Tag Archives: Missouri

Back in the Day, both of Missouri’s US Senators Endorsed American Industrial Hemp

A July 30, 1841 note in “The Papers of Henry Clay” notes that on that day Clay:

“Participates in debate on a House bill appropriating $789310 to maintain a home squadron in the US Navy consisting of 2 frigates, 2 sloops, 2 small vessels, and 2 armed steamers. Speaks to Thomas H. Benton’s amendment to supply the vessels, in part, and as an experiment, with canvass and cordage manufactured from American water-rotted hemp so as to fully test such hemp; and to Sen. Lewis F. Linn’s (Dem., Mo.) suggestion that Benton’s amendment “specify Missouri hemp” since the “hemp of that State brought twenty dollars more per ton than the Kentucky hemp, and …if water rotted…was superior, and greatly superior to any other hemp, either domestic or foreign.”

(Thomas Benton at the time was serving as Missouri’s other Democratic US Senator).

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The Perverse Incentive Structure of Missouri’s Conviction-based Drug Testing Compensation Law RsMO 195.003

Missouri law mandates that individuals convicted of a violation of Missouri’s Controlled Substances Act are required to pay the costs of the crime lab test. In practice this implies that the only stable source of funding for a crime lab are test results that help a prosecutor obtain a conviction. As RsMO 195.003 states:

In any case where there is a violation of this chapter, a judge may, upon a finding of guilt*, order a defendant to pay for costs for testing of the substance or substances at a private laboratory.

Further, RsMO 488.029 establishes that part of these costs is a $150 surcharge that is only garnered by the crime lab in case of a conviction:

There shall be assessed and collected a surcharge of one hundred fifty dollars in all criminal cases for any violation of chapter 195 in which a crime laboratory makes analysis of a controlled substance, but no such surcharge shall be assessed when the costs are waived or are to be paid by the state or when a criminal proceeding or the defendant has been dismissed by the court. The moneys collected by clerks of the courts pursuant to the provisions of this section shall be collected and disbursed as provided by sections 488.010* to 488.020. All such moneys shall be payable to the director of revenue, who shall deposit all amounts collected pursuant to this section to the credit of the state forensic laboratory account to be administered by the department of public safety pursuant to section 650.105.

Roger Koppl and Meghan Sacks discuss the incentive structures of forensic scientists in a 2012 paper:

Whitman and Koppl point out that “the very choice to submit a suspect’s sample to the lab makes the lab more inclined (than it would be otherwise) to announce a match, indicating that the suspect is guilty.”  The forensic scientist must evaluate ambiguous evidence, but give, generally, a binary judgment that the evidence does or does not match.  (The explain why the probabilities given in DNA testimony are not usually an exception to this binary nature of forensic-science testimony.)  In this situation, even the most “rational” scientist must choose what to say.  The choice will usually be influenced by scientific analysis done in the crime lab. But if the evidence is ambiguous, as it often is, then two other factors matter even for perfectly “rational” forensic scientists.  The scientist is more likely to inculpate the defendant 1) the higher the forensic scientist’s “prior” probability of guilt, which is the probability before the forensic evidence is examined, and 2) the weaker is the scientist’s desire is to avoid convicting the innocent relative to his or her desire to convict the guilty.

Indeed, these biases when compounded by a financial incentive to assist in conviction imply that no Missouri drug defendant has a fair chance at an unbiased evidentiary process involving a crime lab. It’s time for the Missouri Legislature to protect the rights of citizens to a fair trial by reforming this system by ending the conviction-based revenue collection of crime labs.

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To Better (Missouri) Government, Mandate Sunshine

A Proposal to Sunshine Missouri Government

The Status Quo

Missouri’s Sunshine Law has been a great boon to citizens engaged in the basic democratic process of understanding what their government is doing. Yet, Missouri’s Sunshine Law still acts under the presumptions that information is not released without a request and that citizens must often bear a cost for the access to that information. Citizens additionally face the dilemma of not knowing with specificity the extent of government records available, impeding their ability to find the records they need. Hence, the costs of monitoring government under the Sunshine Law effectively price most citizens out of access to basic information about the conduct of government.

In other words, Missouri government entities have a legal duty to maintain and archive records of their activities, but not to provide open public access.

