Editorial Roundup: Missouri

Kansas City Star. May 2, 2021.

Editorial: Medicaid is up to you now, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson — and you know the right answer

Since the Republican majority in the Missouri legislature does not give a single tu-whit tu-whoo about what Gov. Mike Parson thinks, we can only hope that he returns the favor and forces Medicaid expansion anyway. For one thing because that’s what voters — remember them? — have said they want.

Why worry about so-called “election integrity” when the election results on ballot questions are routinely ignored in Missouri, you might ask.

Raise the minimum wage, said Missourians in 2018. Yet GOP lawmakers are still trying to hold off on the phased-in plan to do this. Because, you see, legislators know in their hearts that voters only said that because the poor things didn’t know any better.

“They don’t really have all of the information that they need to make the most informed decision, because it’s simply not available to them,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, in explaining his attempts to delay or stop the minimum wage increase altogether. “There are campaigns, political campaigns essentially, that are highlighting benefits of this and don’t highlight the negative consequences.” So, down with political campaigns, says the politician?

Now, unless something unexpected happens this week, ahead of the May 7 deadline for delivering a budget to Parson, the GOP-led Missouri House and Senate will have refused to fund the Medicaid expansion that voters approved last August.

They’re also mulling ways to make it harder to amend the Missouri Constitution in the future. “The people elected legislators to represent them,” says Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who supports legislation that would make ballot initiatives harder to pass. “We are not a democracy, we are a constitutional republic.” One that only respects “the people” when they agree with Republicans.

As you might remember, our Republican governor was not for expanding Medicaid, either. But he put money in the budget for it anyway, as required by the constitutional amendment passed by voters. “I have to represent all Missourians,” he said recently, “and they voted for it.”

So what will he do now? If the Parson administration blocks the some 275,000 newly eligible, low-income Missourians from enrolling on July 1, the issue will likely be settled by the courts. Because the constitutional amendment passed last year says those who make up to 138% of the federal poverty level — up to $26,500 a year for a family of four — “shall receive coverage for the health benefits service package.” Not “could,” “might” or “will if you like,” but “shall.”

GOP SENATE MAJORITY LEADER CHANGED HIS MIND

These are working people, not the layabouts that the GOP always says will somehow be made indolent by access to health care. (Do healthier people really laze around more? Don’t think so.) And, by the way, they’re many of the same minimum wage workers the GOP wants to prevent from making a living wage.

Even Missouri Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican, sees that resisting the expansion no longer makes any sense. He and three other Republicans joined all 10 Senate Democrats in supporting the expansion, though he, too, has opposed it in the past.

“I think some folks will paint this vote as a litmus test of how conservative you are, how steadfast you are in your opposition to Medicaid expansion,” he said in a floor speech. But “I think we will have to fund this population sooner than later … I think it’s the right thing to do, right now with the variables in front of us.”

It was always the right thing to do. And failing to do so was always particularly harmful to failing rural hospitals and rural voters, who struggle more with access to care.

But then, those who complain that Missouri can’t afford it, when the state has all along lost money by refusing to expand Medicaid, would apparently rather pay for a court fight it’s likely to lose than give the working poor better access to health care.

Parson could and absolutely should enroll newly eligible Missourians anyway, and call a special session to approve the necessary funding.

In January, the governor accused lawmakers of a “purposeful and disgusting scheme to embarrass me,” by changing the venue of his state of the state address because of the pandemic.

But it’s not in tit-for-tat retribution that he should follow the will of the people on Medicaid expansion.

Since the federal COVID-19 rescue plan signed by President Joe Biden provides enhanced subsidies for individuals making more than 100% of the federal poverty line to obtain private health coverage, there’s not even a dollars-and-cents argument against expansion.

Making hundreds of thousands of people who’ve in many cases already gone years without health care wait even longer, while the issue is settled in court, would be irrational as well as cruel.

“I am proud to stand against the will of the people” on Medicaid expansion, Republican state Rep. Justin Hill has said. Because in his undemocratic view, the people were misinformed, and should be corrected as needed.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch. May 2, 2021.

