July 30, 2015

Bill meant to prevent shock-drowning in Missouri to be back in 2016

A bill that sought to make the Lake of the Ozarks safer for swimmers saw little attention in the 2015 legislative session, but will come up again next year.

Caleb Jones floor

Representative Caleb Jones (courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Thirteen year-old Alexandra Anderson and her eight-year-old brother Brayden of Ashland drowned after they were electrocuted while swimming near a dock at the Lake of the Ozarks, July 4, 2012. Columbia representative Caleb Jones sponsored an act named for them would require owners of bodies of water in Missouri to require docks and marinas on those bodies to have ground fault interrupters, that would shut off electricity to those structures in the case of a short.

Jones says he will offer that bill again in 2016.

“I feel like we, as a legislature, should try to make sure that no family has to go through what the Anderson family went through,” Jones told Missourinet.

The bill would also require defibrillators on water patrol division boats, prohibition of swimming in and around docks and marinas, and would set fines and jail time for failure to comply.

Alexandra and Brayden’s mother, Angela, said having defibrillators on water patrol division boats would be important because of many types of medical emergencies those can be needed for, that can happen on or near water. She also remembers emergency responders wanting them when her children died.

“We had two nurses that were helping us, one each with Alexandra and Brayden, and I very specifically remember one of the nurses yelling [to incoming water patrol boats], ‘Where’s your defibrillator? Where’s your defibrillator? These kids need defibrillators!'”

Anderson knows the prohibition of swimming around docks and marinas won’t be popular, but she says it would save lives.

“If I hadn’t lived through this I certainly would be like, ‘There’s no way. Of course we want to go and we want to swim off our dock,'” said Anderson.

Anderson says she doesn’t consider her children’s deaths to have been accidental.

“I believed [they were accidents] all the way up until the point when I started reading and educating myself, and then I came to realize this was not an accident. This was a tragedy waiting to happen,” she said.

She said the bill contains some of the reforms she believes are needed to prevent more people drowning on the Lake, but wants it to go further.

“We need certified electricians in the State of Missouri. Missouri is only one of four states that does not have a certification process,” said Anderson.

The Andersons filed a lawsuit against the owner of the Lake, Ameren Missouri, saying the company was liable by not inspecting the family’s dock, nor requiring ground fault interrupters on it, but the case was dismissed. The Missouri Supreme Court upheld that dismissal in June.

In the week after that dismissal, a man died and a woman was injured when they were shocked while in the Lake of the Ozarks.


Proposed Missouri ban of powdered alcohol will be back in 2016

The effort to ban powdered alcohol in Missouri has not ended.

Jason Grellner testifies for the Missouri Narcotics Association at a hearing on April 13, 2015 for Representative Patricia Pike's (right) bill proposing a ban of powdered alcohol in Missouri.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Jason Grellner testifies for the Missouri Narcotics Association at a hearing on April 13, 2015 for Representative Patricia Pike’s (right) bill proposing a ban of powdered alcohol in Missouri. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Word last year that a company was prepared to market powered alcohol sparked numerous state legislative efforts throughout the country to ban its sale. 89 bills were offered in 40 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The latest state to enact a ban was Illinois, where no lawmakers voted against it.

A bill to ban it in Missouri didn’t advance out of the committee process, but its sponsor, Representative Patricia Pike (R-Adrian), says she’ll try again in the 2016 session.

“I do feel there are still concerns,” Pike told Missourinet. “We did hear from pediatricians, the Missouri Narcotics [Officers’] Association, Children’s Mercy Hospital Network and Cardinal Glennon poison centers.”

Julie Weber with the Poison Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center told a House Committee in April she was concerned with how much powdered alcohol might look like candy.

“We receive 54-thousand calls a year and of those, traditional alcohol products comprise over 1,300 of our calls,” said Weber. “59-percent of our calls come in on pediatric patients, and you think about the accessibility in-home, and the majority of these calls happen because of look-alikes, like candy, looks like medicine sometimes. With this, if you look at the powdered alcohol, it looks like fun dip, and they can have a good taste.”

