- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Nov. 30

Seeking solutions to gun violence

We’re pleased to see a focus on gun violence in advance of Missouri’s 2020 legislative session.

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On Monday, Gov. Mike Parson, along with city leaders and police chiefs in the state, announced their three-pronged plan to fight gun violence that includes keeping firearms from minors, domestic abusers and violent offenders.

We welcome these possible solutions, and we encourage our local, county and state leaders to seek more.

The Associated Press reported St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield all have experienced spikes in gun crimes and homicides in recent years. Police say 176 people have been killed this year in St. Louis alone, including more than a dozen children. Police have reported at least 134 homicides in Kansas City, the AP reported.

In the article, Columbia Mayor Brian Treece said part of the problem is, despite a federal ban on minors having handguns, local law enforcement shies away from referring minors to federal prosecutors. Adopting a similar ban in Missouri, he said, would give law enforcement more tools.

Treece also said violence offenders sometimes are allowed to keep their guns when they agree to lesser charges in plea bargains. Prosecutors, he said, should be able to require those offenders to turn in their guns under such plea agreements.

Ensuring minors, domestic abusers and violent offenders don’t have access to guns is “common sense” and “doable,” Parson said.

Last week, Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, along with Republican lawmakers, said they would seek stronger carjacking laws and remove the requirement St. Louis police officers live in the city. That, they said, could improve officer recruitment/retention.

Unfortunately, Jefferson City hasn’t been immune to gun violence. As we write this, we’re just reporting about someone being shot inside the Cole County Jail.

What other possible solutions are out there?

We would love to see our local law enforcement community - as well as our readers - weigh in on the causes and possible solutions to this increasing problem. Would other state laws be helpful? Lawmakers are poised to deal with the issue, so now is our time to be heard.


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 28

For the first time ever, a House committee last week approved a measure to federally decriminalize marijuana. The current bill has an uncertain future, but it’s the first official acknowledgement that many in Congress finally understand that the current situation - with state after state legalizing what remains illegal under federal law - can’t continue.

Objectively, the federal designation of pot as a Schedule 1 drug, equating it with heroin for abuse potential, has never made much sense. Cannabis is demonstrably less dangerous than the legalized vices of cigarettes and alcohol - and, unlike either, has some confirmed medical value. Yet marijuana has long been lumped in federal law (and, until recently, in mainstream societal thinking) alongside some of the most deadly illicit drugs out there. This inconsistency has been driven in large part by prejudices against a substance historically associated with minorities, youth and counterculture.

Individual states have been coming around on that issue in recent years: More than 30 states, including Missouri, have legalized marijuana for medical use; 11, including Illinois, have legalized recreational marijuana. Those kinds of numbers are a clear indication that mainstream America is starting to see through the haze of hysteria that has long surrounded pot.

But Congress has lagged in that evolution, repeatedly failing to acknowledge that pot has no business being included on the federal Schedule 1 list of illicit drugs that the government considers to have no medical value and high risk of abuse. This is like including slingshots in an assault-weapons ban.

The disconnect between the states taking a more relaxed approach to marijuana, and the federal government refusing to, has already led to some logically strained situations. For example, the House previously passed a bill to allow banks to do business with cannabis companies where marijuana is legal. Once you feel compelled to start passing laws giving industries permission to engage in federally illegal activities, it’s time to reconsider that underlying illegality.

The House Judiciary Committee did just that last week, passing a bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, formally giving states full control over pot laws. The bipartisan measure - which had more than 50 co-sponsors and won committee passage on a 24-10 vote - would also expunge federal marijuana convictions and authorize a 5% federal sales tax on marijuana products.

Among the “yes” votes were two Republicans, including outspoken conservative Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who has vowed to lobby a reluctant Trump administration on the issue.

The measure may not pass the full House and is likely dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate. The committee approval is nonetheless a significant nod toward congressional reasonableness on cannabis. As the states have already figured out, it’s time.


The Joplin Globe, Nov. 26

MSSU Sunshine Law issue is deja vu all over again

We’re disappointed that the Missouri Southern State University Board of Governors chose to go into closed session last week to pick the people who will serve on a search committee to name the new president.

We think Missouri law is clear - it isn’t allowed.

And we do not understand why it was necessary.

The board named 14 people to a committee that will advise it on hiring a successor for Alan Marble, who has announced plans to retire.

The search committee includes four board members: Chairman Bill Gipson, Alison Hershewe, Carlos Haley and T. Mark Elliott.

It also includes ten others nominated by different organizations: Scott Boudreaux, MSSU Foundation; Steven Brunson, MSSU staff senate; Alan Cook, MSSU Lionbackers; Linda Dean, MSSU Alumni Association; Darren Fullerton, MSSU vice president of student affairs; Jerrod Hogan, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce; Nicholas Nicoletti, MSSU’s Empowering U program; Rebecca Mouser, MSSU faculty senate; Sarah Schultz, MSSU student senate; and Phil Stinnett, city of Joplin.

Jon Dermott, an attorney representing the board, said he advised its members that the closed meeting was in compliance with the law and explained that some of the people chosen for the search committee are employees of the university, and the board talked about details of those employees that they felt should be discussed in closed session.

But if various member of the committee were nominated by their respective organizations, why was such a conversation necessary?

Whatever the justification, Missouri’s open-meetings and open-records laws are clear. It allows public bodies - including the MSSU board - to go into closed session for personnel reasons only if it is related to the “hiring, firing, disciplining or promoting of particular employees … when personal information about the employee is discussed or recorded.” The law also says that “the term ‘personal information’ means information relating to the performance or merit of individual employees.”

Which means none of that applies here. The board did not discuss anything related to an employee’s job performance or whether to hire, fire or discipline anyone.

Jean Maneke, an attorney for the Missouri Press Association, told the Globe afterward: “This is not a situation where they’re hiring them to do this task. They’re already hired; it’s not a situation where their qualifications for their current job are being discussed. This is not in any way related to their current job performance. That is a wrong interpretation of this.

“They were discussing naming a committee, and that’s not an exception that’s allowed under the Sunshine Law,” she said. “This is a public body that is twisting the language of the law in an effort to try to find reason to justify an illegal act they’ve taken.”

Gipson said the goal is to be transparent about the process, and we applaud that.

But this is deja vu all over again. In 2007, the board of governors at that time made the same argument, going into closed session to appoint members of a search committee charged with selecting at least three finalists from a pool of applicants to replace Julio Leon.

We noted then that other universities select search committees without resorting to closed meetings.

We think Southern should - and can - live up to that standard too.

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