Legislators Reintroduce Bill to Change Job Classification of 911 Dispatchers Nationwide

Livingston County, Missouri Sheriff’s Office E-911 and Communications.

Legislators have reintroduced a bill in Congress that would change the job classification of 911 dispatchers nationwide.

The 911 SAVES Act would classify 911 dispatchers under “protective service occupations” instead of “office and administrative support occupations,” adding them to the same category as firefighters, law enforcement officers, corrections officers and other public safety staff. (EMS providers are classified under healthcare occupations.)

The bill was co-authored by Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and is currently cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 49 other lawmakers.

“As someone who answered 911 calls for LAPD for nearly 18 years, I know firsthand that dispatchers are unsung heroes in our emergency response system,” Torres said in a statement. “Lives are at stake with each all they take – it’s beyond time that we recognize the high stakes of the job, and the incredible sacrifices these professionals make to keep the rest of us safe.”

Torres also added that the current classification under office and administrative support staff doesn’t reflect the high PTSD rates among 911 dispatchers, which she said go up to nearly 25%.

“As a former FBI agent, I know first-hand the lifesaving services provided by our 9-1-1 operators and dispatchers are vital for the safety of our community,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “When in danger, we call 9-1-1 and depend on the hard-working, dedicated public servants on the other end of the line to ensure we get the help we need. They are the first responders among first responders.”

The bill is backed by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

“America’s 9-1-1 professionals may be the most important people you will never meet. They are the vital first link in the emergency-response chain,” said NENA CEO Brian Fontes, in a statement. “Passing the 911 SAVES Act would give the estimated 100,000 public safety telecommunications located in every community across American the respect and support they deserve while improving the government’s data collection and analysis efforts. Combined with the possible enactment of a workable Next Generation 9-1-1 bill, 2021 could mark the dawn of a new era for America’s 9-1-1 systems and the hard-working professionals wh​​o lead and staff them.”

The 911 SAVES Act was previously introduced in the 116th Congress in 2019.

Some state and local governments h​​ave passed legislation classifying 911 dispatchers among first responders; most recently, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signed a bill classifying dispatchers as emergency responders statewide.

Story written by Laura French | Police1.com

Missouri House Passes Bill for Guns on Buses, Public Transit

​Missouri’s House on Monday passed a bill to allow guns on St. Louis buses, the Kansas City Streetcar and other forms of public transit in the state.

The GOP-led chamber voted 124-32 to send the bill to the state Senate, which is also led by Republicans.

If enacted, the measure would allow people with concealed carry permits to bring firearms on public transportation. Firearms still wouldn’t be permitted on Amtrak.

People without those permits would also be allowed to bring unloaded guns as long as they don’t also carry ammunition with them.

During floor debate, Rep. Wiley Price said even with extensive training, police still shoot people unnecessarily. The St. Louis Democrat said it’s dangerous to allow the public to make those choices.

“We have people we’ve trained many more hours — not only in de-escalation but being able to recognize what the threat is and how that threat should be met — and they don’t always make the right call,” Price said. “So now we’re about to put that in the hands of the general public.”

Republican bill sponsor Rep. Adam Schnelting, of St. Charles, said that risk doesn’t take away “from the fact that you should have the right to defend yourself.”​

By Associated Press | Missouri Lawyers Media | molawyersmedia.com

FOP Priority Bill “LEOSA Reform Act” Introduced in House

Patrick Yoes, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, applauded the news that Representative Donald J. Bacon (R-NE) reintroduced the “LEOSA Reform Act” with Representative E.R. “Henry” Cuellar (D-TX). The bill, H.R. 1210, has two additional original cosponsors—Representatives John H. Rutherford (R-FL) and Peter A. Stauber (R-MN).

“Law enforcement officers are targets—in uniform and out, on-duty and off. The Law Enforcement Officers’ Safety Act (LEOSA) provides that qualified active and retired officers can protect themselves and others even if off duty or after retirement,” Yoes said. “The LEOSA Reform Act doesn’t increase the number of officers who can carry under the statute. Instead, it makes sure our officers are physically safe and protected from legal jeopardy by closing existing loopholes and harmonizing State and Federal laws.”

The bill amends the LEOSA, which exempts qualified active and retired law enforcement officers from local and State prohibitions on the carriage of concealed firearms, to ensure that these officers can carry in the same venues as civilian concealed carry permit holders such as schools, national parks, and “common carriers.” 
 
The bill also extends the exemption to magazine capacity and would allow active and retired law enforcement officers to access services in U.S. ​p​ost ​o​ffices, Social Security Administration offices, Veterans Affairs offices, or other ​federal facilities without disarming or securing their firearms elsewhere. It would also allow ​s​tates to affirmatively act to extend the period between training certifications for qualified retired law enforcement officers from 12 months to up to 36 months.
 
“I am very proud of the work that Representatives Bacon and Cuellar and the FOP have done together on this bill,” said Yoes. “I look forward to that partnership continuing as we move this bill forward.”
 
