- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The St. Joseph News-Press, March 11

Missouri House member Joe Don McGaugh thinks there should be a special place in the legal system for people who spread lies or misinformation about perishable food products.

He thinks much the same about politicians who lie about their opponents.

McGaugh has offered two proposals along these lines. This activist interest in creating new legal liabilities and penalties gets our attention, but not necessarily our vote.

It may not be the fault of Rep. McGaugh, R-Carrollton, but our system of laws and regulations already is bloated and it gets worse with every gathering of the Missouri General Assembly. This is true even though the so-called party of limited government - the Republicans - is firmly in charge in Jefferson City.

Whether he originated it or not, Mark Twain famously quoted an observation that rings true today: “No man’s life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session.”

Twain surely would not defend people who start a consumer food scare that could harm regional agricultural producers. He not only would not defend lying politicians, he would call them out.

But given the laws already on the books, it’s too big of a leap to say Twain or any of us would find benefit in yet more rules and penalties governing behaviors that clearly are out of bounds.

No one should be allowed to inflict financial harm on agricultural producers dealing in perishable goods, where a few days of false claims could undermine a harvest. But before giving this measure final legislative approval, lawmakers should be certain that adequate remedies don’t already exist under current law.

As for penalizing political candidates for “knowingly publicizing a false statement of fact about another candidate for office” - well, we don’t know where to start except to wonder how we have come this far without this bill.

Unfortunately, we see a future where judges, rather than voters, are summoned to parse candidates’ statements and even decide which statements can be made in political advertising.

In lobbying for a law that could limit free speech, proponents overlook the long-standing role of a free press in holding candidates accountable.

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The Kansas City Star, March 9

A worthy filibuster ends in Missouri, but the fight to stop shameful anti-gay measure is on

The eight Democratic members of the Missouri Senate took a valiant stand against a blatant attempt to discriminate against gay and lesbian Missourians last week.

For 39 consecutive hours they held the Senate floor, holding off a vote on a measure that would protect individuals and businesses that choose to deny services to same-sex couples. They talked through one long day and two sleepless nights.

It was Republicans who wore down but not in the way opponents of the measure had hoped. Republicans used the blunt force of their outsized majority to kill the filibuster and demand a vote on Senate Joint Resolution 39.

It passed soon after 7 a.m. March 9 by a 23-9 vote, with Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph joining Democrats.

There is plenty more action to come on the resolution. The House must approve it, and probably will, given the heavy Republican majority in that chamber.

It will then go on a statewide ballot later this year. Sponsors of the measure want it placed in the Missouri Constitution as an amendment, rather than passed as a statute, which could be changed more easily.

To enshrine discrimination in the state constitution would mark a shameful day for Missouri. Voters must follow the lead of Senate Democrats and reject this measure when it comes before them.

The resolution prohibits the state from penalizing a church, religious organization or clergy member for refusing to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony or allow one on its property. This is an unnecessary prohibition, intended as a red herring.

The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees religious groups the right to perform sacraments according to their beliefs without government interference. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage last summer, specifically reinforces that point.

But the Missouri resolution doesn’t stop there. It also seeks to protect individuals and businesses that cite religious beliefs as a reason to refuse to provide commercial services, such as cakes and floral arrangements, for same-sex weddings.

Far from a religious “shield,” that provision is nothing more than a license to discriminate. It seeks to marginalize gay and lesbian Americans and prevent them from enjoying the same services available to people who are heterosexual.

Also, the resolution defines a “religious organization” very broadly. It includes schools, colleges, charities, hospitals and crisis pregnancy centers, as long as part of their activities are religious.

Although the resolution appears to deal solely with marriage, some legal experts warn that it could be used as the basis for other forms of discrimination against same-sex couples.

At least eight states are considering legislation this year that seeks to protect discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens. (The Kansas Legislature has held an “informational session” on the topic.)

The legislation is hazardous. States that have tried to sanction discrimination against same-sex couples over the past few years have encountered push back ranging from ridicule to the threatened loss of millions of dollars worth of business. Indiana had to rewrite a statute last year after employers and meeting planners threatened to stop doing business in the state.

