- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 11, 2017

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 9

The tragedy of human trafficking can’t be measured in numbers. Missouri reported 135 cases last year, nearly double the previous year. Though the number is small, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s plan to target human traffickers using new regulations under the state’s consumer protection laws is worthwhile.

No threat is too great and no tactic unworthy in an effort to prevent heinous criminals from trading in human beings. Trafficking victims are typically women, and often teens, who become modern-day slaves, forced or coerced into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. They may be children, runaways or immigrants who have been abducted, threatened or deceived by criminals who exploit them.

Human trade is a demand-driven business. Traffickers have historically encountered little risk or deterrence in choosing where to set up shop. Hawley’s plan puts them on notice that Missouri is not the place to do it. In announcing the initiative Monday, Hawley said existing laws that bar human trafficking can be difficult to enforce and rely heavily on victim cooperation, which is often difficult to obtain.

He said enforcement will be easier through consumer protection laws that go after businesses fronting for trafficking operations and individuals who force victims into labor or prostitution. A new anti-trafficking unit within the attorney general’s office, assisted by local prosecutors in criminal cases involving trafficking offenders, will enforce the law.

The new regulations also make debt bondage illegal and create new penalties for trafficking. Hawley’s plan establishes a hotline to report suspected trafficking and builds a coalition of businesses to fight and help fund anti-trafficking efforts.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center says trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry, fueled by demand for cheap labor, services and commercial sex. An estimated 20.9 million victims are trafficked worldwide, with 1.5 million of them in North America, Europe and other developed nations.

Hawley said human trafficking is the third largest criminal industry in the world and the fastest growing. He added that it happens in communities across Missouri every day.

Katie Rhoades, a victim who appeared with Hawley, said she was one of the lucky ones who escaped her traffickers, but that most women are unable to do that. Rhoades said she was trafficked from Oregon to California as a teen and got out with help from a family physician. She created a nonprofit in St. Louis, Healing Action, aimed at ending sexual exploitation.

Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, a congressional anti-trafficking activist, said the St. Louis region is among the top 20 areas in the country for sex trafficking and that Hawley’s plans are “invaluable steps in ending this evil practice.”

In most instances, Republican Hawley opposes regulations. That he supports using them to combat this awful enterprise is a wise, though unexpected, use of his bully pulpit.


Kansas City Star, April 7

There should be no debate.

If sprinkler systems were installed as a part of new home construction - as standard as doorbells and kitchen sinks - lives would be saved.

About 2,570 people die every year in house fires. That’s about seven lives lost every single day in America. An additional 13,000-plus people are injured in these fires annually.

Apparently, those tallies are not enough loss of life, not enough preventable grief to overcome the two most common rationales for opposing mandatory installation of sprinkler systems in new home construction in the U.S.

Dissected, both arguments against such a requirement are flimsy.

First, of course, is cost. Sprinkler systems would raise the price of home construction, the oft-repeated script says.

Yes, they would. But not by the astronomical sums some opponents, such as the National Association of Home Builders, suggest. Prices vary, depending on square footage. One 2013 study put the price tag at about $1.35 for every square foot.

That’s a few thousand dollars for most homes. And that price could be cut down, even halved, if installation becomes routine. So it is unlikely that someone would be priced out of a home purchase by adding a sprinkler system. Also, lower insurance rates would help offset the initial outlay, further negating the cost argument.

The second reason often cited for rejecting these life-saving measures is simply an opposition to anything that could be labeled as a government mandate.

Meddlesome government regulations with no clear purpose understandably draw disdain. But are we really going to quibble about a relatively simple design change that is guaranteed to save lives?

The answer for years has been a resounding “yes.”

Both Missouri and Kansas prohibit cities from imposing their own sprinkler regulations that could protect both residents and firefighters. Unfortunately, this puts our two states in line with much of America. It’s a sorry state of affairs that says more about the power of lobbyists than common sense.

These concerns were underscored by recent high-profile fires that terrified local families. A Kansas City Star story outlined the diligent efforts of groups such as the Missouri Fire Sprinkler Coalition, which has long pressed for sprinkler systems in new homes.

In 2009, the International Residential Code approved a standard saying that one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses ought to be constructed with sprinklers. The pushback began soon after. States exempted themselves.

Critics need to move beyond the idea that sprinklers are a high-end extra for new residences, like an upgraded countertop of marble or a cedar closet instead of the standard finish.

A fire is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a family’s home or business. A fire fatality that was highly preventable only deepens the grief.


Columbia Daily Tribune, April 9

After the stunning collapse of Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, conjecture turns to speculation about the near future. Most people agree, at least in public, Congress should do something. Many trusted political observers, including former state representative and circuit judge Chris Kelly, proclaim the need for Republicans and Democrats to compromise.

