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Recent Missouri editorials

July 11, 2017

The Kansas City Star, July 8

Missouri General Assembly’s special session is a slow-moving fiasco

Missouri’s General Assembly is in session. Still.

You’re forgiven if you’ve missed this news item. Gov. Eric Greitens announced a special session on June 7, and lawmakers gathered June 12 to debate abortion-related legislation. They’re still at it.

Missourians know the call was unnecessary to begin with. The abortion debate could have been settled during the regular session; failing that, the issue could have waited until next year.

But the governor’s ambition cannot wait, so he summoned legislators back to Jefferson City, in a move that was more about headlines than headway.

To be fair, criticism of Greitens’ call seems like ancient history now. Instead, Missourians are entitled to ask: What’s taking so long?

Politics, of course. In June, the state Senate passed a measure toughening several abortion regulations, including annual unannounced inspections of abortion clinics and whistle-blower protections for health workers. It also gave the state attorney general limited authority to prosecute abortion cases.

That wasn’t enough for the House, which tacked on even tougher rules in the legislation it passed. Both bills also waded into the controversy over an abortion-related discrimination ordinance in St. Louis.

Then everyone went home for the Fourth of July holiday.

Now they’re back — or they could be. As it turns out, the state Senate isn’t expected to take up the tougher House bill until July 24 at the earliest. If the Senate makes any changes, the bill would have to go back to the House — and then would need Greitens’ signature to become law.

That means it’s likely the General Assembly won’t finish its work until early August, nearly two months after the governor’s original call.

No one has any idea exactly how much this is costing taxpayers. If the session goes a full 60 days, as now seems possible, it could cost roughly $1.2 million — money the governor and lawmakers will have essentially poured down the drain.

We’re not downplaying the importance of abortion legislation in Missouri. But it isn’t too much to ask that this contentious issue be dealt with during the regular session. If supporters of tougher rules fall short, they can try again the following session.

Greitens should be leading this parade. He just spent a week chopping $250 million from the state budget, including spending for sick and elderly Missourians. “Politicians were trying to spend money we don’t have,” he said.

Apparently, Missouri does have $1 million to waste on a needless argument, with an end just barely in sight. It’s a blot on the record of every politician involved in this slow-moving, summerlong fiasco.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 9

Missouri senator pushes to help vets exposed to mustard gas

A year ago, this newspaper declared that the time had come for the federal government to own up to its responsibility to aging military veterans who were deliberately exposed to horrific toxins during the World War II era. But Congress seems not to care. These veterans weren’t wounded by the enemy in war; it was their own government that maimed them in a heinous, coerced attempt to test the effects of mustard gas on humans.

The Pentagon and Veterans Administration have repeatedly, and in the most cowardly way possible, blocked veterans from receiving the benefits they’ve earned. It’s as if the government and Congress are stalling in hopes the veterans will die and take their pesky problems with them to the grave.

Most members of Congress wave the flag in support of veterans yet do nothing to right past wrongs. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is an outlier. She is doggedly pursuing a legislative response to this injustice.

Everything about McCaskill these days smacks of politics because her seat will be hotly contested in 2018. But this effort on behalf of veterans goes beyond politics and deserves full-throated, bipartisan support.

McCaskill has worked for years to achieve passage of the Arla Harrell Act, named for a veteran from Macon, Mo., who is one of 60,000 subjected to mustard gas experiments. Military officers lied to Harrell and others about the nature of the tests and the dangers. They threatened court martial if soldiers didn’t comply. Soldiers had to swear an oath of secrecy that remained in effect until the 1990s — 18 years after the government itself declassified details and photos of the experiments. Today, only 40 veterans are receiving benefits for what they endured.

The secrecy oath prevented victims like Harrell from telling their doctors why they had persistent illnesses, so doctors had no way of establishing that mustard gas was the culprit. The government also refused to provide benefits unless victims could prove they had full-body exposure and that their illnesses resulted from mustard gas exposure.

Imagine having to find such proof five, six or seven decades after it happened. Adding to the difficulty is that government war-service records from that period were destroyed in a 1973 fire.

The Arla Harrell Act would require the VA to quickly review claims it had previously denied and eliminate the ridiculous hurdles imposed on veterans to receive benefits. It also would require the VA and Department of Defense to investigate why this process went so badly wrong and make them come clean with the service members they wronged.

