February 10, 2016

Missouri Supreme Court: Amendment 5 doesn’t give nonviolent felons gun rights

The state Supreme Court has ruled a 2014 constitutional amendment strengthening Missourians’ rights to own firearms does not allow nonviolent felons to have guns.

The Missouri Supreme Court

The Missouri Supreme Court

Three men charged with being felons in possession of firearms had challenged those charges, arguing the passage by voters of Amendment 5 in 2014 negated state law against nonviolent felons owning guns. That amendment declared the right to keep and bear arms “unalienable” and subjected laws restricting gun rights to a higher legal standard of evaluation. Lower courts had ruled in favor of those individuals.

Attorneys for those individuals argued the language of Amendment 5, which excluded a, “convicted violent felon,” meant only violent felons could not possess guns, and that courts would have to make a determination whether a felony was “violent.”

The Supreme Court ruled 5-2 in both cases that the constitution does not bar the legislature from keeping violent felons from having guns. In one of the cases it additionally ruled that the constitution as it existed before Amendment 5 applies to cases of crimes committed before that amendment was adopted.

Both cases were sent back to the lower courts they came out of, so the cases against the three men charged with being felons in possession of firearms may continue.

Earlier stories:

Missouri Supreme Court hears more cases about felons possessing guns

Missouri Supreme Court upholds gun rights amendment to the state Constitution

Audit to ‘start at the top’ of University of Missouri System, not ‘deep dive’ lawmakers want

The state auditor expanding her review of Missouri’s colleges and universities, and it will include the University of Missouri, but it won’t go as deep into that institution as some state lawmakers want.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway

State Auditor Nicole Galloway

Auditor Nicole Galloway announced Thursday afternoon an audit of the affordability of all state-funded universities, and one of the administration of the University of Missouri System. She says the latter is only a top-level review, now the “deep dive” that some state legislators have called for.

“Starting at the highest level – at the top of the UM system administration, which is not within the four campuses within detail … but staying at the top at the university system administration level, which is the president and the curators, and looking at their spending policies and adherence with their own policies, procedures, and law.”

Galloway would not say specifically whether that would include looking at settlement agreements such as that with former system president Tim Wolfe, who said in an e-mail he and the Curators were stalled in trying to reach agreement on compensation for him. Wolfe resigned in November in response to protests accusing him and the University of inadequately responding to incidents of racism on campus.

“If those are decisions made at the president level and the administration level, those would be on the table for review,” said Galloway.

She said the audit of the University of Missouri System Administration was launched a few weeks ago, and would not attribute the decision to conduct it to anything specific.

“Of course we are aware of what’s been reported in the media, the current conversation that has been happening in the public, in the media – we’re not deaf to those. Just like in any audit that we do we take into consideration public conversations and input in these things,” said Galloway. “It is not an individual instance or one individual event. It’s a collection and a totality of looking at these things at a higher level.”

She did say the recent downgrade of the university system’s credit rating by credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s from stable to negative did get her attention.

“Coming from Columbia – previously from this I was treasurer of Boone County – I care a lot about debt ratings. Certainly when S & P had put out that they were having a negative outlook on ratings … whenever you see something like that it does raise levels of concern.”

Several state lawmakers have called for an audit of the University after last fall’s protests and changes in leadership. Among them, Senator Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale) has proposed annual audits of the University by the state auditor. That bill is awaiting a vote in a Senate committee.

Schmitt had called for a “deep dive” into the University’s finances, which this review would not be, but he calls it a, “good first step.”

“But we appropriate a half-a-billion dollars a year of taxpayer money to the university system, so I think that university system in its entirety – campuses, all the campuses and all the different departments – we need to have a full-scale review of what’s going on, what can be improved upon for us to move forward,” Schmitt told Missourinet. “I think that a lot of people have lost trust in the leadership at the University of Missouri.”

Representative Steve Cookson (R-Poplar Bluff) said it’s encouraging that the audit is happening.

“We’ll eagerly be awaiting her finding of facts but we’re also going to expect it to be extremely thorough,” said Cookson.

Galloway said she knows lawmakers are hoping for a broader audit of the University, but said her focus is on the “bigger picture.”

“Looking at the affordability of colleges and universities, how that money is spent. Certainly we make a strong investment in colleges and universities in this state with our private tuition dollars, with public dollars, and when we look at students making their own personal investment, families making an investment, of course they should be held accountable to those things, and we are starting by looking at the revenues that are coming in and then we’re starting at the very top looking at how those expenditures and policies are made. I think that this is the right direction to go right now,” said Galloway.

The university system’s interim president, Mike Middleton, issued this statement in response to the announcement of the audit:

“The University of Missouri System prides itself in being excellent stewards of the resources entrusted to us, including taxpayer, donor and tuition funds, which has been demonstrated by the $77 million saved by the UM System due to efficiencies and effectiveness measures in just the past two years alone. We are also committed to being completely transparent and open about our operations, and welcome the review announced today by Missouri’s State Auditor.”