Tell Congress to support the brave men and women of law enforcement by passing this critical legislation. Click here to contact your representative: https://www.votervoice.net/FOP/campaigns/81294/respond
 
The Fraternal Order of Police is the largest law enforcement labor organization in the United States, with more than 356,000 members.

Bill Aims to Change How Law Enforcement Investigates Officer-Involved Deaths

A Missouri lawmaker is proposing a bill that would change the way law enforcement agencies conduct internal investigations.

Representative Shamed Dogan says House Bill 461 would require law enforcement agencies to have written investigation policies for officer-involved deaths and have an independent agency conduct the investigation.

“People have to have faith in those investigations, and that they’re being done fairly and objectively,” Dogan says.

Dogan says there’s a conflict of interest if the department does the investigation itself.

“You can’t do an investigation fairly and properly on an officer who’s employed by your agency where their colleagues and their friends might be the ones conducting the investigation,” Dogan says.

Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole says his department is more than capable of handling those investigations. Sheriff Cole says the prosecutor’s office already works to oversee them.

“If you have a problem in St. Louis, fix your problem in St. Louis,” Sheriff Cole says. “Don’t bring your problem to southwest Missouri and expect us to have to deal with what your problem is in St. Louis. Take care of the problem where the problem lies, not to the rest of the state.”

Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott says this bill wouldn’t change much for his department. Sheriff Arnott says he already teamed up with the Webster and Lawrence County sheriffs years back to form a sheriff’s critical incident team (SCIT).

“A combination of deputies between all three agencies come together and work on officer-involved shootings, whether it be in our county or Webster or Lawrence County,” Sheriff Arnott says.

Sheriff Arnott says as three counties with elected sheriffs, he thought it was the best way to be transparent within these investigations.

“Even better than the state patrol or SPD where the chief is appointed or the highway patrol is run by the state,” Sheriff Arnott says. “These are three independent office holders that put their people in and they do the investigation altogether.”

If approved, this bill would take effect in August of this year.

 

By Shoshana Stahl | KFVS 12​

Missouri Bill Would Ban Enforcement of Federal Gun Laws

Missouri’s GOP-led state House on Wednesday advanced a bill to ban local police officers from enforcing federal gun laws, including using federal laws to take away people’s guns.

Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Jered Taylor, of Republic, cited the possibility of new federal gun restrictions under Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration and the Democratic-led U.S. House as the reason why the bill is needed.

He said it’s state lawmakers’ job to protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Missourians.

“We are here to defend those rights against an out-of-control federal government,” Taylor said. “And that’s exactly what this bill does.”

The legislation would apply to the enforcement of federal gun crimes that are not state gun crimes. Federal officers still would be able to enforce those laws, but Missouri law enforcement would be banned from helping.

The bill has gotten pushback from some law enforcement in the state, particularly over a now-stripped provision that would have disqualified law enforcement officers from working as Missouri cops if they served on federal taskforces related to firearm crimes. Police also would have been subject to lawsuits under the previous bill version.

House lawmakers removed those penalties Wednesday, but the measure still would subject police departments to lawsuits and $50,000 fines if they employ officers who enforce federal gun laws.

Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott in a letter to Missouri state and federal lawmakers last week called the legislation “well-intended but misguided.” He said it would hamstring law enforcement officers who often partner with federal agents over state gun crimes that face stiffer penalties under federal law.

Arnott cautioned that the measure has unintended consequences that would “severely hinder the prosecution of some of our most dangerous offenders.”

Democrats slammed the bill’s progress at a time when both St. Louis and Kansas City are struggling with a surge in violent crime.

“As violence at the highest its ever been, I implore you not to pass a bill that further emphasizes the leading tool of these crimes,” Democratic Kansas City Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove said.

The measure needs another vote of approval in the House before it can go to the Republican-led Senate for debate.

House members gave the bill initial approval in a voice vote Wednesday, but an earlier vote to amend the bill passed 107-43. That signals it likely has enough support to get final approval in the House.

 

Story by Associated Press | Molawyersmedia.com

Photo by Jay Rembert

Missouri Bill Would Allow Deadly Force Against Demonstrators

​​A Missouri senator on Monday, January 25,  pitched a bill that would allow the use of deadly force against protesters on private property and give immunity to people who run over demonstrators blocking traffic.

The proposal is one of several that follow sometimes violent protests in Missouri last summer over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, including demonstrations that blocked traffic on busy roads in the St. Louis area.

“To think that your right to protest enables you the right to stop traffic and literally stop people’s ability to move about freely in this nation is a gross misunderstanding of our constitutional rights,” bill sponsor Sen. Rick Brattin said during the Monday hearing.

The Harrisonville Republican said blocking traffic can be dangerous if it stops ambulances or police from responding to emergencies.

Missouri civil rights leader the Rev. Darryl Gray told committee members that people also disagreed with how the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. protested, but “those same methods that you seek to criminalize are the same methods that helped to destroy Jim Crow laws, segregation and destroyed centuries of hatred and bigotry.”

