AP NEWS

Recent Missouri Editorials

November 11, 2019

The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Nov. 8

The importance of whistleblower protections

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently broke the story of the resignation of Missouri’s Division of Tourism director.

Ward Franz’ departure came during a probe into allegations of excessive taxpayer-funded travel and improper acceptance of gifts from a state vendor, the paper reported.

An investigator in state Auditor Nicole Galloway’s office on Oct. 25 wrote to the Department of Economic Development, which oversees the tourism division. The letter outlined allegations from a whistleblower complaint that the auditor’s office had received, the Post-Dispatch reported.

In the letter, the auditor’s office said it has started a preliminary investigation to determine whether the complaint was credible. The Missouri Tourism Commission also is discussing the issue.

Regardless of what is revealed through investigations, the issue highlights the need for whistleblower protections.

Whistleblowers aren’t always going to have the right motivations and may not always be truthful. That’s why investigations are needed.

But whistleblowers — like a free press and auditors — play an important watchdog role in providing government oversight and accountability.

Here in Missouri, whistleblower protections have come under attack in the Missouri Legislature in the past. Last year, the Legislature restored some of those protections.

Without such protections, potential whistleblowers will be too fearful of retaliation to shed some light on situations that involve corruption, fraud or government waste.

We hope Missouri lawmakers never lose sight of this.

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The Kansas City Star, Nov. 8

Three more murders in Kansas City — are Missouri leaders finally ready to tackle guns?

In the space of a few hours Wednesday, three more people died from gun violence in Kansas City.

The shootings, after a few weeks of relative peace, remind us that bloodshed still curses our community. The effort to reduce murders in Kansas City can never really end.

That’s why it’s encouraging to see at least some movement here and in Jefferson City to discuss a range of approaches to reducing gun violence. On Monday, an interim state Senate Committee on Public Safety held its first hearing to talk about ways out of the morass.

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith was a witness. “We are responding to shootouts, where we have multiple people shooting each other,” he told state senators from both parties.

The committee reached no decisions. It’s expected to recommend measures aimed at curbing violence when lawmakers meet next January.

No one should expect the Republican-controlled Missouri legislature to suddenly embrace commonsense, statewide gun rules. But the fact that at least some Republicans are willing to listen — and consider different solutions for different places — is a start.

“They’ve recognized the need for us to do something,” Mayor Quinton Lucas told The Star Editorial Board. He called it “astonishing” that Republicans might now consider “responsible steps in gun legislation to make our city safer.”

Lucas applauded the state committee for not rejecting his modest efforts to change gun laws in Kansas City. Those proposals — clearly designed to test the limits for local autonomy on guns — should continue.

Other lawmakers are offering additional approaches. Some want tougher sentencing. Others suggest expanding mental health services. Still others, including Lucas, say more local police officers are needed.

All of these ideas will take money. Missouri legislators who truly want to curb gun violence will have to recognize that fact.

What Missouri cannot do is make the violence debate an either-or proposition. Legislators shouldn’t recommend more counseling instead of gun restrictions, for example, or additional cops in lieu of sentencing reform.

The appalling murder epidemic in Missouri’s urban areas can only be addressed with an all-of-the-above approach. That means more mental health services (and expanded Medicaid), more teaching, more police if needed and reasonable room for major cities to craft gun rules that will work.

Red flag laws, which can keep firearms out of the hands of people considered dangerous, are also an option.

The mayor said he wants fewer than 100 murders in Kansas City in 2020. It’s an aggressive goal. At this year’s pace, it would be a 33% drop in the murder rate.

Yet even 100 murders would mean roughly two killings per week. It should stun every Kansas Citian to realize two murders a week would represent significant progress.

Today, sadly, we average three killings per week. Three people were murdered here Wednesday, which makes this an average week, a horrible stain on our community that must be lifted.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 7

Don’t allow proliferation of machines that may constitute illegal gambling

Even as Missouri regulators debate the proliferation of unregulated payout gaming machines at bars and gas stations statewide, St. Louis has approved the operation of dozens of the things within the city, categorizing them alongside “entertainment” devices like coin-operated jukeboxes.

That’s not what these are. The gaming machines are arguably a form of gambling that should be regulated and taxed like any other. The city should stop approving the machines until state lawmakers settle this issue.

Missouri regulates and taxes gambling machines in casinos, but it doesn’t allow machine gambling elsewhere. Allowing such gambling wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Illinois regulates and taxes gambling machines in restaurants and gas stations, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

The problem in Missouri is that the operators of these games aren’t asking for state approval to expand gambling outside the casinos; they’re just doing it. They’ve set up gaming machines all over the state without permission from gambling regulators, which means there’s nothing to keep them from cheating customers.

It also means the state isn’t taking in any gambling taxes, which was the whole justification for legalizing gambling in the first place. The machines siphon off public gambling revenue from casinos and the state lottery, and give nothing back to the taxpayers.

Operators claim they aren’t games of chance, despite their strong resemblance to slot machines. It’s a claim the state is investigating with an eye toward outlawing the machines or forcing regulation. Rather than cooperating with that legitimate process, though, the operators continue to operate, while loading up state politicians with campaign contributions in an obvious bid to affect the outcome.

In St. Louis, they’ve taken advantage of the process by which the city licenses coin-operated amusement devices like jukeboxes and coin-operated pool tables. As the Post-Dispatch’s Kurt Erickson reported this week, one of the gaming machine operators has set up more than 50 of the machines around town by paying the $10 sticker fee charged by the city License Collector’s Office.

That office says it doesn’t have the staff or expertise to determine whether the machines they’re approving are actually gambling devices rather than mere “coin-operated entertainment.” That’s not a completely unreasonable stance, given that it’s a question state gambling regulators are still wrestling with.

But the question alone merits suspending operation of these machines within the city, at least until gambling regulators get to the bottom of it. Shouldn’t the default position in the case of a questionable game be disapproval rather than approval?

The operators’ strategy is clear: Make these machines ubiquitous facts-on-the-ground before regulation sets in, so they’re that much harder to regulate. That kind of gambling regulation isn’t the city’s job, but that doesn’t mean the city should be helping them avoid it.