 

Senate Democrats likely to filibuster voter photo ID proposals

The state senate could soon debate a voter photo ID measure, but Democrats are prepared to try to block it.

Senator Jamilah Nasheed (at podium) and Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny

Senator Jamilah Nasheed (at podium) and Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny

A bill that would create the statutory framework for voter photo ID and a resolution that would ask voters to change the state constitution to allow it are awaiting votes in a Senate committee. Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) says she and other Senate Democrats are prepared to stand in their way.

“I will not sit down or stand down on a voter ID bill that would disenfranchise hundreds and hundreds of Missourians – mainly African-Americans and seniors,” said Nasheed.

Nasheed and other Democrats say many voters in those groups don’t have the documentation needed to get a photo ID and could have to pay to get it. Opponents, then, equate the bill to a poll tax. Republicans say their proposals would provide the necessary documents for anyone who doesn’t have them, and say they are necessary to block voter impersonation fraud.

With the idea requiring having to go before voters, Nasheed says it’s partly an effort to get more Republicans to the polls when important races are up, such as those for president and Missouri governor, but she predicts that will backfire.

“They’re going to wake up the sleeping giant within the Democratic party because what you’re going to see is individuals within the party – they’re going to feel like their voter rights are being attacked, and they’re going to turn out to vote in a way that they have never seen before, especially the African-American community,” said Nasheed.

Republican leaders in the Senate acknowledge the issue is divisive and they expect to spend a lot of time on it, but Senate President Ron Richard (R-Joplin) says he’s not planning to use a previous question – a procedural move that would stop debate, or a filibuster, and force a vote on the legislation.

“Not at this time,” said Richard. “The caucus hasn’t given me direction on that … nah, we’re a long way from talking about that stuff.”

Missouri bill proposing ban of abortion method tied to allegation of tissue sales

A state lawmaker says banning a method of carrying out second-trimester abortions would eliminate a particularly inhumane procedure, but abortion rights groups say her bill is unconstitutional.

Representative Tila Hubrecht (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Tila Hubrecht (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The bill sponsored by Representative Tila Hubrect (R-Dexter) would ban using medical implements to dismember a fetus in the womb to complete an abortion.

Patty Skain with Missouri Right to Life argues such abortions would support the illegal sales of fetal tissue, which Planned Parenthood has been accused of participating in.

“The reason they predominantly use dismemberment is because the baby’s alive, the tissue’s alive, and they want that tissue for research,” said Skain.

Skain says videos released last summer accusing Planned Parenthood of being involved in such sales, “prove that there is a healthy business in tissue extraction and the selling of those parts.”

Abortion rights supporters say that argument against Planned Parenthood has been debunked and those videos have been dismissed as unreliable and edited to support abortion opponents’ claims.

Of the legislation, Sarah Rossi with the ACLU says the U.S. Supreme Court has already said bans of that type of abortion are unconstitutional.

“This is actually the most cut-and-dry line when it comes to the slew of abortion regulations that are being proposed this session,” said Rossi.

She said that particular procedure has been considered twice by the Court, “and both times the Court found that you can’t ban this procedure.”

Similar laws in Oklahoma and Kansas have been blocked by pending lawsuits.

The bill has not come to a vote in a House committee.

Missouri Corrections chief: execution team members don’t get IRS forms

The Head of the Department of Corrections says since the 1980s, no members of its execution team have been given forms to file taxes on what they’re paid.

George Lombardi (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

George Lombardi (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Contractors and those who pay them are supposed to file a 1099 with the IRS, so that it can make sure they’re paying taxes on their earnings. The Department pays members of its execution team with cash to hide their identities. Director George Lombardi told a House budget committee the department hasn’t issued 1099s to execution team members since the admistration of Governor John Ashcroft.

“Because of the issue of anonymity, to give 1099s to these individuals would in fact reveal who they were, and that would end the death penalty, essentially, because they wouldn’t do it,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi said the execution team members are counseled to report that income, but said that is not part of the Department’s policies and procedures.

Representative Jeremy LaFaver (D-Kansas City) criticized that the Department’s budget doesn’t identify where the money comes from that goes to pay execution team members, and for the pentobarbital used in lethal injections. That money comes from a fund that pays for equipment and expenses, but its description makes no mention of those payments coming from it.

“Executing somebody is a big deal and if we’re going to spend money to do that, I think it should be included in the description – that this is the area of the budget where money goes, in envelopes, in cash, to kill people,” said LaFaver, referring to reports that the money might be taken to execution team members and the drug’s maker in envelopes.

Sources told a BuzzFeed reporter there could be penalties for the state, the execution team members, and the drug’s maker for not having those 1099s.

Lombardi testified to a House committee nearly two years ago about the state’s execution procedures, in which some information about how executions are paid for was revealed.