St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 14
Alcohol or physical abuses in college fraternity initiation rituals are finally getting the treatment they deserve from prosecutors around the country — as criminal cases. Prosecutors on May 5 filed criminal charges against 18 Penn State students in the death of a 19-year-old sophomore who drank excessively and suffered severe internal injuries during a fraternity hazing.
Members of the fraternity watched him collapse and left him for hours on the floor, even walking over his body instead of calling for help. The victim died of traumatic brain injury and a ruptured spleen.
Closer to home, 22 fraternity members at Northern Illinois University were convicted of misdemeanors in a hazing-related death in 2015.
The criminal justice system's harder line is long overdue. Colleges and universities have traditionally used campus security and private disciplinary hearings to keep such problems in-house and out of the headlines. That left students unaccountable for their crimes, put other students at risk and apparently provided minimal deterrent value in curbing outrageous behavior. Faculty-student disciplinary committees are not trained in criminal law and not competent to judge guilt or innocence.
The changing attitude during the past decade comes on the heels of congressional studies and reports from respected organizations about high incidences of sexual misconduct, psychological trauma and serious injuries accompanying fraternity hazing and drunken escapades. Attorneys have changed the landscape, too, willing to take on wealthy fraternities.
A generation or two ago, hazing was accepted as part of the fraternity and sorority experience. Authorities looked the other way at initiation rituals that involved excessive drinking, and resulting deaths or allegations of sexual assault were often labeled accidents or misunderstandings. Today, there are growing calls for the fraternity system to be disbanded altogether as universities question the net contribution they make to campus life.
Civil lawsuits that are open for public scrutiny reveal chilling details about fraternity activities. Those lawsuits are partly responsible for forcing administrators to stop relying on internal disciplinary procedures as a deterrent. Parents, too, are coming forward more often to demand justice for their children, unafraid of the consequences and willing to expose perpetrators as criminals. An excellent example was last week's decision by Washington University student Katy Hutson, with her parents' backing, to come forward in the student newspaper with rape allegations.
On the positive side, fraternities can create leaders, foster lifelong friendships and provide excellent networking opportunities. University of Kentucky professor of communications Alan DeSantis notes in his 2007 book about fraternities and sororities that 85 percent of U.S. Supreme Court justices since 1910 were fraternity members, and 18 of the nation's presidents belonged to frats.
Fraternity alumni who want to remain proud of their associations should work alongside administrators, prosecutors, lawyers and families to clean up the organizations. Repeatedly tragic results only reinforce fraternities' image as big contributors to the college boozing culture.
Kansas City Star, May 12
When lawmakers need to buy time on a tough issue or avoid taking a tough vote, they typically set up a task force.
To no one's surprise, that was the move Missouri legislators made this week, the latest twist in the ongoing saga of how to fund state highways.
Ridiculous, this is.
The General Assembly's 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force is to include 23 members: lawmakers, the public and the governor. They are to hold public hearings, determine needs and figure out how to pay for it all.
They'll report back to the legislature by January, and even then, lawmakers will almost certainly wiggle and squirm and avoid addressing the issue. Why? Because 2018 is an election year.
Prediction: This task force will be nothing but a giant waste of time.
Anyone paying any attention already knows that Missouri needs better and safer roads. It's obvious when you get behind the wheel and head out of town. And it's obvious because the need has been thoroughly documented.
In 2012, the 22-member Blue Ribbon Citizens Committee on Missouri's Transportation Needs issued its final report and concluded that the state "needs to invest an additional $600 million to $1 billion annually . to address Missouri's critical transportation needs."
In 2003, another blue-ribbon panel undertook the same task. In other words, the issue has been studied to death.
Every one of the 197 legislators in Jefferson City knows that the road network in Missouri is the nation's seventh-largest. They know that the state's highways are funded with one of the lowest fuel taxes anywhere. At 17 cents a gallon, the tax ranks 46th nationally.
In comparison, fuel taxes in Pennsylvania now top 50 cents a gallon.
The only question is whether lawmakers have the courage to vote for a tax increase. Some legislators, such as Sen. Bill Eigel, a Weldon Spring Republican, still operate under the illusion that the state can come up with the hundreds of millions of dollars needed from existing revenue.
That's pure folly. Legislators already are unable to meet basic needs, such as prescription drugs for poor seniors.
Lawmakers overshot in 2014 with a proposal that called for a three-quarters-cent sales tax bump for transportation. Voters crushed it, giving the plan only about 40 percent support.
