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Recent Missouri editorials

January 6, 2020 GMT

The Independence Examiner, Jan. 4

The Missouri General Assembly meets for more than four months each year and consistently has little to show for its efforts.

Given that limitation, a list of do’s and don’ts for 2020 makes sense as legislators convene next week.

Start with the don’ts. There is no reason for legislators to try to undo what 62 percent of the voters approved in 2018 with the Clean Missouri initiative. That effort cuts down on such things as lobbyist gifts to legislators, but what really upset Republican leaders in Jefferson City is the attempt to get a handle on gerrymandering legislative districts. That is the chief means by which the party in power in Jefferson City tries to stay in power.

Republican leaders have made it clear that stopping Clean Missouri is among their top priorities. But the voters have spoken, and the plan they adopted should go forward.

If they set that aside, legislators would have more time to:

• Find funding and a solid plan to process the 7,000 untested rape kits across the state. These are from victims who have come forward, and they are being denied justice. This is inexcusable.

• Get to the bottom of why thousands of children have been dropped from Medicaid rolls, when other states have not seen similar declines. The fact that no one in power in Jefferson City wants to talk about it doesn’t mean it’s not important.

• Reverse a bad law from several years ago that undercuts cities’ abilities to enforce their own traffic laws. There is in effect no sanction for those who just don’t pay a ticket and don’t show in court to contest it. Let cities do their jobs.

• Put an end to the so-called “gray machine” gambling devices that have cropped up at convenience stores and elsewhere across the state. There are an estimated 14,000 of them, and the Missouri Gaming Commission has determined that they are illegal. They are unregulated and untaxed, meaning less for schools and other services that legal gambling in Missouri supports. This may take more courage than legislators can muster, since the company behind these machines is politically connected.

• Go slowly and carefully on allowing sports betting.

• Pay the state’s bills. Missouri is millions of dollars in arrears on its obligations to pay counties for inmates held on state charges – $3.5 million to Jackson County alone.

Finally, there are the larger issues that evade significant action year after year.

The sharp rise in gun violence in Missouri is the direct result of policies enacted by this legislative body. At the very least, if the state won’t act, it can let cities take the steps they deem necessary to protect the lives of their citizens.

The state’s roads and bridges are significantly underfunded, the effects are evident, and it’s holding Missouri back. Education and workforce development – a critical need in the state – go hand in hand, but the state lacks an overall vision and has been content to muddle along in a time when that’s just not good enough. Gov. Mike Parson has said these are his highest priorities; the Legislature hasn’t been listening.

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The Kansas City Star, Jan. 3

At least a little bit of good news to start the new year: Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has said that yes, Missouri will continue to accept a small number of refugees for resettlement. An embarrassingly small number, actually, but not zero.

As of 2019, an unprecedented 70 million people — more than at any time since World War II — had been forced by war, drought and persecution to leave their homes. Most are women and children, and more than half of these refugees and displaced people come from Afghanistan, Syria and South Sudan.

Whether we should take some of them in, after years of vetting and waiting, should not even be a question in the United States of America. Nor should it be up to any governor to decide whether or not we’ll be true to our values or block all resettlement of the most vulnerable, and most carefully screened, immigrants on the planet.

But it is up to governors and local officials now to give a sporting thumbs up or down, and Parson could have been the very first to put out the “refugees not welcome” sign. Thankfully, he decided to pass on that distinction, though the Associated Press reported that Republican governors like him are in a tough spot, having to decide between the hard-line Trumpian view on all things immigration and that of some Christian constituents that Jesus — himself a refugee in Egypt as a child — at no point urged his followers to think only of themselves.

Under the current president, the number of refugees has been cut year after year after year. Last September, the ceiling on refugees was lowered once again, to the lowest in U.S. history, at 18,000. (These include 5,000 slots set aside for people fleeing for religious persecution, 4,000 for Iraqis who fought alongside our troops, and an outrageous 1,500 total for those from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, whose refugees we’ve made it all but impossible to reach us.)

