The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 19

Editorial: Time to clear the air on casino smoking

Voters in both St. Louis County and St. Charles County may end up with competing proposed smoking bans to choose from this fall: one that bans it entirely from indoor public venues and another that makes exceptions for certain designated areas within casinos. In both counties, petition drives and official ballot approval efforts are underway.

The proposals with the casino exceptions are part of a well-funded push by the casino industry and its supporters in a race with health advocates who are trying to get their own, more encompassing bans on the Nov. 6 ballots. The fact that casino interests are pushing to only partly exempt themselves from any new bans — as opposed to fighting such bans entirely — indicates they know where the momentum is going, and they see a partial surrender as the only way to win. It will be better for pretty much everyone if they lose.

But this whole bi-county, multi-front battle presses a bigger issue: It's time for Missouri to quit piddling around, join the 21st century and 30-plus other states and pass a statewide indoor smoking ban without exceptions. And it should include casinos.

Opponents claim such bans especially hurt casinos, as people who want to have a smoke at the slot machines scout out the most smoker-friendly venues. To the extent that's a problem, this patchwork approach of local bans would seem likely to exacerbate it, creating uneven rules in neighboring jurisdictions. And it feeds a standoff mentality that prevents progress. Indeed, St. Louis city's 2011 smoking ban exempts Lumiere Place casino — but contains language that will ban casino smoking here if St. Charles and St. Louis counties ban it there.

Missouri is already bordered on three sides by statewide smoking bans in Illinois, Kansas and Iowa. Illinois' ban, among the toughest in the nation, encompasses casinos. The casino industry has claimed for years that Illinois' ban hurts its business there, but others dispute that claim.

Dueling data aside, common sense suggests that banning smoking in Missouri casinos would indisputably be a gain for health and could be a wash, at worst, for business. Right now for St. Louis-area gamblers who don't want to endure secondhand smoke, crossing the river to East St. Louis or Alton is an obvious option. A statewide casino smoking ban wouldn't put Missouri at any competitive disadvantage with Illinois, and might gain some players who currently have to write off our whole state for the sake of their own health.

As the fights play out in St. Charles and St. Louis counties this fall, voters should check the boxes on their ballots that would clear the most air. And health advocates who perhaps have decided that a statewide Missouri ban is a lost cause should rethink that. It's time.

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The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Aug. 19

Faith in DOC weakens with lawsuit verdict

Thursday's news that a jury awarded close to $114 million in unpaid/overtime compensation to corrections officers left us speechless.

Apparently, it also left the Missouri Department of Corrections speechless; they're not talking about it.

We reported on Thursday a lawsuit filed Aug. 14, 2012, accused the department of requiring corrections officers throughout the state to do work before and after assigned shifts without being paid for that mandated work.

In a trial held before Cole County Presiding Judge Pat Joyce, a jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs Wednesday, finding the DOC had breached its agreements with the corrections officers, and awarded the hefty price tag.

The state almost certainly will appeal, and anything can happen in an appeal.

But in the court of public opinion, it's one more indication of problems within the department.

In the suit, several corrections officers and sergeants from state prisons across Missouri testified that the DOC required them to perform pre- and post-shift work but refused to pay them for it.

The lawsuit was filed six years ago, and the allegations stem from farther back than that. The governor, department director and other state leaders have changed since.

But have they corrected the problems in corrections? Consider:

Last June, news broke that a Missouri Parole Board member and a Corrections department employee were making a farce out of parole hearings.

The Department of Corrections said Donald Ruzicka, a Missouri Parole Board member who, reportedly, admits concocting a word game played during questioning in parole hearings, resigned. Ruzicka, a Republican, is a former state representative from Mount Vernon. He and the employee, who was not named, played the game on occasions in hearings throughout summer 2016, according to findings in a report.

An investigation by a Kansas City weekly newspaper last year found a culture in Corrections of sexual harassment, racial discrimination and harassment by co-workers — and retaliation by supervisors for speaking out. It examined more than 60 lawsuits against the department and also found the state spent more than $7.5 million on settlements and judgments between 2012 and 2016, related to the allegations.

In April, an Associated Press story said Missouri has paid out nearly $600,000 to a female corrections officer to settle another sexual harassment lawsuit.

The department also is struggling to maintain staffing for corrections officers, and inmates at some prisons have had riots or near-riots in recent months.

If the Department of Corrections wants to gain back trust from the public, it needs to address its problems and do so publicly.

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The Kansas City Star, Aug. 19

When will KC honor MLK? Revive efforts to rename The Paseo for Martin Luther King Jr.

That loud hissing you hear is the whoosh of air rushing out of the idea to rename The Paseo after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Remember that one? It was the talk of the town this spring after a group of African-American ministers rightly decided to push for the long-sought idea of renaming a major Kansas City thoroughfare after the civil-rights icon.

But a petition drive aimed at getting a public vote on the proposal, first in August and then in November, appears to have failed. There was no vote in August, and now it's almost certain that a vote won't occur this fall. The reason: The petition effort has, at least temporarily, run out of steam. Organizers have yet to turn in the required 1,709 signatures. With a ballot deadline looming on Aug. 28, there's not enough time for officials to count and verify the signatures and for the City Council to take final action.

"There have been times along the journey where we've had to make adjustments," said the Rev. Vernon Howard, a spokesman for the ministers. "This may be one of them."

Howard said his group is in the process of counting signatures, which will then be forwarded to the group's attorneys for presentation to the city. He isn't ready to give up on a November vote.

Still, this shapes up as a major disappointment. Lots of energy went into this effort in a year that marked the 50th anniversary of King's assassination, and the number of signatures needed to get an issue before voters is eminently achievable. The idea gathered momentum after the Parks Board rejected the idea of renaming The Paseo after King. At that point, the ministers organized and vowed to march in the streets until the city relented.

They were determined and vocal, and one can't help but wonder what went wrong.

Kansas City remains one of the largest cities in the nation without an appropriate honor for King. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver first broached the renaming idea back in 1979. Across the nation today, about 900 streets in 42 states carry King's name.

"In this day and time, we believe Kansas City is far behind the acceptable norm for this issue," Howard said in March.

Mayor Sly James stepped in and formed a commission aimed at determining how best to memorialize King. The group came up with three options: rename The Paseo, 63rd Street or Kansas City International Airport.

James is now talking about the council moving ahead on the renaming idea. If the council agrees, it should rename The Paseo, then move on. This debate has gone on long enough. The airport option lost steam because only the terminal would be renamed — not the entire airport. The 63rd Street option remains, but the involvement of Kansas-side municipalities has gained little traction.

If the council can't reach an agreement, the ministers should finish gathering signatures, then aim for an April vote. While renaming The Paseo is a symbolic effort, it's significant nonetheless. Kansas City should be among the cities with an appropriate honor for Martin Luther King Jr.