The solution: Publish all records online

Rather than making it costly for citizens to search for and acquire public records, the law should mandate all public records be posted to an online archive, in as close to real time as possible. Since public records are already archived by statute, this law would only need to mandate the electronic publication of archive material.

This proposal would end fundamental barriers to citizen access of government records. Citizens would no longer be in the dark about the existence of any specific government record, and would have complete information about the entire corpus of government records. Additionally, ending fee-only access to government records would remove a cost incentive for citizens to rationally ignore the political process; on some margin we can expect this proposal to energize grass-roots political education and activism.

Details

This legislation should be enacted through a ballot initiative campaign to amend the Missouri Constitution.

Please contact me at Eapen.Thampy@gmail.com if you would like to discuss the prospects for enacting some version of this proposal in the 2016 election cycle.

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MO State Rep. Mary Still: “My district isn’t up for sale but I’ll help with the auction of the 47th”

The Columbia Tribune reported last week:

In the recording, Copenhaver discusses conversations she says she had with state Rep. Mary Still, a Democratic candidate for the 19th Senate District. Copenhaver says Still contacted her multiple times between January and June asking whether Copenhaver would be interested in running in the Sixth House District instead, leaving Wright to run in the 47th.

In one of the calls, Copenhaver said, Still told her that Wright, a well-heeled investment professional who this year has donated more than $180,000 to his own campaign, would offer to pay for Copenhaver to run in the Sixth.

“She didn’t say ‘we,’ she said ‘he,’” Copenhaver told Richards.

While I don’t live in Mary’s district anymore, and am not going to take a stance on her race against Kurt Schaefer here, it is worth noting that Mary Still’s hypocrisy with respect to “special interests” is typical of the broken and dysfunctional politics that we have come to expect from mainstream Democrats, who have forgotten their principles.

Tangentially, I approached Mary last year asking her to take a stance on the Show-Me Cannabis Regulation initiative. Although she’d given me time in the past to present issues to her (even issues where we disagreed), she told me outright that she wasn’t interested in the subject. Poor way to treat a constituent in my opinion. And Mary’s unwillingness to even listen to the marijuana issue indicates that she is another Democrat who doesn’t really believe in taking care of the poor and politically weak, who are the people worst impacted by marijuana prohibition.

I remember being active for Democrats precisely because I once saw the party as an inclusive, honest institution that had principles and candidates with spine once. There are  few of those Democrats left and it is clear Mary is not one of them.

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United we stand, divided we blight

I see the eminent domain argument against the Enhanced Economic Zone (EEZ) blight designation of most of Columbia, Missouri Enhanced Economic Zone as an important facet of the opposition to this plan, but here I want to flesh out what I see as a fundamental principle driving the vigorous opposition to this plan. It simply isn’t fair in the way it allocates economic opportunity and public investment to the rich and politically connected, and it is that failure that must be recognized first and foremost because it is the inequity and unfairness of government policy that underlies most of the deep divisions in our polity. Indeed, I cannot remember a time when America was more sharply divided against itself.

We are a diverse polity. In some ways that gives America unique strength. But it also means that there is much difference between people: Religion, culture, sometimes language. History tells us of the old conflicts that still cast their specter over our mutual association. I think sometimes we forget how deeply the scars of war, slavery, and other oppressions have marked our society.

The prime virtue of America was that it offered equal opportunity. Equal opportunity before the law, the freedom to pursue happiness. For those escaping the shackles of a particular bondage, this freedom is like air to a drowning man.

But we must not forget these principles that are the foundation of our mutual association. The effort to carve up our public weal, to submit it to the appropriations of the powerful and connected, is an anarchic project. To prioritize one person or group’s needs and desires above the rest inspires resentment, destroys trust between individuals and groups, and foments disrespect for the law itself.

Let us quit this proposal of carving out economic benefits to companies and individuals who seek personal profit at the expense of the average citizen. I propose instead the City of Columbia instead focus on the provision of its core public services to citizens. Certainly our police department is a prime example of how poorly provided public services can alienate citizens and tarnish our city’s reputation. Our schools face chronic problems of underachievement, and many of our citizens have immediate needs that might be appropriately provided through refinements and investment in the basic city infrastructure. Let us focus our public policy in areas where we can provide immediate service to the citizens of Columbia.

