- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Columbia Daily Tribune, Jan. 8

Right-to-work. Time has come for Missouri

After years of pushing and pulling, Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly seem poised to finally pass right-to-work legislation. Republicans control the House, Senate and governor’s office.

House Minority Whip Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, says his contingent will remain opposed but doesn’t have the membership numbers to stop the effort.

A right-to-work law would ban mandated union dues for all workers in a designated group covered by a contract whether they are members of the union or not. Unions argue they negotiate contracts for the benefit of all designated workers, so all should contribute to union resources used for that purpose. Opponents seek to limit dues obligation to workers who choose to join the union.

The pros and cons of this debate are interesting and arguable, but right-to-work has become symbolic. States where the law is in effect seek to send an invitation to prospective business enterprises to locate where the culture is friendly to their interests. Over time a number of states, usually in the South, have joined the parade. They argue that right-to-work stimulates economic development, but other factors are involved. Adoption of right-to-work is only one indication of state attitudes toward business expansion. Some business-friendly states welcome union contracts that are “fair” to companies competing with others in right-to-work states.

In Missouri this year, nuance in the debate over the welfare of workers and business is largely moot. It’s a numbers game. Supporters of right-to-work, i.e. Republicans, have the legislative heft to pass a bill and a partisan friend in the governor’s office who will sign it.

What difference will it make in the ensuing business climate? Promoters of economic development say some companies won’t even consider a state without a right-to-work law. They also will admit right-to-work is far from the most important factor for most owners and managers deciding where to locate. Right-to-work won’t be a dramatic factor, but conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats will maintain heritage positions.

Because they have never had the weight to get a bill through the legislature and signed into law, promoters have tried several times without success to pass a law by public vote. This year it will sail through an all-Republican state government, an outcome that surely surprises many who have worked for passage for a long time. The quick right-to-work success reflects how far Missouri has moved to the political right.

Union leaders promise to float a state constitutional amendment ensuring the right of employees to negotiate contracts with an employer providing “financial support for the representational services their collective bargaining representative performs.” It will be harder to get voters to approve this new law than to get them to defeat earlier right-to-work initiatives.

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The St. Joseph-News Press, Jan. 7

New day dawns in Jefferson City

Republicans last occupied the governor’s mansion in Missouri eight years ago when Matt Blunt completed his single four-year term. John Ashcroft left office 24 years ago, in 1993, as the GOP’s last two-term governor.

Since 1820, 55 men have held the title of governor and only about one-fourth have identified with the Republican Party of their era.

All of which says, with some certainty, Republicans have a pent-up interest in seeing policies they favor enacted with the helpful support of GOP Gov.-elect Eric Greitens.

Greitens takes office Monday, Jan. 9, less than a week after the General Assembly returned. Republicans hold lopsided majorities in both houses, meaning they will have a rare opportunity to chart the path of government for the coming years.

This power is not something to be taken lightly, a point that fortunately has not been lost on House Speaker Todd Richardson. He noted in his opening address:

“With this greater power comes even greater responsibility - a responsibility to make the legislative process deliberative. That means we must respect the voices and viewpoints of every Missourian.”

Respecting others’ opinions is different from adopting them as your own. This will not happen on several prominent issues, no matter what Democrats might hope. But it would be wrong to dismiss a pledge to listen as less than genuine.

What to expect in the weeks ahead:

The issue least likely to be affected by respectful listening is proposed expansion of Medicaid. Democrats strongly favor this but Republicans have labeled Medicaid a broken program that needs reform much more than an infusion of more funding, whether federal or state dollars. The GOP will prevail on this.

The other issue not likely to be influenced by more debate is the proposed right-to-work law, which would free employees in unionized workplaces from having to pay unions for the cost of being represented.

Turning aside opponents, Richardson speaks for the majority party in praising this as a step toward making the state more competitive for business expansions. He told The Wall Street Journal: “Missouri should be and soon will be a right-to-work state.” And it looks like he has the votes to back this up.

Tax cuts are another area where the GOP is largely unified, in a belief the economy will reward low-tax policies.

But both parties agree on a related issue that will influence any tax-cut measure: “I don’t want to end up like Kansas,” Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard says, speaking for pretty much everyone who wants to make sure state revenues keep up with expenses.

Ethics legislation often is seen as little more than window-dressing for lawmakers not really intent on change. But Greitens wants two big changes - a ban on lobbyist gifts and a substantial waiting period before ex-lawmakers can become lobbyists.

The betting here is Greitens, having returned the governor’s office to Republican control, will get what he wants on this issue.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 8

Everyone who benefits from sports and cultural venues should help pay for them

The first thing to be said about the St. Louis Blues’ request for public help in renovating their 23-year-old home at Scottrade Center is that it’s not out of line, at least not by recent standards governing such public-private sports partnerships.

The second thing to be said is where’s the ask from St. Louis County? Where’s the ask from St. Charles County? Where’s the ask from the Metro East? In a metropolitan area of 2.8 million people, why does the job of sprucing up the home of the local hockey team and the region’s top entertainment venue fall to just the 319,000 residents of the city of St. Louis?

We know the answers, but forgive us: Regional fragmentation is our favorite windmill, and let us tilt at it briefly. Sports, tourism and cultural amenities benefit the entire metropolitan region, and the costs of paying for them should be borne by the entire metropolitan region.

