The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 8
GOP radicals are muzzling public opposition to Missouri's new abortion law
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft last week rejected two proposed ballot measures that would allow voters to overturn the state's draconian new law restricting abortion rights. Ashcroft says his hands are tied because his fellow Republicans in the Legislature designated part of the law an "emergency," meaning it cannot be overturned by referendum.
That throws it to the courts to decide whether the Legislature's emergency designation was made in good faith, or if it was — as is obvious — merely a ploy to deny voters any opportunity to have input. So far, the ploy has worked.
There is no emergency here. GOP extremists have commandeered Missouri's state government and launched an all-out assault on the self-determination rights of women — even rape and incest victims — and now are muzzling public opposition to it. The American Civil Liberties Union has justifiably filed a court challenge in hopes of getting this question onto the ballot, giving voters a chance to build a firewall against this radical agenda.
This newspaper generally opposes government by referendum. Voters elect representatives for a reason. But the Legislature's Republican supermajority is out of control and out of step with Missouri's citizens. Consider how often voters in statewide referendums have reversed lawmakers on issues like the minimum wage, labor rights and ethics. Those and other reversals expose how broken representative government is in Missouri.
The newly signed abortion law is further proof of it. It outlaws all abortions at eight weeks, a point at which many women don't even know they're pregnant, and provides no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. Polls show majorities of citizens in Missouri, as around the nation, oppose such extreme restrictions.
Which explains why the Legislature was so careful to act preemptively to keep voters out of the process. A designated "emergency" section of the law requires pregnant teens to inform both parents, in addition to the current rule of just getting one parent's consent, before obtaining an abortion. Ashcroft argues the emergency clause puts the whole law out of reach of being changed by referendum.
The one-parent consent rule has been in place for decades, disproving the claim of an emergency need to expand it. Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, exposed the radicals' true motives when he recently told St. Louis Public Radio that the goal was to block the possibility of a voter override: "What we did in the bill is actually preempt that type of situation by putting an emergency clause in there. So there can't be a referendum."
That comment, which is included in the ACLU's lawsuit seeking to get one of the measures onto the ballot, couldn't be clearer: The emergency designation is a strategic lie put there to prevent a majority of Missouri voters from interfering with this Legislature's war on women.
The Kansas City Star, June 7
Black drivers in Missouri 91% more likely to be stopped than whites. Where's the outrage?
Driving while black in Missouri is becoming an even more perilous proposition.
Two years after the NAACP issued a travel advisory warning black motorists of the potential problems with traveling through Missouri, a new report finds that in 2018, black drivers in Missouri were 91% more likely to be pulled over than white motorists.
Our state has long had an abysmal record on racial disparities in vehicle stops, but Missouri keeps finding ways to regress further, the latest annual report released by Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office shows.
The numbers have gotten worse every year in the recent past, and it's no wonder: Lawmakers and state officials have made little to no effort to put a stop to such discriminatory practices.
In 2017, black motorists were 85% more likely to be stopped than white drivers. The number was 75% in 2016 and 69% in 2015.
The most recent report also shows that people of color are disproportionately stopped and searched by law enforcement. Black and Hispanic drivers were 1.48 and 1.4 times more likely, respectively, to have their vehicles searched than white drivers, despite the fact both groups were slightly less likely than whites to possess contraband.
The data should serve as a wake-up call for law enforcement officials, who have spent years lobbying against efforts to combat racial profiling.
"Without significant reform, Missouri will remain a state where minority drivers are harassed and unsafe," said Sara Baker, legislative and policy director for ACLU of Missouri.
The ACLU has called on the Missouri legislature and Gov. Mike Parson to support the Fourth Amendment Affirmation Act to move beyond data collection to actually requiring consequences for officers who engage in racial profiling.
Republican state Rep. Shamed Dogan of St. Louis County suggested members of the General Assembly solicit feedback from law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, civil rights groups and others in a series of meetings throughout the state this summer. Kansas City will host a meeting at a still-to-be-determined time, he said.
In each of the last four years, Dogan has introduced the Fourth Amendment Affirmation Act, which would hold individual officers and departments accountable for profiling. The legislation advanced through a House committee last spring but failed to get a hearing in the Senate. This year, the bipartisan measure stalled in the House.
"We went backwards," Dogan said.
Racial profiling by police is already outlawed in Missouri. But the law imposes few, if any, consequences for officers or departments that violate the statute.
Dogan's bill would identify problem officers and offer training and other remedies before they could be fired. Departments would have up to six years to get their collective acts together. The attorney general's office could withhold state funding if a department failed to comply.
For too long, there have been no ramifications for officers or departments that disproportionately target people of color in vehicle stops.
"If you don't have any teeth in that law that bans racial profiling, then you won't get compliance," Dogan said.
It's been nearly 20 years since Missouri started collecting racial profiling data to combat unfair treatment by law enforcement against minorities. And the data clearly indicates Missouri has a serious problem with discriminatory policing.
But, as state Sen. Karla May, a Democrat from St. Louis, has said: What is the state going to do about it?
The St. Joseph News-Press, June 10
Leviathan returns, in digital form
Ida Tarbell earned a reputation as a muckraker for exposés that resulted in the eventual breakup of the Standard Oil Company.
More than a century later, Sen. Josh Hawley carries more of an establishment aura, with his education at elite universities and experience as a law clerk for the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Both Tarbell and Hawley share a common trait in their skepticism of the leviathan of the day: Standard Oil in 1900 and Big Tech, including Google and Facebook, in 2019.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Hawley turned the focus from the Russia investigation to Big Tech companies and his concerns about anti-competitive conduct, potential bias and privacy violations. Unlike the Mueller report, Hawley finds a more receptive audience on the other side of the aisle. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, hardly a political ally, expressed concern about the "handful of gatekeepers" that control search engines, online commerce and information sharing.
Up until now, Hawley and like-minded lawmakers took aim at relatively low-hanging fruit, like data collection on children.
Bigger issues loom on the horizon, with news that the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission have agreed to divide up antitrust scrutiny of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. These tech giants now find themselves in the regulatory crosshairs, with Facebook and Google seen as the most vulnerable to some sort of action.
Few tears will be shed for companies that built up unprecedented influence in culture and politics, making them an easy target of the left and the right. Elected officials and regulators will have to tread carefully between concerns about perceived bias — one person's political leanings can be another's free expression — and look to broader issues of market dominance and the way search engine content is prioritized, personal data is collected and online ad revenue is directed primarily to Facebook and Google.
Here Europe's regulation watchdog — another odd ideological bedfellow for American politicians who decry regulation — has taken a more aggressive role in trying to rein in Big Tech. The European Union recently fined Google for forcing customers to advertise exclusively through its AdSense service.
These are issues Tarbell never encountered with Standard Oil. One new wrinkle is how technology companies offer plenty of shipping, searching and sharing services for free. This is not the normal business model for a monopoly that seeks to squelch competition.
Perhaps regulators and legislative critics will find that free is still too expensive, that these companies exact a heavy price in the way that personal data is collected and shared, often without the knowledge of the end user.