And I want to suggest that it is not such a bad thing to stop competing with other cities to offer companies tax breaks for relocation and promises of “jobs”. Indeed, by breaking from this race to the bottom, Columbia has a chance to show national leadership on this issue. Wouldn’t that be something?

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The surveillance state comes home

Mark Flakne of Keep Columbia Free discusses, among other things, how the Columbia, Missouri police department is surveilling bars known as hangouts for political activists who oppose police overreach. The bar in question, the Blue Fugue, is a place where I’ve held numerous meetings with other people involved in politics; we used the space to work on my friend Mitch Richard’s campaign for city council, as an organizing venue for protests against SWAT raids following the Kinloch Court raid, and a place where I meet attorneys, political consultants, and other professionals for politically-oriented work.

 

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“A meaningless protest vote”

Fred Schmidt writes to justify his May 16 vote to fund surveillance cameras in downtown Columbia. And justification is sorely needed: Not only did First Ward voters choose to reject the installation of surveillance cameras, but Fred himself ran for office on an anti-camera stance.

Fred’s best argument for voting to fund the surveillance cameras is that “nothing would have been gained by a meaningless protest vote”. Perhaps in Fred’s decision calculus nothing would have been gained, but perhaps we can articulate what has been lost.

To represent others in an elected, decision-making body is a difficult task. Nevertheless, Fred could have at least forced a council debate over spending priorities. The First Ward is short a fire company and lacks a competent police force, yet Fred could have represented his constituents by representing their views in open council and initiating a debate.

Moreover, there is a matter of integrity. One should not run for elected office opposing something and flip flop on that issue at the first available opportunity. Can First Ward voters trust Fred from here on out? Will any of the promises Fred made during his campaign stick or will we find that political expediency and power politics are the most important determinants of Fred’s vote?

Only time, and your pocketbooks, will tell.

More here: http://www.keepcolumbiafree.com/blog/fred-schmidt-betrays-first-ward/

 

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My testimony to the Citizens Police Review Board in Columbia, Missouri, 2-9-2011

My name is Eapen Thampy. I am the executive director of Americans for Forfeiture Reform, a nonprofit that works on issues of asset forfeiture, an issue implicated deeply with the emergence of paramilitary policing in America. We have been endorsed by groups on every part of the political spectrum. Some of these groups include the Missouri Libertarian party, Ed Rosenthal’s Green Aid Marijuana Legal Defense Fund, and the conservative Right on Crime initiative, a project of Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist, Ed Meese, and Pat Nolan.

Last May I was one of the many people at city council speaking in protest of the Kinloch raid; today I return to this chamber to ask again that we pursue a more sensible approach to policing in Columbia. Over the last year, as light has been shone on paramilitary policing practices in Columbia and around the nation, many thousands of people have contacted us, asking us to speak on their behalf, and bear witness to the harms that uncontrollable police agencies can do to their communities.

At the outset, it is important to note what we want. We want a strong and effective police presence, we want a fair and impartial justice system, and we want every man, woman, and child in America to be able to enjoy their freedoms in this brave land. We do not oppose the rule of law; rather, we wish to see it flourish. We honor and respect the sacrifices of all who serve to protect us, but we will not compromise on the high ideal we must hold our public servants to.

Nor do we intrinsically oppose the existence of SWAT teams. They exist for specific reasons: hostage crises, gun rampages in schools and public areas, to combat the threat of organized violent crime. Situations where a SWAT team might be required are by definition extraordinary.

But the emergence of SWAT policing in America and in Columbia indicate that these real needs have been corrupted by the perverse incentives provided by the War on Drugs and Columbia’s own dysfunctional police force.

SWAT policing, as I noted, is a far cry from routine policework. Most small jurisdictions do not need their own SWAT team. However, over the last twenty years, almost every medium to small police department or sheriff has managed to obtain their own SWAT teams, often without citizen approval or request. Moreover, the weapons and armor available to a SWAT team are fairly heavy duty and very expensive to operate and maintain.

A SWAT team is an expensive proposition. To simply get the APV out of the garage and back is a minimum of $2,000. Some of the raids Columbia SWAT have been involved in were on holidays; that means triple hazard, overtime, and holiday pay.