He asked lawmakers not to expand the use of deadly force to those outside of law enforcement.

“If this bill is enacted it would vilify non-violent protesters,” Gray said. “I don’t believe that any members of this august body would deliberately seek to shield drivers who willfully choose to run over protesters.”

Brattin’s bill targets unlawful assemblies on a number of fronts, including making it a felony crime to block traffic as part of a protest. It also would expand misdemeanor harassment laws to include causing emotional distress during protests.

“People can’t even go have a nice meal without being harassed, run out,” Brattin said. “I wanted to ensure that people are able to go and enjoy their freedoms and liberties just like anyone else should be able to.”

Government employees convicted of participating in unlawful assemblies could no longer be paid and would be stripped of all other employment benefits. Cities and counties would be cut off from any state funding if local officials make cuts to police budgets that are significantly deeper than cuts to other services, an effort to stymie activists’ calls to defund the police.

Anyone charged with assaulting a law enforcement official or first responder also no longer would be eligible for bond, probation or parole under the legislation.

The Kansas City police union supports the bill.

The Senate committee hasn’t yet scheduled a vote on the bill.

 

Associated Press | molawyersmedia.com

Two Christian County Lawmakers Introduce Firearms Bills in the Legislature

​​Two bills in the Missouri legislature would further ease restrictions for gun owners. Representative Jered Taylor and Senator Eric Burlison, who both represent Christian County, introduced the bills.

One of those bills, House Bill 85 and Senate Bill 39 is the Second Amendment Preservation Act. Representative Jered Taylor says this will prevent police and deputies in Missouri from enforcing any federal gun laws– even if the federal laws become stricter than what they are now.

“We’ve been told numerous times that Joe Biden is in favor of making changes to the second amendment rights,” Representative Jered Taylor says. “With those concerns and concerns that we’ve had in the past with other presidents, we want to make sure that as Missourians we’re protecting that second amendment right.”

Owner of Cherokee Firearms Nick Newman says he appreciates what Taylor is trying to do but doesn’t know if it’ll be able to happen.

“In our industry the federal government has the final say about what’s allowed and what isn’t allowed,” Newman says.

While he supports the right to own a gun, Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole worries this legislation could prevent him from working with federal law enforcement to hold people accountable.

”We see a lot of offenders that are charged with violent crimes in the state, under state charges, that go to prison and spend a very, very short amount of time in prison before they’re released back out into the population,” Sheriff Cole says. “Those are the people we’re worried about.”

The second bill relates to carrying concealed firearms. House Bill 86 and Senate Bill 117 says the of unlawful use of a weapon is committed if someone knowingly carries a concealed firearm into places where signs are posted stating that concealed firearm carrying is off limits and refuses to leave, they can be charged with trespassing.

Newman says some of these “gun free zones” can be problematic.

“People go to the mall or they go to their doctors office, they can’t carry a gun with them,” Newman says. “If you’re a CCW holder what do you do? You leave them in your car. So as a criminal then what do you do. That’s a great shopping area to go to the hospital parking lots and start breaking into cars because there’s a higher profitability of finding something there.”

The bill plans to repeal certain statutes of Missouri’s concealed carry law that stop a valid permit holder from carrying concealed weapons into any privately owned or some public places.

“It should be up to the private property owner what they allow on their private property,” Taylor says. “Any of the private property locations in statute I’m removing so casinos, bars, amusement parks, churches, if it’s a private school.”

Taylor says any public higher education institution can make their own policies about concealed carry weapons on campus, as long as the policies don’t generally restrict the ability to carry a concealed weapon.

“Maybe there’s a lab that if something were to happen and a gun were to go off then there would be an explosion,” Taylor says. “Of course we want them to have that ability to say no we don’t want you to be able to carry into those locations. We do give a little bit of authority back to the university to figure out some of those more sensitive locations.”

The bill would also prohibit city and county government from creating laws restricting an employee with a valid permit from carrying a concealed weapon.

 
By Shoshana Stahl | KY3

House Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), whose state has legalized marijuana, speaks during a December 4 news conference on Capitol Hill. (Pete Marovich for The Washington Post)


The House endorsed a landmark retreat in the nation’s decades-long war on drugs Friday, December 4, voting to remove marijuana from the federal schedule of controlled substances and provide for the regulation and taxation of legal cannabis sales.

The vote was 228-to-164 and marked the first time either chamber of Congress has voted on the issue of federally decriminalizing cannabis.

The measure is not expected to pass into law, and, due to political skittishness, it was only voted on after the November election and more than a year after it emerged from committee. But the House took a stand at a moment of increasing momentum, with voters last month opting to liberalize marijuana laws in five states — including three that President Trump won handily.

Friday’s vote, however, was largely along party lines, with Democrats voting overwhelmingly to support the federal decriminalization bill and all but five Republicans broadly opposing it.

