Kansas City Star. September 20, 2023.
Editorial: KC Chiefs, Royals, Current want sports betting. Missouri lawmakers drag their heels
Direct democracy is, amazingly, still alive and well in Missouri. The initiative and referendum process has in recent years brought forth the expansion of Medicaid and the legalization of marijuana, and done so despite the objections and inaction of our leaders in Jefferson City. When the usual processes of state government get gummed up, organized citizens can still take matters into their own hands to improve their lives and the laws of the state.
We believe in the citizen-driven referendum process. But we’re a bit more cautious with our enthusiasm when billion-dollar enterprises get involved.
That’s what happened last week when the Missouri Pro Sports Coalition — a group led by the St. Louis Cardinals, and which includes the Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Current — filed four petition proposals with the Missouri secretary of state, each of which would let the teams and casinos offer sports wagers in their venues and online: Fans could go to a game and place a bet while cheering for the home team. The goal is to gather 180,000 signatures to get a measure onto the 2024 ballot.
Sports betting would “provide our fans a good, new exciting way to enjoy sports and root for our teams,” said Cardinals executive Mark Whittle, speaking on behalf of the coalition.
Maybe. We still have concerns about the sudden, dramatic expansion of sports betting nationally in recent years. You can’t watch a game or highlights these days, it seems, without being offered an invitation to drop some cash on a wager using a phone or laptop. Some observers worry the ubiquity of sports betting will lead to a surge in gambling addictions, with predictably bad results for families, workplaces and society.
It is probably too late to stop the spread, however. Nearly 40 states have legalized sports wagers, including next-door Kansas. We cannot blame Missouri sports teams for wanting to tap into a revenue source available to most of their competitors. It would be best, however, if legalization and regulation was led by the Missouri General Assembly — the better to balance the interests of the state, its residents and the teams — rather than the teams that stand to benefit.
Unfortunately, Missouri leaders have fallen down on the job.
In February, the state Senate was on the verge of passing a bill to legalize sports betting that seemingly had solid support. But the process was derailed by a single person — Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican — who blocked progress on the effort because it didn’t also legalize and tax video lottery terminals, the casino-like slot machines increasingly found in Missouri gas stations, truck stops and fraternal organizations. His colleagues wouldn’t go along.
That’s why sports teams decided to bypass legislators. “We’re not optimistic that kind of dynamic within the Missouri Senate will change,” Whittle told the Associated Press.
Understandable. The team-led process, though, would create a sports-betting regime much more favorable to gambling interests. The abandoned Senate bill would have placed a 15% tax on the adjusted gross receipts — the money left over after payouts to bettors. Under the teams’ proposal, the state would get a 10% cut. That would still produce an estimated $30 million in yearly revenue for Missouri coffers, but state’s inaction means it may have left some money on the table.
We love our local sports teams. But the referendum they propose isn’t so much an effort to make life better for Missouri residents as it is an attempt to improve their own, already substantial bottom lines. (The Chiefs are valued at $4.3 billion by Forbes, while the Royals are worth an estimated $1.2 billion.) Again: There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. It does mean, however, that Missourians should cast a vigilant eye on their attempts to bypass the state legislature.
Ultimately, it would be best if the legalization of sports betting were guided by elected state representatives. When officials in Jefferson City don’t do their jobs, though, somebody else will.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. September 23, 2023.
Editorial: Whatever state leaders claim, Missouri is a dangerous place to be a kid
Missouri politicians who claim to care deeply about the welfare of the state’s children have some odd ways of showing it.
Yes, the cultural conservatives who hold state government in their iron grip claim to be thinking of the kids as they restrict abortion rights, outlaw adolescent transgender care and muzzle school curriculum — all of which throws red meat to the Republican base but is debatable in terms of protecting children (even on abortion, given the valid debate over what constitutes a child).
But they seem far less interested in protecting children when it doesn’t push culture-war buttons for them: They allow corporal punishment in schools. They allow child marriages. They are trying to roll back child-labor laws.
Add to that the state’s chronically underfunded education and health care systems, plus fanatically loose gun laws that cost young lives virtually every week, and it’s clear that Missouri is a dangerous place to be a kid.
Now a national study has confirmed that sad status.
