March 5, 2015

Missouri Senator calls for end to negative ads after Schweich’s death

A state senator has called for an end to negative campaigning after the apparent suicide of Missouri’s auditor.

Senator Mike Parson (photo courtesy; Harrison Sweazea, Missouri Senate Communications)

Senator Mike Parson (photo courtesy; Harrison Sweazea, Missouri Senate Communications)

Senator Mike Parson (R-Bolivar) delivered an impassioned plea on the floor of the state senate, raising the question of whether negative campaigning could have contributed to Tom Schweich’s choice to take his own life last week.

“There’s no way to justify what he did because at that point he truly acted alone. In my opinion, he made a poor choice. However if that choice was brought on in any way by the negative side of politics, and the people that work under fictitious committee names, fictitious mail boxes, all while making thousands and thousands of dollars, then shame on them,” said Parson, his voice cracking. “Shame on them.”

Parson was particularly critical of a radio ad that began running last month that compared Schweich’s appearance to that of fictional TV character Barney Fife, and called him a weak opponent. That ad was sponsored by the political action committee calling itself Citizens for Fairness in Missouri.

“The commercial had no factual basis whatsoever,” said Parson. “It had nothing to do with the duties of his job performance of being an elected official … and the fact that that commercial was aired almost two years before a statewide election speaks volumes. It speaks volumes to how far out of hand this all has become. To base things totally on one’s appearance and to make reference to one being small and being able to be squashed like a bug should be unacceptable to all of us.”

“One has to wonder,” continued Parson, “How his wife, his children felt. Somebody you’re married to, you love, that you live with, that raised children with. How do you think she felt for her husband to be described in such a way? How do you think those two children felt when somebody talked about their dad in that kind of light?”

Of reports that Schweich was angry due to his belief that others in the state Republican party were saying he was Jewish in order to cost him votes among Evangelical Christian Republicans, Parson said, “one has to ask why was the discussion even in the first place? Why was the discussion ever in the first place with consultants in the political arena.”

“I would also hope that the people involved, at some point, would admit to making a poor judgment call and would have the decency to apologize to Tom’s family for being part of such an irresponsible act,” said Parson.

Parson said he would commit to not using negative campaigning or support candidates that do. He called on his fellow elected officials to make the same commitment, specifically calling out the Lieutenant Governor, Senate President, Senate Minority Floor Leader, and those senators who are running for statewide office.

“I will no longer stand by and let people destroy other people’s lives using false accusations and demeaning statements all in the name of money and winning elections,” Parson said.

An emotional Parson was asked by Missourinet whether he believes negative campaigning did play a role in Schweich’s apparent suicide.

“I think we have people doing things, horrible situations to other people that they have no business doing.”

A memorial service for Schweich will be held tomorrow at the Church of St. Michael and St. George in Clayton, the episcopal church that Schweich attended. The state House and Senate have cancelled most committee hearings that were set for tomorrow and have postponed their sessions until Tuesday afternoon, so that legislators can attend the service.

Changes to Missouri’s deadly force law debated

One of the issues raised by state lawmakers after the Michael Brown, Junior, shooting, was whether to change state law on the use of deadly force by law enforcement.

Senators Jamilah Nasheed (right) and Bob Dixon present their legislation dealing with Missouri's deadly force law.  (courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

Senators Jamilah Nasheed (right) and Bob Dixon present their legislation dealing with Missouri’s deadly force law. (courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

It says an officer can use that level of force against a fleeing suspect that has committed, or tried to commit, a felony, is trying to escape with a deadly weapon, or poses a danger to others. That doesn’t mesh with a 1985 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that deadly force can only be used to prevent a suspect from escaping when the officer believes the suspect poses a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

“The statute on the apprehension of a fleeing felon in the state of Missouri is unconstitutional and has been for quite some time,” said Dean Dankelson, the Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney testifying on behalf of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

Senators seem to agree, but there are differing opinions on how to fix it.

Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) wants to increase the standard an officer must meet from having a reasonable belief that deadly force is warranted, to having a probable cause: a higher standard that must also be met in order to obtain a search warrant, for example.

“You can just reasonably believe. That’s way too broad,” Nasheed told the committee about her bill (SB 42). “That’s why we’re adding probable cause in.”

Senator Bob Dixon (R-Springfield) offers a bill (SB 199) that would keep the current reasonable belief standard.