“We are not rushing to legalize marijuana — the American people have already done that. We are here because Congress has failed to deal with a disastrous war on drugs and do its part for the over 50 million regular marijuana users in every one of your districts,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime liberalization advocate. “We need to catch up with the rest of the American people.”

Top Republicans — including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — made derisive public comments about the bill this week, painting the measure as a frivolous diversion from the task of funding the federal government and delivering a new round of emergency coronavirus aid to Americans.

One headline from McConnell: House Speaker Nancy Pe​​losi (D-Calif.) decides to “puff, puff, pass” on emergency coronavirus relief.

“It’s just unbelievable how tone-deaf they are to these small businesses and the jobs, the families that are tied to them,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said in a Fox News Channel interview Thursday, slamming Democratic leaders for holding the vote.

But some are warning that Republicans risk finding themselves out of step with their own voters, who are increasingly embracing the loosening of marijuana restrictions — including outright legalization.

On Election Day in South Dakota, for instance, 54 percent of voters opted to legalize marijuana, while only 36 percent of voters chose the Democratic presidential ticket. In Montana, the 57 percent who voted to legalize marijuana nearly matched the number who voted to reelect Trump. And Mississippi became the first state in the Deep South to legalize medical marijuana use, with 62 percent of voters approving a ballot measure in a state where Trump won 58 percent of the vote.

Fifteen states have now authorized some form of recreational cannabis legalization, while 36 states have approved medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level would not end the vast majority of cannabis-use prosecutions, which happen in state courts. But it would end troublesome conflicts between state and federal law for those states that have loosened pot restrictions and greatly ease commerce for the multibillion dollar cannabis industry.

Public opinion appears to back up the state electoral trend. In October, Gallup found that 68 percent of Americans said the use of marijuana should be legal, the highest support for marijuana legalization since the polling organization first asked in 1969.

In a 2019 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 8 percent of Americans say marijuana should be completely illegal

While overwhelming proportions of Democrats and independents supported legalization, Republicans were split: 52 percent said it should not be legal and 48 percent said it should be legal — a figure that is slightly down from recent years.

But that near 50-50 split among Republican voters is not even close to being mirrored in the GOP lawmaker ranks. Only two of 17 Republicans, Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), supported the bill in the House Judiciary Committee.

The prospects of winning Republican support for the House bill were complicated by some of its provisions — such as the establishment of a 5 percent federal excise tax that would in part fund programs for “individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs,” such as job training, legal aid in seeking to expunge marijuana convictions, and mentoring programs.

The bill also provides for the expungement of federal marijuana convictions dating back to 1971 and bars the denial of federal public benefits or security clearances based on marijuana offenses.

That has turned off some libertarian-minded Republicans who might otherwise support eliminating marijuana restrictions. “Tax and spend,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who said he would have considered voting for the bill had Democratic leaders allowed a vote on an amendment to eliminate the tax component.

Gaetz said Friday that he was voting for the bill despite the flaws: “The federal government has lied to the people of this country about marijuana,” he said. “My Republican colleagues today will make a number of arguments against this bill, but those arguments are overwhelmingly losing with the American people.”

Gaetz is among a small group of outspoken Republicans who say it is a matter of political malpractice that the party has not taken a softer line on federal marijuana laws.

“The leadership is sort of stuck,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), referring to the infamous 1936 prohibitionist film “Reefer Madness.” “I always jokingly say … they were all in the theater watching. And they’re still sort of this belief that marijuana is going to destroy the world somehow.”

By Mike DeBonis | Washington Post


U.S. marijuana laws: A history

The Lone Holdout

After Anand and Kourtney Torres, ages 41 and 29, were found dead in their Lake Ozark condo in November 2019, the community mourned the loss of the couple for months. Kourtney had been a nurse at the local hospital, and both were dedicated to coaching kids sports. Adding to the tragedy, they also left behind three young children. Nearly half a year later, the Camden County sheriff’s office revealed the cause of death: fentanyl-related overdose.

The toxicology results shocked Kourtney’s mother, Kris Benecke.

“She was so much more than just her tragic … she was about life,” she says. “She brought passion to everything. She was a nurse. I did not know her to be a drug user at all.”

Kourtney’s is the second opioid-related death in the family; Benecke’s son Justin died from a heroin overdose over a decade ago.

“I never expected it to happen once, and definitely not twice.”

It is an all-too-familiar story. In 2018, 1,132 Missourians died of opioid-related overdoses. Opioids include heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and legal prescription pain relievers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, codeine, morphine, and others.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Missouri ranks 14th in the country in opioid deaths, with approximately 19.6 per 100,000 people. It’s a public health crisis that everyone pays for. By the most recent estimates, the Hospital Industry Data Institute claimed that the opioid epidemic cost Missourians $12.6 billion a year, or $34.5 million every day. That breaks down even further to an astonishing $24,000 per minute. According to a report from the institute, the costs associated with the opioid epidemic include increased consumption of healthcare, law enforcement, and social services, as well as lost productivity. By the time you finish this sentence, the epidemic will have cost another $399 dollars. Most deaths are clustered around the state’s urban centers, but rural counties are not immune, either. Nearly everyone knows someone whose life has been touched by opioid addiction.

