Politics & Issues | St. Louis Public Radio

Politics & Issues

Updated at 12:40 p.m. ET

President Trump's defense team is expected to maintain Monday, the second day of its arguments in the Senate impeachment trial, that the president was legally justified in freezing military assistance to Ukraine and that the case against Trump presented by Democrats does not clear the bar of an impeachable offense.

Watch the trial live here when it begins at 1 p.m. ET.

Many MoDOT employees are trained to operate complicated machines and vehicles.
File Photo | Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri’s Transportation Department is losing employees at a worrisome rate, said Patrick McKenna, its director. 

McKenna said that nearly half of the department's workforce has left and been replaced since 2017. That turnover cost nearly $37 million last fiscal year, according to MoDOT estimates. 

McKenna said that high turnover rate has made it hard to get employees trained in time for them to deal with bad weather. 

technology computer upgrade
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County has made it easier for its information technology department to purchase open-source software.

The County Council approved a change to the purchasing law in November. County IT officials say they hope to make the first purchase under the new law within the month, and believe it could save the county thousands of dollars in the long term.

Updated at 1:32 p.m. ET

President Trump "did absolutely nothing wrong," White House counsel Pat Cipollone said Saturday, as lawyers representing the president got their first shot to poke holes in the impeachment case made this week by Democrats.

Saturday's proceedings, which lasted a little more than two hours, set up the White House arguments in the impeachment trial. The proceedings resume Monday at 1 p.m.

St. Louis County jail
File photo

St. Louis County’s recently revived justice services advisory board chastised jail officials Friday for being secretive about the circumstances surrounding the death of an inmate in late December.

“You guys seem to know what happened, and we do not know what happened,” said board member and jail ministry volunteer Mary Zabawa Taylor to jail director Raul Banasco and the county’s top medical officials at the group’s monthly meeting.

Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

On the latest edition of Politically Speaking, St. Louis Public Radio’s Julie O’Donoghue and Jason Rosenbaum take a look at local, state and national stories that made news this week.

They include the unsuccessful proposal from the head of the Bi-State Development Agency to revive the Loop Trolley, which shut down after a string of financial difficulties. St. Louis Public Radio’s Kae Petrin joined the show to talk about the proposal, which failed to get approval from a Bi-State board committee on Friday.

This live interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” over the 11 a.m. hour Monday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske will convene this month’s Legal Roundtable panelists to take a closer look at local and regional issues pertaining to the law. 

Construction of the second phase of the Ballpark Village development, across from Busch Stadium on March 28, 2019.
File photo | Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has voted to ensure that workers on big construction projects are paid the prevailing wage for skilled tradespeople in the area.

Aldermen sent prevailing wage legislation to Mayor Lyda Krewson on Friday without opposition. She is expected to sign the measure.

Two trolleys sit in a garage as workers try to fix an electric problem during a week of test drives. June 8 , 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The quest to bring the Loop Trolley back to life under St. Louis’ regional transit agency has failed. 

Bi-State Development committee members on Friday declined to send to its full Board of Commissioners a proposal to temporarily take over running the trolley. Members of the committees challenged the plausibility and business sense of the proposal, a four-year management contract aimed at making the trolley self-sustaining by 2024. 

Taulby Roach, Bi-State president and CEO, said after the meeting that he does not plan to revise the proposal.

Updated at 9:00 p.m. ET

House Democrats on Friday finished their third and final day of arguments that President Trump, impeached by the House, now should be convicted and removed from office by the Senate.

The president's lawyers will get their turn to lay out the case for acquittal starting this weekend.

"A toxic mess"

Have a question about legal marijuana in Illinois or medical marijuana in Missouri? Ask here, and we'll update this guide with answers as we report them out.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services began awarding the 192 state medical marijuana dispensary licenses on Thursday. 

According to the constitutional amendment that voters approved in 2018, the department was required to license at least 192 dispensaries, 24 in each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. This means DHSS could have awarded more licenses, but officials want to see if the minimum number can meet demand. 

voxefxtm | Flickr

A recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling gutted the state’s voter ID law approved by voters in 2016, but Republicans in the statehouse are looking to restore it. 

State Rep. John Simmons, R-Washington, has filed a measure that he hopes would withstand a court challenge. 

The original law approved by voters allowed three methods to cast a ballot. Voters could show a photo ID; another form of identification, like a utility bill, but were then required to sign an affidavit; or they could cast a provisional ballot. The provisional vote would count once they returned to show ID or election workers matched their signatures with a past vote.

