October 9, 2015

Judge rules approval from city voters is not necessary to use city tax money for St. Louis NFL stadium

A view of the seating arrangements from inside the proposed stadium.

A view of the seating arrangements from inside the proposed stadium.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Thomas Frawley ruled that the law from 2002 was confusing and therefore voided a city ordinance that required voter approval for the use of tax dollars for any project involving a professional sports facility.  The members of Governor Jay Nixon’s stadium task force call it a major victory for the city, while one law professor calls it a “terrible day.”

Judge Frawley ruled that the new stadium plan on St. Louis’ north riverfront does not break a state law requiring it to be “adjacent” to the city’s convention center.  Frawley ruled that Missouri courts have determined that “adjacent” simply means nearby.

Dave Peacock, the former Anheuser-Busch executive who is part of a Nixon’s two-person stadium task force released a statement calling it a victory.

“As we continue to make excellent progress on the stadium project, this is a great time for everyone in the St. Louis region to rally on behalf of something that will make a difference in our economy, national profile and quality of life for generations to come,” Peacock said.

However, not all see it as such.  John Ammann, a law professor at Saint Louis University, who filed a separate suit that sought a city vote on the stadium plan, called it a defeat for democracy.

“The voters and taxpayers now have no formal voice in whether they will pay for a new stadium, or how much,” Ammann said.

The ruling comes ahead of an August 11th meeting when the St. Louis task force will meet with NFL officials in Chicago. With the Rams, along with the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, seeking moves to Los Angeles, the league could make a decision soon.

Rams owner Stan Kroenke is planning a new stadium in Inglewood, a suburb of Los Angeles, with the possibility the team will move back to Southern California, as early as 2016.

Despite court challenges, state prepared to execute Michael Taylor next week (VIDEO)

The Missouri Department of Corrections is prepared to carry out the execution of Michael Taylor on Feb. 26 pursuant to the warrant issued by the Missouri Supreme Court. That’s the statement from the Department itself, and backed by the Governor.

nixA compounding pharmacy in Oklahoma that has supplied the pentobarbital used in the last three executions was ordered by a court in that state to cease sales to Missouri for the purpose of executions.

At that time, the Attorney General’s Office told Missourinet that “The Attorney General’s Office is not involved in the Oklahoma litigation. The Missouri Supreme Court has not withdrawn the warrant for Mr. Taylor’s execution.”

According to the Kansas City Star, Missouri officials now say they’ve arranged with an unidentified pharmacy to provide the lethal injection chemical for use in Taylor’s execution.

Meanwhile, Taylor’s attorneys have asked a federal judge to stay the execution, saying the state has no lawful way to carry out the lethal injection.

“We work very hard to make sure that the ultimate penalty in the state of Missouri is carried out in as humane as way as possible,” Gov. Jay Nixon said. “And we’re prepared for the execution next week. I understand others can have opinions and thoughts … my thoughts are with the review process obviously for potential commutation down the stretch but more importantly that that for the victims that continue to miss their loved ones from heinous crimes like this. We are prepared to move forward to complete this punishment in a timely fashion.”

Taylor is on Death Row for the 1989 killing of 15-year-old Ann Harrison. He and Roderick Nunley both pleaded guilty to kidnapping Harrison as she waited for the school bus, raping her, stabbing her, and leaving her in the trunk of stolen car they later abandoned, where she succumbed to her injuries.

The Supreme Court has not re-issued a death warrant for Nunley at this time.

Smaller government committee wraps up whirlwind hearing tour

A House Committee that looks for ways to cut red tape and eliminate redundancies or unnecessary elements in government has wrapped up nine hearings in three days, throughout Missouri.

Representative Paul Curtman (photo; Missouri House Communications)

Representative Paul Curtman (photo; Missouri House Communications)

Representative Paul Curtman (R-Union) is the Chairman of the Committee on Downsizing State Government. He says he is going to be spending the next few days going back over pages of notes from each of the sessions, considering what ideas deserve more attention or even legislation.

One suggestion that stands out to Curtman was made at the first hearing, in St. Louis.

“We had a really good suggestion from a guy who said, ‘I don’t know if Missouri has one of these measuring devices to measure the cost-effectiveness of money after it’s been appropriated,’ he said, ‘but maybe we need a formula to see whether or not the benefit outweighs the cost, or visa-versa, to make sure that the people are getting their money’s worth out of government.'”

Curtman says he will see if anything like that already exists in state government, and whether he thinks anything that does exist goes far enough.