The statistics are staggering. What can be done? What should be done? These questions have plagued state lawmakers for nearly a decade.

One solution may be a statewide prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). This digital medical record system tracks patients who fill opioid prescriptions and makes that information available to healthcare providers. Its uses are multiple—for example, when patients can’t report or remember their prescriptions, doctors can refer to a PDMP to prevent mixing medications that might result in accidental overdose. In relation to the opioid epidemic, it can be used to identify behaviors like doctor shopping and prescription history. PDMPs have been enacted in every state but Missouri, despite support by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Missouri Academy of Family Physicians, Missouri American College of Physicians, Missouri State Medical Association, Missouri Pharmacy Association, and the nation’s most trusted medical organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls these databases one of the most “promising state-level interventions” to improve opioid prescribing and patient care. But year after year, legislative PDMP efforts have been thwarted, making Missouri the lone national holdout.

“People ask me all the time, ‘You’re from Missouri. Why haven’t you all passed a PDMP?’ And the answer I give is that it has not made it through the Senate in a form that’s acceptable to the House,” says Dr. Randall Williams, the director of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services. “I’m not pretending to be the expert on legislative intent, but my sense from my four years here is it’s not been one thing; it’s just been different things.”

Republican Representative Holly Rehder has sponsored a PDMP bill in the Missouri legislature for years.

“Over the years, PDMP has become a political football for both sides of the aisle. It doesn’t make sense. Missouri’s lack of a PDMP is a front row seat to politics at its worst,” she says. In 2018, Republican Governor Eric Greitens tried establishing a statewide PDMP via executive order, but the legislature refused to fund it.

A year earlier, the St. Louis County Health Department had launched a voluntary program available to any jurisdiction that wanted to participate. Today, more than 75 jurisdictions out of about 129 jurisdictions (counties plus several city jurisdictions) have opted in. Walmart, Walgreens, and Medicaid also track prescription history. Overall, around 85 percent of Missouri’s population is covered by some form of prescription drug monitoring, but it’s still a patchwork system.

So why not make an end run around the legislature and recruit the remaining counties that include the 15 percent of the population not covered yet? Many jurisdictions are afraid of being sued, Representative Rehder suspects. For example, Newton County officials voted to join the St. Louis County’s voluntary program, but then postponed implementation, planning to await the results of a lawsuit against St. Charles County by United for Missouri, a limited government advocacy group that claimed the program violated privacy. But Newton County officials changed their minds and decided to proceed.

The patchwork system is also far from ideal for healthcare providers like Dr. David Barbe, a family health practitioner with Mercy Clinic in Wright County.

“You can get certain pieces of info from one database and other pieces from PDMP, but that only applies to certain people. If that doesn’t scream at you, ‘we need a coordinated statewide PDMP,’ then nothing will,” says Barbe, who is also the former president of the American Medical Association. “Until we get all of the counties on, all of the pharmacies on, and all of the payers on, it won’t accomplish what we can accomplish for the patients. This is for patient safety, patient care, to identify those that are misusing so you can get them the help they need, and so you can potentially ID those getting prescriptions and diverting them.”

By diverting them, he’s referring to medications that get stolen or distributed to family and friends. A PDMP would help track unusual habits—people seeking multiple refills within a month or visiting multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions.

“The PDMP by itself doesn’t completely solve that but is best at identifying patients getting scripts from more than one provider, and you can use that to infer other things,” Barbe says.

His county, Wright County, has not opted into the St. Louis County PDMP, which means anyone can come there to fill prescriptions at a nonparticipating pharmacy without ever leaving a record of their opioid use patterns.

The current system’s weaknesses are a glaring problem to Jim Marshall, the founder of Cody’s Gift. “It’s not working if you’ve got a county next door that’s not using it,” he says. “It’s why Missouri has been one of the biggest states in prescription doctor shopping. The US Drug Enforcement Agency calls us the ‘pill mill’ of the United States.” Cody’s Gift is a nonprofit organization that primarily works in public schools to educate and prevent substance use disorders by raising awareness about mental health issues and alternative coping skills besides drug use. Marshall’s son, Cody, died in 2011 from an overdose.

Some emergency rooms see opioid-related problems during nearly every shift, from overdoses to drug-seekers. Dr. Howard Jarvis, the medical director of the emergency department of Cox Health in Springfield, says, “I can assure you that there are patients who are well aware of what pharmacies are participating and what pharmacies are not participating. We literally get patients from out of state coming here to get prescriptions filled. It’s an everyday problem. People sometimes tell me they’re getting prescription narcotics, and I look them up and can’t find evidence of it on the St. Louis County PDMP. It’s because they live in a municipality that doesn’t participate.” While Springfield and Greene County are currently enrolled in the St. Louis PDMP, five of its six adjacent counties are not.

