May 24, 2015

Missouri might need another prison soon

The state has not had to build a new prison for more than a decade, but the time for another one is getting close. The Corrections Department operates twenty adult institutions that now house more than 32,500 men and women that cost the state more than $22,000 a year to house. More than 70,000 other people are In the probation and parole system and several new programs in recent years focus on making it less likely that many of those people will return to prison.

Director of the Department of Corrections George Lombardi testifies to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Director of the Department of Corrections George Lombardi testifies to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Corrections director George Lombardi says he naively thought when he took the job in 2008 that he’d be able to close a prison during his tenure. Instead, the population has grown. He attributes the growth to the tighter jobs market caused by the recession and the rise in crimes committed by women.

He says the numbers would be worse if not for probation and parole programs that have been developed to keep people from returning to prison if they stumble after being released to the probation and parole system.

The Corrections Department mothballed a prison in Jefferson City about a decade ago after the prison-building boom of the Carnahan administration years, but with the buildings left standing today it would only hold about 1,000 inmates.

Proposed cuts to Missouri’s blind pension halted

The Nixon administration has backed away from cutting benefits to hundreds of Missouri’s blind pension recipients.

cane dayThe Department of Social Services had sent out notices several weeks ago that the benefits would be cut by $33 a month. The payments go to about 3,900 Missourians whose vision is no better than 5/200.  That’s well beyond “legally” blind, which is defined as 20/200.

A state three-cent property tax raises the money for the program.. But Department Finance Director  Patrick Luebbering told us last week that’s not enough to fund the payments. “We have available funds of 31.3 million. Last year on the blind pension program we spent a little bit over $32 million and again in this year we expect to expend around $32 million, which leaves us with a shortfall,” he says.

The department had estimated the department would save almost three-quarters of a million dollars with the cuts.  He had said the full monthly payment of $718 likely would be restored when the next fiscal year starts, July 1 although that determination would be made later after the department saw how much tax money had come in.

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch article had questioned the need for the cut hours before the Governor’s office put out a press release saying Nixon had ordered the department to reverse its plan. Nixon says he’ll ask the legislature next year to add enough money to the budget to keep the payments at current levels.


New effort for a Missouri Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (AUDIO)

A state representative has a personal reason to renew the effort to make Missouri the last state to adopt a prescription drug monitoring program. But she will still have to overcome a big obstacle.

Representative Holly Rehder talks about her plan to introduce a prescription drug program bill.

Representative Holly Rehder talks about her plan to introduce a prescription drug program bill.

Every other state has the system that lets doctors and pharmacies know if someone is getting or filling multiple prescriptions for pain killing drugs.   Supporters of the program say Missouri needs the database  that limits so=called doctor-shopping and minimizes the supply of prescription pain-killers that are being sold on the streets.

State Representative Holly Rehder of Sikeston has a personal reason for trying again. It began when her 17-year old daughter cut her finger at work and got a painkiller prescription.  She began buying the drug on the street when she finished the supply she got at a hospital.   “We’ve been twelve years down the road of ups and downs in rehab,” she says.  But Rehder said her daughter has been “clean” for the last six months.

The House has approved the program but the bill has run into St. Joseph Senator Rob Schaaf and a few allies who have blocked it. Schaaf claims the database cannot be sure, a claim that Rehder says it not supported by the experience in other states.  He wants a statewide vote, which Rehder says is just a stalling tactic, and a limit on the amount of time the information can be stored, which Rehder says is worth discussing although she thinks Schaaf’s demand for a six-month limit is not realistic.

AUDIO: News conference 35:53

(with Rehder, Dr. Bob Twillman (American Academy of Pain Management), Jeff Rowland (deputy police chief, Poplar Bluff), Stephen Keithahn, MD, University of Missouri Health System-School of Medicine, Columbia).


Comprehensive study of Missouri tax code proposed (AUDIO)

It’s been 46 years since the state convened a special commission to overhaul the tax code.   A state senator who thinks it’s time for another one is filing a bill to create a new commission.

Senator Bob Dixon

Senator Bob Dixon

Senator Bob Dixon’s tax-break bill this year failed to survive a governor’s veto when Dixon, from Springfield, decided not to try for an override. Instead, he is introducing a bill convening the first state tax study commission since 1968.  The commission would go beyond legislators talking about changes.  “I’d like to see tax attorneys, CPAs, business people, folks from the municipalities, folks from the counties and, of course, the director of the Department (of Revenue).”

Dixon says the study would not be a one-session study because the tax code is so large. He expects the study to take “two or three years” and concedes, “Nobody in this building has all the answers and I’m chief among my colleagues in  that. We just don’t know what we don’t know,” he says.

He does know some tax proposals will be filed for the next session. And he’ll renew some of his 2014 proposals for tax breaks on data centers, fitness centers, dance studios and some non-profit issues. But Dixon hopes lawmakers in 2015 will turn back substantial changes in the tax code..

AUDIO: Dixon interview 4:07


AG Holder wants to look at something else in Ferguson

Those whose had been hoping for a grand jury indictment in the Michael Brown case now pin their hopes on the Department of Justice.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s department is running two investigations. One looking into civil rights issues connected to the killing of Michael Brown Junior. The other looks at operations of the Ferguson Police Department. But the violence in the new round of Ferguson riots has him opening a third front.

Holder has asked the Community-Oriented Policing Services office to do an afater-action review that will develop a strategy to identify and isolate criminal elements from peaceful protestors.

He says the assessment is important because Ferguson’s problems are not unique. “There are other communities around the country that have these same issues that have to be dealt with,” he says, “and we at the Justice Department are determined to do all that we can to bridge these divides.”

Holder has given no timetable for completion of the Michael Brown Junior case. He says he and the St. Louis County prosecutor have been sharing information during the grand jury inquiry.

AUDIO: Holder update 6:20