A recent report by the New York-based nonprofit group Human Rights Watch grades each of the states against the standards of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Though the U.S. hasn’t ratified that convention — a common situation, given Congress’ institutional reluctance to yield to international oversight — few Americans would argue with standards designed to offer children protection from abuse and exploitation.
Yet Missouri scored an F, along with just 15 other states.
Missouri was cited specifically for its policy of allowing public schools to use corporal punishment against public and private school students.
That’s not some unintended oversight from a less-enlightened era. As we’ve noted in this space before, it’s a barbaric policy that the Missouri Legislature legitimized just last year with legislation specifying that schools must get written permission from parents before physically hurting their kids.
The report also took Missouri to task for allowing children to marry at age 16 with approval of one parent.
Even that standard was lower prior to 2018, when the state technically had no minimum age requirement for marriage — and had become a national magnet for 15-year-old girls who wanted to marry to prevent the adult fathers of their children from being prosecuted for statutory rape.
Not everyone is apparently on board with the principle that states should not allow child marriages. State Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, made national news this year for suggesting during floor debate that children as young as 12 should be able to marry.
The report also cited Missouri law that lets children as young as 14 work in agricultural jobs. Though that’s better than the policies of most other states, it’s still below the recommended standard of 15 years.
That may not be the last word on child labor, however. Missouri’s legislative session earlier this year included an effort to extend legal working hours for teens and eliminate the teen work-permit requirement that keeps schools in the loop.
As we noted in May, those efforts are part of a national trend in red states to loosen child-labor laws — a trend backed by business interests — which is clearly designed to use kids to alleviate the tight labor market rather than pay higher wages to attract adult workers.
That legislative effort failed this time, but it would be surprising if it didn’t return next year.
After all, protecting kids in Missouri is apparently only a political priority when it serves the ideological purposes of the state’s right-wing leaders.
Jefferson City News Tribune. September 23, 2023.
Editorial: State audits a matter of math
Seldom does the work of the state auditor’s office grab the headlines. Maybe it’s society’s aversion to math.
But the auditor’s staff did make news this week when audits of eight state government agencies found more than a dozen errors related to financial reporting and the administration of federal funds in fiscal year 2020.
Generally, audits provide credibility to financial statements and confidence that the accounts are true and fair. They can also help the organization improve its internal controls and systems.
But more importantly, audits can serve to build trust with taxpayers and can help the Show-Me State better use the funds entrusted to it.
In a series of letters to the eight state agencies, Missouri Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick documented the errors and inaccuracies his staff found, which amounted to various state financial accounts being overstated by at least $150 million and understated by at least $83 million.
Fitzpatrick laid out why this accounting exercise is so important to the state.
“When I took office I made a commitment to closely scrutinize the massive amount of federal dollars flowing into our state,” he said. “The Statewide Single Audit is an annual process for my office that gives taxpayers a closer look at where federal funds are being spent and how state government can be more efficient and responsible with the way it uses our tax dollars.”
Among his findings:
The Missouri Department of Social Services had the most audit findings with nine -- three were related to internal controls over financial reporting and the other six were related to administration of federal funds.
DSS lacked adequate procedures for reporting Medicaid payment data or Medicaid drug rebate accounts, resulting in financial misstatements of up to $60 million, according to the audit letter. The department also failed to determine Medicaid and CHIP eligibility within required timeframes, with the average delay being 68 days late. Insufficient controls over the Pandemic EBT Food Benefits program resulted in the department issuing benefits to ineligible school children and overpaying others.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education didn’t comply with federal reporting requirements for any subawards issued through the GEER or Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools programs. The issue was noted in a previous audit, according to Fitzpatrick’s letter to the agency.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services received two audit findings, both of which were noted in previous audits. The department didn’t survey long term care facilities within required timeframes and didn’t monitor contract subrecipients in accordance with its own monitoring plan, its audit summary states.
The other letters were sent to the Missouri Office of Administration, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Missouri Department of Revenue and Missouri Secretary of State’s Office.
Unfortunately, several of the audit findings were repeated from previous years, meaning they were brought to the attention of the agency, but not rectified.
An audit is only as good as its follow up and the execution of its recommendations. We encourage the eight agencies to address the issues raised in the audit so that they don’t reappear in the next iteration of the auditor’s work.
Doing anything less just doesn’t add up.