PDMP opponents such as Republican Senator Denny Hoskins often question efficacy. “Just look at the data. Obviously, Missouri is the only state that does not have a statewide government prescription drug tracking system, and therefore you’d think that we would be number one in opioid-related deaths. However, we’re somewhere in the middle of the pack. Many of the supporters say the PDMPs will stop doctor shopping. Well, doctor shopping accounts for less than 5 percent of the people illegally obtaining opioids. The real reasons for the opioid crisis is we’ve seen an increase in deaths related to fentanyl. The PDMP has no effect on illicit fentanyl. PDMPs simply don’t work. At best, they focus on 5 percent of the problem and not the other 95 percent. I equate it to sticking a band-aid on a broken ankle and saying, ‘At least we did something.’ ”

Republican Senator Cindy O’Lauglin adds, “For those who despise PDMP, the main argument is the intrusion on personal decisions by outside interests and the state maintaining a database. On the other side, we do understand that doctors and pharmacies would like to know if a patient has been subscribed [sic] opioids before then issuing another prescription.”

While these medical databases are no magic bullet, there is evidence they can affect positive change. One year after New York required prescribers to check the state’s PDMP before issuing prescriptions, doctor shopping dropped by nearly 75 percent. In states like Connecticut and Rhode Island, doctors reported that PDMPs helped identify opioid drug abuse and intervene with patients who needed help. In Ohio, the National Institutes of Health credited the PDMP with reducing opioid-related deaths thanks to a 41 percent decrease in opioid prescriptions after implementation. Florida reduced oxycodone deaths by more than 50 percent after just two years with a PDMP. While encouraging, these numbers still don’t shift political opponents of PDMPs.

“When you get to a public policy discussion or debate, people use data to support whichever position they believe in,” says Dr. Williams, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. “Any time in medicine we try to prove something, the gold standard is a double-blinded, randomized controlled trial. That’s where you take a group of people and do something, take another group of people just like that group and don’t do it, and look down the road to see if there’s a difference in outcomes. With a PDMP, it’s very hard to find two populations that you can do that for. When you compare two states, you get into confounding variables, and different things might change other than just a PDMP.”

In short, correlation does not always equal causation. “Every year, people testify very much that PDMPs make a difference, and then other people get right up and produce data that says it doesn’t make a difference.” Dr. Williams explains that his department has chosen to support a PDMP based on the number of state medical associations and physicians asking for one. “We want to be responsive to our physicians’ opinions and give them every tool to help them individually with their patients, to help them prevent opioid abuse diversion and addiction and deaths.”

Of course, not every prescription leads to abuse, and plenty of patients responsibly manage pain with prescription opioids. The thought of additional policies and regulations sometimes sparks fears about access and harming the very people opioids are meant to help. Republican Senator Cindy O’Laughlin reports this “is a huge concern expressed by chronic pain patients” within her constituency.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect them at all,” says Jarvis, the Cox Health emergency department medical director. “Most people who require chronic opioids for cancer or other things like that, they’re usually getting those from a single prescriber. They’re not going to multiple places to obtain narcotics.”

Some argue that since PDMPs make prescription medications harder to access, people who abuse pills often turn to heroin or fentanyl, which is cheaper, easier to find, and far deadlier. In fact, Missouri’s recent surge in opioid deaths was largely due to the introduction of inexpensive, highly potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl. These numbers ​​grew from 192 deaths in 2015 to 448 in 2016. In November 2019, more than 20 arrests were made relating to a drug trafficking ring accused of distributing heroin and fentanyl in Springfield. Kris Benecke suspects it may have been this ring who sold the drugs that took her daughter’s life. Would a PDMP take fentanyl off today’s streets? Of course not. But it might deter a future generation’s drug-using habits.

“To stop the problem, you have to limit the number of people who get addicted in the first place,” says Jarvis. “The PDMP is helpful. There’s no question. It’s just a tool. It’s not a panacea.”

Drug monitoring legislation has long been caught in the cogs of the Missouri state government. When initial efforts by Republican Senator Kevin Engler failed in 2012, it was largely due to vehement opposition led by Republican Senator Rob Schaaf, a family doctor who cited privacy concerns and described the proposal as “the heavy hand of government taking away your liberty.”

Even though the US Supreme Court ruled PDMPs constitutional in Whalen vs. Roe (1977) and the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that PDMPs do not inherently violate Fourth Amendment rights as recently as 2019, many Missouri legislators still cited concerns over privacy and voted no.

The current sponsor of the latest series of PDMP bills, Republican Representative Holly Rehder, is still optimistic about the debate’s slow progress. “We’ve really gotten somewhere in the last seven or eight years in regards to the stigma of addiction, but we still have a small handful of people who are just vehemently opposed,” she says.

Further complicating the issue, opponents of PDMPs suggest a link between digital medical databases to the theoretical infringement of Second Amendment arms rights. The concerns aren’t entirely baseless—in 2013, Missouri Highway Patrol handed over a database of concealed weapons permit holders to a federal agent seeking links between disability claims and gun ownership. Even though the agent never actually used the files, according to the highway patrol, the story was used as evidence of database abuse in the hands of big government.

