Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Time for Legislature to Adopt a Ferguson Agenda

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Time for Legislature to Adopt a Ferguson Agenda

Article excerpt

For a couple of years now, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann and the Rev. B.T. Rice, a north St. Louis County pastor, have journeyed to the Missouri Capitol together on a joint mission.

Mr. Ehlmann, a white Republican, and Rev. Rice, a black Democrat, have lobbied state lawmakers to fix the broken municipal court system in north St. Louis County that manifests itself in tiny police departments preying on the poor through traffic fines.

Before Ferguson became a hashtag, the two men worked to make it harder for the cities and villages along Interstate 70 to depend on revenue from speeding tickets to balance their books.

They had some modest success.

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that lowered the maximum amount of traffic revenue a city could rely on to balance its books from a ridiculously high 35 percent to a slightly less ridiculously high 30 percent. And it altered the definition of traffic revenue to make it harder for scofflaw cities to fudge up the source of revenue.

More must be done. The unrest following the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, and the increased scrutiny of the municipal police/ court industry, has made that clear.

So a letter sent by Mr. Ehlmann to other elected officials in the St. Louis region this week should resonate as lawmakers begin thinking about their agenda for the legislative session that begins in January.

"We need to begin a discussion of legislation and efforts dealing with the events in Ferguson," Mr. Ehlmann wrote, before laying out several areas of possible bipartisan agreement, including more work on the speed trap problem.

This is the sort of leadership that is going to be needed from a Legislature that all too often seems more interested in debating political wedge issues than solving real problems.

The 2015 legislative session must be different. The post- Ferguson landscape demands it.

Some of the problems made manifest this summer and fall in St. Louis will require local solutions. The U.S. Justice Department may impose some solutions. And the Ferguson Commission established by Gov. Jay Nixon has tremendous potential to change the course of this city's history.

But the Legislature can make a lasting difference. It should help that both the incoming speaker of the House, Rep. John Diehl, R- Town and Country, and the president pro tem of the Senate, Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, are from the St. Louis region.

They can set the Ferguson Agenda. They can push for changing state law in ways that will make a difference to the thousands of people living in poverty in north St. Louis County who are ill- served by divided and broken institutions.

We have had our share of disagreements with Mssrs. Diehl and Dempsey, and surely will have more, but there is plenty of room for agreement in some key areas in setting a Ferguson Agenda. …

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