a public melee and attempts by true believers on both ends of the debate to sidetrack it. It is not everything that community activists want, nor is it everything that cops would like. It’s a place to start, and a place from which to evolve.

In the old days (i.e., before 2013) of a state-controlled police board, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. If cops didn’t like something, they could go to Jefferson City and get a sympathetic hearing.

The POA fought local control for just that reason. The key issues were (a) who would be the final arbiter in police disciplinary matters, and (b) what matters would be made public. In the end, nearly all disciplinary processes and decisions remained internal. The police chief decides what is made public.

This does not conform to best practices suggested by the U.S. Department of Justice. The department should be far more transparent, particularly in cases where police have used deadly force. The POA, concerned about potential retaliation against officers, has successfully bargained to keep the lid on.

The Civilian Oversight Board wouldn’t change that. It would, however, add an independent layer of review of police internal investigations from seven citizens chosen by the aldermen and approved by the mayor.

The POA wanted more guarantees, including access to review board members’ social media accounts. It wanted board members to be drug tested and have at least an associate’s degree. It wanted all citizens’ complaints to be filed under oath. This was all a little bit silly.

But mostly the POA didn’t want the COB to have the power of subpoena, not trusting a board created by the aldermen to have the power to compel officers to testify. Alderman Antonio French, D-21st Ward, and his allies tried last week to insert subpoena power into the legislation, arguing that it would help get unvarnished testimony.

It might have done that, at the price of upsetting a delicate compromise worked out by Mr. Slay and Alderman Terry Kennedy, D-18th Ward. There’s some dispute about whether the aldermen can legally delegate their power of subpoena, and Mr. Slay had said he would veto the bill if it included that power.

The committee chose the wiser course, deciding to get the COB started without subpoena power. Nothing says the aldermen can’t revisit that issue, perhaps by submitting a charter amendment to voters that would give the COB more powers.

Let’s see how it works first. If the review board here works like those in other cities, it will uphold police officers nearly every time out. Trust must begin somewhere.


The Kansas City Star, Feb. 3

Keep Amtrak passenger service rolling in Missouri:

Missouri and Amtrak have spent millions to offer reliable, affordable passenger train service between Kansas City and St. Louis. Seats on the twice-a-day round trip Missouri River Runner are now mostly filled with satisfied customers.

But that could change at the end of this year. The federal government is requiring the installation by then of expensive collision avoidance technology, and so far no one is willing to pick up the nearly $33 million tab.

This situation must be worked out. Other passenger routes that go through Kansas City and St. Louis could also be affected.

Collision avoidance is the right goal. But the technology is complex. An extension of the deadline would allow engineers time to work out some kinks. It would give states and railroads time to figure how how to pay for the systems.

Amtrak and Missouri are trying to shift some of the cost onto Kansas City Terminal Railway and the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, which makes sense. The passenger trains use tracks owned by those freight railroads, so the railroads also would benefit from the safety features. But they aren’t required to pay and they aren’t volunteering.

Even working together, Missouri and Amtrak can’t afford the federal mandate. Congress must either have the U.S. government pay part of the tab, or bring the other railroads into the equation.


Jefferson City News-Tribune, Feb. 3

Protect state’s seniors from financial fraud:

Changes in demographics may require new initiatives.

People are living longer, and proposals being considered during the legislative session are designed to protect Missouri seniors from financial fraud.

Secretary of State Jason Kander is supporting proposals filed in their respective chambers by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, and by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.

The common denominator among proponents is a desire to protect vulnerable citizens.

A recent federal study highlights the problem.

“The increase in life expectancy during the 20th century has been a remarkable achievement,” reads the 100-page report produced by the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics. “Older age, however, is accompanied by increased risk of certain diseases and disorders”

Among them are Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

“Unfortunately, our seniors are often the targets of financial exploitation,” Kander said, “particularly those suffering from cognitive decline.”

The role of Missouri courts in protecting seniors also was a topic addressed by Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary R. Russell in her State of the Judiciary remarks to lawmakers nearly two weeks ago.

In the Legislature, the proposals were crafted after Kander hosted an October symposium and reported: “The symposium marked the beginning of a conversation among financial services industry professionals, senior advocates and law enforcement about how cognitive decline can make it difficult for seniors to make sound investment decisions, and how this difficulty makes them especially vulnerable to scams and bad actors.”

The legislation would provide financial industry professionals with resources, including training offered through the secretary of state’s office, to identify signs of cognitive decline. Financial professionals also would be equipped with tools to halt financial exploitation of seniors.

In addition, the proposal would promote collaboration between the financial industry and state agencies that serve seniors and investigation wrongdoing.

The federal study found not only that people are living longer, but their economic status has “improved markedly.”

Seniors can enjoy the independence that comes from their hard-earned financial stability only if they are not victimized and defrauded by con artists.

Missouri seniors deserve these protections.

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