- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The St. Joseph News-Press, Dec. 30

Foster kids find ally in governor

We look to government to solve some of our biggest problems but also should appreciate the smaller steps that add up to something big.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and First Lady Sheena Greitens have gone down this path with a series of initiatives that will improve the lot of children in foster care. A continued focus in this area is merited.

The governor and first lady want lawmakers to make it easier for teenagers in foster care to open bank accounts. They also want lawmakers to make permanent an executive order that waives fees for children in foster care to get copies of their birth certificates.

The first lady has said this is part of her and husband’s strategy to enact small changes that add up. She cites other steps, including filling vacant or expired seats on state child advocacy boards and making sure the child abuse hotline accepts out-of-state calls.

“We know that there are these small things that have cumulative effects, and that’s why we’re so focused on finding every single tool that we have to try and make things better for these kids,” the first lady said.

Minors now often need a co-signor to open bank accounts. Sheena Greitens says that poses challenges for some teenagers in foster care who might not have an adult co-signor. The Missouri Bankers Association has said it is open to relaxing this requirement.

Both Eric and Sheena Greitens say they also want lawmakers to pass into law a recent administrative change that waives fees for children in foster care to get copies of their birth certificates.

“Imagine you’re a 16-year-old in Missouri. Like most 16-year-olds, you want to get a job and learn to drive. You want to be more independent and self-sufficient. Pretty simple, right? Except if you’re a teenager in foster care,” the governor said.

“To get a driver’s license or to fill out employment paperwork, you need a birth certificate. You probably don’t have your birth certificate. No one in your life knows where it is. You could request it, but the state - your legal parent - will make you pay for it. And that’s tough because you may not have the cash.”

Sheena Greitens says her adopted sister inspired her interest in improving the state’s foster care and adoption programs. It’s clear she and her husband have taken these concerns to heart:

“The children and young people in Missouri’s foster care system need to know that we’re listening to them . ,” she said. “I’m delighted that the state is making this change to lower barriers for kids in foster care, which will help them acquire important life skills and have normal childhood experiences.”

That’s a vision that everyone can endorse.


The Kansas City Star, Jan. 2

St. Louis just took 842 guns off the streets. Why doesn’t Kansas City do the same?

Some good citizens in St. Louis recently managed to take 842 guns off the streets of their city.

Kansas City should follow their lead.

In St. Louis, people lined up to turn in their weapons, arriving early to a six-hour buyback event to ensure their spots in line. Some waited more than two hours.

Admittedly, many of those eager gun owners likely weren’t lured by the public safety messaging of fewer guns equals less gun violence. More likely they were drawn by the opportunity to make a few bucks by unloading guns they weren’t using anyway.

A oft-repeated criticism of such gun buyback programs is that the money paid out often is used to purchase ammunition for weapons that those same gun owners did not turn over to authorities.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James isn’t a fan.

“Gun buybacks make people feel better for a short time, but haven’t been proven to be an effective way to address gun violence, and, in fact, there is evidence to suggest that some people use the money they get from selling back old and useless guns to buy new ones,” he said in a statement.

Suffice it to say, these efforts have plenty of critics, some offering valid concerns. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an upside, especially if creative minds get involved to target buyback events within communities that suffer the most from gun violence.

Fewer guns can lead to fewer accidental shootings, fewer guns stolen and used in crimes, fewer suicides or acts of domestic violence with a firearm. No one can be against those outcomes.

The St. Louis gun buyback deal was $100 for handguns, $150 for shotguns and rifles and $200 for assault rifles. All weapons had to be in working order, unloaded and placed into a carrying case or bag.

So many guns were turned in that available funds ran short. In the end, $125,000 was paid out for the firearms, which were displayed for the requisite media coverage, with the public safety director, the mayor and other officials proudly beaming. At the end of the day, 303 handguns, 533 long guns and six assault rifles had been gathered.

The weapons were to be taken by police for ballistics tests to determine if they’d been used in a crime. And then they were probably destroyed. This is the point in the story where the plot gets a little fuzzy.

The city of St. Louis didn’t officially sponsor the event. Private sponsors stepped up to work around a state law requiring that guns taken through buyback programs must then be sold to a licensed gun dealer.

Yes, that would negate the point of the buyback in the first place. The aim is to take guns off the streets, not reintroduce them through dealer sales. Heavy sigh.

In recent years, the Missouri General Assembly hasn’t managed to put community safety ahead of burnishing its Second Amendment credentials.

In 2013, the legislature passed a law that requires cities or counties to enact ordinances allowing for gun buyback events if they want to hold one.

The St. Louis Police Foundation and the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis raised the money for the most recent buyback event, according to the Riverfront Times. Omega Psi Phi, the first international fraternal organization founded at a historically black college, also played a role. The buyback was held in Omega Center, a hall operated by the fraternity’s nonprofit.

So when city officials were asked about the final destination for the weapons collected, they hedged on the details, saying that the private sponsors would attend to that. But they stressed that the goal was to permanently remove the guns from circulation.

In some ways, the state legislature did communities a favor by passing the law. It necessitates that private funding and backers play a role, as public officials are limited in their involvement.

Kansas City has not held a gun buyback event in recent years. They should.

Certainly gun buybacks are not a panacea for stemming violence. But even if such efforts make only a small ripple of a difference, Kansas City should be using every tool in its toolbox to tackle its violent crime problem.

Anything that can be done to get guns out of the hands of those who might disrespect the lethal nature of firearms is a positive step. Police could hand out gun locks in conjunction with a buyback. Missouri has the deplorable distinction of being among the top states for accidental shootings by children who get ahold of guns left loaded and unsecured.

Gun buybacks send a message that elected officials and civic leaders are taking action to reduce the horrific toll that guns are taking on Kansas City, which saw more homicides in 2017 than in any year since 1993.

St. Louis just took 842 guns off their streets. Why wouldn’t Kansas City aim to do the same?


The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Dec. 29

Raise the age in 2018

If you’re 17 in Missouri, you’re not considered an adult. You can’t vote, serve on a jury or buy cigarettes. However, if you’re charged with a crime, you’re automatically tried as an adult.

We believe that’s wrong. Missouri is one of several states that treat 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal-justice system.

During the past decade, our Legislature has considered, but failed to pass, legislation that would raise the age to 18.

Supporters in the Legislature will try again in 2018. Legislation has been prefiled in the House and Senate that would make 18 the age at which criminal defendants are tried as adults.

As the law stands now, parents have no right to be notified if their 17-year-old is charged with a crime, and they have no right to be involved in the court case.

The bills would not preclude courts from certifying juveniles to stand trial as adults, as the law already allows. That law has been used numerous times in Mid-Missouri courts, with perhaps the most well-known case in 2009, when Alyssa Bustamante, who was 15 at the time, killed 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten.

A Missouri group called Raise the Age is one of the organizations pushing for the legislation. It argues youths jailed with adults are more susceptible to assaults, solitary confinement and suicide. An adult conviction can limit the opportunities for rehabilitation and can lead to a lifetime of negative consequences, such as the ability to find employment after being released from prison.

The Missouri Department of Corrections estimates it will save $14 million a year, if the legislation is implemented. That’s because it would reduce the number of admissions into the correctional system by 306 and reduce the number on probation by 474.

Some of that money would have to be spent on increased funding for the juvenile system, but we believe an overall savings for the state could be achieved.

A cost savings would be icing on the cake, but the measure should be passed because it’s the right thing to do.

We hope lawmakers in 2018 pass one of the bills to raise the age to 18, to be tried as an adult. (HB274, HB430, SB40).

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