He says some issues were raised to the committee more than once. One was the veto by Governor Jay Nixon of legislation that would cut income taxes for Missouri individuals and businesses.

At the final hearing on Thursday, Missouri Chamber of Commerce Lobbyist Alex Curchin told the committee for that bill to become law would help to downsize state government.

“There were always those who told us taxes couldn’t be cut until spending was reduced. Well, you know, we can lecture our children about extravagance until we run out of voice and breath, or we can cure their extravagance by simply reducing their allowance. That’s what we believe House Bill 253 will do, is reduce the allowance and make government a more appropriate size by that broad-based tax cut.”

Governor Nixon says that legislation would cost the state millions in revenue, jeopardizing state programs, and he withheld $400-million saying it’s necessary in case his veto is overridden. He told Missourians in Kirksville on Thursday that a part of the bill that would repeal a tax exemption on prescription drugs would also be a $200-million tax hike on Missourians.

Curtman says another issue that was raised at more than one event was the proposed legalization of marijuana.

“That is an organized effort. They have had people at almost every single hearing. I would say that fits within the parameters of our committee.”

Governor to sign changes to child sex abuse reporting law, ‘Safe Haven Act’

Governor Jay Nixon will sign into law on Tuesday legislation meant to offer more protections to children from sexual abuse and tragic ends.

One provision in House Bill 505 changes the way in which a person required to report instances of child abuse may make that report.

Emily Van Schenkhof is the Deputy Director of the advocacy group Missouri Kids First. She says the Jerry Sandusky case helped spawn that bill.

“What we saw happen at Penn State was that someone observed child sexual abuse, someone saw it happening, and didn’t quite know what to do and reported that to a supervisor who reported that to a supervisor and it was never reported to the people whose job it is to investigate such things.”

Van Schenkhof says her organization has found that such cases are not limited to Penn State or athletic programs, and has heard of similar situations all around Missouri.

The bill requires that reports of suspected abuse be made to the Children’s Division within the Social Services Department.

“We want people who have expertise in talking to children and who have expertise in investigating child abuse to be able to look at these cases and to be able to investigate whether abuse is occurring. Right now I think we’ve got a lot of people who are making that call themselves and it’s not really a call for your average teacher or your average minister.”

That change was one of the proposals suggested by the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children, created by a 2011 law and intended to sunset at the end of last year. Instead, the legislation to be signed by the Governor makes that body a permanent entity.

Van Schenkhof is a staff member for the Task Force, the members of which she says were hoping to keep working.

“The Task Force agree that they wanted to continue to do the work and that they wanted to continue to meet. I think we all understood that the process of really actually preventing child sexual abuse is a long-term process that can not be accomplished in a year or two years.”

Senate Bill 256 also extends from 5 to 45 days after birth the period under which a parent can drop off an infant at a law enforcement of medical facility or fire station without fear of prosecution, under Missouri’s so-named “Safe Haven Act.”

“Parents in crisis … it is far better for them to abandon an infant than it is for them to hurt the child.”

Governor Nixon will sign those bills in a visit to St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Tuesday morning.

Bill ending controversial document scans signed into law

The Revenue Department can no longer scan personal documents from applicants for drivers’ and non-driver’s licenses, under a bill signed into law by Governor Jay Nixon

Senator Will Kraus (photo courtesy; Missouri Senate)

Senator Will Kraus (photo courtesy; Missouri Senate)

Senate Bill 252 also orders the Department to by the end of this year purge its computers of all copies of those scans made since September. Some scans will continue in instances specified under the legislation, however, such as for commercial driver’s licenses. The bill took effect immediately upon being signed by the Governor.

Revenue Department representatives have twice testified under oath to legislative committees that if the Governor signed that bill, such scans would cease.

The sponsor of that bill, Senator Will Kraus (R-Lee’s Summit), says that doesn’t put all the issues regarding those scans to rest, however. He says state lawmakers will continue investigating why those scans were started in the first place and whether they were part of an effort to comply with the federal Real I.D. Act. A 2009 state law exercised Missouri’s option not to participate in Real I.D.

“That issue’s probably not going to go to bed because I think there is a number of people who would like to understand why our Department of Revenue would tell the federal government we were going to be in compliance with a law that we in the state of Missouri … and this governor signed … [a state law] that says we are not going to follow the federal law on Real I.D.”

Revenue Department employees have testified that the scans were started as part of a new, third-party system for issuing driver’s and non-driver’s identification that they say would help to combat fraud.