Jason Grellner with the Missouri Narcotics Officers’ Association said the product’s original website promoted sneaking it into concert venues or sporting events to avoid high drink prices or last calls.

“This is purely being marketed for abuse. This is just an easy way to conceal alcohol and continue the disease of alcohol abuse,” said Grellner.

The website for Palcohol, maker of powdered alcohol whose website Grellner saw a previous version of, has since revamped that website and said the language he saw was “experimenting with some humorous and edgy verbiage about Palcohol. It was not meant to be our final presentation of Palcohol.”

It now decries its earlier statement about sneaking its product into venues, which it said also included a disclaimer elsewhere on the page about using it in a responsible and legal manner. It’s page now includes this argument: “Powdered alcohol will make it easier to sneak into venues. Not true. A shot of liquid alcohol is 1/4 the volume of a shot of powdered alcohol so it’s much easier to sneak liquid alcohol into venues.”

The site also presents the argument that banning the product will increase demand for it and make it easier for children to access it. It concludes a series of rebuttals with the statement, “all of the criticisms are just hyperbole created by people who have no knowledge of the product.”

A request for an interview with Palcohol maker Mark Phillips was unanswered by the time this story was written.

Plan could create housing for Missouri domestic violence, trafficking victims

The state Housing Commission has approved a proposal by State Treasurer Clint Zweifel aimed at spurring development of long-term housing for victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking.

Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel

Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel

The plan adds survivors of such situations to the definition of “special needs” individuals. Housing projects that benefit special needs individuals receive one-third of state and federal low-income housing tax credits. The change could spur development of long-term housing specifically for those survivors.

In fact, Jennifer Carter Dochler with the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence said it looks like it already has.

“There’s a partnership in Springfield that is moving forward and interested in this partnership and [the Commission] had a developer workshop in Kansas City where [the Coalition] presented, and we’ve had a developer follow-up with us after that also wanting to find out more information, as she is interested in her top story of a four-story building being designated for victims of domestic violence,” Dochler told Missourinet.

The “partnerships” she refers to would be between a developer and a lead referral agency, such as a domestic violence shelter that an individual in question has been working with. A developer could designate units in a complex, or an entire complex, to be for victims who have been working with a shelter or agency in the area.

Zweifel says the approval is “historic,” and will give shelters one more tool to offer assistance to people trying to escape abusive situations.

“Helping domestic violence survivors is more than just building four walls,” said Zweifel. “It requires an in-depth approach to making sure that they have access to counseling services, health care services, job training services so that they can gain the independence economically, financially that they need.”

Dochler says one hope is that the development of long-term housing will eventually free space in shelters in the state, who for years have had to turn away victims because they are full.

Since special needs housing became possible in 2011, approximately 1,000 beds have been created around the state to help that population. Dochler is hopeful another 1,000 beds can be created specifically for survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking.

She says interested developers can contact the Housing Commission, and the Coalition to find out what agencies in their areas could be partnered with.

Outgoing, incoming directors on mental health in Missouri (VIDEO)

The Missouri Department of Mental Health has a new director this month.

Keith Schafer retired at the end of June after about 16 years as the Director of the Department of Mental Health, first from 1986 to 1994 and returning in 2007. The new Director is Mark Stringer, who has worked in the department the past 16 years.

Schafer says as he leaves, the Department will continue work to reach people who need help earlier in life.

“If you are mentally ill you will tend not to understand your illness at first as a young adult, you will tend to fight your illness and fight the medications that are being prescribed for you because they are very, very powerful medications with a lot of side effects, and so you simply don’t hit our system until you’re in your late 30s, early 40s,” said Schaefer. “What Mark has got to do in the next few years is he’s got to move that baton back and make absolutely sure that he can reach people when they’re 20, 22, 23 years old, because if we can do that we can certainly minimize the impact on those young adults.”

The Department is aiming to improve in that area while working within the Medicaid program, with legislative support.