Updated at 10:40 p.m. ET

House Democrats finished their second day of oral arguments on Thursday, contending that that President Trump's attempt to pressure Ukraine into investigations was not only an attempt to cheat in the 2020 election, but Democrats said it was also the kind of behavior the nation's founding fathers hoped to guard against.

St. Louis County Council Chairwoman Lisa Clancy (left) and County Councilman Ernie Trakas (center) both have proposals to change the county's panhandling regulations.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Staff attorneys have told the St. Louis County Council that vagrancy and panhandling ordinances need to be updated, because the ones currently on the books might be unconstitutional. 

But the council hasn’t agreed on how to proceed.

Missouri Chief Justice George Draper, center, delivers his State of the Judiciary Address on Jan. 22, 2020as House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe listen.
Tim Bommel | House Communications

The chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court says the state needs to properly fund its public defender system to continue the criminal justice reforms it has passed in the past several years.

Speaking to a joint session of the state Legislature on Wednesday for his first State of the Judiciary address, Chief Justice George Draper applauded the General Assembly for boosting access to treatment courts and allowing more individuals to enter diversion programs. However, he cautioned those reforms can only go so far.

St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden testifies in committee hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 14 about residency requirement.
Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 2:10 p.m. Jan. 22 with House committee action

Legislation that would remove residency requirements for St. Louis police officers passed out of Missouri House committee Tuesday evening.

Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, has a similar measure that was heard in a Senate committee on Wednesday.

Here is the original story:

After years of city officials trying to end the residency requirement for police officers in St. Louis, lawmakers in Jefferson City are expecting to get it done. 

Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie, is sponsoring legislation that will lift the requirement, and he said he has the support needed to make it law. 

“Right now, we have a clean bill,” Hicks said in a committee hearing on the proposal on Tuesday. “We have a good path through the House; we have a good path through the Senate right to the governor’s desk. He himself told me he’ll sign the bill if we can get it there the way it is written.” 

Updated at 10:51 p.m. ET

House Democrats concluded on Wednesday the first of three days of opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, arguing that the president must be removed from office for abusing his office and obstructing Congress.

Katie Bartels and her emotional support cat Hank, who was certified as an ESA by a therapist, not an online service. 01-20-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

If you have a little bit of money and can answer a 10-question online survey, you can get an official-looking certificate stating that you need an emotional support animal. 

You don’t have to talk to anyone or go through an assessment.

Because it’s so easy to obtain the documentation and the laws on accommodations for emotional support animals are murky, some people are using the certification to get out of paying pet deposits and monthly fees to keep an animal in an apartment.

Loop Trolley
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The head of the agency that runs the region’s transit network characterized the Loop Trolley as a “troubled project” Tuesday but still said his organization should attempt to turn it around.

State Sen Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, presents his legislation to lengthen sentences for armed criminal action to the Senate Judiciary committee on Jan. 21, 2020.
Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri lawmakers are still at odds on how to solve the spike in gun violence and gun deaths in St. Louis and other urban areas. 

On Tuesday, House Democrats held a press conference highlighting gun control legislation they believe will address the violence. 

“Perpetrators of gun violence deserve harsh punishment, but what Missouri needs most are policies that help prevent shootings from ever taking place,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield.

Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Sen. Dan Hegeman returns to Politically Speaking to talk with St. Louis Public Radio’s Julie O’Donoghue and Jason Rosenbaum about Missouri’s finances and his proposal to change state legislative redistricting.

The Cosby Republican represents Missouri’s 12th Senate District, which takes in a huge swath of northwest Missouri. It's the largest Senate district in the state.

Updated at 1:50 a.m. ET Wednesday

After a long day and night of dueling between the House managers calling for impeachment and attorneys for President Trump declaring the articles of impeachment "ridiculous," the Senate adopted a set of rules that will govern its impeachment trial, in which opening arguments will get underway Wednesday.

The resolution, put forward by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, calls for each side to receive up to 24 hours to argue their case, spread over three days.

Younger jail officers are more likely to show symptoms of depression, according to new research from St. Louis University. These new recruits often experience "shell shock" when they first start working in jails, said study author Lisa Jaegers.
Gary Waters | NPR

James Dahm has worked at the City Justice Center in St. Louis for nearly a decade, but he hasn’t forgotten how hard it was to learn the ropes as a rookie jail officer.