Last year, state senators courageously passed a bill calling for a modest 5.9 cents-a-gallon gas-tax boost, only to see the House kill it. (Note to lawmakers: 2016 also was an election year. That's why the inaction this year was so troubling).
Let's get real: If a proposal for more state support for highways is to have anything close to a realistic chance, gubernatorial leadership is required. Iowa is a great example. It passed a 10-cents-a-gallon boost in 2015 knowing that its longtime governor, Republican Terry Branstad, had campaigned on the issue.
In Missouri, former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, never championed the cause. Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, was noncommittal during the 2016 campaign and avoided any mention of highways in his State of the State address in January.
If his ambitions truly are aimed at the White House, he may continue to steer clear of the issue. That way, he can avoid endorsing a tax increase, and his state, at the crossroads of America, will decline. Or he can get to work and show some true leadership on a vital issue.
Columbia Daily Tribune, May 12
It is not clear what happened to Carl DeBrodie, 31, whose disappearance was reported April 17 but who might have actually been dead for months. The Fulton man's body was found April 24, encased in concrete and locked away in a storage garage. DeBrodie, a man with severe mental disability, had been a resident of a Fulton group home and under the guardianship of the Callaway County public administrator since 2008. The public administrator is required to file annual reports of contact with the client, any changes in the client's condition and so forth. State law does not require the administrator to have contact with the client. The administrator filed a report about DeBrodie on Jan. 18. That record is closed to the public.
Experts say DeBrodie had likely been dead for months.
The Missouri Department of Mental Health contracted with Callaway County Special Services to manage DeBrodie's case. The state agency requires monthly face-to-face contact by an employee with the client, a family member, guardian or direct care staff. It is not clear when or whether that contact took place.
David English, a University of Missouri law professor, said the law dealing with state guardianship desperately needs to be updated. Last changed in 1983, current law puts more emphasis on assets than quality of life, English said. Improvements to the law should be joined by sturdier oversight by the courts, he said.
The guardianship system failed to protect Carl DeBrodie. The lack of clarity surrounding his death is further evidence of a major system failure. Missouri lawmakers should feel a moral obligation to fix the flaws in state law to focus on the person and not his or her assets. That much is clear. The state's most vulnerable citizens deserve better.
St. Joseph News-Press, May 13
The just-concluded session of the General Assembly leaves many Missourians with two major disappointments — no long-term plan to pay for road improvements and no statewide system for monitoring abuse of prescription drugs.
Post-session analyses will split largely along party lines, and along liberal-conservative lines, with most everyone tallying both "wins" and "losses."
A fully funded commitment to public K-12 education comes with the caveat that the bar has been lowered. Meanwhile, core funding for public colleges and universities is cut by 6.6 percent.
Missouri will be a "right to work" state, with a ban on mandatory union fees, but the "prevailing wage" law setting minimum pay scales on public projects remains.
Tighter restrictions on abortion clinics failed. So did limits on lobbyist gifts to elected officials.
In many ways, this is a true mixed record of success. But it should be acknowledged some items can't possibly fit under this description.
When a strong majority of the citizens would benefit and favor a specific action - and it does not come to pass - then the record is simply one of failure, or neglect.
We are dismayed another year has passed and, still, lawmakers have done nothing to improve long-term road and bridge funding.
A proposal for a modest gas tax increase — less than 6 cents per gallon for one of the lowest gas taxes in the country — languished and ultimately died. Instead, we are left with a 23-member task force that will aspire to study the issue, take public input and propose a way to pay for needed improvements.
To be clear, we have been down this path before. In 2012, a 22-member citizens committee projected the state needed to invest an additional $600 million to $1 billion annually to address Missouri's "critical" transportation needs. And now, five years later, the public is still waiting for a plan.
As for prescription drug monitoring, it's notable what caused this needed protection to fail in the legislature again. Privacy advocates wanted to purge data within six months and limit the drugs monitored; others wanted to impose criminal penalties on medical providers who did not use the system.
The closer the bill came to becoming law, the more distasteful it appeared to advocates who had moved ahead with getting local monitoring programs under way in 20 counties and several cities. A weak statewide program would have replaced tougher standards in those communities that have adopted them. Still, much of Northwest Missouri remains without any monitoring program.
The state's citizens, no matter their party affiliation, will greatly benefit the day lawmakers act responsibly by adopting a road funding plan and a credible statewide program for detecting abuse of prescription painkillers.
Lawmakers did not accomplish either this year, and that's at least a disappointment.