- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 8

Post-Ferguson, some successes and more challenges:

In October 2014, Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant, then-president of the business group Civic Progress, told us: “Ferguson is the fracture point that fundamentally changes St. Louis, or else everything crystallizes and nothing changes. In our lifetime, you might not ever have another chance to swing at the fences.” He made his remarks as Gov. Jay Nixon was announcing formation of the Ferguson Commission.

So having taken its best swing, how well is St. Louis doing?

Tuesday marks two years since the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown touched off months of civil unrest as well as a kind of civic examination of conscience about race relations in St. Louis. The Ferguson Commission did valuable work examining the conditions behind the tension that played out in the streets. It issued 189 “calls for action,” many of which will take years and a political consensus that does not yet exist.

The commission’s successor organization, Forward Through Ferguson, is working with civic and business groups to make sure the road map isn’t ignored. Their financial and political commitment is admirable and must be sustained.

Racial and economic injustice are not unique to St. Louis. We have a sad history here of public policy decisions that made bad problems worse, but something like Ferguson could happen in just about any American city. At a macro level, Ferguson will be fixed as America is fixed. Or not.

It is at the micro level, in Ferguson itself, where change is most apparent. The 21,000 residents of that North County suburb are paying a heavy price for what happened two years ago. They face higher taxes to maintain services. There’s been huge turnover at City Hall and within the police department.

Ferguson’s police and court practices were troubling but were no different from those in dozens of other municipalities where city officials, police and a municipal court cabal hassled residents and motorists for revenue. Ferguson, though, wound up with the full weight of the U.S. Department of Justice on its back.

The most significant post-Ferguson reform has been the new state law that puts a 20 percent limit on how much of a St. Louis County municipality’s budget can be raised by municipal court fines. That has stressed some city budgets, and some municipalities are challenging the limit in court.

The Missouri Supreme Court should help by consolidating the county’s 80 municipal courts. As a city and a state, we can’t keep doing the same thing and hoping for a different result.

This is fundamental: While we work on the big problems of racial equity, don’t let people prosper from divisions, black and white, rich and poor. If we’re going to swing for the fences, we can’t keep popping that one up.

___

Jefferson City News-Tribune, Aug. 7

The defense calls Gov. Nixon:

Take the case, governor.

The head of the state’s public defender system, reiterating the message that his office is overburdened and underfunded, has assigned Gov. Jay Nixon, also an attorney, to defend a criminal case.

Whether Missouri Public Defender Michael Barrett has that authority is in dispute. The governor’s office says Barrett does not.

More about that dispute later. Whatever the eventual outcome, Barrett delivered his message loud and clear, via a successful publicity stunt that generated nationwide media attention.

Barrett’s assignment highlighted the constitutional responsibility for his office to represent indigent criminal defendants. He contends inadequate state funding dilutes the ability of his office to fulfill that obligation.

In what may be considered either a fit of pique or whimsy, he directed his frustration at Nixon, saying: “it strikes me that I should begin with the one attorney in the state who not only created this problem, but is in a unique position to address it.”

Well, not entirely. Although the governor drafts a state budget, the Legislature must approve it. And, the appropriation for the public defender’s office has increased during Nixon’s tenure, although not to the extent Barrett deems sufficient.

Even if Barrett’s objection is sustained, his is not the only office suffering a financial pinch. Missouri also has a state constitutional obligation to finance education, but the formula for distributing state aid to public school districts traditionally has been and remains underfunded.

Regarding the matter of authority, Barrett argues, under state law, he “may delegate the legal representation of any person to any member of the state bar of Missouri.”

Nixon’s spokesman, Scott Holste, cited other sections of state law; one “requires the consent of the private attorney” appointed and another says “only the circuit court” has that authority.

The disagreement, ironically, may lead to litigation to determine the respective powers of various officers of the court.

Under one scenario, however, further dispute could be avoided and the governor could trump Barrett’s publicity stunt. Nixon could accept the assignment and defend the accused.

___

The Kansas City Star, Aug. 5

Missouri lawmakers led abortion battles that wasted public funds:

The shameful bullying of Planned Parenthood Great Plains played a big role in costing Missouri taxpayers more than $156,000 this week.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey said the public will have to cover the group’s legal bills in its fight against misguided attempts - led by state Sen. Kurt Schaefer and other Republican lawmakers - to revoke its license to perform legal abortions in Columbia.

In May, Laughrey had ruled that “political pressure” from Schaefer - chairman of the Senate Interim Committee on Sanctity of Life - and other elected officials had violated the rights of Planned Parenthood to operate in the state.

The politicians had intimidated the University of Missouri Health System into revoking the privileges for a doctor who provided medication abortions in Columbia. Schaefer and others also appeared to threaten the funding of the Department of Health and Senior Services unless it treated that clinic “more harshly” than other surgical centers.

Planned Parenthood’s responses to the attack netted this week’s $156,000 award for a battle that shouldn’t have occurred. Great Plains President and CEO Laura McQuade put it well when she said the incident had been a “reminder that the law will hold accountable those who seek to block women from accessing safe, legal abortion.”

The organization is still hoping to reopen its Columbia clinic and get a doctor who will be able to assist with abortions there.

As for Schaefer, Republican voters had the good sense earlier this week to overwhelmingly reject him as their candidate in the primary for state attorney general, instead selecting MU law professor Josh Hawley.

Schaefer had a very bad week that, because of his actions, also proved to be a costly one for Missouri taxpayers.

___

St. Joseph News-Press, Aug. 6

Utility rate hikes limit our options:

St. Joseph’s civic boosters and governmental leaders need to keep pressing an important point:

The cumulative impact of steep utility rate hikes is harmful to formation of household wealth and puts lower-income families and fixed-income elderly at risk for slipping into poverty.

The St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce still is able to tout the relatively lower utility costs available in this region, compared to other parts of the country. But this advantage can erode over time and matters less to families who are established here and are locked into salaries and household budgets that are not rising as fast as their utility bills.

Recent rate increases and a proposed hike put this issue in sharp focus:

- Missouri American Water received Public Service Commission permission for a 12.08 percent rate increase that took effect July 15. The utility previously was approved for a 15 percent increase in 2012.

- Kansas City Power & Light is seeking an 8.2 percent increase that would take effect early next year. The PSC granted KCP&L; a 12.3 percent increase in 2013. Two years prior, the commission approved a phased-in series of increases that totaled more than 21 percent.

- The St. Joseph City Council approved an 11 percent increase in sewer rates effective this month. Sewer rates increased 12 percent in 2013, 16 percent in 2014 and 14 percent last year. The projected increase for next year is again 11 percent.

The utilities offer detailed rationale for their requests, including that usually several years pass between major rate cases. The sewer utility presents itself as a special case: under federal mandate to make dramatic improvements to lessen sewer overflows that reach the Missouri River.

In recent years we have paid extra for the development of the water plant in St. Joseph, the Iatan power plant near Weston and costly upgrades to pipes and other aging infrastructure.

At Tuesday’s public hearing in St. Joseph - noon at City Hall - KCP&L; representatives will explain recent improvements to three St. Joseph substations important to commercial and residential growth, as well as needed power line and pole replacements.

The electric utility’s proposed increase is more moderate on a percentage basis compared to other utility increases lately. However, because of our reliance on electricity, the average household would see an increase of about $9 per month.

Taken alone, this increase would be manageable in most household budgets. But the electric rate increase does not stand alone. Instead, consumers know it must be added to the double-digit water and sewer rate hikes that already have taken effect this summer.


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