The Associated Press
Jefferson City News Tribune, Jan. 6
The ‘epidemic’ of child sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse in Missouri is characterized as a “silent epidemic” by members of a task force that studied the issue.
The 14-member task force on Thursday released its report, which contains 22 recommendations in seven separate categories.
State Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis and a task force member, said child sexual abuse is a “complex issue” that requires a multi-faceted response. Those facets are reflected in the recommendations concerning awareness, education, mental health, public policy and state law.
With respect to the complexity of the problem and the scope of recommendations, we intend to explore the issue in a series of opinion pieces, rather than a single editorial.
Perhaps the best way to begin that exploration is by looking at the magnitude and insidious nature of the problem.
The report references studies that “suggest 25 percent of girls and 16 percent of boys experience sexual abuse during their childhood years.”
Although the magnitude of the problem is an estimation — admitted by the word “suggest” — we understand the inability to be more specific. The Center for Sex Offender Management estimates only a third of offenses are reported to law enforcement.
An obstacle to bringing the scope of the problem to light is that predators typically seek dark places behind closed doors.
The report affirms the public perception that children most often are abused by someone they know. “A third or more of victims are abused by a family member, and only 7 percent are molested by a stranger,” the report reads, adding 75 percent of abuse occurs inside of homes.
In addition to being a clandestine crime, child sexual abuse often is chronic. The offense typically is repeated and rarely a one-time event.
Why are the victims reluctant to identify their abusers?
“Children who are being abused often face significant barriers to disclosing the abuse,” the report reads. Those barriers are identified as: shame and guilt; fear of not being believed or being removed from the home; and manipulation and threats by perpetrators.
The crime not only victimizes children, it also creates a significant social cost. Consequences of abuse include anxiety, depression, teen pregnancy, risky behaviors, and alcohol and drug abuse. In addition, sexually abused children are more likely to perpetuate the cycle of abuse.
The task force did not overstate the problem by characterizing it as “complex.”
And it did not dilute its imperative that everyone has a stake in working to raise awareness, improve public policy and enact laws to protect our children.
The Kansas City Star, Jan. 5
Fresh start, lots of work for Missouri legislature
After two years of gridlock and goofiness, the Missouri General Assembly’s new leaders are vowing that 2013 will be a productive session.
That could be good or bad, depending on what lawmakers actually produce.
There are reasons to be optimistic. Some lawmakers bent on obstruction have left the Capitol, and those remaining seem determined to build a record of accomplishment.
Here are five things the legislature should get done:
—Expand Medicaid limits.
This single step would provide financial and medical security for up to 300,000 Missourians, improve health outcomes and act as economic jet fuel. One reliable study estimates it would create 22,000 sustainable jobs over seven years.
—Put a bond issue on the ballot.
A few weeks ago, Missouri made its last payment on a $600 million construction financing plan that voters approved in 1982. That bond issue, passed in the midst of an economic downturn when Republican Kit Bond was governor, created hundreds of jobs and upgraded roads, parks and public buildings.
After prioritizing the state’s construction needs, Gov. Jay Nixon and lawmakers should take advantage of today’s low interest rates and Missouri’s AAA credit rating to put a new proposal before voters.
—Collect taxes on Internet sales.
Missouri loses millions of dollars a year for lack of a mechanism to receive sales tax payments from retailers who sell merchandise online and through catalogues to state residents. Besides being poor fiscal policy, this is unfair to Missouri’s brick-and-mortar businesses which must assess a state sales tax.
Missouri should join Kansas and 23 other states in an agreement that sets up a structure to make it easier for out-of-state retailers to voluntarily pay sales taxes.
Missouri’s campaign finance and ethics laws are the nation’s weakest. It is the only state to allow lawmakers to receive both unlimited campaign donations and unlimited gifts from lobbyists.
Republicans are zeroing in on one troubling aspect of campaign financing — the ability of sham nonprofit groups to donate large sums without revealing the source of their funding. That should be fixed. But a bipartisan effort also is needed to pass limits on campaign contributions and lobbyist gifts.
—Empower school reform.
Missouri’s current law creates a multi-year limbo for troubled districts like the Kansas City Public Schools. They can languish almost indefinitely in provisionally accredited or unaccredited status. Legislators should establish a community-based process that would assess options and possible state intervention immediately after a district becomes unaccredited.
And here are three things the legislature shouldn’t do:
—Don’t follow Kansas over the cliff.
Kansas’ dramatic slashing of income tax rates is putting pressure on Missouri to do the same. But Missouri’s tax rates overall already are very low, and lawmakers shouldn’t repeat Kansas’ folly of lowering taxes without any way of making up the revenue. Any tax decreases should be offset by tighter controls on Missouri’s runaway tax credit programs.
—Don’t pick a fight with unions.
Some Republicans want to hamper the ability of unions to collect dues from members, or to use dues to support political candidates. But these measures would embroil the legislature in a prolonged battle with organized labor, but do nothing to improve the state’s business climate.
—Don’t put guns in schools.
