- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Kansas City Star, Feb. 17

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens could provide pivotal boost to combat opioid abuse

Remember when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz read the Dr. Seuss classic “Green Eggs and Ham” on the Senate floor so he could continue droning on for hours live on C-SPAN2?

Such juvenile political antics could play out in the coming weeks at the Missouri Capitol, as efforts ramp up to kill a proposal that would surely save lives from deadly prescription drug abuse.

The filibuster has become the go-to move for a small number of Missouri lawmakers who are determined to derail common-sense legislation creating a statewide prescription drug monitoring system. And they could brandish this rhetorical weapon again if a proposal aimed at preventing patients from stockpiling opioids and other potentially harmful medications continues to gain traction.

Back in 2012, an eight-hour filibuster was led by state Sen. Rob Schaaf, a Republican of St. Joseph, to deep-six a bill that would have established a much-needed prescription drug monitoring program in Missouri. At the time, only Missouri and New Hampshire were without such systems, which provide doctors and pharmacists with essential information allowing them to avoid over-prescribing painkillers and help patients who are abusing addictive medications.

Four years later, the epidemic of prescription drug abuse has only continued to grow, taking even more lives and robbing many people of the ability to function. And now, Missouri has the unholy distinction of being the only state without such a monitoring program.

According to an Associated Press story at the time, Schaaf was quite proud of his maneuver, which allowed him to outlast most of the other senators willing to stay in the chamber while he spoke for hours on end. “I think we’ve killed it for this year,” he said then.

Schaaf added: “If they overdose and kill themselves, it just removes them from the gene pool.”

This year, such cruel bravado will meet its match.

Gov. Eric Greitens weighed in last week in a powerful way. Greitens took to Facebook for a live question-and-answer session on Wednesday. The first query he chose to address was about Missouri’s lack of a prescription drug monitoring program.

Greitens immediately acknowledged the devastating effects of Missouri’s outlier status. And he shared his own family’s experience, revealing that a relative died of a heroin overdose just last year.

Sadly, it is that human cost driving much of the growing awareness and support for the monitoring program. People are dying. And they come from every part of the state, every race and class level. Elected officials and their loves ones are not excluded.

Greitens and other political leaders who have suffered similar personal loss understand that they cannot remain silent. Greitens’ support could be essential to finally passing legislation that would give Missouri doctors and pharmacists this important tool to help people with addictions.

In his Facebook comments, Greitens noted that in 2015, Missouri “lost 1,000 mothers, fathers and kids to opioid abuse.” He pointed out what law enforcement has long asserted: that substance abuse also drives crime rates. And despite some people’s concerns about databases and privacy, the governor predicted, “We can get this done.”

Strong bipartisan support exists for passage of Senate Bill 314, which would establish this necessary monitoring program. A few long-winded opponents with a willingness to filibuster must not stop this critical measure again. The legislature has dragged its feet for long enough.

Let’s get this done, Gov. Greitens. Regrettably, we know you understand the cost of addiction.

______

The Columbia Daily Tribune, Feb. 20

How to legislate anti-discrimination

Last week the University of Missouri caused a bit of a stir when it announced support for a bill under discussion in Jefferson City that would limit the scope of lawsuits claiming discrimination, particularly a provision requiring a higher hurdle of proof to recover punitive damages.

To collect damages, a plaintiff would have to prove discrimination is the “motivating” factor rather than merely a “contributing” factor, as current law requires.

UM said it is working with the sponsor of the bill to make sure higher education is included in exemptions for state and local government. Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, opposes the bill, saying its passage would stymie most discrimination cases.

Proving discrimination is devilishly hard, “motivating” or “contributing” notwithstanding. Lacking some sort of overt statement or other obvious stimulus for adverse action, knowing what is in the mind of a perpetrator is a mystery. Given this level of inexactitude, court findings are imprecise, sometimes criticized for findings of guilt or innocence.

I’m not sure what difference substituting “motivating” would make. It is a more demanding word than “contributing,” but proving either is the rubbery part. Kendrick says he is surprised the university would enter this debate, given its controversial nature, but the larger landscape seems so chancy I don’t blame the university for seeking something resembling more clarity.

Objectionable outcomes cited in the discussion have involved allegations of discrimination against blacks as well as whites. If the new bill is passed, I doubt at the end of the day anybody will be able to tell whether substituting “motivating” has made a difference, but you can see how partisans are moved to argue the point, some assigning unholy intent simply because they support or oppose the proposed change in the law.

Let’s recognize the motivation for the debate without assigning too much blame to the debaters. They are working in a sea of imprecision.

