Correction: Editorial Roundup story

May 29, 2019

In a May 28 roundup of member editorials from around Missouri, The Associated Press credited the wrong newspaper for a piece on the state’s hotline for reporting abuse of the elderly or disabled. The editorial was written by the Jefferson City News Tribune, not the Columbia Missourian.

A corrected version is below.

Recent Missouri editorials

Recent Missouri editorials

By The Associated Press

The Kansas City Star, May 27

Gov. Parson could make a deadly mistake with repeal of Missouri’s motorcycle helmet law

How do you define asinine? Ask the Republican-led Missouri legislature, which has passed a measure repealing the state mandate requiring protective headgear for all motorcyclists.

Senate Bill 147 sits on Gov. Mike Parson’s desk awaiting his approval.

As a member of the House, Parson twice voted to eliminate the helmet requirement. And he’s expected to sign this measure.

But enacting this ill-conceived proposal in the name of “personal freedom” will have fatal consequences.

States that have taken similar action and have loosened their laws for motorcyclists have seen fatalities increase by more than a third, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported.

According to the institute’s latest report on motorcycle fatalities, 5,172 people died in motorcycle crashes in 2017. That was more than double the number of motorcyclist deaths in 1997.

Motorcycle deaths accounted for 14% of all motor vehicle crash deaths in 2017.

Riding a motorcycle without a helmet is inherently dangerous. So is riding with one. But it is nonsensical to require drivers and passengers to use seat belts in cars and yet not require a helmet for motorcyclists.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that helmets cut the risk of a motorcycle fatality by 37% and are about 67% effective in preventing brain injuries.

So what, exactly, is the upside of riding without a helmet?

Under the measure passed by Missouri lawmakers, adults with proof of health insurance would be permitted to ride helmet-free. Anyone under the age of 18 still would be required to wear a helmet.

Currently, all riders and passengers in Missouri are mandated to wear protective headgear.

The bill, which includes a long list of transportation-related changes to state law, gained approval from both the Missouri House and Senate in the recently completed legislative session.

Supporters of the repeal claimed wearing protective headgear was a matter of personal freedom.

“I think there’s a limit of what government should be involved in our lives,” one of the bill’s sponsors, Republican state Sen. David Sater of Cassville, said during a debate on the measure.

But this isn’t an example of government overreach. Rather, it’s just basic public safety.

Even if you have health insurance, you still have to buckle up while in a motor vehicle. Motorcyclists of all ages should be required to take similar, commonsense precautions to protect their own health — and to live to venture out on the open road another day.

The data is unambiguous. If the governor signs this legislation, more Missourians will lose their lives in motorcycle crashes.

Why would the governor even consider green-lighting that deadly outcome?


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 27

Editorial: The EPA isn’t going to make the air safer; it’s just going to say it is.

In the Trump administration’s latest assault on science in service to industry, the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to adopt a new method for projecting the future health risks of air pollution. It will drastically lower the number of predicted deaths — not by actually prompting cleaner air, but by downplaying the dangers of the current levels of air pollution.

The method officials are planning to use is one experts say isn’t scientifically sound. This looks like yet another gift to big business at the expense of the environment and Americans’ health.

It’s part of a broader campaign by President Donald Trump’s government to aggressively undo decades of environmental progress. President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, for example, set regulations designed to nudge utilities to switch from coal to natural gas or renewable energy. The main goal was to lower greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to climate change. But an important side benefit is that those standards reduced particulate matter in the air.

Microscopic particles put into the air by burning coal can cause a range of health problems, some fatal. The EPA has set a general safety threshold for the level of particulate matter in the air, but it still assesses health hazards that can occur below that threshold. Scientists liken it to a speed limit: Even if 65 mph is the legal speed limit, that doesn’t mean deaths don’t occur at lower speeds.

But the new method that Trump’s EPA intends to use would, in effect, pretend just that. It would operate under the assumption that there are no health hazards at all related to a pollution source that is putting particulate matter into the air at a concentration below the general EPA safety threshold.

That might sound like common sense, but scientists point out that the threshold is merely one guideline for assessing health threats. As one scientist told The New York Times, “It’s not a hard stop where we can say ‘below that, air is safe.’ That would not be supported by the scientific evidence.”

But by arguing exactly that, the Trump administration would give itself cover for further roll-backs of air pollution rules under the premise that once particulate-matter levels drop below that threshold, there’s no reason to push for making it any cleaner.

As currently envisioned, the new method would actually allow for more air pollution, while officially predicting fewer deaths from it. And the EPA plans to use that commonsense-defying method even though it hasn’t been peer-reviewed by scientists.

It’s not intrinsically illegitimate to argue, as industry does, that pollution regulation must be a balance between reasonable safety and viable business activity. But simply pretending that pollution threats aren’t threats isn’t the way to strike that balance.


The Jefferson City News Tribune, May 27

Editorial: State health department failing with abuse hotline

Imagine crying out for help, and no one is listening.

That’s essentially what’s been happening with a state hotline to report abuse of elderly/disabled residents.

The Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services has been failing some of the people who rely on the agency the most.

A joint investigation by KBIA and the Columbia Missourian revealed that in 2018, the department answered just half of the hotline calls to report abuse of elderly/disabled residents.

According to a Columbia Missourian story last week, more than 17,000 callers heard the message, “All agents are busy; please call back,” and the calls were disconnected.

Another 10,000 callers hung up or otherwise dropped the call before anyone answered. Other calls went unanswered because of poor cell reception, staff error or an unknown reason, the paper reported.

Of the 92,000 calls to the hotline last year, only about 50 percent were answered. This year, that number is down to 39 percent.

Kathryn Sapp, policy unit bureau chief for the department’s Division of Senior & Disability Services Adult Protective Services, acknowledged in the story: “They’re not pretty numbers.”

In addition, the article reported that, while reports of abuse/exploitation have increased 35 percent during the past year, only one hotline workers has been added during that time.

Sapp said the department didn’t know until late last year that there was a problem. Before that, it had reported its call handle rate for fiscal year 2018 as 98.8 percent. The information was provided to the department by Unified Communications, run by the Office of Administration.

Jessica Bax, director for the Division of Senior & Disability Services, said that data was in conflict with what she was hearing.

Bax said data before 2018 didn’t include dropped/disconnected calls in the rate. She said her management team worked with Unified Communications to make sure they knew the true call handle rate by including dropped and disconnected calls in the data going forward, the story reported.

In other words, mistakes were made.

But in this case, we’re dealing with people’s lives, particularly their safety.

Missourians rely on the hotline to take information about abuse, neglect or exploitation of seniors and disabled residents. If the hotline can’t be answered in a timely fashion, it can do more harm than good.

So far, hold times averaged 8 1/2 minutes during the first four months of this year, the story said. That’s far too long.

The Department of Health and Senior Services indicates it is working to correct the problem. Attorney General Eric Schmitt has also announced that his staff will investigate.

Hopefully this happens quickly.

And, hopefully, state lawmakers will look into the situation to ensure the dismal record for handling this hotline doesn’t continue.

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