Editorial Roundup: Missouri

St. Louis Post-Dispatch. September 11, 2021.

Editorial: Texas and Missouri schemes to monetize right-wing extremism must not stand

The Justice Department’s lawsuit last week against the state of Texas over its extreme new anti-abortion-rights law isn’t just about abortion. Also at issue is the law’s bizarre enforcement mechanism, which effectively allows any private citizen to sue any abortion provider for profit. Attorney General Merrick Garland correctly noted that this citizen-empowerment mechanism, if allowed to stand, would set a dangerous precedent that could be applied to virtually any other hot-button issue.

There is a similar enforcement mechanism in Missouri’s new law seeking to nullify federal gun restrictions within the state. In addition to its blatantly unconstitutional claim to supersede federal law, it empowers a citizen to sue a local police department for $50,000 if the department enforces a federal firearm law against the citizen.

Both these laws are cynical attempts by Republican state politicians to enforce unconstitutional laws by shifting legal powers to private citizens instead of state officials. The obvious goal is incentivizing citizens (with cash) to impose right-wing ideology in ways that courts would deem unconstitutional if the state did it.

This novel strategy — which comes close to the dictionary definition of bounty hunting — could become the next big trend among conservative zealots to get around the Constitution on various issues. It must be stopped.

The Texas law effectively bans virtually any abortion upon detection of a fetal heartbeat. That’s roughly six weeks after fertilization, before many women even know they’re pregnant. It’s a blatant violation of the fetal-viability standard set by Roe v. Wade — or at least it would be, if the state itself tried to enforce it.

Instead, the law lets any citizen sue anyone who provides or otherwise assists in a banned abortion, with the incentive of collecting $10,000 plus legal costs if they win — and with no requirement of paying the defendants’ legal costs if they lose. It’s a risk-free invitation to zealots across the state to litigate abortion rights out of existence.

Ominously, this slippery strategy won in its first appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court this month. On a 5-4 vote, the court let the law go into immediate effect, denying an injunction that would commonly be granted regarding a new law that is under pending litigation. The majority said the fact that the state itself won’t be enforcing the law keeps the court out of it.

Chief Justice John Roberts, voting with the minority, saw right through that sophistry, slamming the private-citizen enforcement mechanism as an attempt by the state to “avoid responsibility for its laws.” He warned that this “unprecedented” scheme could serve “as a model for action in other areas.”

Garland made essentially the same argument in announcing the Justice Department suit against the Texas law. They’re both right. Denial of rights is denial of rights, whether it’s imposed by state officials or a profiteering mob.

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Jefferson City News Tribune. September XX, 2021.

Editorial: New law will bring parity to mental health treatment

“It’s better late than never.”

“It’s better late than never.”

We echo that sentiment of a new Missouri law aimed at making sure mental health care is covered by insurance at the same level as physical health.

The Missouri Independent reported this past week that under the new law, Missouri is the final state to enforce a federal law designed to ensure parity between mental/physical health coverage. It says state health care plans must meet the requirements of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.

More specifically, the federal law, signed by then-President George W. Bush, said health insurance plans cannot impose dollar limits or restrictions on mental health treatments, including substance use disorders, that are greater than those for other physical medical conditions.

The federal law isn’t perfect. Advocates have pointed out that insurers have found loopholes to exploit it, while states are mostly left to regulate the provisions, the Missouri Independent reported.

But the federal law still goes a long way toward accomplishing its goals, and Missouri’s move to codify the federal law is overdue. It’s not all that’s needed, but it’s a good first step.

Some states, including California, have gone further and passed laws aimed at closing the law’s gaps.

That might be needed in Missouri, where there have been reports by some people, including Kansas City firefighters, who were limited on the number of times they could see a mental health professional.

“Mental health is a chronic condition. So just like if you have a cardiac condition, you can go see your cardiologist as much as you need to. There’s no lifetime or annual limit,” Rep. Patty Lewis, D-Kansas City, told the Missouri Independent. “It’s not like ‘You’ve gone to your cardiologist three times. Now you’re done. You’re cut off.’ But that’s what we see with mental health.”

We agree. We hope Missouri’s new state law not only creates parity between mental and physical health but continues to erode the stigma that mental health still faces.

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St. Joseph News Press. September 10, 2021.

Editorial: A bump in marijuana’s road

It will be interesting to see how people who claim to value science respond to some inconvenient truths about marijuana.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found double the number of heart attacks among adults who consumed cannabis in the last 30 days, compared to those who didn’t. The study was based on an analysis of the health data of 33,000 people between the ages of 18 and 44.

Among marijuana true believers, the study is likely to provoke the same response as findings on vaccine efficacy or climate change among a different crowd. Just discredit it, change the subject or find a different study. Problem solved.

The study probably represents only a minor roadblock in Big Marijuana’s goal of legalizing recreational cannabis in Missouri. The public was softened up in 2018 when medical marijuana passed with 66% support statewide. Advocates for a proposed ballot initiative are correct in stating that marijuana legalization enjoys widespread support, and plenty of fawning media coverage, in the state.

So even though little is known about the long-term effects of marijuana usage, mostly due to the drug’s Schedule 1 classification that inhibits research, voters could very well make Missouri the 20th state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2022. But that doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing.

Advocates of recreational marijuana face two hurdles in their march toward statewide passage. One is that, unlike 2018, there is now a track record of marijuana regulation in this state. It does not inspire confidence.

Medical marijuana’s slow rollout featured an opaque and secretive process for awarding licenses. Missouri regulators spent more than $1 million to defend themselves from a wave of lawsuits from applicants who were denied licenses. Voters deserve an explanation of how recreational marijuana would be different.

The other is the way that Missouri’s system of citizen-driven ballot initiatives results in public policy being written by special interests. An organization called the Fair Access Missouri Coalition believes that the marijuana ballot language is written in a way that provides a constitutionally protected monopoly on the adult-use cannabis market.

“You don’t need 38 pages and 24,000 words unless you’re trying to pull a fast one on voters,” the organization said in a statement.

Again, another topic that might be worth discussing in an upcoming campaign. That is, if people are willing to listen.

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