The most perverse part of SWAT policing may be the funding mechanisms that allow it to happen. Federal law allows Columbia police to seize property without proving a crime or obtaining a conviction; moreover, federal law allows Columbia police to keep this money directly, in violation of Missouri constitutional law and Missouri Supreme Court precedents that delegate seizure money to Missouri’s schools. The name of the program is Equitable Sharing, and over the last several years Columbia Police have received hundreds of thousands of dollars with essentially no oversight.

During the last year I have investigated the 106 SWAT warrants Columbia narcotics police served between January 2007-May 2011. You may view the map of these raids at

http://forfeiturereform.com/2010/11/16/columbia-police-department-swat-raids-in-columbia-missouri-2007-may-2010/

Here is Brennan David from the Columbia Tribune (http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/2010/jun/27/swat/):

Columbia’s SWAT team served 106 narcotics search warrants between Jan. 1, 2007, and May 11, 2010. The Tribune, through an open records request, received 99 of those search warrants; the others were considered closed records for various reasons.

Of the 99 SWAT narcotics search warrants granted by the Boone County Circuit Court to Columbia police, officers executed 43 percent of them within hours of being issued. Of those, 65 percent resulted in one felony arrest, and 18 percent resulted in misdemeanor arrests.

But the percentage of warrants producing a felony arrest dropped drastically to 37.5 percent when investigators waited one day before serving the search warrant. In those cases, 50 percent produced misdemeanor arrests.

I would also direct the CPRB to the video of another Columbia SWAT raid in 2008 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05gLm6mSZ5M). In this raid, a family is at home when the SWAT team visits; you can see Columbia’s finest holding women and children at gunpoint. There is even a moment of pure incredulity at 7:30, where an officer handcuffs the elderly woman sitting in the bathroom, telling her that she is not under arrest and not in any trouble.

In this raid, 3-4 crack rocks were found, along with some minor paraphernalia. No weapons or evidence of trafficking were found, and despite the prior record of the men who were the target of the warrant, no indications of violence are provided that might justify a SWAT raid on this house in this manner. The woman who was not “arrested” ended up being charged with a paraphernalia possession charge; initially, she pleads not guilty until the court appoints a public defender for her, who negotiates a plea deal with the prosecutor instead of defending her in a court of law. Justice is no longer weighed by a judge in a court of law; it is held at gunpoint before being negotiated in the prosecutor’s office.

No government official here had any incentive to check the wrongdoing, misconduct, or negligence of other government officials.

Other Columbia SWAT raids bear similarly striking details. I have interviewed victims of at least 10 of these raids, who have asked me to bring you parts of their stories. Many of them are fearful that they will find themselves being retaliated against, and none are willing to give me permission to use their names. I have heard and verified tales of SWAT raids being used as retaliation for petty offenses or to put competitors out of business both legal and illegal.

This kind of enforcement is incompatible with the principles of Justice, or of her sister, Mercy.

It is important to note a contrast that I hope illustrates more clearly the problem we face. Boone County Sheriff’s Department does not generate the kind of lawsuits and publicity that Columbia Police Department does. There are a couple structural factors at work here: Columbia Police Department has had an incoherent series of transitions from one police chief to another over the past decade, leaving CPD with dysfunctional leadership and command structures that never had time to build or find the values that law enforcement must have to perform effectively. BSCD, by contrast, has a smaller, more stable force, with much more organizational integrity and continuity of leadership.

We have a few recommendations for the CPRB:

  • First, recommend that the use of SWAT raids for non-violent offences be strictly prohibited.
  • Second, recommend that any SWAT action be fully videotaped. This will allow the city to limit its liability from future civil lawsuits by demonstrating that the city has fulfilled its duty to ensure that any use of force has been accompanied by sufficient checks on its use.
  • Third, recommend that all seizures related to criminal activity be documented, strictly accounted for, and deposited into the School Building Revolving Fund as per RsMO 166.131.
  • Fourth, recommend that the city council refuse any federal funds deriving from seizure or forfeiture funds. Federal funding may be important for emergencies, but seizure money comes to our police free of civilian oversight or legislative control. This undermines our ability to influence policy at the police department. Moreover, un-appropriated funding undermines our ability to control the city budget, particularly when it is used to purchase weapons and equipment that must then be maintained with city funds over time.
  • Fifth, recommend that the city council establish the protocols for enforcement of Columbia’s ordinance regarding cannabis offenses, with particular regard for the rights and safety of chronically ill or incapacitated patients. We understand that the implementation of this ordinance poses problems from a law enforcement perspective, which is why it is important that these directives come from civilian leadership. In this way our police can avoid the criticism of how their enforcement protocols may sometime provide conflicting imperatives.

