The Joplin Globe, Dec. 3

We urge lawmakers to sit this fight out.

Last month, a St. Louis County executive ordered indoor dining at bars and restaurants shut down because of a rising COVID-19 caseload and concerns about overwhelmed hospitals. He since has taken steps to close bars and restaurants that don’t comply. The move is controversial there, as you might guess, and there are questions about whether the county executive has authority to do this without approval from the council.

This is for them to sort out.

Yet it seems some lawmakers want in.

Led by state Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, some legislators are backing a measure allowing them to restrict what local government officials can do. Cities and counties would only be able to shut down businesses for two weeks. After that, both the Missouri House and Senate would have to approve and the governor would have to sign any extension.

Our advice: Lawmakers need to step back.

For months, the mantra coming out of Jefferson City, led by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, has been: “Local control.” In short, let cities and counties decide for themselves what is best.

That was the argument after the Missouri Hospital Association, the medical establishment and some Missouri communities asked for a statewide mask mandate.

It was the argument after the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommended a statewide mask mandate.

Parson said recently: “I’m always going to allow those local levels to make those decisions, and I think for the most part they are. All across the state, they understand the situation, and they are implementing policy.”

And this spring, Parson, in response to what was then happening in the St. Louis area, said: “I don’t want to be telling these cities and counties exactly how to run their business.”

If our elected leaders are not going to support a statewide mask mandate, citing “local control,” we don’t think they need to oversee those COVID-19 restrictions happening at the local level, either.

Although lawmakers may not agree with the steps individual counties and cities are taking, we counsel them not to overstep themselves.


The St. Joseph News-Press, Dec. 4

It may seem like Missouri is entering the 11th month of a legislative session with no end.

It’s not quite true. The General Assembly met for its regular session in January, took some time off for the coronavirus and gathered for two special sessions in the second half of the year.

That’s a lot of time in Jefferson City. Now, with the 2021 regular session just a month away, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is asking lawmakers to address coronavirus liability protections in January, instead of the special legislative session as he had previously suggested.

In terms of logistics, it’s hard to argue with a determination to use the current special session to focus on the core issue of approving a $1.2 billion coronavirus aid package before Uncle Sam wants its money back.

However, we hope that Missouri lawmakers also see the importance of making a strong push next year for a bill that would extend COVID-19 liability protections to health-care workers, schools, businesses and nonprofits.

Already, employers nationwide have been hit with more than 1,000 lawsuits regarding COVID-19, according to the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Businesses see liability protection as an issue of fairness, making the case that companies shouldn’t be sued if they followed recommended health guidelines that tend to shift all the time. Just this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened its recommended quarantine period for those who come into contact with a positive case but don’t show any symptoms.

Critics of liability protection say the number of lawsuits is low in Missouri and most of the legal action involves insurance claims, rather than personal injury or tort filings.

As the debate continues, policymakers shouldn’t overlook the reality that this issue deals not just with the what, but the what if. Businesses don’t fear losing a lawsuit, but they fear being targeted with one because they’re so costly and time-consuming to defend.

The pandemic already created a culture of aversion to risk. In many cases, this is warranted as people take reasonable precautions, like wearing masks and avoiding travel, in order to limit the spread of the virus.

But on a broader level, as a vaccine is made available and the public health threat begins to recede, it will be difficult to return to normal and fully reopen the economy if employers face a nebulous fear of lawsuits, especially when it’s so hard to pinpoint exactly how someone contracted COVID-19.

When Missouri lawmakers return for regular session, they should make it a point to address liability protections right away, instead of waiting for the last days of the session to push something across the finish line.


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 7

There certainly must come a point when St. Louisans draw the line on the rampant criminality and murders terrorizing the region. Last year’s spate of shooting deaths of children didn’t do it. Now Fred Whitted, the brother of a woman killed Monday in crossfire on Interstate 170, asks for anyone who will listen: “Where is the outrage in the community?”

With 72% of homicides going unsolved in St. Louis city, people should get outraged and even risk getting involved if that’s what it takes to stop the violence and bring criminals to justice. To the credit of investigators in St. Louis County, at least one suspect in Monday’s shooting was arrested on Friday. But it takes more than one shooter to create deadly crossfire.

The high number of senseless murders in St. Louis fuels a growing frustration among its citizens, especially the families of the victims.

“My sister did everything right,” Fred Whitted told reporters Thursday, flanked by grieving family. Kristen Whitted was a 46-year-old mother of two, on her way to meet a friend for a walk at Forest Park.

Fred Whitted, himself a community activist who lives in Omaha, Nebraska, said the violence in St. Louis is one of the reasons he moved away.

He and his family pleaded for anyone with information to come forward. He expressed the frustration shared by many about the increasing vulnerability of innocents caught up in this violence — and the well-founded frustrations of the families when the perpetrators aren’t brought to justice.

It’s entirely possible someone already has come forward in the murder of Kristen Whitted. But if people know something about this or any of the other unsolved murders in St. Louis city and county, and are not coming forward, police commanders, prosecutors and elected leaders need to find out why. If it’s because witnesses are afraid or unwilling to talk to police, they should know that County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell or city Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner have staffers who can get the information to the right people. There’s also the anonymous tip service Crimestoppers, which offers rewards as high as $15,000 for information leading to arrests.

Ample incentive exists for witnesses to abandon what Fred Whitted called a “no-snitching street code.”

Strained relationships in law enforcement, such as that between the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and Gardner, certainly don’t help to clear the city’s long list of unsolved homicide cases. Neither does the strained relationship between police and the Black community, where most of the victims of homicide come from.

But St. Louis desperately needs answers. And the Whitted family and all other loved ones of homicide victims deserve justice.

The words of Fred Whitted, “Don’t let my sister’s case go cold,” are a call to action for a city and region that must decide if this is what St. Louis wants as its identity.