Recent Missouri editorials

The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Jan. 12

Missouri —and more specifically, Jefferson City — has had a love-hate relationship with gambling.

In 1984, state voters authorized the Missouri Lottery, making it the 23rd statewide lottery.

A decade later, both city and state voters approved riverboat gambling at the same election. Gambling opponents, surprised at the outcome, formed opposition and brought the issue back to the ballot. Voters reversed course, creating a sticky mess with a Las Vegas developer it had contracted with to put a gambling boat not far from the Capitol.

Missouri voters approved pari-mutuel wagering at horse tracks in 1984 but authorized only limited simulcasting. That's where people wager on races shown on television screens, not live races. In 2008, the long-defunct Missouri Horse Racing Commission met for the first time in a decade to try to revive the idea of bringing live horse racing to Missouri. The push didn't get to the starting gate.

Some local churches, like national ones, staunchly oppose gambling. But that hasn't stopped its spread.

One lawmaker wants to bring riverboat gambling to Lake of the Ozarks.

Also, our state is looking at sports betting, which will likely be a topic during the newly started legislative session.

Meanwhile, the state is in a quandary over the spread of unregulated and untaxed video gambling terminals. You can find them at gas stations and convenience stores throughout the state. The industry responsible has apparently tweaked what is similar to slot machines in an attempt to make them legal.

The Missouri Highway Patrol maintains they're illegal. Gov. Mike Parson said he's not convinced, and a court case could help determine whether they are games of chance (illegal) or games of skill (legal).

The Missouri Lottery, which has seen a revenue decline in recent months, fears the machines are eating into their profits. They want the machines gone. They've gone so far as to warn retailers that they could face prosecution for having them in their stores.

(The Lottery already is dealing with an advertising budget that has been slashed from $16 million to $5 million by the Legislature.)

We're no lawyers, but we believe the industry promoting the gambling machines may have ingeniously come up with a loophole to allow their gambling devices.

All of this brings up the question: Should our state be so concerned with limiting gambling?

Don't get us wrong: We're not big fans of gambling in any form. There's not much redeeming about it morally or financially. It seems like the people who can least afford to gamble are the ones spending the most amount of money.

But we can't put the genie back in the bottle; it's here to stay. Government can't protect us from ourselves on this one, and it can't legislate morality.

So why not let the free market reign? Set the necessary regulations, collect the taxes and let the chips fall where they may.


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 11

Animal lovers may initially take issue with proposed Missouri legislation that would crack down on people who bring pets into restricted places under the guise that they’re service animals. But in fact, such a crackdown is already happening in other states, and it’s long overdue here. Trying to pass off Muffy the Pomeranian as a guide dog in order to bring her into a restaurant diminishes public acceptance of actual service animals — and the humans who need them.

Relationships with animals of all kinds can be beneficial to people, and trained dogs have proven especially useful in tasks like guiding those who are visually impaired. The Americans With Disabilities Act has long recognized specially trained dogs (and, more rarely, miniature horses) to perform not only seeing-eye functions but also to detect seizures, monitor blood sugar for diabetics, retrieve items for disabled clients and provide a range of physical and emotional support services for those living with post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychiatric conditions.

These animals are allowed by law to accompany their handlers into venues where animals are normally prohibited, and they’re trained to behave in those settings. Few would argue with the legitimacy of that arrangement.

But there’s a troubling trend of people who don’t need service animals but who use that legal framework to take regular (or sometimes irregular) pets into restaurants, onto planes and other areas where they normally wouldn’t be allowed — sometimes to chaotic effect.

A woman last fall, for example, boarded a Frontier Airlines flight with what she called her emotional support squirrel, in defiance of the airline’s prohibition on in-flight rodents. She refused to leave, so the other passengers had to deplane so she could be physically removed.

Other issues have included supposed service dogs that turned out to be regular, poorly trained pets — at least one of which mauled a fellow airline passenger earlier this year. It doesn’t help matters that an online industry has sprung up offering bogus service animal “certification” for any pet owner who pays a fee.

As the Post-Dispatch’s Kurt Erickson reports, the pending Missouri legislation would make it a misdemeanor offense to misrepresent a pet dog as a service dog. It specifies that such misrepresentation includes offering bogus certification or deceptively outfitting the animal with a service vest.

The proposed law recognizes the legitimacy of mental health assistance animals, but it limits them to dogs and says they must be trained to assist people with diagnosed psychological conditions. No squirrels.

Such legislation deserves passage. It isn’t an insult to anyone’s pet Chihuahua, iguana or guinea pig to point out that, cute as they may be, they don’t belong in the McDonald’s booth, the Walmart aisles or on that crowded flight to Kansas City. Cuddle them at home — and let the real service animals do their jobs.


The St. Joseph News-Press,

When people say that they’re fed up with health care, what they really mean is that they’re fed up with health-care billing.

A survey from the International Federation of Health Plans explains why. The organization provides a snapshot of medical costs in countries around the world. The results confirm what most of us already know.

The U.S. health-care system is the most expensive in the world.

In the United States, a typical angioplasty procedure to open a blocked blood vessel costs $32,000, compared to $7,400 in Switzerland and $6,400 in the Netherlands. An MRI averages $1,420 in the United States and $450 in Britain. An important breast-cancer treatment averages $211 in the United States and $44 in South Africa.

These are just a few examples showing that high costs are as big of a problem as access when it comes to reforming U.S. health care. Policymakers have a difficult needle to thread because efforts to reduce costs by government fiat could lead to hospital closures or some form of rationing, if reimbursement doesn’t cover the actual cost of service.

But failure to do anything about costs that exceed inflation means that individuals and employers devote a growing percentage of income to health care. Just this week, the Buchanan County Commission approved a budget that contains a $480,000 increase in health insurance costs. It is not a problem limited to Buchanan County or any one provider.

U.S. health-care spending increased 4.6 percent, to $3.6 trillion, in 2018, according to government figures. It accounts for more than 17 percent of the economy. The numbers are even more striking when broken down further, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finding that the consumer price index for health insurance spiked 12 percent last year while the same price index for medical-care services rose only 2.3 percent.

This is the environment that feeds a multitude of proposals, including a complete government takeover of health care. Other proposed solutions are more targeted, including one that seeks to create greater transparency on the negotiated prices between hospitals and insurers, on the theory that hospitals would be pressured to restrain prices if consumers had more information at their disposal.

Beware of anyone who offers an easy prescription to a complex, enduring problem. But one issue is clear. All those involved in the health-care food chain, from providers and hospitals to private insurers, will have to address rising costs as a core issue in order to avoid a more painful, government-imposed remedy in the future.

In our view, greater price transparency is a less bitter pill to swallow.