- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Jefferson News-Tribune, Jan. 26

Every year there’s a few bills in the Missouri Legislature that, while they likely won’t pass, they sure create a buzz.

One such bill this year is sponsored by Rep. Bill Baker, R-Neosho. The bill targets “drag queen story hours” - library events in which drag queens read books to children.

The “Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act” would create a panel of parents to ban content that goes against the community’s standards.

If a public library’s five-member review board deemed a particular book contained “age-inappropriate sexual material,” the board would be authorized to order the library to “remove it from public access by minors.”

Public libraries that did not comply would lose state funding, and individual libraries could be fined/jailed.

The bill has garnered national attention.

James Tager called Baker’s bill “a shockingly transparent attempt to legalize book banning.” Tager is the deputy director of free expression research and policy for PEN America, a nonprofit organization that works to defend and celebrate free expression in the United States and worldwide through the advancement of literature and human rights.

We agree such censorship sets a bad precedent. Where would it stop? What’s educational to you might be objectionable to someone else.

The purpose of libraries is to expand your mind - learn new things, challenge your assumptions, consider other points of view.

Is there material in libraries that isn’t suited to children? Yes, and between parents and libraries’ policies, children don’t have to see it.

The Guardian recently reported the Missouri Library Association opposes the bill, saying: “Public libraries already have procedures in place to assist patrons in protecting their own children while not infringing on the rights of other patrons or restricting materials.”

As for programming such as drag queen story hours, libraries already are subject to community standards. Our community has always leaned conservative. Our library recognizes and respects this, and they have no plans to host such an event.

Baker’s bill is unnecessary. What’s worse, it’s dangerous.


The Joplin Globe, Jan. 24

An order from the Missouri attorney general’s office requiring Neosho City Council members and city staff to attend a training session after violating Missouri’s Sunshine Law is based on a faulty assumption.

It assumes this violation stemmed from ignorance.

It didn’t.

It stems from indifference.

• Indifference by public officials, as in, “Oh, the state law governing open meetings and open records doesn’t even rise to the level of jaywalking.”

• Indifference by those charged with up holding the law, as in, “Just attend a training session, and we’ll forget all about it.”

The AG’s feeble response only reaffirms what councils and school boards and boards of governors and legislators too often believe, which is: We don’t have to take Missouri’s Sunshine Law seriously.

Between Sept. 4, 2018, and Sept. 11, 2018, a quorum of Neosho City Council members held meetings via email and text messages in which city business was discussed, including cutting cellphone allowances in the city budget, a proposed employee agreement for an incoming city manager and salary changes for a city employee. It was halted when City Attorney Steven Hays told the group that their messages included a quorum of council members and constituted a meeting.

The law is not complicated, difficult to find or hard to follow.

Public servants need look no further than the AG’s website to get a review of the law: https://www.ago.mo.gov/missouri-law/sunshine-law.

Or try the state auditor’s website, https://www.auditor.mo.gov/content/auditor-galloway-finds-only-30-compliance-government-transparency-law. She periodically audits municipalities for compliance with our Sunshine Law. According to Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway, “government must do better when it comes to meeting its obligations to transparency with the public. A (2016) report on compliance with the state’s open records laws shows that only 30 percent of local governments fully complied with laws specifically designed to keep government accessible to its citizens.”

Or try this, mopress.com/sunshine-resource. It’s the website of the Missouri Press Association, and it also has numerous links so you can learn more about the Sunshine Law.

Last but certainly not least, www.mocities.com - website of the Missouri Municipal League - has information. That group also holds an annual training in June for newly elected city and school officials, and that training includes the Sunshine Law. The group even buys copies of Sunshine Law pamphlets by the box to distribute to city officials.

Neosho City Council members could have and should have known better, and the AG’s office - charged with upholding the law - instead undermined it.


The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Jan. 25

We thought sentencing reform would lead to some second thoughts in Missouri.

We didn’t think it would take less than a year.

In 2019, Missouri lawmakers showed rare bipartisan unity with passage of legislation that frees some repeat offenders from Missouri’s prison system. Designed to address the fiscal and social costs of incarceration, this bill became law and marked a significant turn from the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” ethos of the 1990s.

Oh, how quickly the pendulum swings back. This could be attributed to urban gun violence in addition to rural sheriffs who express dismay at what they see as too many parole violators who are in and out of county jails. This year, Republican lawmakers are looking to keep violent criminals in prison - a reasonable goal, in our view. They want to enhance penalties for armed criminal action, or the use of a weapon in a violent crime.

This has already devolved into predictable talking points about root causes of crime and the need to rehabilitate prisoners. Fair points, but they overlook one essential truth.

If lawmakers want to ease prison overcrowding one year and crack down on repeat, violent offenders the next, those are not mutually exclusive approaches. They were right to focus on rehabilitation and they’re also on the mark to propose tougher laws for repeat, violent offenders. Just ask your local police officer or sheriff’s deputy how many familiar names wind up on the booking sheet.

Last year’s law was aimed at nonviolent offenders whose sentences were enhanced for committing drug and property crimes over and over. Whether or not you agree this is a good idea, there’s no denying that the change only applies to about 2% of the state prison population. These armed criminal action bills target a different type of person, the ones who commit violent offenses with a weapon.

This should be an area of broad agreement, but politicians today have switched from a problem-solving approach to a partisan litmus test on crime. For proof, look at the Democratic presidential debates, where Joe Biden falls all over himself to apologize for harsher sentencing laws in the mid-1990s, even though these measures did succeed in making neighborhoods safer.

Was it worth the cost? It’s a fair question, but now no one really wants to hear your answer. During debate at a state hearing last week for one tough-on-crime bill, a lawmaker was accused of approaching the problem from the perspective of a white man.

Maybe he’s just approaching it from the perspective of someone who’s tired of seeing people get killed. Let’s keep violent criminals in prison. That approach seems to be good for all Missourians.

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