October 7, 2015

Corrections officers support talk of Missouri state employee pay hike

Whenever discussion of raising pay for state employees comes up at the State Capitol, one group that often comes up is corrections officers.

Missouri Department of Corrections (courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

The Missouri Department of Corrections (courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

House Republicans are calling for using improved state revenue to support a pay increase in the next budget, and some of them say a long-term plan must be set in motion to get Missouri off the bottom of state worker pay, nationally.

The Missouri Corrections Officers Association says its membership is an example of that low pay rate. Executive Director Gary Gross says some prison guards hire on in Missouri long enough to train, and then move out-of-state where they can make significantly more for the same job.

“That does happen in the eastern side of the state and the northern side of the state,” Gross told Missourinet. “Illinois’ and Iowa’s pay far exceeds what Missouri corrections officers make.”

Gross also echoes what some Republicans told Missourinet: state pay isn’t competing with the private sector.

“Certainly if someone can go get a better paying job in private industry, they’re going to, and I think a lot of that is what’s occurring,” said Gross.

Of 50 states and territories that reported on October 1, only three offer a lower starting salary than Missouri, but Gross says Missouri advances its officers up the pay scale slowly so its overall corrections staff remains lowest paid.

“Often you hear the cost of living is less in Missouri and that’s part of it, but that’s more of an excuse than anything,” said Gross.

State lawmakers have told Missourinet that rather than aim to have Missouri’s workers paid the most in the nation, they would like to see it somewhere in the middle. Gross wants the same for corrections officers.

“If they could just get corrections officers’ pay up to somewhere in the middle, it would be a huge improvement,” said Gross.

There are approximately 8,510 corrections officers and jailers in Missouri.

Missouri House leaders push governor to support state employee pay raise

Republican leaders in the Missouri House are calling on Governor Jay Nixon (D) to support using improved state revenue to build a pay hike for state employees into the next state budget.

The Missouri State Capitol (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The Missouri State Capitol (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The $26-billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 did not include a pay increase for state employees. Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) and Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan (R-Carthage) are telling Governor Nixon the next budget needs to include one.

Representative Kevin Engler (R-Farmington) pushed for that to be a priority.

“I’d like to see at least a 3-percent raise, and if we could sustain that for a year or two that would cost a little over 40-million. We spend 40-million on a lot of things. I think we should at least have a priority to spend it on our employees,” said Engler.

Engler’s district includes hundreds of employees of the Department of Corrections. Some of that Department’s former guards have moved to other states after completing training, knowing they can make significantly more money working for a neighboring corrections system.

Engler says the starting salaries Missouri offers to new state employees are not competitive.

“When they can go and work at a retailer and make more money, and when we ask them to be qualified – some of these positions you have to have degrees for – we have to make sure that we’re competitive in the environment or all we’re going to do is attract people who can’t find jobs elsewhere,” said Engler.

Engler says with state revenue improving, there’s a good chance money for a raise won’t have to come out of other programs.

Representative Kevin Engler (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Kevin Engler (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“The governor wants to give 40-something million to the universities. We’ve given them more and more and more every year, and we haven’t given our employees – it’s not like we’ve been expanding our payroll. When I first got [into the legislature] we had 60-something thousand employees. Now we’ve got like 51,” said Engler.

Nixon did last week tell officials with Missouri’s two-and four-year colleges and universities he is proposing a 6-percent, or roughly $55.7-million dollar increase in performance-based state funding for higher education. When asked about the pay raise idea Wednesday his spokesman said he has not made decisions about a proposal for the Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

Some lawmakers when discussing state employee pay have said Missouri doesn’t need to have the best paid workers, but should shoot for something closer to the middle. Engler agrees.

“Illinois has got itself in a fiscally irresponsible position. We don’t want to go that far,” said Engler. “But we have to be able to pay – if they put themselves in a position where it’s a very difficult job and they have to be working overtime when they’re forced to do so, and they have to be working in tough conditions, they should be competitively priced in the market and they’re not right now.”

