- Associated Press - Sunday, October 8, 2017

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A task force created this year to reduce the number of boards and commissions that oversee various state programs is considering eliminating a citizens’ panel that considers complaints from prison inmates and a second plan to combine boards that oversee the state’s pollution rules.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the proposals come from a task force formed earlier this year after an order from Gov. Eric Greitens, who wanted to cut at least 570 positions from the more than 200 boards and commissions overseeing state programs ranging from licensing cosmetologists to regulating environmental laws. More than three-fourths of the boards have members with expired terms or vacancies and some can’t meet because of a lack of members.

The proposal to eliminate the Citizens Advisory Committee on Corrections, which is expected to be discussed publicly later this month, comes at the same time the Missouri Department of Corrections is being sued for allegedly retaliating against inmates who routinely air complaints.

The committee meets every month to review randomly selected inmate grievances and makes recommendations to the director of adult institutions. Some of the recommendations are implemented and others aren’t, Corrections’ spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said.

University of Central Missouri criminal justice professor Lynn Urban, of Clinton, said the external review is important.

“I know that I take my grievances very seriously. I know that I am doing my part in the process,” she said.

The proposal comes as the MacArthur Justice Center at St. Louis has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Department of Corrections retaliates against prisoners who file complaints by searching their cells, denying them privacy for attorney visits and transferring them to institutions farther away from their families.

The second proposal to streamline state environmental boards is raising concerns from some regulators that it would reduce oversight of air and water pollution. The plan would combine the Clean Water Commission and the Air Conservation Commission, as well as place two other environmental oversight panels under the new board’s authority, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Combining the two environmental commissions could dilute the ability of the panels to properly regulate industry, say current and former members of the boards.

“My initial reaction is that it’s a bad idea,” said Todd Parnell, a Springfield resident who serves on the Clean Water Commission. “To me, those are two distinct areas of risk for our state.”

Wallis Warren, of Beaufort, sees the potential merger as part of Greitens‘ efforts to lure businesses to Missouri by loosening regulations and oversight.

“It’s a slash-and-burn, rubber stamp approach to opening the state to industry,” Warren said. “I’m very upset about the whole thing. I take what we do on the commission very seriously.”

In creating the board in January, Greitens said government “is too big, too slow, and works too poorly” and the task force, which is led by Lt. Gov. Mike Parsons, will make government more efficient. The newspaper said Parsons didn’t respond to requests for comments on the proposals.

The task force is expected to make final recommendations on which of the environmental boards to eliminate or merge by Oct. 31.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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