November 29, 2015

More victims’ assistance agencies express concern about budget deal, some Missouri federal lawmakers respond

More Missouri agencies who help crime victims are expressing their concern about a shift in federal funding for victims’ programs, but at least one of Missouri’s senators says that funding source is secure long-term.

Missouri Kids First Deputy Director Emily van Schenkhof

Missouri Kids First Deputy Director Emily van Schenkhof

The budget deal Congress and the president agreed to shifted 1.5-billion dollars out of the fund created by the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), that comes from fines paid by those convicted of federal crimes.

Emily van Schenkhof with Missouri Kids First says almost all child advocacy centers get money from that fund.

“This funding is supposed to support victims of crime. We absolutely know that we are still not funding services for victims of crimes at the level we should, so the idea that we should take money away from that is very concerning, and you do wonder, ‘Is this just one time? Will this happen again? What does this mean for the future,” van Schenkhof told Missourinet.

Missouri Prosecutors’ Association Executive Director Jason Lamb says Missouri prosecutors also rely on that fund. They don’t have dedicated money for crime victims’ services, so they seek grants.

“Whatever can’t be paid for at the local level, prosecutors have traditional tried for competitive grants through VOCA and other crime victim opportunities,” said Lamb.

Missouri Prosecutors Association Executive Director Jason Lamb

Missouri Prosecutors Association Executive Director Jason Lamb

Missouri’s senators split their votes on that budget deal, but both say they did not support taking that money from the crime victims’ fund. Both also say the future of that fund is secure.

Senator Claire McCaskill’s (D) office, in a statement, said she did not support that provision on the budget deal, though she did vote for the deal.

“She held her nose to vote for the overall deal because it was a compromise which prevented a federal default that would have crippled our economy-but that doesn’t in any way detract from her commitment to fighting for more resources for victims of crime.”

Senator Roy Blunt (R) did not vote for that budget deal. His office said similar transfers have been made before but the money has always been replaced.

Missourinet reached out to all of Missouri’s members of the U.S. House. The only one to reply was southeast Missouri Congressman Jason Smith. He was already critical of the deal, and called the VOCA transfer one of its, “many terrible provisions.”

In a statement, Smith said, “It’s heartbreaking that the CVF was directly raided as a ‘budget gimmick’ to the detriment of victims. Just last week I was at the Child Advocacy Center in West Plains witnessing first-hand the real impact these budget cuts would have. This is just one more example of bad policy jammed through Congress at the last-minute avoiding regular order – it’s no way to conduct the people’s business.”


Planned Parenthood considering all legal options to continue abortions at Columbia clinic

Planned Parenthood is looking for ways to continue to perform abortions at its Columbia facility. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President Laura McQuade says the Department of Health will revoke the clinic’s license December 1.

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood considering all legal options to continue abortions at Columbia clinic

“We won’t know until we hit the deadline. So, we are preparing and looking at all legal options open to us,” said McQuade.

In September the University of Missouri, under then-Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, ended the type of privileges Doctor Colleen McNicholas claimed as allowing her to perform abortions there. Now that she no longer has the privileges, the Columbia facility is losing its license.

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.

McQuade is not sure if chancellor Hank Foley will support reinstating privileges for McNicholas. McQuade hopes Foley will do what she thinks is fair.

“He has all of the written material. He’s certainly receiving feedback from parts of the faculty, from the Legislature, those that are on our side, like Representative Stacey Newman. He’s hearing from all sides” said McQuade. “But, I’m not really able to say where we think that’s going to go at this point.”

McQuade said MU caved to political pressure from Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) and some members of the interim Senate committee charged with determining if any laws were being broken in Missouri by Planned Parenthood. The committee was formed shortly after the release of several undercover videos of the organization that pro-life supporters say talk about selling fetal tissue for profit.

Dixon drops out of race for Missouri governor

Springfield Senator Bob Dixon has ended his campaign for Governor of Missouri, although he has not said why.

In a press release from Dixon, he thanked his family and supporters.

State Senator Bob Dixon

State Senator Bob Dixon

“Your authentic support inspired me every day. Together, I know we could have renewed the spirit of Missouri and made our state a place of renewed freedom where no one, right or poor, would settle for living off the backs or the work of others, but rather a place where all would be free to determine their destiny and enjoy the reward of their own labor,” said Dixon.

He first announced his run for governor at the end of July. Dixon was elected to the state senate in 2010. He has served in the Missouri legislature since 2003.

Dixon said he will not be endorsing a candidate.

Other Republican candidates running for Missouri governor include former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, businessman John Brunner, Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder and author Eric Greitens. Democrat Attorney General Chris Koster is also running for the post.

Based upon the most recent financial reports, Koster leads in fundraising with more than $5.5 million, followed by Greitens with $2.2 million, Hanaway with 1.5 million, Kinder has $275,000, Brunner has $256,000 and Dixon with $82,000.

Missouri auditor lists top violations of open records and meetings law

Missouri’s open records and meetings law has been around for 42 years, and yet, says the state Auditor, some entities still haven’t gotten it right.

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway

State Auditor Nicole Galloway’s office reviewed the audits conducted between January 2014 and June of this year. In 25 out of 187 instances, an audit found that the a public body had violated the state’s Sunshine Law.

Galloway says the most common violation was the discussion in closed session of topics that should have been discussed in public.

“When those meetings were closed the reasons for closing those meetings and then any related votes were not adequately documented,” Galloway told Missourinet.

Galloway hopes public bodies will look at the summary and learn from it.

“We’re going to come in, we’re going to look at their compliance with the sunshine law, we’re going to hold them accountable to it, and by looking at this report they can see some common things they can do to fix it so they can be more transparent and accountable to their citizens,” said Galloway.

Other common violations include failure to prepare minutes for open meetings or to approve them in a timely manner; a lack of policies for providing the public with access to documents and inconsistent fees for providing them.

See the full report here.

Missouri religious groups weigh in on Syrian refugee debate

Missouri lawmakers are pressing Governor Nixon to look for ways to discourage the entry of Syrian refugees to the state. The state’s religious groups are watching as that debate grows more political.

The Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (Wikimedia Commons)

The Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (Wikimedia Commons)

Missouri Catholic Conference Executive Director Mike Hoey says to totally block refugees would be an “extreme position.”

“I understand the anger and I understand the fear, but when we’re angry and we’re fearful we’re not necessarily operating out of our best place,” said Hoey. “We need to check the people over carefully but we still need to allow some Syrian refugees in. I think it’s the humanitarian thing for us to do.”

The Catholic bishops of Missouri, in a statement, said refugees go through up to two years of a vetting process to enter the U.S.

The Missouri Baptist Convention does not take a position on refugee policy, said its Team Leader for Communications, Rob Phillips, but it calls on all sides in that debate to pray.

“For peace in Syria and other war-torn countries, we should pray for wisdom for our leaders who have some very difficult decisions to make, we should pray for the safety and protection for the refugees who are fleeing war and genocide, and I think we should pray also for a civil debate when we discuss the complex issues relating to human dignity and border security,” said Phillips.

The state’s House and Senate budget committees will hold a hearing Tuesday morning on state financing of refugee assistance. We will stream that hearing live at