Editorial Roundup: Missouri

St. Louis Post-Dispatch. May 16, 2022.

Editorial: Break up this abusive football cartel

The outright duplicity that guided the words and actions of Rams owner Stan Kroenke and National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, among others, were widely assumed but not proven beyond doubt in the public’s eye until the release of court documents behind the $790 settlement with St. Louis regional entities. The collusion among team owners and the league goes beyond deception. It constitutes a pattern of abuse so egregious that congressional action is necessary to yank the league’s limited antitrust exemption.

The public would have been left to speculate and read between the lines about the extent of NFL owners’ abuse if not for the dogged pursuit of the truth by a St. Louis legal team. The threat of exposure in an open court case led Kroenke and company to buckle. But unlike many out-of-court settlements that require documents to be sealed, these court records made it into the hands of Post-Dispatch reporters Austin Huguelet, Katie Kull and Joel Currier.

Some might argue that it’s time to let this go. The region got its payout. The Rams are gone. Why keep digging up the past? It’s important for all cities and their taxpayers to understand that the escalating financial demands these franchises make on their host communities might be based on deliberate deceit.

Sure, a bunch of billionaires had to pony up $790 million. While big for the plaintiffs, it’s chump change for people like Kroenke, who will continue raking in billions while correctly assuming that most football fans will focus on the game, not the duplicity behind it.

Kroenke began making serious plans to purchase 200 acres for a stadium site in Inglewood, California, in 2013 so he could move the Rams back to Los Angeles. Kroenke colluded with Goodell and others to keep the plan secret — especially from St. Louisans.

Goodell lied during a pre-Super Bowl press briefing in 2014 about a rumored move by the Rams. “There are no plans, to my knowledge, of a stadium development,” he responded about Kroenke’s land purchase. In fact, Goodell knew all about it and worked with Kroenke to keep the franchise relocation secret. Other team owners and NFL executives helped out.

They all played dumb as part of a plan to keep St. Louisans and government officials in the dark until the secret plan was a done deal. The move was effectively a fait accompli long before the league decided to follow its own bylaws regarding how and when any team could relocate. There was, in fact, no good-faith effort to negotiate keeping the Rams here.

So why should Congress grant this football cartel any special antitrust treatment, even if it’s just for TV rights? The NFL has morphed into an abusive billionaire business monopoly that deserves to be held to the same antitrust standards as all other U.S. business entities.

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Jefferson City News Tribune. May 15, 2022.

Editorial: Welcome incentives for state’s top industry

Missouri lawmakers have approved some much-needed assistance for Missouri’s top industry.

This past week, the Missouri Legislature passed the Agricultural Economic Opportunities bill to add new and extended tax credits to state agriculture.

As we reported, the bill, sponsored by Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, would extend the tax credits on meat processing facility expansion and modernization and wood energy credits.

Missouri’s farmers, particularly, small family farms, need tax credits and incentives to keep their operations running.

“Right now, farmers are paying in hay and fertilizer to keep their farms going,” Pollitt said in our recent story. “This has caused an issue for cattle farmers who rely on that hay, which is adding more problems to the supply chain.”

Missouri is the third-largest producer of cattle in the United States, but the butchering systems are lacking, causing a bottleneck in beef and pork production.

The bill should help in this regard by providing incentives for needed facilities to expand and become more efficient.

Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, supports a wood energy tax credit in the bill that will incentivize the use of discarded sawdust and other wood refuse.

“It’s cheaper just to let it sit on the ground than it is to pay somebody to haul it away,” he said, “but you can’t really let it sit on the ground because it causes problems.”

The bill has an emergency clause that will allow it to take effect immediately, rather than waiting until Aug. 28, the normal day for new legislation to take effect.

We encourage Gov. Mike Parson to sign the Agricultural Economic Opportunities bill to give our agriculture industry a much-needed boost.

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Kansas City Star. May 13, 2022.

Editorial: Injured on the job as a Missouri employee? You need the state Supreme Court’s help

Employed at a public entity in Missouri? Tread lightly. If you get hurt on the job and file a workers’ compensation claim, you may not be protected from being fired as retaliation.

Unless the Supreme Court of Missouri acts.

The sovereign immunity clause that protects the state from litigation is the rule, not the exception, J. Drew Marriott, an attorney for the Independence School District, argued this week in front of a Missouri Supreme Court panel.

The school district is considered a political subdivision of the state and therefore should not be held liable for violating Missouri’s workers’ compensation law, Marriott contended.

He ignored the fact that school districts employees are not state workers, as the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled last year.

Under state statutes, the Independence School District is defined as an employer governing workers’ compensation. The district isn’t immune from liability in such cases, according to the legal framework.

But the ambiguity of the law is confusing. And it’s up to the state’s highest court to provide legal clarity.

As it stands today, hundreds if not thousands of Missourians have no legal recourse to seek relief from a public body such as a school district or a local municipality for violating the state’s workers’ compensation law against retaliatory discharge, legal experts told us.

Don’t believe us? In late 2019, Travis Poke, a former custodian with Independence schools, sustained a hernia on the job. For weeks, he worked through the pain, according to court documents.

Citing the work-related injury, Poke exercised his right to workers’ compensation and requested time off to recover. In January 2020, his treatment was authorized by the school district. He also underwent a drug screening as part of the process.

Poke tested positive for marijuana, court records show. His workers’ compensation claim was denied. Poke was fired for being under the influence of drugs while on the job. Traces of marijuana can remain in one’s bloodstream for weeks, long after its effect has worn off, of course.

Poke sued for retaliation, believing the real reason he was fired was for filing for workers’ comp. In Missouri, employers can’t discriminate against or fire a worker for exercising his or her rights to a workers’ compensation claim.

“Any employee who has been discharged or discriminated against in such a manner shall have a civil action for damages against his or her employer,” state statutes read.

The Poke case hinges on whether school districts are exempt from these laws governing employers and workers’ comp retaliation. Missouri law indicates that school districts are not exempt, according to court filings.

Yet, in a summary judgment, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Phillips tossed out Poke’s lawsuit. The school district was protected by sovereign immunity, Phillips determined. Poke never had an opportunity to have the merits of the case heard in a court of law. How is that even remotely fair?

But her decision was overturned by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, which found that the judge had erred in deciding that the school district was immune from being sued for alleged retaliation against Poke.

This week, the Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments from both sides. Whenever the final ruling is announced, the decision will have ramifications not just for Poke, but for an untold number of public school employees for years to come.

The state Supreme Court must uphold the appeals court’s decision. Poke and other public school district employees across Missouri deserve their day in court to prove their claims of retaliation or discrimination. Employers are bound to act according to the law.

The case offers a simple question of statutory interpretation, attorneys for Poke argued this week. Are school districts political subdivisions immune from personal injury lawsuits?

We say no. The Missouri Supreme Court will have the final word.

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