While the Fiscal Year 2016 budget did not include a raise, it did include $300,000 for a total compensation study to compare Missouri workers’ pay with that of their counterparts in other states and in the private sector. A staffer for State Senator Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City) confirmed his previously stated position that he wants to see that study move forward to help build the case for a long-term solution to state worker pay that would make it more competitive, but said that doesn’t mean he would oppose an increase in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

Engler says how a raise would be structured is also important.

“If you pay a percentage raise then the higher end people get more money, whereas if you pay a flat dollar figure that’s not fair to the management,” Engler said. “So what we did in years past, we’ve taken half of the raise in percentage and half the raise in dollar, and that’s what I’m going to be recommending.”

Missouri Attorney General finds no evidence of wrongdoing in Planned Parenthood investigation

Attorney General Chris Koster says his office’s investigation into Planned Parenthood found no evidence of state laws being broken.  The office launched its investigation following the release in July of undercover videos alleging Planned Parenthood has illegally profited from the sale of fetal tissue.

“The evidence reviewed by my investigators supports Planned Parenthood’s representation that fetal tissue is handled in accordance with Missouri law,” Koster said. “We have discovered no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis facility is selling fetal tissue.”

Attorney General Chris Koster/AG office

Attorney General Chris Koster/AG office

Koster’s investigation reviewed the tissue-handling practices of Planned Parenthood’s Missouri surgical facility. The investigation focused on Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri (PPSLR), the only abortion clinic currently licensed in Missouri to perform surgical abortions.  As part of its investigation, the Attorney General’s office said multiple interviews were completed with representatives from PPSLR and the pathology laboratory that examines fetal tissue for PPSLR as required by Missouri law.

Koster said his office also reviewed thousands of documents related to the investigation, and reviewed how fetal tissue was disposed of in a 30-day period,  tracing the chain of custody from surgical procedure to incineration. The documents showed that after a procedure is complete the tissue is put into a leakproof, specially marked container and taken to the pathology lab for examination. When the lab completes its work, a waste-disposal company takes the tissue to the incinerator and destroys it. The Attorney General says documents his office obtained—including itemized invoices from the pathology lab charging Planned Parenthood for examination of tissue from each procedure and a certification from the disposal company verifying that the material has, in fact, been destroyed—confirm each step of this process.

The Attorney General’s office says the investigation examined documents from all 317 abortions that took place during the audited period, tracing each procedure from Planned Parenthood to the incinerator.

Since the release of those videos, the state House and Senate each launched committees to investigated Planned Parenthood’s operations in Missouri.  Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), who chairs the Senate committee, told Missourinet his committee still has questions to answer and called the Attorney General’s investigation “incomplete.”

One of the issues the Senate Committee planned to explore in future hearings is how fetal tissue is handled after an abortion.  Schaefer says there is also a question raised by the Planned Parenthood representative in the first undercover video referring to St. Louis as an “untapped” for fetal tissue.

To view the Attorney General’s full report, click here.




University of Missouri Health Care to eliminate privileges allowing abortions at Columbia Planned Parenthood

The University of Missouri Hospital’s governing committee has voted to scrap the type of privileges that were granted to a St. Louis doctor, that played a role in the resumption of abortions at the Columbia Planned Parenthood facility.

University of Missouri in Columbia Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin testifies to the Missouri Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life. (photo courtesy; Harrison Sweazea, Missouri Senate Communications)

University of Missouri in Columbia Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin testifies to the Missouri Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life in August, 2015. (photo courtesy; Harrison Sweazea, Missouri Senate Communications)

The state senator heading a committee investigating Planned Parenthood says that change would cause that facility to lose its license that allows abortions to be performed there. Planned Parenthood says it is “outraged” at the change.

Planned Parenthood issued a statement Thursday evening saying MU Health Care has decided to discontinue “refer and follow” privileges. MU Health Care confirmed the change in a statement of its own a short time later. Those were the privileges granted to Doctor Colleen P. McNicholas, the doctor who in August resumed the performing of medicinally induced abortions at Columbia.

Under state law, abortion providers are considered ambulatory surgical centers. Doctors at such clinics must have privileges to perform surgery at a nearby hospital or a written agreement with a hospital to take patients for emergency services.

