July 6, 2015

Missing Rolla Teens Found Safe

The two missing Rolla teenagers have been found by authorities. The O’Fallon Police Department said they received a tip that indicated the juveniles were in St. Louis. Tania Bowman and Savannah Mitchell were released to their parents.


Rolla Teens Tania Bowman and Savannah Mitchell

Authorities in central Missouri’s Phelps County were searching for the teens, who had been missing since Thursday. They were thought to be headed for St. Louis to meet someone, possibly someone involved in criminal activity.

Phelps County Sheriff Richard L. Lisenbe thanks the other law enforcement departments and the public for assistance with this case. Lisenbe says due to cooperating agencies, the case had a swift and safe ending.

Missouri counties urged to not wait on software to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples

The Missouri Recorder of Deeds Association is telling Missouri counties they don’t need software upgrades to start issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. President Jan Jones says counties can make the changes the old-fashioned way.


Missouri Recorder of Deeds Association President Jan Jones

“They can mark through the information that’s on a license or an application that’s incorrect. It’s not going to change its validity and so therefore they can go ahead and start to issue licenses.”

Jones says it provided counties with the tools to make changes in a timely fashion.

“The updated form was made available to everybody prior to the end of last year and we encouraged people to start talking to their software provider.”

26 Missouri counties have not started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled such marriages are legal.


Lawsuit alleging open meetings law violations by Missouri Senate dismissed

A Cole County judge has dismissed the lawsuit alleging the state Senate was violating Missouri’s open records and meetings law.

Cole County Judge Jon Beetem dismissed the petition brought by Progress Missouri accusing the state Senate of violating the state's Sunshine Law.   (photo courtesy; Shelby Kardell, Jefferson City News Tribune)

Cole County Judge Jon Beetem dismissed the petition brought by Progress Missouri accusing the state Senate of violating the state’s Sunshine Law. (photo courtesy; Shelby Kardell, Jefferson City News Tribune)

The suit accused the Senate and three senators of violating the Sunshine Law by keeping liberal advocacy group Progress Missouri from videotaping some Senate hearings. The Senate countered that the state Constitution gives it the authority to set rules for its hearings, including rules to control who records.

Cole County Judge Jon Beetem said the Senate is operating within the powers granted to it by the state Constitution, and it is up to the courts to protect that authority.

“The inquiry ends here,” Beetem wrote.

Beetem further said there is no right granted by the U.S. Constitution to “personally” record or photograph open government meetings.

Progress Missouri is “considering its options.” Director Sean Nicholson called the dismissal disappointing.

“We don’t think that the Senate should be able to ignore the sunshine law or any other valid law, for that matter,” Nicholson told Missourinet.

The state Senate’s Republican leadership issued a statement in response to the dismissal.

“We are pleased with the judge’s decision to dismiss the case,” the statement reads. “Missouri’s Constitution establishes three coequal branches of government, the legislative, executive and judicial. The Constitution also allows the Senate to adopt its own rules relating to its internal proceedings. The judge’s decision appropriately recognizes the authority of the Senate. All Senate meetings are open to the public.”

Nicholson said in some senses, the lawsuit has already been a success from his perspective.

“Senator [Mike] Parson, for instance, has announced a change in policy in how he’s going to be conducting his hearings,” said Nicholson. “Earlier this year he stopped all still photography, all videos, from the press and from members of the public in his hearing, and he said he’s going to change his way.”

Chief Justice: executions don’t reflect on her term, Missouri high court’s ideology

According to the outgoing Chief Justice of Missouri’s Supreme Court, it isn’t because of her ideology, or that of the Court, that Missouri has resumed executions in earnest.

Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Rhodes Russell (courtesy; Missouri Courts)

Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Rhodes Russell (courtesy; Missouri Courts)

Missouri has executed four people this year and 16 since November, 2013, with the state Supreme Court having set one execution date per month in that span. Missouri last year executed ten inmates; as many as Texas.

Mary Rhodes Russell has been Chief Justice during that time. Her term in that role expires today. Speaking about the legacy of her term, Russell said there are two factors that led to that series of executions.

“There’s been a backlog of people with the death penalty with appeals pending in the federal courts. Some of those appeals were pending and stayed because of a controversy over the method of execution, the drug that was to be used,” said Russell. “When those individuals with pending appeals had their cases heard and their cases resolved and their appeals exhausted, and the Department of Corrections went with pentobarbital as the drug of execution and it seemed to pass federal court constitutional standards, or muster, then there was a method of execution that was accepted and there were a number of people who had been backlogged whose appeals were exhausted.”

Russell said once those two circumstances were in place, the Attorney General’s office began filing motions for the setting of execution dates for those men.

“It’s required by law that the Supreme Court shall set execution dates. It’s not that we agree or disagree with the death penalty,” said Russell. “It’s the law and when we take the job to be a judge on the Supreme Court we take an oath to follow the law. Whether we like the law, which is written by the legislature, that’s their policy. We’re required to follow the law and do our job in the process.”

Missouri is next scheduled to execute David Zink on July 14, for the 2001 murder of Amanda Morton of Strafford.

30 Missouri counties still not issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples

There is disagreement over when Missouri counties should begin issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.  The Missouri Recorder of Deeds Association has released a statement saying counties have 25 days after Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling to start issuing marriage licenses for same sex couples, although recorders may begin at any time. Katie Stuckenschneider with LGBT advocacy group PROMO disagrees.  She says all counties in Missouri should already be implementing the change.

PROMO Licensing Tracker for Same Sex Marriages

PROMO Licensing Tracker for Same Sex Marriages

“They can keep dragging their feet but this is something that they’re going to have to be doing,” said Stuckenschneider. “Especially when counties are saying they can’t do it, and the county over started issuing them immediately on Friday.”

Stuckenschneider said out of the 114 counties in Missouri, 30 are not issuing the licenses. She said PROMO will continue to pressure counties who still need to begin the licensing process.