Finally, please consider the words of Missouri Supreme Court Justice William Ray Price in his address to the Missouri Legislature today (emphasis mine, available here: http://forfeiturereform.com/2011%20state%20of%20the%20judiciary%20-%2002-09-11%20-%20FINAL.pdf):

From the 1980s, in Missouri and across the nation, we attempted to incarcerate our way out of crime and illegal drug use. We thought just putting people in prison would make them better or scare them straight. We spent billions of dollars and it did not work. We were tough on crime, but we were not smart on crime. Consider these numbers.

In 1982, 612,000 people were behind bars in state prisons across the country. By 2008, that number had risen almost fourfold to 2.3 million people. In 2010, the United States incarcerated a higher share of its population than any other country in the world. The cost has been staggering. State correctional spending across our country increased from $11.7 billion, in 1988, to $47.3 billion in 2008. (One in 31 The Long Reach of American Corrections, The Pew Center on the States, http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org; The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration, Center for Economic and Policy Research, June 2010, http://www.cepr.net)

There is a broader debate here over how we approach crime of any nature. I ask you to dare to be smart on crime and engage the broader issues of Drug War reform and incentive-compatible policing in your evaluation of these issues of police conduct and misconduct.

I furthermore recommend the following experts on 4th Amendment law and paramilitary policing:

Radley Balko, former Cato Institute scholar and senior editor of Reason Magazine; expert on SWAT raids and paramilitary policing (radley.responses@gmail.com)

Orin Kerr, Professor of Law at George Washington University; expert on criminal law, asset forfeiture, and Fourth Amendment law (okerr@law.gwu.edu)

John Payne and Audrey Spalding, policy analysts at the Show-Me Institute; asset forfeiture and SWAT raids (john.payne@showmeinstitute.org, audrey.spalding@showmeinstitute.org)

David Roland, lead litigator at the Freedom Center of Missouri; expert on Missouri and US constitutional law (dave@mofreedom.org)

John Chasnoff, Eastern Missouri ACLU; expert on SWAT policing and Fourth Amendment law (john@aclu-em.org)

Peter Kraska, Eastern Kentucky University, expert on SWAT policing (peter.kraska@eku.edu)

Please contact me for any clarification or if you have questions.

I am respectfully yours,

Eapen Thampy
Executive Director, Americans for Forfeiture Reform
3630 Holmes St., Kansas City, MO, 64109
Phone: 573-673-5351
Email: Eapen@ForfeitureReform.com or Eapen.Thampy@gmail.com
Web: http://www.forfeiturereform.com and  http://www.facebook.com/ForfeitureReform

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Dan Viets on search warrants and violence in Columbia, Missouri

Dan Viets Attorney and Counselor

15 NORTH TENTH STREET COLUMBIA, MISSOURI  65201 (573) 443-6866/FAX (573) 443-1413

Dear Friends:

As most of you are probably aware, the Columbia Citizens Police Review Board has agreed to take up the appeal of our complaints regarding the Kinloch Court incident this Wednesday evening, August 11 at 7:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers in the new addition to the Daniel Boone Building.

Last week, the complainants were not allowed to speak before the commission.  The Chairwoman had told me that this may or may not change at this meeting.  It is likely there will be an opportunity for us to speak, but it may be after the Board has made its decision.

I know of no reason to expect that the Board will change its position.  The Board voted four to three last week to accept the decision and report of the police chief.  However, if the Human Rights Commission has replaced the member who recently resigned from the CPRB, that could change the outcome.

At any rate, it is my recommendation that we ask the CPRB to agree to investigate the question of whether search warrants should ever be used in the investigation of non-violent crime.  The CPRB is focused on the technical question of whether the complaint against the individual police officers has been properly handled.  I recommend that we ask them instead to look at the broader policy question and consider making recommendations for a change in the policy.

The execution of search warrants is an inherently potentially violent process.  The execution of a search warrant involves a home invasion.  Whenever a home is invaded, there is a real risk that the occupants of the home may respond with violence before they even realize that it is police officers who are invading their home.  The occupants of the home invariably are truly terrorized by people battering their door open, pointing firearms at them and screaming at the top of their lungs.  Frequently concussion grenades, referred to by police as “flash bangs”, are thrown near or inside of the home for the purpose of further disorienting the occupants.