McCaskill has had to introduce her legislation twice. Isn’t it time her colleagues stepped up to help those Americans who paid such a heavy price while sacrificing for their country?

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The Springfield News-Leader, July 5

For sake of rural Missouri, statewide opioid attention a must

The News-Leader reported in the last week that Springfield city leaders met with representatives in Washington, D.C. to talk about several issues, including the opioid crisis.

In addition to expressing their concerns to Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill and Rep. Billy Long, city officials have been exploring ways to fight back against opioid addiction in lieu of state legislators creating a prescription drug monitoring program.

Both Springfield City Council and the Greene County Commission are considering joining a group of cities and counties to take charge with their own program.

We’re thankful local leaders are making these efforts, but we still need help from Missouri.

When it comes to the opioid crisis, rural communities seem to be bearing the brunt of the effects, and without statewide leadership on this issue, we’re destined to see small towns fall through the cracks.

Rural areas across the country have seen the destruction of opioids, and many have been left wondering why those communities are suffering a disproportionate amount of pain.

Jack Westfall, a family physician and researcher in Colorado, told NPR earlier this year there are a few factors that make rural communities susceptible.

Often, it’s a lack of treatment options, he said. Maybe physical therapy isn’t an option or medication-assisted treatment for drug addiction is limited.

They may also be at risk because of larger economic problems. Much research has shown that rural towns have lagged behind in recovery from the recession.

Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spent a significant amount of time trying to find out why rural America was being hit so hard. That included a stop in Missouri late in his term in the office.

He heard from health professionals who said their emergency rooms were filling up with opioid-addicted patients and they lacked resources to help.

To put the problem in perspective, one southeast Missouri doctor told Vilsack that on July 4, 2016, the hospital had three fireworks injuries and 23 overdoses, according to the Washington Post.

Non-prescription opioid addiction is its own problem, and we need to identify resources - in the health industry and with law enforcement - to fight that.

But when it comes to prescription opioids, most states have taken the steps to create a monitoring program. We’re also seeing several cities in Missouri take that path.

However, it’s not enough. Unless Missouri legislators take the opioid crisis seriously, our towns - especially those in rural areas - will continue to suffer.

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The Joplin Globe, July 9

Ban texting while driving

The Missouri General Assembly should pass a distracted driving bill to ban texting and driving.

Distracted driving is a significant problem. Texting while driving not only endangers your life, it also endangers the lives of others on the road. Driving is a complex task that places you in control of a 2-ton missile that can in a moment of inattention go from smoothly cruising to careening out of control. Distracted driving is inherently dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving claimed 3,477 lives in 2015 alone.

Few things are more distracting while driving than being on your cellphone. Texting clearly takes away your attention. You are not fully in control of that deadly weapon you have launched.

Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for about five seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed, according to the NHTSA.

How do we change this dangerous behavior: Through an educational campaign? We’ve tried that. Drivers continue to text. Through public service announcements? Entertainers, athletes and celebrities have spoken out against texting while driving. People are still dying.

The Missouri General Assembly passed a prohibition on texting while driving for those younger than 21 in 2009. It hasn’t been able to broaden that prohibition despite attempts year after year. Legislators couldn’t even marshal the votes to ban texting for commercial vehicle operators in the most recent regular session.

AAA advocates a ban on texting while driving. Mike Right with AAA Missouri has stated that restricting the practice by age doesn’t make sense.

“The whole notion is idiotic. The age is not an issue,” Right said in an article on Missourinet. “It’s the distraction associated with texting that’s the issue. It’s not related to any age.”

Total bans seem to be effective. Most states now have them. A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that car-crash hospitalizations in states that instituted strict bans on texting and driving were reduced by 7 percent versus states with no bans. The study looked at statistics between 2003 and 2010. The laws that showed the most pronounced effect were those that imposed broad primary enforcement, meaning drivers texting could be pulled over by police and fined for the offense.

What can you do? Contact your state representative. Contact your state senator. Tell legislators it is time to act, clearly and strongly, to address this safety issue.

Legislators, put on your grown-up pants and tackle this problem head on. Driving distracted endangers everyone.

Let’s give law enforcement the ability to make the pain of distracted driving felt in drivers’ wallets before others are hurt by those drivers’ carelessness.

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