For frustrated doctors on the front lines, tying PDMPs to guns makes no sense. “It’s frightening,” says Jarvis. “There is no connection.”

While concerns over privacy, personal liberty, and even Second Amendment rights may be sincere, at its heart, opposition seems to stem from the long-held conservative penchant for personal responsibility. In the early days of PDMP legislation, Schaaf was widely criticized for saying about drug users, “If they overdose and kill themselves, it just removes them from the gene pool.”

In the medical community and for families of drug users, addiction is a medical crisis, not a moral failing. As Christa Harmon puts it, “I hate this term, ‘junkies.’ They are someone’s someone, and that matters.” For Harmon, founder and president of Mid-MO Addiction Awareness, desire for legislative action against the opioid epidemic is personal. Her daughter began abusing prescription opioids in high school. By her early 20s, she was seeking heroin in St. Louis. “It was pretty bad. I knew nothing. I knew nothing about it. I didn’t even know people did pills, snorted pills, I was clueless. It hit me like a brick wall.”

That feeling of cluelessness is why Harmon founded the organization. By breaking the stigma of silence around a family member’s drug abuse, she can at least encourage people to speak up and share information. Hers is just one organization out of many across the state that has stepped up to try to address the many layers of the opioid epidemic.

Jim Marshall, the father who lost his son and founded Cody’s gift, has spoken at hundreds of schools and conferences for the last nine years.

“You never know when a kid walks away from an assembly whether they’re going to make better choices or be more sympathetic to people in their families who have these issues,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and I have to think that one thing about kids that hasn’t changed is that they will listen to people like me who have a real story to tell.” All he can do is try.

“We have to start at the front end of the problem, where they get their drugs to start with,” he says. “Maybe if we shut the front door, we’ll prevent them from ending up as addicts or in jail when they walk out the back door,” he says.

But no one organization has the power or money that the legislature does to affect statewide change, and advocates say a PDMP shouldn’t be politicized. But again and again, it is.

“It’s an electronic medical record. It’s technology. At some point, it became a political banner, and a lot of lives have been harmed by that,” says Representative Rehder. She has been fighting for a PDMP since her first year in office in 2013. It’s an issue close to home. Her mother was addicted to prescription medications. Her stepfather was a dealer. Her sister used. Her cousin died of long-term drug abuse. And for over a decade, her own daughter struggled with drug abuse—an addiction that began with a legal prescription for Lorcet after an injury at age 17.

“I’ve been the bill’s sponsor for the last seven years and have really poured my heart and soul into it,” she says. “As a child growing up in it, as a mom trying to fight it, I’ve got a little more perspective than probably a lot of legislators.”

For years, Rehder’s bills passed the House only to be rejected by the Senate. This year, she collaborated with Republican Senator Tony Luetkemeyer to craft a compromise with the conservative caucus of their party. HB1693 expanded privacy protections by restricting law enforcement access to data, deleted patient data every three years, and most controversially, assigned oversight to a privatized task force instead of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Though imperfect to House Democrats, it was still a PDMP, and in February, it passed 98-56. But once in the Senate, additional provisions to increase fentanyl penalties were added, upsetting the already fragile support from key House Democrats. This dissatisfaction surprised Rehder.

“These increased penalties had already passed on several other bills, so I never thought that this would become a problem,” Rehder recalls.

It was. Many Democrats, including House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, felt that they had made significant compromises to pass a PDMP that Republicans could support, but that the fentanyl penalty provisions were just too much. In a May 11 Facebook post, Democratic Representative Peter Merideth told constituents he’d already been on the fence with the initial negotiations, but that he’d opposed the language of the proposed fentanyl laws all year. “It would take an addict that possesses a substance that has been laced with any traceable amount of fentanyl (whether they knew it or not) and make them subject to a trafficking felony with a penalty equivalent to that of first-degree murder. Amazing that even in a bill that’s supposed to be about trying to help prevent addiction early, they can’t help but add massive over-criminalization of drugs at the same time.”

Sensing an opportunity to advance other, unrelated legislation, Democrats sent the bill back to committee for review. At best, it was a political maneuver. The plan backfired. The Senate was furious with what they referred to as “House shenanigans” and filibustered, killing the bill on the floor. The harsher penalties were added to another bill that was passed and signed into law anyway, but still no PDMP.

“We just ran out of time,” Rehder says. Her term limits are up in the House, although she’s running for a Senate seat in the November election. “It’s awful. It’s politics. It was just one thing after another. It was being used as a political football, and they killed it. It was just sad. Sad for the people of Missouri and for the families that have struggled with trying to fight this awful epidemic.”

It would be nice if all it took was a big burst of will power to kick an opioid addiction. But that’s just not how it works. Thanks to the history of addiction in her own family, Rehder understands that intimately. “With my DNA, it takes me one to three days to become addicted to something. My husband has no drug addictions in his family line, and he can take an opioid for a week after an injury and stop it immediately without any problems.”

