- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 27

Defund libraries. Create a nation of fools.

Little did the Plainfield, Ill., Public Library District supporters know that the Americans for Prosperity had them in their sights.

By the time they found out that they had been targeted by a national political action committee opposed to taxes and government regulation, it was too late. The robocalls and misinformation were relentless, distributed by the influential conservative committee funded by Charles and David Koch.

Plainfield needed to raise $39 million to replace a 26-year-old library that no longer meets community needs. Thanks to the Koch brothers’ onslaught, the community of slightly fewer than 40,000 failed on March 15 to pass a bond issue and a property tax increase.

St. Louisans are facing a similar campaign regarding the city’s 1 percent earnings tax. Local financier and tax opponent Rex Sinquefield is spending $2 million to fight the tax, which raises about $160 million a year and accounts for a third of the city’s general revenue budget.

Voters who will decide on April 5 whether to continue the earnings tax should keep the Plainfield experience in mind. Taking away tax money needed to fund services - whether libraries, police or fire districts - cripples communities and hurts the people who live there.

Library advocates were no match for the Koch brothers and their $100 billion net worth. Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kan., is the largest privately held company in the nation. At the same time the Illinois chapter of Americans for Prosperity was working to kill Plainfield’s library aspirations, a separate chapter of the political action committee was advocating for legislation to require voter approval for changes in property tax levies or bond measures in Kansas.

Missouri already has this requirement, known as the Hancock Amendment. In Kansas, dozens of librarians and representatives of small governing bodies protested the bill and got the sponsor to exempt libraries, but the measure still would apply to other nonelected boards that can levy taxes or incur debt.

What could these conservative billionaires possibly have against libraries? Perhaps they’ve drawn their strategy from the words of newsman Walter Cronkite: “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”

Libraries are a final safety net. People use libraries to search for jobs, read newspapers and books, take computer classes and inform themselves. They’re a particularly valuable resource for educating children.

An informed and educated population would see through the Koch brothers’ goals and fight back against their enrichment at the expense of the poor and middle classes. Defunding libraries can only serve to keep the population pliant and ignorant.

Unlike voters in Plainfield, St. Louisans have been forewarned about Sinquefield’s campaign. Fool us once, shame on you. Create a nation of fools, shame on us.

_____

The St. Joseph News-Press, March 24

Fairness one step away

Gov. Jay Nixon surprised no one with his veto of a proposal that would make it easier for public employees to opt out of paying union dues.

The coming vote by the Republican-dominated legislature to override the Democratic governor is as predictable.

Still, Nixon was unusually transparent in casting his lot with the unions at a time when so many workers want a choice. Nixon rejected a proposal that would require public employees - other than police and firefighters - to give annual written consent for union dues to be taken from their paychecks.

In a statement, Nixon said such a law would impose an additional and unnecessary process on public employees such as teachers and mental health caregivers, and would hinder their rights to organize and bargain collectively.

He also claimed the measure would create new possibilities for lawsuits against employee associations. Overall, he termed it “wrong and a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

We are wondering where the governor’s sense of fairness starts and stops when it comes to Missouri workers.

Backers of the bill make the reasonable argument that it would make unions more accountable to their members. As evidence, they offer the results of a 2014 poll from Pennsylvania where more than 70 percent of union members said they thought unions should collect their own dues.

This measure doesn’t even go that far to force the issue. It simply would make clear that members of public employee unions would need to give annual written authorization before any portion of dues or other fees could be used for political campaign contributions or expenditures.

The Pennsylvania poll found 80 percent of union households thought a governmental entity such as a public employer should not be involved in collecting campaign contributions.

This proposal, House Bill 1891, passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate with veto-proof majorities. It’s a shame Nixon knew this - and how most workers feel about having a choice - and reflexively sided with the unions.

Still, fairness for these workers is now just one step away.

_____

The Kansas City Star, March 24

Stop discriminatory ‘religious liberty’ measure from harming Missouri

About this time last year, the governor of Indiana signed a bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

It was similar to a measure currently under consideration in the Missouri General Assembly. Conservative lawmakers in both states sought to empower businesses to deny services to same-sex couples couples without fear of penalties.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill on March 26, 2016.

In short order, the National Collegiate Athletic Association threatened to cancel future tournaments in the state. Salesforce, a cloud computing company, said it would scale back its investment in Indiana. Angie’s List halted plans for a $40 million expansion of its Indianapolis headquarters. Kiwanis International reported that bookings for an upcoming convention were falling off quickly.

After a week, a national “boycott Indiana” movement was in full flower. The state’s largest newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, printed a front-page editorial headlined “Fix This Now.”

The legislature did. It amended its law to uphold the concept of religious freedom but made it clear the legislation cannot be used to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Pence signed the fix.