There are alternative means for investigating such matters.  There is almost always a claim of an anonymous or confidential informer in the application for such search warrants.  That individual should be required to make a controlled buy of marijuana, either under surveillance or with recording or transmitting equipment.  This is commonly done and involves far less risk to the police and the occupants of the home.

I look forward to seeing you this evening.

Sincerely,

Dan Viets

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A question of voice and not of standing

Over at the Columbia Missourian, Abby Rogers covers a complaint made by Ed Rosenthal, a California citizen, who challenged the exoneration of officers involved in a SWAT raid in Columbia, Missouri, back in February. Here is the video of the raid if you haven’t seen it:

There has been some pushback by the Police Department and people sympathetic to the notion that police should serve non-violent search warrants with overwhelming force that Ed does not have standing to file a complaint. I strongly disagree, and here is the content of a comment I posted to the Missourian’s comment boards on the subject:

The standing issue in Ed’s complaint presumes several unfair things. Ed does have long-standing relationships with members of this community, and it is unfair and unjust to presume otherwise out of ignorance. It is also unfair to stipulate who may file a complaint; this is an open and free land, and we conduct commerce and the varied activities of life in all other parts of this country, bound by the common laws. In a very direct sense any American who may conceivably conduct business in Columbia, or visit family, or for pleasure, has a direct and vested interest in not being in the wrong house at the wrong night and be the victim of overwhelming force in a community where voters have expressed their clear intent to relegate these offenses to the lowest law enforcement priority.

The other major issue is not of standing, but of voice. Overwhelming violence is used to capture offenders who are non-violent and may be acquired in much more peaceful ways. After being victimized, families are terrified of voicing complaint; they have already been violently attacked, and fear retaliation from a police force that does retaliate.

Reference particularly the case of the young man who publicly complained that his rights were violated and his complaint stymied by Columbia’s Internal Affairs department. A police officer posting under the cover of anonymity retaliated by illegally disclosing closed records of this young man’s juvenile history. There was an investigation, but the officer remains on the force. There is no way for this community to trust that someone who has once violated the awesome trust that comes with wielding the power of the state will not violate that trust again.

The tone of these incidents brings a chill to those who are convinced that their exercise of their free speech may yet again be violated with force or other retaliation. To cut off their access to voices from outside the community is to silence the voices that have real complaints and risk real retaliation from voicing their petition.

I have worked with Ed and represent dozens of Columbia residents who support what Ed has done in defense of our civil liberties. There was no need to serve the Kinloch warrant late and with violence; with simple forethought, they could have served the warrant safely and without harm to dogs.

And there was no reason to kick a subdued man, for whom there was no arrest warrant, while he was down and cuffed.

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I know what this says, but what does it mean?

Section 79.200, RSMo 1994, provides:

79.200. Mayor shall have the power to enforce laws. – The mayor shall be active and vigilant in enforcing all laws and ordinances for the government of the city, and he shall cause all subordinate officers to be dealt with promptly for any neglect or violation of duty; and he is hereby authorized to call on every male inhabitant of the city over eighteen years of age and under fifty, to aid in enforcing the laws.

The excerpt is from a 1996 opinion written by Jay Nixon, Missouri’s Attorney General at the time. I am not qualified to interpret the meaning of this law, and I’m quite honestly curious…what, precisely, does it mean that the mayor can “call on every male inhabitant of the city over eighteen years of age and under fifty, to aid in enforcing the laws”?

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Missouri SB 795 wants to license egg retailers. No, seriously

I received an email from the Missouri Rural Crisis Center earlier today detailing their opposition to SB 795, a bill in committee right now that will probably see floor time today or tomorrow. The bill itself is long and contains a variety of provisions of very questionable merit, particularly a requirement to license:

All persons engaged in buying, selling, trading or trafficking in, or processing eggs, except those listed in section 196.313, shall be required to be licensed under sections 196.311 to 196.361.  Such persons shall file an annual application for such license on forms to be prescribed by the director, and shall obtain an annual license for each separate place of business from the director.