“That’s the current standard and its referenced in our other statutes. I do want to make sure we don’t do something that causes more confusion,” Dixon said. “I have no problem doing that as long as we can make it very clear in the statutes.”

He says he and Nasheed are still talking. A third bill will be heard next week by the Senate Judiciary Committee, sponsored by Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-University City), and Dixon says the three will try to work out a compromise between the versions.

Pastor Ray Hagins with the Afrikan Village & Cultural Center in St. Louis told that committee those proposals aren’t going far enough. He says other states say an officer must think imminent danger to him- or herself, a partner, or the public, is present before using deadly force.

“If that’s not there, there’s nothing there to hold that officer back. That makes the officer judge, jury, and executioner,” Hagins said. “It’s not right for a law enforcement officer to use their weapon in an act of deadly force when there is no imminent threat to the officer.”

Representative Rochelle Walton Gray (D-Black Jack) has introduced a bill (HB 668) on the subject in the state House but it has not been referred to a committee.

Click here to watch video from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on SBs 42 and 199


Proposals target fraud against Missouri seniors and disabled

Proposals that aim to stem the financial exploitation of seniors and disabled adults are being considered in the state legislature.

Representatives Mark Parkinson (right) and Jay Barnes (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representatives Mark Parkinson (right) and Jay Barnes (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Two House bills and one bill in the Senate propose letting a financial agent who suspects a senior or disabled adult client is being financially exploited or defrauded refuse to disburse funds from that client’s account. After that refusal the agent has two business days to notify all those who can make transactions on that account of the refusal, and three business days to contact the Department of Health and Senior Services and the Commissioner of Securities.

The bills also would allow that agent to contact a family member, legal guardian, or other person with a legal connection to the client and notify them of the possible fraud. Currently an agent cannot reach out to someone who is not an authorized party on the account. After 10 days the transaction would proceed unless extended by court action.

Representative Mark Parkinson (R-St. Charles) sponsors one of those bills.

“Unfortunately we have to deal with this issue where seniors are being defrauded,” Parkinson told Missourinet.

Presenting the bill to a House committee, Parkinson offered the example of, “a home health care worker or unscrupulous neighbor” taking advantage of a friendship with a senior.

“They convince the elder to go add their name as a beneficiary on their trust account,” said Parkinson. “I heard stories from some brokers who could see what was going on. They just didn’t have the authority to say something about it so they would go ahead and add a home health care worker’s name as a beneficiary on an account. Everybody knew it was wrong but they didn’t have the authority to say something about it.”

Parkinson says under his bill, agents would have that authority. “They’re able to throw up a red flag and say, ‘Hey, something unscrupulous may be going on.'”

Senate sponsor Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale) says it allows agents to hit a “pause button” when they suspect fraud involving a client they already have a relationship with.

“The problem now is once the money is gone, the money’s gone, so this is our attempt to try to address that in a reasonable way,” said Schmitt.

The proposal was supported by several representatives of the securities industry, some of whom raised other instances of fraud or scams they believe the bill could have halted.

John Ellis with Edward Jones in St. Louis said one such situation in North Carolina was mentioned to him.

“One of our financial advisors had a client who was wanting to send money to Jamaica. Betty in Kingston, Jamaica, had befriended him, and we tried to convince this client that he’s being defrauded, and he just won’t listen to us,” said Ellis, who described the individual as, “an elderly client who has sent tens of thousands of dollars out of his account.”

Ellis thinks the legislation would allow agents to be proactive.

“It would give us a little time to be able to reach out to a family member, to reach out to the client, to try to convince the client that what they’re doing is going to be harmful to them in the long run,” said Ellis.

Other securities industry spokespeople testified that the bills might keep clients from falling victim to scams in which an individual is told he or she has won a lottery in a foreign country and needs to send money in order to claim a prize.

Similar language has been enacted in the State of Washington and in Delaware.

The Senate bill is SB 244.  Parkinson’s bill is HB 645 and a similar bill, HB 636, is sponsored by Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City).


Missouri House committee hears testimony on medical marijuana

Whether pot should be legalized for medicinal purposes was discussed by a House committee Monday.

State Representative Dave Hinson presents his bill to the committee.

State Representative Dave Hinson presents his bill to the committee as talk show host Montel Williams and other audience members listen.

Republican lawmaker Dave Hinson presented his bill that would set up the production, prescription, and sale of medical marijuana to patients with debilitating diseases.

“This bill is very regulated, because none of us want the Colorado experience,” said Hinson.