Even so, the damage was substantial. Indianapolis meeting planners have told Kansas City officials the city lost $75 million in business because of the bill. And they blame the uproar for a 50 percent drop in inquiries since then.

Missouri does not want to go that route. And so we join with businesses, meeting planners, chambers of commerce and people of good will throughout the state in an appeal to leaders of the Missouri House:

Stop this now.

Do not allow Senate Joint Resolution 39 to go to the House floor in its current form. Because if it is approved, it will not travel to Gov. Jay Nixon’s office.

Instead, it would go straight to a statewide ballot later this year, where it would surely divide citizens and draw out a strain of bigotry for the world to see. Should it pass, it would become an amendment to Missouri’s Constitution and would require another ballot question to be fixed.

The economic and emotional damage to the state would be gargantuan.

SJR 39 seeks to protect individuals and businesses that cite religious beliefs as a reason to refuse commercial services to same-sex couples. The law specifically mentions wedding services, like cake decorating and flower arrangements, but can also be interpreted to include housing, adoption and health care services.

Rep. Sheila Solon, a Republican from Blue Springs, pointed out that Missouri already has statutes that protect religious freedom.

“I guess I don’t understand the necessity for this resolution,” Solon said. In fact, she added that she thought SJR 39 actually weakens the existing religious freedom laws by carving out certain groups for protection, rather than assuring religious freedom to everyone.

Solon’s concerns are encouraging. They indicate at least some bipartisan opposition exists in the House to a resolution promoted by conservative Republicans.

She also makes the excellent point that the legislature isn’t making much progress on ethics bills, a funding source for road repairs and Missouri’s noncompliance with the federal Real ID law.

“There are a lot of things we’re not going to get done this year because we’re working on cakes,” Solon said.

If instances have been recorded in Missouri of bakeries balking at having to serve same-sex couples, or losing lawsuits over the issue, we’ve missed them.

SJR 39, sponsored by GOP Sen. Bob Onder of St. Louis County, is a backlash against last year’s Supreme Court amendment legalizing same-sex marriage. It’s a favor to outside groups that want to pass discriminatory “religious liberties” bills nationwide.

It doesn’t solve a problem for Missouri and if passed it will assuredly do great harm.

Stop this now.

______

The Southeast Missourian, March 28

Judge appropriately rules to release execution drug info

When it comes to the death penalty, we have opined before that all matters of execution deserve extra scrutiny.

Even when appeals are inconvenient to the survivors of victims of horrible crimes, our legal system has a constitutional obligation, and in our view a moral one, to examine every aspect to ensure that those we are executing have exhausted their legal protections and their rights under the constitution.

The death penalty is the most severe punishment we have to offer; it is uncorrectable, and we must treat it seriously. It is not an act of revenge, but an act of justice. It requires level heads and close examination.

That, along with our position to encourage transparency in government, is why we were pleased to see that a Missouri judge ruled on March 22 that the state must reveal the source of the drug it uses to execute prisoners, finding that the state’s Department of Corrections “knowingly violated” Missouri’s open-records law.

We understand there are reasons why the government might want to keep the drug secret. The makers of the drug might find themselves in the political spotlight, finding themselves the targets of boycotts and backlash. They may decide to decease making the drug, which creates problems for the state of Missouri. It’s possible. But it’s not a good enough reason for our government to keep its execution methods hidden from public view.

Since 2013, according to the Associated Press, Missouri has executed 18 men using the drug pentobarbital. Where the state gets the drug is unknown, according to the Associated Press. Major drug companies have refused to allow their drugs to be used in executions.

Missouri has refused to disclose the source of their drugs, though the sources are widely believed to be compounding pharmacies that make drugs tailored to the needs of a specific client. Those pharmacies, according to AP, do not face the same approval process or testing standards of larger pharmaceutical companies.

Several news organizations, including The Associated Press, Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch filed a lawsuit in 2014, arguing that disclosure reduces risk that “improper, ineffective or defectively prepared drugs are used.”

The state attempted to argue that a Sunshine Law exemption that protected the identification of members of the execution team also protected the drugmaker. This is yet another glaring example of how government officials try to pervert the law to keep data and information hidden from the public. In this case, the public’s right to know outweighs a contractor’s preference for privacy and certainly the government’s desire for convenience.

The information will not be released until the appeals process plays out, but already the state has been ordered to pay $73,000 in legal fees to the media organizations.

The death penalty is a very controversial topic in our nation. Those who favor and oppose can be found from all political affiliations and personal backgrounds. It is essential that the public is allowed to examine how the government stands up to the Constitution and how it puts people to death. If we are to kill people legally, then all facts and methods should be exposed. Missouri’s expensive attempts to shroud the facts says a lot about its priority for transparency.

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