The bill lists specific licensing requirements for egg ‘retailers’, ‘dealers’, and ‘processors’, along with a fee schedule that begins at $5 for egg ‘retailers’ selling fewer than 25 cases of eggs a week and tops out at $100 for egg ‘processors’ moving more than 1000 cases of eggs a day.

Licensing requirements are a good way for established firms to restrict the amount of competition they have; enacting legal requirements to pay a fee and obtain a license in order to sell even small quantities of eggs has a crushing effect on the ability of very small producers to compete in the market for eggs. Under this law it appears that it is now illegal to sell eggs from your backyard chicken coop to your neighbor without a license, a requirement that is unenforceably broad. The money raised will go into an ‘agriculture protection fund’ which sounds more like a giveaway to large agribusiness than anything else.

There are some places where licensing requirements protect consumers but here these requirements mean that consumers will end up paying more money for fewer eggs for no real reason.

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The connections between ethics reform, lobbying, free speech, and markets

Over at the Missouri Record, Dave Roland criticizes the ethics bill SB 844 in front of the Missouri Senate, presenting five specific arguments as to why the bill is constitutionally untenable. He has this to say on the subject of the bill’s provisions to expand the scope and breadth of lobbyist registration and reporting requirements:

The current version of SB 844 would also expand section 105.470’s definition of “legislative lobbyist” to include “any natural person who acts for the purpose of attempting to influence the taking, passage, amendment, delay or defeat of any official action on any bill, resolution, amendment, nomination, appointment, report or any other action or any other matter pending or proposed in a legislative committee in either house of the general assembly, or in any matter which may be [italics added] the subject of action by the general assembly and in connection with such activity… attempts to influence any elected official other than an elected official who represents the legislative district where the person resides.” Under the currently-existing section 105.473, anyone who meets the definition of a lobbyist is required to file a registration form, pay a registration fee, and on a continuing basis provide to the designated authorities a significant array of information about the resources expended in their efforts to communicate with elected officials.  The law treats a lobbyist’s failure to register with the state or keep current on the required reports as a criminal offense.

The Missouri Constitution, states that “every person shall be free to say, write or publish, or otherwise communicate whatever he will on any subject” (Article I, section 8), establishes the will of the people themselves to be the basis of all proper governmental authority (Article I, section 1), and guarantees the right to “apply to those invested with the power of government for redress of grievances” (Article I, section 9).  By classifying as a “lobbyist” any person who expresses their political ideas to a legislator other than the one elected to represent them, the General Assembly would unconstitutionally stifle political speech and erect barriers that would prevent the people of this state from making their opinions known to those vested with the powers of government.

The impacts of this kind of legislation are real and represent a serious threat to the channels of communication between people and their government. I argue that the real problem with lobbyists is not that they exist, but rather that the cost of lobbying is too high. When the cost of communicating with your elected representatives is relatively high, only powerful vested interests are able to afford lobbying services. When the cost of this communication is relatively low, powerful vested interests have to compete for access and even privileged access becomes less meaningful as politicians gain leverage from being able to choose from more variable coalitions in a dynamic political landscape. In more direct terms, the cheaper it is to be a lobbyist, the more democratic the results of the political process. Lobbying in a sense is the act of proxying speech for dollars and dollars for votes; when votes are cheaper and the population is large and more heterogenous the influence of any single political coalition faces very real limits from competition.

And there is empirical evidence these kind of requirements exert a stifling effect on free speech. University of Missouri-Columbia economist Jeffrey Milyo describes the real ways of in a recent paper published through the Institute for Justice, “Mowing Down the Grassroots: How Grassroots Loobying Disclosure Suppresses Political Participation“:

However, 
as 
this 
report 
documents, 
sweeping 
lobbying 
laws
 in 
36
 states
  to 
strangle
 grassroots
 movements
 in 
red
 tape 
and 
bureaucratic 
regulation.
Twenty‐two
 states
 explicitly 
include 
grassroots
 lobbying 
in
 the
 definition 
of
 lobbying,
 while
 another 
14 
consider
 any 
attempt
 to 
influence 
public 
policy 
to 
be
lobbying,
 as
 long
 as 
a 
certain 
amount 
is 
spent. 

