- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Kansas City Star. February 22, 2021.

Editorial: Missouri has too many older, low-risk prisoners behind bars. This GOP bill would help

Health care options are not the greatest inside Missouri prisons. Yet, the Missouri Department of Corrections is fast becoming one of the largest state-run nursing home facilities, advocates against mass incarceration say. At least 855 prisoners over the age of 65 are locked up in the state, according to the DOC. Taxpayers will bear the cost as exorbitant medical bills continue to rise - especially as the coronavirus pandemic hits incarcerated populations especially hard.

State Rep. Tom Hannegan could change that. The Republican of St. Charles has pushed for change with proposed legislation that would allow older inmates, who are at increased risk of infection, a chance at freedom.

If one of the goals of the incarceration system is to return offenders to the community in stable medical condition, officials are falling woefully short, proponents for the care of senior inmates contend. Compassionate releases of nonviolent, older offenders have been few and far between.



But these people are often low risks for recidivism. They should be prime candidates for for early release.

Take Judy Henderson for example. The Springfield native would likely still be in prison if not for a last-minute pardon. Henderson spent 35 years behind bars after being convicted of capital murder in a 1982 robbery that led to the shooting death of jeweler Harry Klein. Henderson planned the heist with her boyfriend, who fired the fatal shots. The boyfriend was charged with murder, too. He was not convicted.

Henderson, on the other hand, was found guilty and remanded to life in prison. She would have had to serve 50 years before being eligible for parole, an egregious sentence for someone who was later determined to have played a minor role in the deadly encounter. Authorities now believe her boyfriend paid witnesses to lie about the extent of her involvement.

For decades, Henderson languished behind bars while advocates took up her case. If not for clemency in 2017 from then-Gov. Eric Greitens, she would still be in state custody. Instead, she pushes for the release of elderly inmates, among other civic endeavors.

Henderson, of Grain Valley, is employed by Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph’s and is active with the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.

Henderson’s story is one example of how the prison rehabilitation system can work. But there are others locked away in Missouri prisons deserving of a chance to contribute to society. That’s where state Rep. Hannegan’s legislation comes in.

Under his House Bill 277, Missouri prisoners over the age of 65 who met certain conditions could be eligible for a parole hearing. The measure is scheduled to come up Tuesday in the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice.

If approved, the proposal would allow parole hearings for elderly prisoners who have served at least 30 years of their sentences. The legislation has support from some fellow Republicans, Hannegan said. Other members of the Missouri GOP have been harder to convince.

Parameters are in place: Prisoners would have to meet certain qualifications to be considered. Sex offenders would not be eligible. The state parole board would make the ultimate determination on a case-by-case basis.

The bill was met with opposition from the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. A message left for Executive Director Darrell Moore was not returned.

“If you are rehabilitating people, what are you rehabilitating them for? To die in prison,” Henderson said.

Clemency, parole for the elderly, reducing long-term sentencing, rehabilitation and restorative justice are just some ways to reduce the state’s prison population - especially during a time of a global health emergency. Taxpayers are burdened covering the cost of care of sick prisoners. Shouldn’t the health and safety of older inmates matter?

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Jefferson City News Tribune. February 21, 2021.

Editorial: Proceed cautiously with curbside cocktails

A year ago, Missouri - and many other states - threw a lifeline to struggling restaurants by temporarily allowing the sale of curbside cocktails.

A year ago, Missouri - and many other states - threw a lifeline to struggling restaurants by temporarily allowing the sale of curbside cocktails.

Alcohol sales can make or break restaurants, which often operate on a razor-thin profit margin.

Now, state lawmakers are looking to make the temporary sales permanent, according to the Associated Press. The rule was set to expire at the end of March.

The goal is to continue to help struggling restaurants.

While we’re not unilaterally opposed to the idea, we have reservations.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, one opponent of the legislation, rightly has concerns about the possibility of an increase in drunk driving.

“We are concerned that a permanent change to allow curbside alcohol sales could violate open container laws and lead to an increase in drunk driving,” MADD National President Helen Witty told the Chicago Tribune last June. “Alcohol sales must recognize the horrific consequences of drunk driving and take all possible precautions to discourage and prevent drinking and driving.”

Our state and nation have come a long way toward stigmatizing and minimizing drunk driving. At the very least, this could send the wrong message.

But the bill has protections in place, and we haven’t seen indications that temporarily allowing to-go cocktails has spiked DWIs.

AP said that under the new legislation, restaurants would need to put mixed drinks in tamper-proof, sealed containers to help prevent drinking while driving. Customers who want alcohol also would have to buy food.

Sealed containers with “tamper-proof” lids is one limit intended to keep the public safe. Others likely are needed, possibly limiting the number of cocktails to one per meal ordered and limit where they must be stored in vehicles.

No limits placed on to-go cocktails will guarantee drivers don’t imbibe before arriving at their destination. But they can go a long way toward discouraging drinking and driving.

If the Legislature sees fit to allow to-go cocktails permanently, we hope they also require authorities to keep track of instances of DWI-related wrecks and arrests. If lawmakers see the policy is causing a problem, they should quickly act to rescind it.

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Joplin Globe. February 18, 2021.

Editorial: Answers needed for power crisis

There are more questions than answers right now - and it may be a while before we know the entire story - but Missourians and others affected by this week’s power outages are entitled to a thorough investigation and explanation.

The outages were the result of an emergency order because electricity demand exceeded available generation earlier this week in parts of the Midwest, and the Southwest Power Pool said it had exhausted reserves, citing extremely cold weather. The directive applied to all members of the SPP, including Joplin-based Liberty.

“In our history as a grid operator, this is an unprecedented event and marks the first time SPP has ever had to call for controlled interruptions of service,” Larry Nickell, SPP’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. “It’s a last resort that we understand puts a burden on our member utilities and the customers they serve, but it’s a step we are consciously taking to prevent circumstances from getting worse, which could result in uncontrolled outages of even greater magnitude.”

We welcome the news that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. will work with utilities, states and other federal agencies to determine just what happened.

We also know there was a rush to judgment early - blame renewables - but there is evidence that coal, gas and nuclear sites also were affected by the weather in what looks like a systemic failure.

Yes, this was an extreme weather event, but it was not the first time temperatures have been down this low for us, nor will it be the last. But it needs to be the last time that we resort to these rolling outages to keep everyone alive. Although they were relatively short and presented for many homeowners only a minor inconvenience, businesses and large power users can suffer severe expenses when knocked out of operation even briefly.

Ryan Silvey, chairman of the Missouri Public Service Commission, told us they will review the findings of these investigations and studies to determine if there is something more they need to do as regulators of investor-owned utilities.

Power systems are complex. Weather systems are complex. There will no quick and easy answers, and probably no simple fixes.

Yet we await answers.

And we await reassurance this won’t happen again.

END

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