Her point is everyone is different. At the height of dependency, addicts can rarely advocate for themselves. Too often, it’s the parents left behind to pick up the pieces. Some become activists, like Jim Marshall and Christa Harmon. Many just steel themselves and go on, coping with their grief in private silence.

In Camden County, Kris Benecke, who lost her son and daughter to drug overdoses and is now raising her 9-year-old grandson, had never even heard of prescription drug monitoring programs until this year, but she supports the concept now. Her county is not enrolled, although its two Republican representatives both voted in favor of HB1693. Her son died from a heroin overdose at age 19, but his drug use started in high school, when a friend shared prescription opioids stolen from his father’s medicine cabinet.

“If something like a PDMP had been in place, maybe there would’ve been a totally different outcome,” Benecke says. Maybe a doctor would have noticed a prescription was being refilled too soon.

Maybe.

By Rose Hansen | Missouri Life Magazine | missourilife.com

We Need Retired Cops Running for Elected Office

Photo from npr.org

In recent months, the important role of elected officials at all levels has been made painfully clear for law enforcement officers, for their families and for those citizens who support their mission. When elected officials—particularly at the local or state level—fail to stand up for the basic principles of law and order, communities can quickly devolve, and innocent people can quickly become victims. Decades of progress within law enforcement agencies and in the communities in which they serve can be set back by mayors, city council members, state representatives and governors who are ignorant of, or indifferent to, the vital necessity of law enforcement officers’ active presence in our communities.

An age-old complaint is often recited by law enforcement officers, active and retired, who endure the public statements and policy decisions of elected officials whose ideas of policing have no relationship to reality. The complaint tends to boil down to some version of: “They just don’t know what they’re talking about.”

But who are the individual​​s who represent us in elected office? Who are the people willing to dedicate so many hours to campaigning for positions that often pay relatively little? Some are motivated by an altruistic drive to make their community a better place to live. Some, on the other hand, don’t have much else to do and are excited by the prospect of gaining an importance that they could never get in their personal lives or in any other line of work. The latter, those motivated by the once-in-a-lifetime chance to gain self-importance, seem all too common in 2020, and their impact on their constituents will eventually be counted in failed businesses and destroyed lives.

Here’s a proposition: What if individuals who did know what they’re talking about actually decided to run against those who did not? What if genuine institutional knowledge, rather than college classroom talking points, guided the public conversation in an election cycle?

This is why we need retired cops running for elected office—those men and women who have actually seen the impact of violence and disorder on real people. Those who are often stunned by the manner in which elected officials publicly discuss strategies to combat social ills. Those who have actually conducted high risk traffic stops, served warrants on violent offenders and responded to domestic disturbance calls. Those who are regularly disgusted by the way in which politicians cluelessly attempt to analyze police conduct in these scenarios.

In this election year, there are extremely few retired officers running for elected office at the local, state and federal levels. It does not have to be that way. The limits of their job prevents active law enforcement officers from fully expressing themselves in public due to the vital importance of maintaining impartiality while on the job. But once retired, there is no such limitation. Many retired officers have stable income in the form of a pension, children who are grown, and more free time on their hands than ever before in their adult lives. They could make the time to campaign without having to sacrifice their ability to make a living or spend time with their young children—unlike so many citizens who are frustrated by the caliber of our current class of elected representatives but feel unable to step forward to opposition.

There are many articulate and motivated law enforcement professionals who would prove highly capable representatives, if elected. Even if they were unsuccessful in their campaigns, how many retired cops would speak truth to nonsense from a place of personal experience that few people can? Doesn’t the prevalence of military veterans in this year’s election cycle demonstrate that the public responds to candidates who have unique first-hand knowledge of the most fundamental policy issues?

Many retired cops have watched from home as lawlessness is met with indifference by impotent politicians who are more concerned with political gamesmanship and the possibility of seeking a higher office than they are concerned with keeping innocent citizens safe. These men and women have strong views on what should be done and those views are formed by careers spent confronting violence and disorder in order to protect the lives and property of the most vulnerable members of their communities. There is little reason to think that the political realities will change if these men and women stay home.

These are individuals who spent a career putting themselves in harm’s way and running towards danger while most ran in the opposite direction. We need these retired cops, these men and women with unique expertise in law and order and poverty and public decay, to step up again.

By Matt Dolan | dolanconsultinggroup.com

About the Author

Matt Dolan is a licensed attorney who specializes in training and advising public safety agencies in matters of legal liability. His training focuses on helping agency leaders create sound policies and procedures as a proactive means of minimizing their exposure to costly liability. A member of a law enforcement family dating back three generations, he serves as both Director and Public Safety Instructor with Dolan Consulting Group.

His training courses include Recruiting and Hiring for Law Enforcement, Confronting the Toxic Officer, Performance Evaluations for Public Safety, Making Discipline Stick®, and Supervisor Liability for Public Safety.