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Recent Missouri editorials

By The Associated PressJuly 25, 2017

The Jefferson City News-Tribune, July 23

Our Opinion: Drug monitoring plan moves the needle forward

We commend Gov. Eric Greitens for starting a prescriptions drug monitoring plan through executive order. His action does something the Legislature hasn’t had the political will to do for years, despite the fact the Show-Me State has been the only one in the nation without one.

Greitens’ action removes that stigma, but it’s only a start.

Some Missouri lawmakers already have said the order doesn’t go far enough because it focuses on overprescribing doctors rather than doctor-shopping patients, which is the biggest problem.

The Associated Press reports Greitens’ plan won’t allow doctors to see if a patient has already been prescribed an opioid before writing a new prescription. His plan, on the other hand, will focus on analyzing prescription and dispensing data to target what he described as “pill mills” that pump out prescription drugs at “dangerous and unlawful levels,” the AP reported.

Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, told the AP his long-term goal is to pass a statewide program similar to the bill he handled in the Senate this year.

“What this tool ultimately boils down to is to allow doctors to make informed decisions when prescribing,” he said of his bill.

That would require doctors the have access to a database to determine whether a patient already has a prescription for opioids.

One House Democrat called Greitens’ action a “publicity stunt.” Call it what you want, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Fortunately, many counties, including Cole, haven’t been idle during the last few years of legislative inaction on the issue. More than two dozen counties covering 58 percent of the state’s population have implemented their own monitoring program, the AP reported.

While Greitens’ executive order isn’t a true prescription drug monitoring program, it does move the needle forward. We hope it keeps the need for such a program in the spotlight, and we hope the Legislature brings the issue to the forefront of discussion when the 2018 General Assembly opens in January.

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The Kansas City Star, July 23

Is Burns & McDonnell playing fair in KCI terminal competition?

Burns & McDonnell’s very public campaign to win the competition to build a new Kansas City airport terminal has taken a worrisome turn.

You may have seen a television commercial or heard a radio ad touting the company’s plans for a new facility at Kansas City International Airport. Perhaps you’ve read about the Burns & Mac news conferences announcing partners for the project.

Those efforts are meant to pressure City Council members, whose decision on the terminal contract should be based on facts, not on commercials and press releases.

Now, though, we’ve learned Burns & McDonnell wants to block potential subcontractors from joining any other design team while the city considers bids for the project.

Companies that want a piece of the project have been asked to sign a Burns & McDonnell contract on “an exclusive basis,” according to a copy of the agreement provided to The Star.

“No Party shall directly or indirectly participate in, or contribute to, proposals . submitted for this Project by potential competitors,” it says.

The gambit seems squarely aimed at companies run by minorities and women, known as MBE and WBE firms. In its request for airport proposals, the city has asked for a major commitment to use such companies because minorities and women have sometimes been excluded from private construction projects.

While there are also stories of poor use of MBEs and WBEs in public projects, it’s essential to take steps to ensure that historically disadvantaged companies are included in the $1 billion KCI terminal project.

There are, however, a limited number of firms run by minorities and women in Kansas City. Burns & McDonnell is essentially trying to corner the market by locking up exclusive deals with these firms until a proposal is selected.

DuBois Consultants, a certified MBE, is on the Burns & McDonnell team. So is Taliaferro & Browne, an engineering and architecture firm. Trekk Design Group LLC, an engineering firm, is a WBE.

But it’s largely window dressing. The MBE and WBE firms with “exclusive” agreements will be allowed to partner with whichever bidder wins the terminal competition.

The deals simply allow Burns & Mac to present a longer list of MBEs and WBEs than any other bidder, a presumed political advantage.

The practice has frustrated AECOM and Turner Construction, which are expected to submit a joint proposal for the terminal. They’re not asking for exclusive agreements with any MBE or WBE partner.

“We are for inclusivity, not exclusivity,” a spokesman told The Star.

Burns & McDonnell has a right to protect proprietary information, and playing hardball politics in a high-stakes competition isn’t a novel strategy.

But the terminal selection committee and the City Council should ignore parts of any proposal, including Burns & Mac’s, that commit specific MBE and WBE companies to the project. Those firms can and will gravitate to the winning bidder, no matter who it is.

Instead, the city should set aggressive and firm numeric goals for MBE and WBE participation from all bidders, with significant penalties for falling short.

We want an airport competition that’s open and fair. Any attempt to game the contracting system by restricting options for MBE and WBE firms is unfortunate and unnecessary.

Companies that wish to bid on the terminal project must submit the first round of paperwork Thursday.

It isn’t clear how much detail will be made public that day, if any at all. And there are numerous signs the city may seek to keep much of the information private, hidden from reporters and members of the public.

