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Recent Missouri editorials

August 15, 2017

Kansas City Star, Aug. 11

Kansas Citians issued a clarion call to local businesses and government officials this week: Workers should make a minimum of $10 per hour.

Nearly 70 percent of voters approved a ballot measure Tuesday aimed at raising the minimum wage to $10 and implementing incremental increases to $15 by 2022. The Missouri legislature has barred cities from setting their own minimum wages, but Kansas City businesses and local governments should still heed the call to give low-wage workers a raise.

Paying less than $10 in Kansas City simply isn’t a livable wage.

Tuesday’s vote was a resounding rebuke to the state minimum wage of $7.70. And it should also send a message to state legislators who are bent on overruling cities’ best judgment.

Legal avenues to fight the state law are being explored, and a campaign to press for a statewide vote on a higher minimum kicked off this week. Both are long-term efforts in the arduous process of aligning wages with the present-day costs of living in cities.

In the meantime, let’s applaud Kansas City businesses that are already doing the right thing.

A campaign should begin immediately to spotlight and salute local companies that agree to pay their lowest wage workers at least $10.

Let’s give them signs for their front windows, a logo to brand their efforts and a hashtag like #Paythewage to spread the word that many businesses are doing right by their workers.

Customers can then choose to reward these good actors with their business.

Historically, significant social justice advances in the private sector have often followed government setting the tone. The city of Kansas City and Jackson County should accept the $10 wage challenge and lead by example.

Jackson County officials report that they have no full-time employees who earn less than $10. But they do have 136 summer and seasonal workers within the Parks and Recreation Department who receive between $8.50 and $10 an hour.

Kansas City has 21 employees earning below $10. Of those, 18 are at $9.91 per hour, and the other three are summer interns who make more than $8 an hour.

Both the county and the city could easily bring these workers in line with voters’ wishes.

St. Louis has kicked off its own effort, dubbing it #SaveTheRaise. Already more than 100 businesses in St. Louis have pledged to ignore the state law nullifying the city’s efforts to raise the minimum wage. The state law will take effect later this month.

St. Louis’ $10 minimum wage was implemented in May. So the push there is to keep businesses from rolling back the wages of 35,000 workers.

Any number of the many Kansas City-based organizations that have been diligently pressing for higher wages could lead the charge here. Well-organized groups have played significant roles: clergy, social and economic justice organizations and labor.

St. Louis appears committed to paying workers a living salary and building momentum for a higher minimum wage. It’s time for Kansas City to answer the challenge.

Pay the wage.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 10

In closing out her official review of former Gov. Jay Nixon’s final two years in office, Missouri auditor Nicole Galloway this week reported that Nixon had continued the great gubernatorial tradition of padding his office’s budget with funds poached from executive branch agencies.

The auditor’s office is required by law to periodically review the governor’s office and conduct a “closeout audit” at the end of a governor’s term. Invariably, audits find that the governor’s office has hired extra staff and paid them out of other agency budgets. They also bill other agencies for gubernatorial travel that may or may not have to do with those agencies’ business.

Both Galloway and Nixon are Democrats. In fact, Nixon appointed Galloway to the job. Yet, instead of being beholden to Nixon or putting party loyalties first, Galloway executed her responsibilities. The message should resonate loudly with Nixon’s successor, Gov. Eric Greitens: Transparency and accountability must be the top priority.

Nixon faithfully followed the dubious traditions of his predecessors. Galloway reported that Nixon didn’t reimburse the state for food that he and his family consumed while living in the Governor’s Mansion. Galloway said state laws are “ambiguous and contradictory” about whether that’s allowed. Missouri’s Constitution bans the use of state resources for personal or private benefit, but Nixon let the Governor’s Mansion budget pay for all the groceries.

The audit also criticized Nixon’s frequent use of state aircraft, noting that “the number of governor’s flights between Jefferson City and St. Louis significantly increased near the end of his term when he began staying some nights at his new residence in St. Louis.”

Overall, the audit found that for 2015 and 2016, the Legislature appropriated $6.1 million for the governor’s office, security detail and mansion expense. Nixon went 36 percent over budget, spending $8.3 million, most of it for personnel.

“During the two years ended June 30, 2016, the salaries of seven of the governor’s office and mansion employees were paid entirely from appropriations of other state agencies. The governor’s office required 14 agencies to fund the salaries of the directors of the St. Louis and Kansas City regional offices,” the audit said. The shell game kept taxpayers in the dark.

Historically, auditors from both political parties have found similar problems among governors from both parties. The Legislature has tried to rein in these budget games, attaching language to appropriations bills forbidding the practice. But state law is vague on the governor’s authority over executive budgets. The Legislature should tighten it up.