The state Health Department’s Director, Gail Vasterling, testified to the Senate Committee on the Sanctity of Life that since the Columbia facility was only performing chemically induced abortions and not surgical, the “refer and follow” privileges were sufficient to meet the requirements for that license.

The committee’s chairman, Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), disagreed with that assertion, but says now that those privileges are being eliminated he believes Planned Parenthood in Columbia will have to stop doing abortions.

“When I had the Department of Health and Senior Services there … and I specifically asked the person that’s in charge of the ambulatory surgery center licensing process, ‘If these privileges did not exist, would this license be able to continue?’ and his answer was, ‘Absolutely not. We’d have to pull the license,'” Schaefer told Missourinet. “So I look forward to that being the next step in this process.”

MU Health Care said the discontinuation followed a review of health care policies and procedures, and was the result of a unanimous vote. The change will be effective December 1.

It says the review was prompted by inquiries from various members of the state legislature and public of MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, who testified to Schaefer’s committee last month that he would look into the privileges and how they had been awarded.

McNicholas is one of two medical providers with “refer and follow” privileges at MU Health Care.

In its statement, MU Health Care’s chief medical officer Steve Whitt said those privileges, “only allow physicians to access their own patients’ information. This level of access to patient information is already permitted by any referring provider, including those not on MU Health Care’s medical staff; therefore, the designation of refer and follow privileges was outdated and unnecessary.”

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President Laura McQuade accuses MU Health Care of caving to political pressure from Schaefer and his committee.

“This is a continuation of the orchestrated attempt to restrict access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri and to the critical services Planned Parenthood has provided for nearly 100 years,” wrote McQuade.

“We condemn MU Health Care for abusing public trust denying the community access to the health care they deserve,” she continued.  “MU Health Care’s decision puts politics above patients and is also a violation of longstanding federal law that prohibits discrimination in the extension of staff or other hospital privileges based on opposition to abortion.”

Planned Parenthood said it will take “any and all legal action necessary” to continue services including abortions in Missouri.  It said the assertion that “refer and follow” privileges are “outdated and unnecessary” is false.

“These privileges are increasingly used in hospitals across the country to allow physicians who seldom or never need to admit patients to a hospital the ability to maintain staff privileges. Referring physicians can then follow their patients’ progress if ever needed, but the attending physician at the hospital provides the necessary patient care,” said McQuade.

Schaefer and other Republicans, including Senator Bob Onder (R-Lake Saint Louis) say “refer and follow” is “bogus.” Onder, a physician, said he had never heard of “refer and follow” privileges.

McQuade told Missourinet in July the ability to perform abortions in Columbia is, “incredibly important for the women of Missouri,” because there is only one other provider in Missouri, and that’s in St. Louis.


Statewide energy plan headed to the Missouri Governor soon

Next month, a statewide energy plan is expected to be given to Governor Jay Nixon. The Department of Economic Development’s Division of Energy is in charge of developing the plan and the House’s Energy and Environment Committee held hearings to get the public’s feedback.

Representative Rocky Miller (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Rocky Miller (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Last year, Governor Nixon called for development of a comprehensive plan.

Representative Rocky Miller (R-Osage Beach), who serves as chairman of the House committee, explains what citizens had to say about the matter.

“I would say that they would want the plan to be economical, not to put a heavy burden on the rate payers of the state of Missouri,” said Miller. “In addition, they would like to have reliability. In addition, they do care about the environment. They would like for it to be environmentally friendly. There’s a lot of things going on in the state of Missouri that will help us diversify and continue moving forward with hopefully reliable and low rates.”

Currently, about 80% of Missouri’s energy is produced by coal.

Miller also thinks a different approach to Missouri’s energy rates should be considered.

“Currently, we litigate on past usage and then try to figure out the rates going forward from past usage. I’d rather look at what we plan to do in the future and let’s design our rates accordingly. Then we can talk about how the utilities are spending their money,” said Miller.

He thinks the approach could lead to lower electric rates in Missouri.

Miller would also like the plan to be a living document and reviewed every three years.