In principle, this is a valid wish. On the issue of health care it needs to be taken in context.

“Compromise” in the glorious sense former Rep. Kelly remembers was a coming together of officially diverse political interests over issues the sides could amicably negotiate. On intractable issues like equal access to public education and other civil rights, resolution had to come over one side’s figurative dead body. It took the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve Brown v. Board of Education, a resolution quite beyond the ability of lesser parties to compromise.

The health care question involves a similarly fundamental enigma: Is access to basic affordable health care a “right” of people living in this country?

In a recent piece in this newspaper, Kelly says if we can’t get past that argument, “we have no hope of finding a solution.” He is right, but the way to this solution will not come through the sort of “compromise” Kelly wants. If we decide health care is to become a constitutional right, it might have to be done over the figurative dead bodies of those who so far hate Obamacare and its author.

To get a picture of this sort of resolution, think Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House. As he surrendered at the end of the Civil War, he was acknowledging a forced acquiescence quite unlike “compromises” reached by Democrat Kelly and his GOP colleagues during their civilized squabbles in the Missouri General Assembly. Indeed, think of Judge Kelly himself with the power to impose a resolution on warring parties arrayed before his bench. The parties had been unable to compromise fundamental differences requiring the services of a powerful arbiter with the ability to impose acquiescence.

In the case of health care, the arbiter is likely to be the general public insisting on a more rational and equitable health care system than the hodge-podge we have lived with in the past. This will not be “compromise” unless you think Lee compromised at Appomattox.

The other day in these pages, Charles Krauthammer, one of the most articulate and determined conservatives around, wrote Democrats might be close to abandoning Obamacare and “go for the simplicity and the universality of Medicare-for-all.” Republicans will have one last chance to try for a market-based system, he says, but don’t be surprised “if, in the end, single-payer wins out.” Krauthammer even suggests Donald Trump might read the zeitgeist and join the single-payer side.

I might be reading more into this than I should, but among conservatives Krauthammer is as likely to be prescient as any.

As long as they retain current majorities in Congress, Republicans are likely to do nothing or fiddle with minor tweaks to the law. I see no sign yet they are willing to regard health care as a constitutional right, even though lessons from all over the world show this is the essential premise for the best health care policy in nations like ours. Maybe Krauthammer is charting the road ahead for reluctant “never-Obamacare” types.

Indeed, single-payer need not be regarded as a compromise since in every other comparable nation it produces better health care outcomes at lower cost, results every conservative should like. If Republicans and other conservatives finally agree without being led to the dock, I will admit they had the ability to compromise after all.


St. Joseph News-Press, April 7

A highway work zone is everything a normal stretch of roadway is not.

Instead of two clearly marked lanes in each direction, free of nearby activity and distractions, expect to see workers and big pieces of equipment, bright orange barrels and detours that sometimes shift your travel into a single lane and will prompt you to slow dramatically or stop.

As you maneuver this course, you’ll be expected to watch for flashing or static signs warning of hazards and giving instructions. And of course, you must keep in mind the mantra of every cautious motorist: Watch out for another driver doing something foolish.

Both Missouri and Kansas are observing Work Zone Awareness Week as part of a national effort to reduce the number of avoidable crashes, injuries and deaths. Statistics suggest the problem is not overstated:

- Eight people were killed in Missouri in work zone crashes in 2016. The totals are 43 deaths and 3,167 injuries since 2010. Since 2000, 18 Missouri Department of Transportation employees have been killed in the line of duty.

- Six people were killed and nearly 500 injured in work zone crashes in Kansas in 2016. The Kansas Department of Transportation says there were 2,049 work zone crashes in the state last year - an average of 5.6 a day, and up dramatically from 1,717 in 2015 and 1,356 in 2014.

Authorities repeat a familiar safety message about paying attention in work zones, but with a twist focused on cellphone use.

“You are driving two tons of steel. It’s hard to do more than one thing at a time, so focus on the road,” says MoDOT Chief Engineer Ed Hassinger. “Put your phone down and make work zones no-phone zones.”

Hassinger wishes the problem was limited to talking on phones. He notes the average text takes 5 seconds to read. Traveling at 55 mph, he says, a driver focused on a phone screen will travel more than the length of a football field while essentially blindfolded.

If you need further motivation to do the right thing, remember both Missouri and Kansas require motorists to slow down and move to the far lane when approaching stationary vehicles with flashing lights, such as those occupied by law enforcement or MoDOT workers.

The punishment for injuring or killing a highway worker in Missouri is a fine of up to $10,000 and loss of your license for a year. Both states increase fines for traffic offenses in work zones.

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