That’s the risk Missouri runs as the General Assembly’s Republican majority insists on bringing Senate Joint Resolution 39 to a vote. While supporters of the resolution promote bigotry, employers and other groups are insisting on a more fair and inclusive society. They will not be fooled by this thin attempt at discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.

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The Joplin Globe, March 13

Our view: Missouri losing out

Many of us enjoy the convenience of online shopping. So many, in fact, that the unintended consequence is that we are hurting our local economy. We’re also hurting the brick-and-mortar merchants who have to operate by an entirely different set of rules when it comes to collecting taxes.

Missouri is lagging behind many other states because it still has not enacted the streamlined sales tax. A University of Missouri study estimated that Missouri missed out on $358.3 million in state and local sales tax revenue in 2014. Projects estimate that Jasper County will lose out on $2.78 million in tax money and Newton County will lose $1.4 million.

Here’s how it works according to the Missouri Budget Project: The legislation will help states simplify their sales tax laws to make it easier for online retailers to collect and remit state and local sales and use taxes. Once a state has enacted the legislation, it becomes a member of the national Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board. The board then notifies all retailers that are registered that they must begin collecting taxes on purchases made by residents of that state. It means online retailers start playing by the same rules as stores that have a physical presence in your community.

Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas are among the 24 states that have enacted the legislation. It means their states, their counties and their local governments collect sales tax on online purchases, and in turn, residents who live there have more money for roads, bridges, schools and other tax-supported projects. In turn, that helps keep our local, county and state taxes from being raised.

But even more importantly, it levels the playing field for businesses that are employers and that support the local economy.

If the legislation is adopted here, the Missouri Budget Project estimates it could start capturing previously uncollected sales and use taxes for online retail purchases. These taxes result from the voluntary compliance of companies that register with the Streamlined Governing Board.

It would also put us in position to benefit from federal legislation. Both Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill support companion legislation that would require retailers to fully comply with the state legislation. That legislation we need to put into effect now.

Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, has proposed a bill that would enact a streamlined sales tax for Missouri. The last action on the bill was a hearing in the ways and means committee.

Gov. Jay Nixon in 2013 vetoed a bill that included the streamlined sales tax, although his objection was not to the enactment of the tax but rather another portion of the bill.

We would encourage action on Wallingford’s bill rather than letting it die in committee.

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The Columbia Daily Tribune, March 14

MU shortfall: An opportunity

Distant unofficial observers of the University of Missouri scene occasionally speak of a need to establish priorities. I’ve begged in years past for reallocation of program emphasis, even for outright elimination of some programs in an effort to make others better, admittedly not an easy proposition.

I’ve also noticed an eternal truth: that for large bureaucracies, lack of money is the strongest, sometimes the only, incentive for real priority-setting.

Such a moment is at hand in a minor way.

Last week MU Chancellor Hank Foley reported an anticipated $32 million shortfall for the coming year, mostly from fewer first-year student enrollments and less student retention, requiring a reduction in payroll affecting “hundreds and hundreds” of jobs.

In the midst of such a sudden challenge, planners can’t be expected to make intentional changes in long-term priorities. Middle managers will be expected only to fill positions “absolutely necessary to the mission.” Salaries will be frozen (mostly). Spending cuts will essentially be imposed indiscriminately across the board.

Those worrying about the economic impact on the local community care mainly about the volume of overall spending, not how delicately it is apportioned. But in a time when only spending “necessary to the mission” is to be allowed, an extra degree of attention to the mission is inevitable. Maybe as the smoke clears, the mission will be sharpened.

This is no indictment of current campus management. They react as their counterparts everywhere do. They will spend every dime they can get, as carefully and thoughtfully as they can, but adequate funding does not produce as much budgeting care as a lack of it. At the moment, MU managers have a relative lack. When they must fund most coveted areas with smaller cash supplies, they are bound to marginalize other areas, learning to get along with fewer employees in certain areas and learning, perhaps, to get along without certain rather highly paid jobs that might have crept into the payroll without being “necessary.”

Reaction in the state legislature to the management of protests on campus is not the main reason for this funding shortfall, but it doesn’t help. We can hope after they get their rant on the record, individual members will resume their larger responsibility to provide as much funding for the state university as reasonably possible. In the meantime, the higher education bureaucracy will find enough money to operate as well as ever, maybe even better in certain areas.


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