Greitens has yet to get that crucial message on transparency. True, he sold one of Nixon’s beloved state planes, but he’s using campaign funds and a dark-money political committee to cover some travel and expenses. At least with previous governors, taxpayers knew where the finagling was coming from.

Balloons were released on Tuesday at City Hall in downtown Kansas City during a rally launching a statewide initiative petition to raise Missouri’s minimum wage. Organizers are seeking to counter recent state legislation preventing individual cities from raising their minimum wages.

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Jefferson City News-Tribune, Aug. 13

A renewed call for primary seat belt law

A decade ago, we editorialized on this page for a primary seat belt law.

As a rule, we said, we resist government intrusion in individual decisions. For every rule, however, there is an exception, and a primary seat belt law would save lives.

Now, 10 years later, Missouri still doesn’t have such a law and is one of 11 states to receive an “F″ grade in overall safety in the National Safety Council’s most recent report. In road safety, specifically, the state scored a 29 percent, indicating Missouri has failed to have at least two indicators that illustrate it is trying to deter preventable injuries and deaths based on the NSC’s priorities.

The report analyzed aspects of road, home, and community and workplace safety across the state. The indicator that was the most heavily weighted in the report was whether the state has a primary seatbelt law in place.

Missouri now has a secondary seat belt law. Under the secondary law, officers can’t stop a motorist for not wearing a seat belt, but can issue a citation for failing to wear a seat belt if the motorist was stopped for a separate traffic violation.

Under a primary law, officers could ticket motorists for failing to wear a seat belt.

In 2015, there were 256 drivers and 89 passengers who suffered fatal injuries when a safety device was not used, compared to 166 drivers and 49 passengers who died even though they were buckled up, according to data reported by Missouri Highway Patrol.

In Jefferson City, a 2015 Highway Patrol report also showed 49 people being injured and two killed when no safety device was used.

In addition to statistics, we continue to see anecdotal evidence. Of the wreck reports we run in the paper, the ones with serious injuries/fatalities more often are the ones with unbuckled drivers/passengers.

Those who survive often face long-term recoveries subsidized either by higher insurance premiums for all or by your tax dollars through Medicaid. The saving of lives and tax money warrants the small government intrusion of a primary seat belt law.

In the past, the idea has fallen to the argument that adults have personal responsibility and the government has no business getting into people’s personal business.

But safety is everybody’s business — and helping save lives also helps us all save money.

When state lawmakers reconvene in January, we urge them to consider a primary seat belt law for Missouri.

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Joplin Globe, Aug. 12

The United States owes Arla Wayne Harrell, and other soldiers like him, a debt — one that hasn’t been paid.

Harrell was exposed to chemical agents as part of a research and training program at Fort Crowder in Neosho. He and about 60,000 other veterans were intentionally subjected to these reviled weapons by the U.S. military at various locations during World War II. An estimated 400 of those veterans are alive today.

These former service members suffered after effects from their exposure to chemical agents. Most of these heroes didn’t know what they had volunteered to do until they were in the gas chambers or on the testing grounds. These vets were sworn to secrecy. Good soldiers, many died never having revealed their involvement in the source of their lifelong suffering. The last of the experiments were declassified in the 1970s, but the men’s oath of secrecy was not lifted until 1991.

Harrell and others sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs for health complications from their intentional exposure to these poisonous chemicals. Up to 90 percent of the applicants, including Harrell, were denied care.

These men deserve better. The United States owes a moral debt for their care and an apology to them for denying that care for so long.

The military and VA have a sordid history of denying care to service members and veterans who have suffered much for their nation. Agent Orange exposure and Gulf War illness come to mind. Secrecy is part of the problem. Suspicion and budgetary concerns also interfere with approving care. Many records were lost in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, including Harrell’s. Regardless of prior cause, this injustice must not continue.

The Arla Harrell Act, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., orders an expedited case review for those denied benefits claims. During the review, the VA must assume all the claimants experienced full-body exposure to the chemicals despite lack of documentation.

This bill is a good start. Believing veterans first, barring contrary information, is the right stance. It is ridiculous that this nation is willing to waste billions on failed weapons systems that are never deployed yet unwilling to trust those who laid their lives on the line for fear of fraud and waste in the claim of service-connected illness, injury or disability. A 2016 report by the Defense Department’s Inspector General found the Army made $6.5 trillion worth of wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in 2015. Plenty of waste needs to be addressed by the military. The cost of caring for those who suffer for their service in it is dwarfed by those numbers.

The burden of proof should be on the VA, not the former service member.

Arla Wayne Harrell laid his life on the line for his nation in time of war. He kept its secrets. He suffered for years wounds inflicted by the country he served, our country. He, and others like him, deserve our honor. They deserve our respect. They deserve our trust. And most of all, they deserve care for the damage they suffered in service to our country.

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