“[The legislature] recommended that we seek a waiver, a Medicaid waiver, in which we can start reaching out to 18 to 35-year-old young adults,” said Schafer. “If Mark can do that … it’ll reshape the landscape for mental health.”

Stringer told Missourinet he has some very smart people working on that waiver.

“We have a pretty aggressive timetable. If we can pull this off, we would actually like to implement this waiver July 1 of next year,” said Stringer.

Stringer also wants to improve how Missouri works with people who suffer from both mental illness and developmental disability.

“Those are the people that really fall through the cracks, or they’ll languish in jails or hospitals for weeks or months or in some cases even years, when they should be in the community somewhere,” said Stringer. “We’ve got to find a better way to serve those people.”

Schafer also reminds people as he retires that very few people who suffer from mental illness are dangerous.

“The vast majority of people who are mentally ill are victims or people who are suffering very badly. There are a few people who are extremely troubled with paranoia and other issues, and they can be dangerous to society.”

Both men say the beginning of work to replace Fulton State Mental Hospital, portions of which date back to 1937, is a major achievement that both have worked toward for years.

“That was really cool,” said Schafer. “We’ve actually been talking about replacing Fulton State Hospital even in 1986 … we simply couldn’t afford to take on Fulton State Hospital at the time.”

Schafer doesn’t know what his long-term future holds, but right now he’s spending some time learning French.

“I have a little granddaughter who’s coming over from France. She’s going to be five years old when she’s here,” said Schafer. “I’m going to spend the month of July into early August trying to learn French and trying to keep up with her.”

Schafer said he also writes some and expects to stay somewhat involved in issues related to mental health.

Report says intern alleges sexual misconduct by Missouri Senator

A report has been released detailing a college intern’s allegations of sexual misconduct by State Senator Paul LeVota (D-Independence). The Senate hired Jim Nowogrocki of St. Louis-based Weiss Attorneys of Law to assist with a “workplace harassment complaint.” Nowogrocki conducted the report linked below.

The female student claimed she experienced a pattern of sexual harassment including unwelcome text messages and explicit requests for sexual activity. The report said that when she informed LeVota’s chief of staff about the matter she believed she “was subject to retaliation.” The intern is over 18 years of age and University of Central Missouri staff, where the intern attends school, indicated that there were “no allegations of a crime.”

Senator Paul LeVota (D-Independence)

Senator Paul LeVota (D-Independence)

LeVota denied the allegations when speaking to investigators.  A call to LeVota’s office on the matter has not been returned.

Records of the text messages were not available from either party. The intern said she no longer had the phone and LeVota would not turn over his citing “privacy concerns about personal information on his telephone.”

The intern says she received two sexual advances from LeVota on January 26. After having a few drinks at an event in Jefferson City the student claims that LeVota encouraged her to come his apartment instead of driving to her residence in Fulton. While at his apartment she claims that LeVota said, “If you want to sleep with me tonight, I won’t tell you no.” She told investigators that she turned him down and LeVota apologized but “continued acting in a flirtatious manner.” She said he also made derogatory comments about the intern’s boyfriend and joked about his anatomy.

The student says she slept on the couch at his residence but says there was no physical contact. LeVota denies she was ever there, though she described to investigators the inside of his apartment including the color of the couch.

After that January evening, the intern told investigators, she became the subject of retaliation by LeVota and was not included in workplace projects.

Senate Democrat Leader Joe Keaveny says it’s hard to draw a conclusion.

“This has really developed into a he said she said and unfortunately we do not have access to any evidence at all,” says Keaveny. “Obviously I’m an attorney and you have to be fair to both sides.”

Keaveny says he’s not sure what the next step will be and is not sure if LeVota should remain in office or if he plans to step down.

“I’m not sure if we can proceed on this particular issue with anything. I know that there will be a heightened awareness for training and sensitivity for conduct in the workplace,” says Keaveny.

LeVota lives in Independence with his wife and has two daughters.

To see the full report, click here.