In the last three years, local refugee resettlement has fallen by 65%, and as elsewhere, the infrastructure that makes this possible has been all but wiped out.

Morally dead and economically dunderheaded, did somebody say? Yes, and the 6.7% population growth rate for the country as a whole during the most recent decade is expected to be the lowest since the government started counting heads in 1790.

Ignoring refugees also ignores history. The word “refugee” was first used in English after the Huguenots — Calvinists persecuted for their dissent in Catholic France — fled to England, Ireland, America and the Netherlands and Prussia, among other places in the 16th and 17th centuries. That brain drain was a serious, self-inflicted blow to France, where some cities lost half of their workers, but a big assist for places like Berlin and Boston, where the son of Huguenot Apollo Rivoire, aka Paul Revere I, rode to Lexington to sound the alarm about approaching British forces.

Refugees have always brought innovation and entrepreneurship with them, and helped make America what we say we are.

Irrational fear of refugees is nothing new either, though. President Franklin D. Roosevelt turned away the almost 1,000 Jewish passengers on the German ocean liner St. Louis from the port of Miami in 1939, and hundreds of those who were sent back to Europe as a result died in the Holocaust. A State Department telegram sent to a passenger on the boat explained that all aboard must “await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States.”

So, next time you decide to be driven out of your country by a Hitler or an Assad, or a mere Salva Kiir — the president of the world’s youngest and most dangerous country for humanitarian workers and other humans, South Sudan — maybe think ahead?

In Parson’s letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo affirming that the state would take some refugees, he said “Missouri has a long and rich history of immigration, dating back to America’s earliest explorers, fur traders, and missionaries. Today, Missouri’s population includes thousands of refugees who have become vital members of our communities.”

He said that as many as 500 refugees could arrive in Missouri in 2020, mostly in St. Louis and Kansas City, where only a handful of Somali refugees have settled in the last year.

“Our open arms and vacant jobs remain empty,” KC for Refugees founder Dr. Sofia Khan wrote in an Star guest commentary in August.

We need them just as they need us. And welcoming them is the very least we can do.

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The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Dec. 30

A state panel charged with studying teacher recruitment and retention has come to the conclusion that — surprise! — we need to pay public teachers more money.

That’s a good idea, except for one thing. The plan would cost close to a third of a billion dollars a year.

As we reported Sunday, the panel, called Missouri Teacher Table, reviewed data collected by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this year to formulate some recommendations on teacher recruitment and retention for the State Board of Education.

The board plans to hear recommendations at its Jan. 9 meeting on teacher recruitment and retention, including that teachers’ minimum salaries need to be raised.

The idea would be to make Missouri teachers’ salaries more competitive with that of neighboring states. Missouri’s minimum is below Kentucky, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee and Oklahoma’s minimum teacher salary requirements. Missouri’s neighbors have adjusted their minimum salary requirements in the past year or two, and Illinois plans to give further increases in the next few years.

Meanwhile, Missouri’s minimum teacher salary of $25,000 has been in place since 2005.

The preferred option by the Teacher Table would be to give all of Missouri’s more than 70,400 teachers a $4,000 raise, then increase the state’s minimum teacher salary from $25,000 to $32,000, and then give a few hundred teachers raises as needed to have those teachers be paid the minimum salary — which they wouldn’t otherwise be making even after the $4,000 raise.

The national average teacher salary is $60,477, compared to Missouri’s $49,304, which ranked 43rd in the nation. The proposal would bring us up to 26th in the nation.

This “preferred” option is projected to cost more than $332.8 million. Proponents don’t dispute the high price tag, but say it would be worth it.

Teacher salaries do need to be addressed. However, coming up with that amount of money in a single year isn’t fiscally practical. How many other good state programs would we have to decimate to accomplish this all at once?

Instead, we favor a program with gradual steps that would reach the goal of making Missouri teacher salaries competitive with surrounding states.