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Recent Missouri Editorials

July 17, 2019

The Kansas City Star, July 12

Josh Hawley bill to prevent police suicides will support those who protect and serve us

Law enforcement officers face a great many risks. But we might just have a shot at reducing this one.

For the third year in a row, more U.S. law enforcement officers died by suicide in 2018 than were killed in the line of duty, according to the nonprofit law enforcement support group Blue H.E.L.P. The group says at least 167 officers nationwide killed themselves last year, more than those who died from the combined total of assaults, accidents and illnesses.

It is a clear and present danger right here in Kansas City. As Police Chief Rick Smith wrote in a Star column in May, a detective’s suicide last February was the department’s fourth in as many years.

Can you imagine your own coworkers succumbing to despair and hopelessness at that rate?

Tragically, law enforcement officers don’t have to imagine it. Police work carries with it many of the risks of a military career — not only to life and limb but to mental health. Yet as Smith noted, society has long tended to officers’ physical health but not so much to their mental and emotional well-being. That absolutely has to change.

It should, with the swift and overwhelming passage of Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s Supporting and Treating Officers in Crisis Act. The bill, which passed the Senate and the House without opposition and is now headed to President Donald Trump’s desk, will provide $7.5 million in grants annually over five years for suicide prevention and mental health services for law enforcement departments across the country.

Police not only do battle with criminal elements but also come upon blood-drenched accidents and haunting homicide scenes. Most of us would turn away from such images, but for law enforcement officers, that’s not an option. It’s called secondary trauma, this absorption of other people’s trauma by the helping professions. The cumulative toll of it is silent and can be deadly. Sleeplessness. Anxiety. Depression. Addiction. Frayed families. Thoughts of suicide.

Hawley’s office says “between 25% and 30% of police officers have stress-based physical health problems,” and that 7% certifiably suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Suicide rates in law enforcement and firefighting, Hawley’s office says, are 40% higher than the national average.

All the while, misguided notions of strength and stoicism, or perhaps archaic conceptions about mental health, may prevent traumatized officers from acknowledging problems and seeking help.

Some things are just too explosive to keep bottled up.

“It’s a heavy burden, and it’s one we hope to ease with the help of a department psychiatrist,” Smith wrote about the potential for mental health funds.

With this bill, Hawley has accomplished a rare feat for a freshman senator, passing consequential legislation with bipartisan support. More importantly, this measure is a huge win for our guardians in law enforcement.

After so many years of neglecting the mental health and emotional well-being of the law enforcement officers who watch over our communities, it’s our turn to protect and serve them.

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The Joplin Globe, July 11

Our view: Time for fee change

It’s about time.

The Missouri Department of Conservation is taking public comment on 11 proposed increases to hunting and fishing fees. The first price hike in 20 years is estimated to bring in an extra $2.4 million in license fees starting next year in the proposal by state conservation officials.

Think about it. The cost of almost everything has gone up in the last 20 years. Average inflation has topped 2% annually between 1999 and 2019. The price of bread is more than 76% higher today than in 1999. The price of gasoline is about 87% higher. Yet the fees that manage and protect our hunting and fishing and its supporting infrastructure have remained unchanged.

Many of the changes will be to nonresident hunting and fishing permits, with the biggest change coming in the fee for nonresident deer hunting licenses — from $225 to $265 starting next year. The largest part of the revenue increase will come from people who purchase nonresident hunting licenses according to a story originally reported July 5 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

But there will be changes that affect residents, notably an increase in trout fees. The cost of an annual trout permit will go from $7 to $10 for anglers 16 and older and from $3.50 to $5 for anglers 15 and younger. The cost of a daily trout tag to fish Roaring River or the other state trout parks will go from $3 to $4 for adults and from $2 to $3 for those 15 and younger.

According to MDC, in 2003, the cost to raise and stock trout in Missouri streams was about $1 per fish; by 2017, it was twice that just for the food and labor. Further, Department Director Sara Parker Pauley earlier told the Globe the state has spent more than $11 million in recent years repairing and improving its hatcheries. Last fall, it broke ground on a $1.9 million renovation at Roaring River.

You can weigh in on the proposals. Public comments on the changes are being taken at short.mdc.mo.gov/Z49. No one likes to pay more for anything, but it is easy to see the need for the increase.

Most of us who hunt or fish understand the importance of user fees to support the outdoor sports we love. The increase that residents are being asked to pick up is reasonable, and the bulk of the cost bump will be borne by out-of-state hunters and anglers.

After 20 years, it is about time for the change.

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The St. Joseph News-Press, July 15

In a classic scene from “The Shawshank Redemption,” an inmate escapes from a notorious prison through a sewage pipe.

Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, doesn’t look so clean when he emerges, but at least he’s free.

We wonder if former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens felt a similar sensation in the wake of a favorable court ruling last week. A Cole County judge ruled that Greitens didn’t violate Missouri’s Sunshine Law when he and his staff used a shady app that automatically destroys text messages.

The judge ruled that use of the app, known as Confide, didn’t subvert state law covering the retention of government records. That’s because, in this case, communication between certain government employees, including the state’s top executive at the time, was never officially retained in the first place.

Perhaps this ruling is a legally correct interpretation of state law meant to facilitate open government, but it can’t cover up the stench created by the use of technology that’s clearly meant to circumvent transparency.

Before his resignation last year, Greitens’ brief tenure as governor featured a strong tendency toward secrecy, including a dark-money nonprofit with mystery contributors and an app that amounted to the digital equivalent of taking a match to official correspondence.

In a post-Greitens era, Missouri Republicans seem almost queasy when recalling this legacy. The offices of Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Gov. Mike Parson have signed agreements to prohibit the use of text-destroying apps for official use.

These are positive steps, but they amount to Band-Aids that easily can be ripped off if a future administration feels it has something to hide. The best response to the Cole County ruling is legislative action next year to prohibit the use of Confide and similar apps in government business.

The House passed a ban on those kinds of apps in the last session, but the measure couldn’t gain traction in the Senate. At times, the legislation was bogged down in controversy about the release of personal information in correspondence between lawmakers and private citizens.

The release of information and the destruction of information are different issues. In 2019, lawmakers should take another stab at deleting these apps.

If they fail to act, elected leaders run the risk of being overtaken by advances in technology and the public’s clear and consistent preference for open government. Remember that failure to pass simple curbs on gifts from lobbyists led to a voter-led initiative with all kinds of baggage attached.

Escaping from the pipe is only half the battle. When it comes to these apps, now is the time to turn on the hose.

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