- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Kansas City Star, March 8

Why would Missouri punish owners of fuel-efficient cars with higher registration fees?

Missouri is inching toward a major change in the way it pays for highway improvements and repairs. Drivers should pay attention.

For decades, the state has raised highway revenue from fees collected when a driver registers a car. The fees are based on a car’s horsepower, an admittedly archaic way to do it.

Bills now on the table would end that practice. Instead, car owners would pay a fee based on a car’s gas mileage.

There’s no doubt about the need to raise additional revenue for Missouri’s road and bridges. Last year, we supported a fuel tax increase for that purpose.

But the proposal to change to a gas mileage-based registration system is flawed because it relies on an ill-conceived incentive system: The better your car’s mileage, the higher your cost.

If your car gets 20 miles to the gallon, for example, the registration fee would be $24. If your car gets 40 miles to the gallon, the fee is $90. At 60 miles a gallon, the fee tops out at $210 a year.

Electric car owners, who use no gasoline, are punished even more. They already pay an annual fee of $75 for what’s called a special fuel decal. The new bill, as introduced, would add $210 to that.

The argument for charging higher fees for fuel-efficient cars is simple. If you use less gas, the state gets less gas tax revenue. In a state already struggling to maintain its highways, the search for revenue is never-ending.

The new registration system, when fully implemented, could raise more than $100 million for the state’s roads.

But at what additional cost? If Missouri passes this law, it will be encouraging drivers to use older, lower-mileage vehicles that belch additional pollutants into the air. That’s a clear health hazard.

Additionally, lawmakers are already thinking about eliminating mandatory annual inspections for non-commercial motor vehicles. Again, we’re sympathetic to the goal, but ending inspections will put an aging, potentially dangerous fleet on Missouri roads.

And car owners will be loath to trade in those old cars because a new model will get better mileage, increasing the registration fee.

There should be a better way to maintain roads and bridges in Missouri. Lawmakers can increase the gas tax slightly without a vote of the people, an idea that should get serious scrutiny. They also might think about a registration fee based on a car’s value, not its mileage or horsepower.

Gov. Mike Parson’s bond program would use general revenue for road and bridge improvements. Everyone benefits from well-maintained infrastructure, and using general revenue for highways is a reasonable idea.

Missouri, like most states, must figure out how to move to a different funding system for transportation, as drivers migrate to electric and hybrid vehicles. But charging owners of modern cars more than the clunker next door is the wrong way to do it.


The Jefferson City News-Tribune, March 9

Our Opinion: Don’t expand concealed carry

We support the state’s concealed carry laws, but legislation to expand the law goes too far.

State Rep. Jered Taylor has introduced House Bill 258, which would allow guns on college campuses, at businesses, churches, polling places and childcare facilities.

As we reported Thursday, supporters and opponents of the bill packed a Capitol hearing room on Wednesday, when a House committee heard testimony on Taylor’s bill.

Taylor said the law change would let people protect themselves in places they can’t currently do so.

Allowing people to carry concealed firearms in more locations would prevent violence, he said, adding that, on average, it can take more than 10 minutes for police to respond to calls for service.

Others testified against the bill, including Lincoln University Police Chief Gary Hill.

Hill said he’s all for people being allowed to defend themselves, but he’s not convinced it would lower the already-dropping crime rate at LU. He said he would worry about student safety, including situations in which people may be trying to protect themselves, but officers arriving on the scene don’t initially realize that.

LU students, he said, also oppose concealed weapons on campus.

Members of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America also attended the hearing to oppose the bill, citing an increase in firearm incidents in Jefferson City.

Others at the hearing added salient arguments against the bill:

. State Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said churches generally have said they don’t want to allow people to carry weapons in church.

. Matthew Brooks, a primary care physician with Jefferson City Medical Group, testified gun violence in Missouri increased after the 2007 repeal of the law requiring a permit to purchase a firearm.

Passionate voices exist on both sides of Second Amendment issues. But we believe allowing hidden handguns that are loaded into some places could cause more bloodshed than it would prevent.


Missouri could soon shut down its system of de facto debtors’ prisons, March 6

The Missouri House this week gave near-unanimous approval to a measure that would stop local court systems from trapping those who commit minor crimes in an endless cycle of escalating fines and incarceration. The Senate should waste no time passing this bill so Gov. Mike Parson, a supporter of criminal justice reform, can sign it.

This system of de facto debtors prisons only came to lawmakers’ attention because of an ongoing series of columns by the Post-Dispatch’s Tony Messenger. His reporting serves as a reminder of the importance of a free and vibrant press.

Messenger spotlighted a phantom industry of local courts squeezing low-income defendants for more and more money once they’ve been jailed for even minor infractions. Under state law, defendants can be billed for the expense of jailing them. Those who can’t afford these bills can end up back in jail for non-payment - which adds additional debt to their room-and-board bill.

In this way, defendants who have been arrested for traffic offenses or other misdemeanor infractions that might normally cost a few hundred dollars in fines and a few days in jail can instead rack up thousands of dollars in jail fees. An inability to pay prompts more and more jail time. It’s a self-perpetuating scam. The longer the defendant is jailed, the more fees are charged, making it harder to pay, which is used as justification for still more jail time and bills.

For many defendants, there’s no way to break this cycle. But the Legislature can, and it looks like it soon will.

As the Post-Dispatch’s Jack Suntrup reported this week, the pending measure would forbid courts in the state from jailing defendants for failure to pay previous jail fees. Counties could still use civil action to collect those fees, but they could no longer treat poor defendants like monetary investments that grow each time they’re slapped back in jail.

The measure, House Bill 192, passed the House Monday on a 156-1 vote. That’s an unusual level of agreement on any substantive issue these days, but in this case, the legislation makes so much sense that the only surprise is that there was even one vote against it.

All indications are it will get through the Senate with similar ease. It seems a good bet that the governor would sign it, given that he has strongly and correctly made the case for criminal justice reform in general. This is the very definition of such reform.

Missouri should close this dark chapter in its jurisprudence, but it’s important for all to remember how this distorted system was exposed. It wasn’t reformers in the court system or Legislature who initially flushed out this injustice; it was the free press - an institution politically and economically beset from all sides today, but one without which democracy cannot survive.

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