Thus, 
such 
common 
activities 
as
 publishing 
an 
open 
letter, 
organizing 
a 
demonstration 
or 
distributing 
flyers 
can
 trigger 
regulation 
and 
force 
organizers 
to 
register
 with
 the
 state
 and
 file
 detailed
 reports on
 their 
activities,
 as
 well
 as 
the 
identities 
of 
supporters.
  These regulations
 raise
 the 
costs 
of
 political
 activity
 and 
set
 legal 
traps 
for
 unsuspecting
 citizens,
 thus
 making 
it
 more 
difficult
 for
 ordinary 
citizens 
to
 participate 
in 
politics—all 
with 
little 
or 
no 
benefit 
to 
the
 public. 

As 
this 
report
 finds:

  • Lobbying 
regulations
 are
 not 
intended 
to
 be
 understood
 by
 ordinary
 people.

 The
 first
 paragraph 
of 
Massachusetts’
 new 
lobbying 
law, 
for 
example, 
scored
 0.9
 on 
a 
100‐point 
scale 
in 
a 
readability 
test. 

Going 
by 
such 
tests, 
it 
would 
take
 34
 years 
of 
formal 
education
 to 
understand
 that 
paragraph; 
not 
even 
a 
doctorate
 from 
MIT 
or
 Harvard 
would
 be 
enough.
  • The 
red tape 
would‐be
 grassroots 
lobbyists 
must 
navigate 
to 
properly 
disclose
 activities 
and 
financial 
support 
is 
complex 
and 
burdensome. 

In 
previous
    research,
 ordinary
 citizens
 who 
tried 
to 
fill 
out 
similar 
forms 
correctly
 completed
 only
 about
 40 
percent
 of 
tasks.
  • Running 
afoul
 of 
these 
regulations
 could
 bring
 stiff
 penalties,
 including
 thousands 
in 
civil 
fines
 and
 in
 some
 states 
criminal
 penalties.

 In
 New York,
 the
    maximum 
criminal
 penalty
 is 
$5,000 
and 
four 
years 
in 
jail, 
equivalent 
to 
arson
 or 
riot;
 in
 Alabama, 
it
 is
 $30,000 
and
 20
 years,
 equivalent 
to
 kidnapping.
  • The 
public 
likely
 gains 
little 
from
 these 
regulations. 

Previous
 research
 suggests few
 will 
seek
 out 
the 
disclosed
 information, 
but 
many 
will 
be 
deterred 
political 
activity 
by 
the 
public 
disclosure 
of 
their 
personal 
information.
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On competition in the payday loan market

How competitive is the payday loan market? This is a question that as far as I know is unanswered. You would think that competition would stimulate innovation in the sense that as more payday lenders enter the market you would see firms starting to bundle financial products and offering lower fees or interest rates. Is this the case in Missouri or any other state? I don’t know, but it seems to me that these are all questions worth answering.

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My op-ed in the Missouri Record on Rex Sinquefield

…was published today and you can clickthrough here. Here is an excerpt:

A couple of months ago Grass-Roots Organizing (GRO) held an anti-big banks rally sponsored by a progressive local activist organization. I am generally in favor of breaking up big banks or adopting some kind of regulatory approach that limits the systemic risks that large, complex institutions created.

But a second message from GRO had a decidedly different tone. Along with the opposition to big financial institutions whose ignorance and malfeasance brought our economy to a very ugly place, there was also a diatribe against Rex Sinquefield, a multi-millionaire retired investment banker. Rex (and his wife Jeanne) have liberally funded politicians on both sides of the aisle to promote a policy agenda that includes increased school choice, more transparent and data-driven governance and reform of Missouri’s tax system. There are legitimate debates to be had on these policies but if you disagree with Rex Sinquefield on his political agenda or his methods, it is unfair to conflate these disagreements with opposition to big banks and financial deregulation.

There are two arguments for that thesis. The first, and obvious one, is that opposition to big banks is not premised on the same assumptions of opposition to the “Fair Tax Proposal” or school choice. The second and more important argument is that Sinquefield represents a school of thought that is diametrically opposite to the ideology that captured the financial services sector and brought the global economy to the brink of collapse. Moreover, the harshness of the criticism thrown his way is stunning; it is demonstrably true that Sinquefield’s political agenda around the state does not represent efforts to protect the rich and powerful at the expense of the politically weak and powerless.

I am assured by friends that the rest of the piece is worth reading, especially for those with an interest in Missouri politics. There is also a discussion of Sinquefield’s former company, Dimensional Funds Advisors, which is very interesting to me as an economics student.

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