Editorial Roundup: Missouri

Kansas City Star. May 7, 2021.

Editorial: OMG and get the smelling salts: Missouri agrees to hire more lawyers for the poor

In a rare Jefferson City win for fairness, the Missouri legislature is inching closer to fully funding the state’s public defender office.

We can’t believe it either, but House and Senate negotiators agreed Wednesday to spend $3.6 million to hire 53 additional lawyers for the trial division of the Missouri State Public Defender office. They will join 331 trial lawyers already in the office.

If the full legislature passes the measure, and Gov. Mike Parson signs it, Missouri will finally climb out of the unconstitutional rut that has left thousands of defendants without timely, adequate representation in court. “It’s what we need,” said Mary Fox, director of the MSPD.

The effort has not been easy. Earlier this year, an exasperated state judge gave lawmakers until July 1 to address so-called “wait lists” of defendants, leaving many in custody without publicly-funded lawyers.

It follows our in-depth reporting in 2019, which revealed the stress on public defenders across the state, and the careless way many judges view the rights of the accused.

It will take time to hire people — a jobs fair is planned for June 10. And the attorneys will serve in rural areas, where the lack of defenders is most acute. Training and relocation will take time.

But the Missouri General Assembly has finally addressed this problem. We congratulate lawmakers for doing so, and strongly recommend they try it again. Medicaid expansion would be a good place to start.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch. May 8, 2021.

Editorial: In honoring Limbaugh while dishonoring Cronkite, Missouri GOP shows its colors

The Republican-controlled Missouri House last week debated separate measures to honor two native Missourians. It voted down the one honoring Walter Cronkite, who was the epitome of sober, unbiased news coverage and one of the greatest television journalists of all time. Then it approved the one honoring radio hatemonger Rush Limbaugh. What a perfect encapsulation of the toxic right-wing radicalism that now reigns in Jefferson City.

Cronkite, a St. Joseph native who died in 2009 at age 92, was more than just an early pioneer of television journalism. Arguably, no one has been as historically respected in the field. It’s difficult to imagine in today’s splintered media universe, where competing political mindsets bunker with competing news sources that confirm their biases, but Cronkite was, for decades, the voice that all of America trusted. As anchor of CBS Evening News, he earned that trust by evenhandedly guiding Americans through some of the most tumultuous moments of the 20th century: crying with them after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, marveling as American astronauts set foot on the moon, and helping Americans see past the lies of the Vietnam War.

Limbaugh, who died in February at age 70 after a battle with cancer, was as divisive as Cronkite was unifying. A Cape Girardeau native, Limbaugh’s brand was to dig at the nation’s racial wounds and cultural divisions, landing always on the side of intolerance. While Cronkite was known for his signature sign-off — “that’s the way it is,” followed by the day’s date — Limbaugh was known for calling a college activist a “slut,” calling then-13-year-old first daughter Chelsea Clinton “the White House dog,” and comparing NFL games to a fight “between the Bloods and the Crips.” As a parting gift, he likely contributed to the pandemic’s death toll by dismissing the coronavirus as “the common cold.”

It’s outrageous that the House rejected naming a day in honor of Cronkite while approving one for Limbaugh — outrageous but not surprising. The Legislature’s ruling Republicans these days show zero interest in unifying this divided state and view the Democratic enclaves in St. Louis and Kansas City as enemy territory. As with the long, shameful display of Limbaugh’s bust in the state Capitol, the Limbaugh Day declaration is less about honoring Limbaugh than about jabbing a thumb in the eye of Missourians who don’t buy into the right’s radical agenda.

The Limbaugh measure now moves to the Senate, where it may die in end-of-session wrangling but is unlikely to be voted down as a strong message of tolerance and partisan healing — something Missouri could use right now. Unfortunately, there’s no indication that Senate Republicans are any more interested in sending such messages than are their House colleagues. To borrow Cronkite’s phrase, that’s the way it is in Missouri in 2021.

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Jefferson City News Tribune. May 9, 2021.

Editorial: Provide feminine hygiene products to female prisoners

Why are some women in custody in Missouri being given feminine hygiene products, while others are not? Have we entered a time warp that’s returned us to a more primitive time?

Why are some women in custody in Missouri being given feminine hygiene products, while others are not? Have we entered a time warp that’s returned us to a more primitive time?

This past week, the Missouri Independent reported incarcerated women’s access to feminine hygiene products depends on where they’re housed.

Incredulously, some lawmakers are having to seek a change in state law to require the Department of Corrections, sheriffs and jailers provide women in custody with free tampons and pads.

The independent news organization says some are forced to pay to buy tampons and pads to meet their needs, while others are provided with such low-quality products they end up having to make their own.

Twyla Adair, who has served time in the Missouri Department of Corrections, submitted written testimony for the bill, writing: “Every place I have been, there has been a constant struggle to receive the proper personal hygiene care that a woman needs during menstrual times.”

We believe incarceration shouldn’t be fun. If you owe a debt to society, you aren’t owed iPhones that stream Netflix. You should never hear the phrase, “How would you like your fillet cooked?”

But, just as we hope Missouri’s prisons/jails offer toilet paper, they should offer quality feminine hygiene products to women.

Such a policy already exists at the DOC and some county/city jails. A 2018 federal law requires the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide free tampons and pads.

Are prisons already required to provide feminine products complying? Why isn’t it common sense that all prisons/jails offer these? And why is this even an issue?

As Bert Dirchell wrote in a Saturday letter to the editor: “Have those we elect to local government become so ignorant that state lawmakers must waste their time on laws concerning the availability/quality of feminine hygiene products at local jails?”

Let’s resolve to be civilized and offer the basic needs to those who are incarcerated. We urge lawmakers to approve House Bill 318. Then they can move on to tackle issues more worthy of debate.

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