For more than two hours, the committee heard testimony from numerous supporters of the bill.  One of those supporters was talk show host Montel Williams.

“Medical marijuana is not going to work for everybody, but there are those of us that it does work for,” says Willimas.  “How dare you deny someone the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, cause without it, I don’t have that.”

Williams, who suffers from MS, is filming a documentary about Missouri’s legislative marijuana debate.  Williams has traveled around the country lobbying for medical marijuana.  Ten other states are considering legalizing medical marijuana and 23 states already have a medicinal marijuana law in place.

Williams says he does not stand with those who want to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

“I’m only concerned about people who need to have relief with medication,” says Williams.  “The bill that you have before is one of the most comprehensive bills that has been written.”

An item of the bill that was debated much of the night was whether or not patients should be allowed to grow their own plants.  The bill currently states that a patient cannot grow their own plants.  Some argued that it would be too expensive or difficult for those living in rural areas to travel to a care center, but Williams believes it’s best to allow the care centers to grow the plants.

Talk show host Montel Williams testifies in support of Hinson's bill.

Talk show host Montel Williams testifies in support of Hinson’s bill.

“I don’t know of too many people that grow their own individual medicine,” says Williams.  “We can teach people that there is a difference in the weed that’s grown in some of these states.”

Veterans of Foreign Wars state commander Thomas Mundell gave an emotional testimony in support of the bill.  Mundell told members of the committee about his own experience with Post-Traumatic Stress and how marijuana has nearly eliminated all of this medications since adding it to his therapy.

“It really relaxed me,” said Mundell.  “I was on 71 pills a day, I was taking 41 in the morning and 30 and night, and I take 3 now.”

Mundell has traveled to both Colorado and Washington visiting Veterans Affairs Hospitals to study the effects medical marijuana has on patients.  Mundell says based on conversations with fellow veterans and VA doctors, he’s convinced that medical marijuana should be legalized.

Two witnesses testified against Hinson’s bill.  Missouri Narcotics Officers Association spokesman Jason Grellner says lawmakers should support more research for pharmaceuticals that do not present the problems of standardization.

“This is not a prescription,” said Grellner.  “A doctor in the United States of American cannot prescribe a schedule one drug.”

Grellner argued medical marijuana would be regularly abused by casual users.

Last year Missouri legalized the use of CBD oil, a cannabis extract used to treat certain types of epilepsy.  Hinson’s bill seemed to have committee support, but that committee did not take a vote on the bill.

Missouri House fast tracks Amber Alert bill inspired by Hailey Owens

The state House is quickly moving a bill inspired by a little girl who was murdered last year in Springfield, that proponents hope will help prevent similar tragedies.

Hailey Owens

Hailey Owens

The abduction and murder of 10-year-old Hailey Owens happened one year ago this month. It was nearly two hours after she was abducted that a statewide Amber Alert was issued, and since her death efforts have been made to speed up that process.

Representative Eric Burlison (R-Springfield) is proposing another step in those efforts with what he calls “Hailey’s Law.”

“What Hailey’s Law does is builds an electronic interface between the MULES system: the Missouri uniform law enforcement system, and the Amber Alert system that the Highway Patrol is responsible for,” Burlison told a House committee Monday night.

Burlison says that will allow missing child alerts to get to the Highway Patrol, and statewide distribution, faster. He told Missourinet last year that one of the delays in issuing the Amber Alert in the Hailey Owens abduction was that local law enforcement must download a document from the Patrol’s website, fill that out, submit it to the Patrol, then the Patrol must contact local law enforcement to confirm it isn’t a hoax all before an alert is issued.

Hailey’s mother, Stacey Barfield, believes his bill will help.

Representative Eric Burlison (Photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Eric Burlison (Photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I want it [as soon as possible],” Barfield told Missourinet about wanting to see Burlison’s bill become law. “I would be happy when I hear the final news saying, ‘Hey, it’s out there.’ I don’t want any other parents to go through what I’m going through.”

In an unusual move, a House committee held a hearing on that bill and before the hearing was over, voted to advance it. It must clear another committee before going to the full House.

Last year the state legislature appropriated money to tie MULES into the Amber Alert system, but that connection was never made. Burlison says his bill this year will make sure it gets done before that money rolls back into the state’s General Revenue fund.

His proposal would also require the Amber Alert System Oversight Committee to meet at least once a year to discuss possible improvements to the Amber Alert system, and allows committee membership to include a member of the public and a member of the outdoor advertising industry.