That would be a mistake.

We know companies wish to protect trade secrets and design ideas. There are legitimate reasons not to release some parts of the responses.

But the City Council is expected to ask for a November vote on the terminal project. Voters will want as much detail as possible on cost, design, convenience, environmental impact and sustainability over time before casting those ballots.

Voters will also want to know how the winning bid was picked. They’ll want to compare financing plans and design proposals.

That means at least some details of all proposals should be made public.

Without that comparison, voters will simply have to trust City Hall to make the right decision. That’s a lot to ask, and a secret selection process isn’t a good way to kick off a campaign.

The Star wants transparency because we want to ensure a new airport terminal is approved. The city must pull back the curtain and conduct this important business in public.

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The St. Joseph News-Press, July 23

Speedy internet a lifeline

Once it is understood agriculture underpins the regional economy, it’s not hard to advocate for those things that make farmers and our rural communities successful.

Near the top of these priorities is access to high-speed internet.

What the tech world calls broadband service is taken for granted in urban areas, but it’s much less common in rural areas of Northwest Missouri and across the state.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce cites information from the Federal Communications Commission. It shows 20 percent of Missouri residents do not have access to quality broadband service - ranking our state ahead of only seven states and far behind neighboring Illinois, which reports only 9 percent of its residents lack broadband.

For perspective on our 20 percent who lack this level of service, recognize that access skews heavily to urban areas. Our rural communities and farming settlements are far worse off on average.

This is not a new concern, but it is proving a stubborn challenge and one that must be kept atop the region’s agenda.

In the recent past, this has been pressed as a priority by civic leaders taking part in the annual Great Northwest Day at the state capitol and by our representatives in Congress. Both the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the state chamber are voicing a similar message about the need for strategic investments in broadband.

Microsoft recently also has floated its own plan for extending high-speed internet to more communities, but the proposal requires a grant of public airwaves, is seen as self-serving by some in the tech world and would help fewer than 10 percent of the nearly 35 million people nationwide who lack broadband.

President Trump is on the right side of this issue, also making it a priority to get more people connected in rural areas. The reasons are obvious.

As the state chamber notes, access to reliable high-speed internet has become an important consideration in economic development. Like paved roads and electricity, the service is an expectation for companies considering where to make investments.

Other studies find internet-based applications are central to innovations in health care, education, entrepreneurship and communications.

In short, the advancement of our rural communities and such life-sustaining enterprises as production agriculture relies on expanding access to broadband services. Advocates for the region must continue to make this case.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 24

One way to beat the Workhouse heat: fewer inmates

Under the best of circumstances, the city’s Medium Security Institution on Hall Street — better known as the Workhouse — can be dreadful. During hot weather like St. Louis has been experiencing, it becomes unbearable. But given the city’s crime rate, just shutting the place down, as some protesters demanded this weekend, is not an option.

About 85 percent of the 1,398 inmates held at the Workhouse and City Justice Center downtown are there for felony violations. Moving the 700 at the Workhouse into some sort of temporary air-conditioned facility would create serious security issues.

That said, the Workhouse has been a festering sore for decades. It should have been replaced or renovated long ago, but the city has serious budget issues. In 2015, voters narrowly rejected a property tax increase to pay for long overdue capital projects, including improvements at the Workhouse.

In the short run, temporary air conditioning units are being installed and should make a big difference. It shouldn’t have taken a heat wave to make this happen.

In the longer term, one answer is to reduce the Workhouse population by implementing bail reforms like those contained in the Pretrial Safety and Integrity Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate last week by the odd couple of Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

Nearly everyone in jail is there awaiting trial, usually on felony charges, sometimes for misdemeanor violations. Some of them are held on high bails because of criminal records and potential flight risk. Others held for less serious crimes are there because they don’t have the cash for even modest bail.

Paul and Harris argued in a New York Times commentary last week that the basic problem with American jails is that too many of the 450,000 inmates are locked up simply because they cannot afford bail.

“Whether someone stays in jail or not is far too often determined by wealth or social connections, even though just a few days behind bars can cost people their job, home, custody of their children — or their life,” the senators wrote.

Their bill would give grants to states that come up with innovative ways to reduce jail populations. Kentucky and New Jersey have shifted to a system of doing individual risk assessments to determine whether someone poses a flight risk or a danger to the public. Low-risk defendants are given phone reminders when it’s time to show up for trial. It sounds touchy-feely, but it works to keep potentially dangerous individuals behind bars without unduly punishing low-risk ones.

St. Louis spent nearly $39 million in the last fiscal year on its two jails, about $76 a day per inmate, most of it in personnel costs for 495 employees. Divert more low-risk offenders, you could cut staff and fix the place up.

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