Regional tax efforts are not a new thing. The city and St. Louis County levy property taxes to support the four institutions in the Zoo-Museum District. The city and county levy a 3/16ths-cent sales tax that is raising $780 million over 20 years to support parks and the renovation of the Gateway Arch grounds. St. Louis city and county, along with St. Charles County, levy a 1/10th-cent sales tax to support the region’s system of trails and greenways. St. Louis city and county, along with the St. Clair County Transit District, support the Metro Transit Agency.

St. Louis needs a regional entity to support sports, entertainment, tourism and cultural facilities. Then, if you needed to build or renovate a hockey arena or a convention center or a soccer stadium or expand a zoo, the costs could be shared broadly among everyone who benefits from them.

This would not be easy, requiring public votes in multiple jurisdictions. But right now 89 percent of the residents of greater St. Louis, and we’d guess at least 89 percent of Blues’ fans and concert-goers, are skating on their responsibility. Asking them to pay for what they’re getting free would be a tough sell. But if there are such things as regional “leaders,” they should start selling.

The Blues’ proposal contemplates asking the state of Missouri for about $70 million of the $138 million project. The state has massive budget problems, but it has incentive programs that allow businesses to recapture some of their taxes for expansion projects. Legislative leaders have said they’re open to discussing the idea.

The balance of the money would come from existing city sales taxes that the Blues would keep ($4 million a year); and a new 1 percent sales tax levied on events at Scottrade and the adjoining Peabody Opera House.

The city levies a 5 percent amusement tax on sports and concert tickets. But it allowed the Cardinals to keep that money when the new baseball stadium was built. It was ready to let the Rams keep the money to build a new NFL stadium. The city let a previous Blues owner, Dave Checketts, pledge the club’s amusement tax revenues to back the bonds that renovated the Peabody Opera House.

The city has to resort to Rube Goldberg financing deals because 319,000 people - 30 percent of whom live at or below the federal poverty level - can’t supply all the “incentives” that developers demand. City Comptroller Darlene Green said Friday that pledging current tax revenues to the Blues could imperil the city’s credit rating, which ratings agencies already have lowered. If the cost of regional amenities was spread among eight times as many people, things would be simpler. And fairer.

Indeed, the Kiel Center, as Scottrade was then known, might never have been built without civic benevolence from local banks and corporations. Nineteen Civic Progress companies, doing business as Kiel Partners, bailed out the cash-strapped Blues and helped the city get the arena built. The city retained ownership but the hockey team owned the lease, which has been passed on to a succession of ownership groups, none of which has ever turned much, if any, profit. Like the owners of many hockey, basketball and soccer teams, they count on the asset appreciating so if worse comes to worst, they can get their money out by selling the team.

The city doesn’t make any money on the arena, either, particularly as taxes increasingly are returned to owners. For the city, sports and cultural venues are loss leaders: They bolster the city’s identity and bring people into town, where they spend money on other things.

So if the city has to go without regional help to rehab the Scottrade Center, it should. The state should find a way to help its largest employment center. But down the road - and not far down the road, considering the needs of the convention center - there simply must be a regional approach to funding regional amenities.

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The Hannibal Courier-Post, Jan. 7

Schools shouldn’t bear burden of policing

In a presumed effort to toughen up on less serious crimes, the state of Missouri now classifies a third-degree assault as a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

Third-degree assault, as defined by Missouri statute, happens when “A person… knowingly causes physical injury to another person.”

This could mean a punch, a slap or something similar not as serious a say, stabbing someone with a kitchen knife, would qualify as a felony.

We respect law enforcement and their often difficult job of maintaining order. We respect the judicial and its challenging role in determining truth from fiction. We respect the desire to enact strict penalties on people who make the erroneous decision to harm someone else.

Where we run into difficulty is when various state statutes cross paths and as a result can turn school districts into criminal factories. Such is the case with the redefinition of third-degree assault as it relates to education.

School districts are rightfully required to report a myriad of offenses to local law enforcement if an incident occurs at school or on school property. The list of crimes district are mandated to report include rape, kidnapping and a number of other serious offenses.

Those offenses are listed in section 160.261.1 of Missouri State Statute. Yet according to a different section, 167.117.1, districts must also report third-degree assault - a felony now - unless the district has a written agreement with how to handle those situation with local law enforcement.

For the layperson, that means the letter of the law may dictate that a playground scrap - while not good behavior - could wind up with a much more serious and long-lasting penalty than in previous years.

These sometimes ambiguous changes leaves school districts and parents wondering to whom responsibility falls for a misbehaving child. As Hannibal superintendent Susan Johnson said in an interview, “When you’re an administrator, you’re not a policeman. You’re not a lawyer. You’re there to work with children.”

Children make mistakes and they should face punishments for those mistakes.

But children are children and must be given an opportunity to learn appropriately from mistakes made, not labeled a criminal at a far-too-young age.

Consider this anecdote provided by Johnson:

Fifth graders come inside from recess.

They’ve played a game of kickball and they’re tired, sweating, and out of breath.

There’s a water fountain.

Two boys race to the fountain and a tussle ensues. One boy is shoved by the other and falls down, hitting his head.

Is that a crime? Depending on how you interpret state statute, maybe.

The word “knowingly” in the definition of third-degree assault throws a wrench in the interpretation of the law.

In the example, those boys knew tussling over a trip of the water fountain was wrong and could cause an injury. On the contrary, there was no intent to cause harm.

Only intent …. to drink.

Unfortunately, crossing state statutes leaves question marks in terms of what is a crime in a school building, and what is just a part of child development.

School teachers and administrators are the experts in child development. For many instances, the consequences for misbehaving and bullying should be left to them.

Otherwise, we risk criminalizing kids who don’t deserve it.

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