Not long after he started, he ran into his lieutenant in the breakroom, who tried to offer some encouragement.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, it gets better,’” Dahm remembered. “I asked him, ‘Does it get better, or do you just get used to it?’ and he said, ‘A little of both.’”

Lucy Grimshaw, Sha-Lai Williams and Courtney McDermott
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

University of Missouri-St. Louis sophomore Lucy Grimshaw grew up learning about Martin Luther King Jr. and the fraught times that shaped his life and death. But none of those lessons stuck with her quite like what she experienced last spring while touring places associated with key events of the civil rights movement.

As she visited sites such as Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, where four young girls were killed in a racist bombing, and Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, where law enforcement officers brutally attacked black protesters on a day later known as Bloody Sunday, Grimshaw and fellow UMSL students reflected each evening on what they were seeing and learning.

They did so under the guidance of UMSL School of Social Work faculty members Courtney McDermott and Sha-Lai Williams, who co-taught the trip as part of a Pierre Laclede Honors College course offered to students coming from various academic and ethnic backgrounds.

Activists with the Close the Workhouse campaign call on Mayor Lyda Krewson to close down the jail as she arrives for a segment on St. Louis on the Air.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

What started out as a viral video exposing the poor conditions detainees were facing inside St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution — also known as the Workhouse — has turned into a three-year-long effort to shut it down. In 2017, activists and civil rights organizations Action St. Louis, ArchCity Defenders and Bail Project St. Louis began pursuing calls to action to close it. 

The facility largely houses people who have not been convicted of a crime and cannot afford bail. Conditions inside have reportedly included black mold, dangerously high and low temperatures, moldy food and “rats as big as cats.” 

The city has since invested in renovating the facility, but this week, the Close the Workhouse campaign announced its relaunch with a newly updated report. And now, it has a new ally.

Gov. Mike Parson addresses the Missouri General Assembly during the State of the State Address held January 15, 2020.
Marta Payne | Special to St. Louis Public Radio

On the first Politically Speaking roundup show of 2020, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum, Julie O’Donoghue and Jaclyn Driscoll recap Gov. Mike Parson’s State of the State address.

During Parson’s speech, the GOP chief executive focused on the effort to get a handle on violent crime in Missouri’s biggest cities — and discussed how his administration is managing the state’s Medicaid program.

Steven King, owner of Metro Shooting Supplies, inspects one of the firearms in his store. Illinois State Police put new regulations for gun stores in effect this month.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — New rules from the Illinois State Police expand regulations on how firearms dealers must run their businesses. 

They directly impact how gun stores keep records, store weapons and ammunition and maintain surveillance and security systems.

Licensed dealers have to keep electronic records of their inventory and sales that can be easily searched by a firearm serial number, name of purchaser and other defining aspects of the gun or sale. 

Mayor Lyda Krewson announces changes to homeless services during winter months at a press conference Oct. 30, 2019.
File Photo | Andrea Smith | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson has raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour for civilian city workers. 

The move is part of a strategy to attract and retain workers in city government and address “chronic understaffing,” according to an executive order signed by Krewson on Friday.

The change means more than 700 current employees will see bigger paychecks starting mid-February, according to the mayor’s spokesman. He said the city expects to hire 300 seasonal workers this summer at the increased hourly rate. 

Gov. Mike Parson greets members of the Missouri Legislature ahead of his 2020 State of the State address.
Marta Payne | Special to St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is distancing himself from proposed gun restrictions that he previously supported. 

In a November meeting with the mayors of St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia and Springfield, Parson agreed to several proposals to help fight violence, including some so-called red flag laws. 

The mayors and the governor laid out a clear initiative: increase funding for witness protection programs and mental health resources, pass a state law that would prohibit minors from buying handguns, and keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and violent criminals.

Fellowship of Wildwood, a baptist church in west St. Louis County, allows certain trained congregants to carry weapons. Church leaders say their volunteer security team helps provide peace of mind to the congregation.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

It’s hard to tell who has a gun at Fellowship of Wildwood church, unless you’re really looking.

The men stand silently at the edge of the crowd, as worshippers shrug off their heavy winter coats and sip from paper coffee cups before the Sunday service. 

Nicknamed the “sheepdog ministry,” the group of about a dozen volunteers provide armed protection for churchgoers at Fellowship of Wildwood.

Attacks on religious spaces have become a troubling new reality, leaving congregations to grapple with how to respond. While some train congregants or hire armed guards, other faith leaders in St. Louis have resisted the idea of allowing guns inside houses of worship. 

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