Editorial: County Republicans flirt with disaster over gender-neutral bathrooms

Leave it to St. Louis County Republican council members to degrade a serious issue into potty politics. The debate over the labeling of public restrooms has divided residents of several states and led to economic boycotts and protests around the country. Now an action by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page to specify some governmental bathrooms as gender-neutral has evoked a religious-rights response from Republicans on the County Council. The simple answer to this debate exists in those Republicans’ own gender-neutral bathrooms at home.

The executive order by Page, at the request of progressive council member Lisa Clancy, D-5th District, doesn’t actually change much. It only affects the roughly 300 single-occupant restrooms in county government buildings, most of which are available to employees and visitors. Like bathrooms in residential homes, both men and women regularly share such single-toilet facilities and don’t seem to question the gender-neutral status. Page’s order simply changed the signs at the door to simply read “bathroom.” But that’s a big deal to council member Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, who called the action the “tip of the spear.”

Trakas claimed the action by Page and Clancy was just the beginning of an effort that would ultimately seek to replace “traditional family values” with the “militant secular values” taking over American culture. He made links to efforts in Congress to enshrine LGBTQ protections in federal labor laws. He said soon religious nurses may be forced to provide abortions or priests be required to conduct gay marriages. He suggested the bathroom designation was all part of a conspiracy against religious freedom in America. Trakas is hardly the first Republican to portray bathroom labeling as the battlefield for a coming culture war.

The infamous 2016 “bathroom bill” passed by the Republican-controlled North Carolina state Legislature forbade transgender people from using bathrooms that aligned with their expressed gender identity. It also prohibited cities from passing anti-discrimination laws that went beyond state law.

The backlash was overwhelming and well-deserved, with Fortune 500 companies canceling plans for expansion in the state. The National Basketball Association relocated its All-Star Game, and musicians and artists canceled shows. The Associated Press estimated that North Carolina stood to lose more than $3.76 billion and nearly 3,000 jobs as a direct result of the bill. The fallout also contributed to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory losing to Democrat Roy Cooper the following year. A federal judge ultimately approved a settlement allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice.

Republicans in Missouri and St. Louis County should see North Carolina not as inspiration but as a cautionary tale. Trakas should recognize that every step toward inclusion of marginalized people is not an assault on anyone else’s rights or personal values. Changing the signs outside single-occupant restrooms asks no one to give up anything, except maybe some entitlement and a bit of paranoia.

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Jefferson City News Tribune. May 2, 2021.

Editorial: Why was Missouri’s health director replaced?

First, Gov. Mike Parson announced Dr. Randall Williams resigned as Missouri’s health director. He praised Williams’ work but also said he requested the resignation.

First, Gov. Mike Parson announced Dr. Randall Williams resigned as Missouri’s health director. He praised Williams’ work but also said he requested the resignation. He also refused to release the resignation letter or offer much of an explanation.

Williams himself hasn’t commented either. This is the man who appeared regularly with Parson during his COVID-19 briefings throughout the past year. What are Missourians to think?

Parson said he also asked his former chief operating officer, Drew Erdmann, to resign. But, again, no real reason was given.

“We talked about things,” Parson said, according to the Missouri Independent. “We thought it was the best thing to do to part ways at this point.”

In the absence of official information, people have speculated about Williams’ sudden departure.

The Missouri Independent reported Williams’ resignation capped a contentious four years as Missouri’s top health official, in which he was embroiled in controversy for issues ranging from allegations of conflicts of interest surrounding the state’s nascent medical marijuana program to national headlines accusing him of tracking women’s menstrual periods.

The governor’s office has said Williams’ resignation letter is a closed record under the Sunshine Law. The news agency reported Caroline Coulter, the deputy general counsel for the governor’s office, said Williams’ resignation letter is closed in its entirety.

She cited a section of the Sunshine Law that permits the closure of “individually identifiable personnel records, performance ratings or records pertaining to employees or applicants for employment.”

But the Sunshine Law allows some documents to remain closed records; it doesn’t require them to be closed. Resignation letters of department heads often have been released to the public in past administrations.

We question whether anything exists in the resignation letter to warrant its closure. But even if the letter should be a closed record, the governor still can — and should — explain his decisions regarding Williams.

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