Authorizing teachers and administrators with gun permits to take weapons into schools is not the way to respond to the tragic events in Connecticut. Nixon has vowed to veto any such legislation, and lawmakers should find more thoughtful and productive ways to deal with gun violence.
The Springfield News-Leader, Jan. 2
Make e-commerce pay tax
Times have changed.
We no longer buy our groceries at the corner store, get our shoes repaired at the cobbler or our horses shod at the blacksmith.
Now we drive across town to a supermarket or discount club, buy a new pair of shoes when they get too worn, and get our car repaired instead of our horse shod — paying sales tax to each with our purchase of goods or services.
And we check out deals on the Internet — often minus a state sales tax — before we bother to drive to the mall.
That change could potentially cost Missouri $1.4 billion in tax revenue over four years if we don’t also change the way we collect those taxes. That is what a study released by the University of Missouri’s Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs Institute of Public Policy has determined.
With schools needing funds, universities facing raises in tuition, roads and bridges going unfixed, children and family services begging for funds, and politicians looking for ways to raise money without raising taxes, it is disturbing that we are losing that kind of revenue by not collecting taxes that are already on the books.
The problem is that the law has failed to keep up with society and its increasing dependence on Internet traffic and trade. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that purchases made from businesses not in the state cannot be taxed by the buyer’s state unless the business has a bricks and mortar presence in that state.
That ruling was made well before e-commerce became the booming business it is today, but what the court said is important because the justices pointed out that the burden of a business computing, collecting and disbursing sales tax for every state must be addressed.
That means Congress, not the Missouri Legislature, is in the best position to fix the problem — for Missouri and the other states. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, is one of 10 senators to co-sponsor the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would give states the authority to collect taxes from online retailers. The act would also work toward simplifying state sales tax laws to lessen the burden on Internet retailers.
It is probably not surprising to learn that Congress has yet to consider the act or that some of the most strident anti-tax lawmakers in Washington, D.C., consider such an action the same as adding a tax — which it is not.
We encourage Blunt and other lawmakers to push for the Marketplace Fairness Act so that online retailers are playing by the same rules as those who sell out of a store or even those who sell out of a warehouse in the buyer’s state.
It’s only fair, and $1.4 billion could go a long way to resolving some of Missouri’s financial woes.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 2
If tax cuts feed a healthy economy, where is Missouri’s prosperity?
In last fall’s election, most Missouri Republicans ran against the Show-Me State’s economy.
Leading up to November’s vote, the GOP highlighted the bad news and ignored the good. Republicans blamed Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, for the state’s moribund recovery from the Great Recession.
Such a strategy, despite its deep cynicism, is fairly standard.
Governors and presidents tend to get blamed or credited for rises and falls in economic indicators far more than the congresses and legislatures that pass the tax laws which ultimately contribute to bull or bear markets.
As Harry Truman said, “the buck stops here.”
Yet as lawmakers prepare to return to Jefferson City next week to begin another legislative session, it’s worth noting that the new year will mark a decade in power for Republicans in the Capitol. For 10 years, the GOP has had near total control in both the Missouri House and Senate, with each body entering the new session with unprecedented majorities.
What have the Republicans done with those majorities in a decade?
In an analysis by the Associated Press’s David Lieb, the verdict is clear: They’ve cut taxes and reduced spending on social programs, which, for the most part, is what they said they’d do.
Here’s the problem: If cutting taxes was supposed to pave the road to prosperity, why all the potholes?
This is a dilemma the Republicans will have to struggle with in the upcoming legislative session.
If tax cuts really improve the economy, then Missouri’s should be booming. By nearly any measure, the state has among the lowest tax burdens in the nation, much of it the result of Republican policies since 2003. According to the Tax Foundation, Missouri ranks 47th out of 50 in state and local revenue collection. The same foundation ranks Missouri’s corporate tax climate 8th best in the country.
Missouri’s taxes are exceedingly low.
Yet nearly every Republican ran for re-election on a platform that said that because of Mr. Nixon, Missouri’s economy was in the tank. And top GOP representatives and senators already are proposing the same old failed solutions to the economic malaise: more tax cuts.
Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, has pre-filed legislation, for instance, that would cut corporate taxes in half in Missouri over the next five years. Mr. Schmitt argues that the more than $70 million that would be lost to an already tight budget would be more than made up in economic vitality.
Other lawmakers are worried about keeping up with Kansas, which cut its corporate taxes last year and has been using that and other incentives to poach businesses along the border in Kansas City.
Never mind that Kansas is facing a massive budget shortfall that will lead to cuts to schools, health care programs, roads and other infrastructure.
The problem with Mr. Schmitt’s approach is that it ignores the past decade.
If facts matter — call us crazy, but we think they should — then cutting taxes and starving social programs has done nothing but accelerate Missouri’s race to the bottom. Those policies haven’t led to the prosperity the GOP promised. While running for re-election and pointing fingers at the governor, they ignored their own responsibility. To the extent that Mr. Nixon is to blame, it’s because he happily went along with the GOP agenda.
Missouri’s recent history has shown it can’t cut itself to prosperity.
Another approach is needed, one that invests in the state’s future.