______

The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Feb. 17

Our Opinion: Lant’s silencing of NAACP president an embarrassment

Rep. Bill Lant’s action to silence the state NAACP president’s testimony during a committee hearing was inappropriate and an embarrassment to our state.

Lant, R-Pineville, on Monday was chairing a House committee that was taking public comment on a bill that would restrict discrimination lawsuits. Rod Chapel, president of the Missouri NAACP and a Jefferson City attorney, was testifying against the bill.

The Associated Press reported Lant told Chapel: “Please contain your speech to speaking on the bill, sir.”

Chapel replied: “Oh, but I am because this is nothing but Jim Crow. You do not legalize discrimination on an individual basis and call it anything else.”

Lant’s response was to turn off Chapel’s microphone. Chapel continued speaking, but Lant interrupted him and called on someone else to speak, the AP reported.

AP says the bill would require plaintiffs bringing discrimination lawsuits to prove race, religion, sex or other protected status was the motivating factor for discrimination or being fired, rather than just a contributing factor. It also would prevent employees from suing other employees, and it would cap damages.

Lant offered a non-apology apology. When told by a reporter that Chapel considered the chairman’s actions discriminatory, Lant said he apologized if Chapel “got that feeling.” At another point, Lant said he had “nothing to apologize for,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

That left House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, to handle the damage control.

“The House was not at its best yesterday,” Richardson said on Tuesday during an NAACP event at the Capitol, according to MissouriNet.

The Capitol, Richardson said, is a place where the free exchange of ideas should be welcomed, the radio news agency reported. “This is a place where, more than anywhere else, we are supposed to respect the times we disagree with each other but still have that dialogue.

“Mr. Chapel, I want to tell you personally, on behalf of the Missouri House, that you are always welcome to present your views and your thoughts and you are most certainly always welcome to present your views of this great organization to our members.”

Well said, Mr. Speaker.

Lant has since acknowledged his actions prevented open dialogue, and said he would hold another hearing.

Was Chapel’s testimony going to sway Lant or his Republican-controlled committee? Not likely. But that’s not the point.

Legislative committees hold public hearings on bills to understand how laws would affect their constituents, and the state as a whole. Each speaker has five minutes, and that time shouldn’t be dependent on their views.

Lant’s action unwittingly fueled opponents’ arguments of discrimination and racism.

But we commend Speaker Richardson for showing true leadership in his response. He gave us assurance that everyone can have a voice at the Capitol, and we can be civil to each other even while agreeing to disagree.

_____

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 19

St. Louis women deserve protection from retaliation for reproductive health decisions

Adding reproductive health decisions to the non-discrimination laws in St. Louis is intended to protect employees or renters from being fired, demoted or penalized because they make family-planning decisions that don’t coincide with the beliefs of their employers and landlords. The state’s Human Rights Act doesn’t provide a shield against such discrimination, which is why 15th Ward Alderman Megan Green sponsored legislation expanding local protection.

Green said she also was motivated by concerns that, as Missouri becomes an increasingly conservative state politically, legislators may seek to roll back existing laws. That makes it important to advance local laws that bar housing and workplace discrimination against women who have had abortions, use birth control or conceived through in-vitro fertilization.

Such decisions are none of the employer’s or landlord’s business.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted 17-10 in favor of Green’s bill Friday, and Mayor Francis Slay signed it into law. The Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and other opponents say the law will allow government to force people to act against their beliefs.

The law does not force anyone to change his or her views on reproductive health, and simply asks employers and landlords to not discriminate against women who make their own choices. These women are not breaking the law and should not fear losing their jobs or being denied housing because of personal family-planning decisions.

Green expects individuals and religious organizations to legally challenge the law. Opponents have already taken the battle to Jefferson City where Rep. Tila Hubrecht, R-Dexter, is sponsoring a bill to protect pregnancy-resource centers from the law.

Green said similar shield laws are being advanced across the country, including the District of Columbia, Boston and Delaware. Congress, which holds veto power over the District of Columbia, overturned the city’s measure.

Green is right to be concerned about discrimination in Missouri. The state’s Human Rights Act does not forbid discrimination against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual. It forbids discrimination based on race, color or creed. Efforts to add sexual orientation and gender-identity protection to the law has failed every year since 1998.

Several bills backed mostly by Republicans and business interests are moving through the House and Senate this session that would weaken Missouri’s existing discrimination laws.

St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson said the new law will have “terrible consequences for religious institutions,” and permit fines against Catholic agencies for not employing people who “publicly promote practices such as abortion.”

Green said the law does not limit a religious institution from firing an employee who takes a public stand or engages in political activity that contradicts the institution’s positions.

Employers should be able to limit political activity by their representatives but should not be allowed to intervene in employees’ personal health decisions.


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