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House Bill 821 | Allows city to create public board in charge of acquiring properties
Gov. Mike Parson signs land bank bill

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson came to St. Joseph on Tuesday to sign a land bank bill into law at City Hall.

House Bill 821, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Sheila Solon, will allow the city to create a public board to be in charge of acquiring properties sold in the county’s delinquent tax sale or through donations and then selling them to private owners to be redeveloped.

Parson complimented St. Joseph citizens for wanting to take a step toward ending blight in St. Joseph.

“It was an honor to be here in St. Joe today and to be able to do something like this that’s going to really help the community long term that I think will help with a lot of the buildings and the process here of building St. Joe infrastructure up,” Parson said.

The signing was attended by city leaders as well as Solon and Republican state Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer.

St. Joseph Mayor Bill McMurray called the signing historic. He said he believes it is the first time a governor has come to St. Joseph to sign a bill.

He has been a supporter of the land bank bill and said the next step is to work with Buchanan County in order to identify properties that could be purchased.

“This will enable us to get control of blighted property,” McMurray said. “We also can use the funds that we’re going to have in the land bank, after we capitalize it, to, instead of tearing down a property, contribute toward its rehabilitation.”

A board has not yet been selected, but that process is expected to begin soon.

Parson said blighted property is an issue throughout the state and land banks could be a useful tool to reduce the problem.

“Most of the major cities, or even the small towns, you’ll see the same thing,” Parson said. “I think it’s a good opportunity for people to do a little bit more to clean their towns up a little bit, and I think that’ll be a good thing at the end of the day.”

He said infrastructure and workforce development are two major issues that he is focused on, and land banks could help with both.

The land bank likely would use money from the city’s general fund for early financing, but it could support itself through sales and taxes.

For three years after selling a property to a private owner, the land bank will be able to collect property taxes assessed against that property that are collected by the county.

St. Joseph’s land bank is expected to start off small, targeting neighborhoods in order to make an impact while building up revenue.

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Lawmakers reflect on session at chamber forum

A delegation of state lawmakers from Northwest Missouri were the featured guests at a special St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce gathering Tuesday morning.

Freshman State Rep. Brenda Shields joined fellow Republicans Rep. Sheila Solon, Sen. Dan Hegeman and Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer to discuss and reflect on the progress made during this year’s legislative session, which ended last month.

Rep. Bill Falkner, R-St. Joseph, had a prior engagement and wasn’t able to attend, according to Shields.

The group of GOP legislators lauded measures that have a local focus, including the creation of a land bank in St. Joseph as well as a proposal that requires companies that own property to register with the city.

“One of the things that we know is people own property in St. Joe, but it’s not readily apparent who owns or is responsible for the property,” Luetkemeyer said. “When the property falls into disrepair, the city doesn’t know who to contact.”

Solon described the “teamwork” mentality that her fellow legislators share with each other, and city leaders.

“It was definitely a group effort,” Solon told the audience. “We all worked together for it.”

“We have a great group of individuals,” said Shields, who told the chamber crowd that her first year in Jefferson City was a successful one.

A longtime education advocate, Shields said she is ecstatic her proposal to create certified teacher externships was approved.

Hegeman praised the work done on the long budget process while also cheering lawmakers and the governor for funding expansion for broadband internet.

“Broadband is the electricity of today,” Hegeman said.

The Republicans also highlighted economic-related measures to the local business organization as the super majority GOP caucus pushed through several pieces of business-friendly legislation this year.

The chamber’s president, R. Patt Lilly, also thanked the lawmakers for their work in not only passing legislation that will help their constituency, but for also squashing “a number of bills” that he said would have hurt businesses in St. Joseph.

Missouri election head rejects petition for vote on abortion

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s top election official on Tuesday rejected a third petition for a public vote on a new law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s action came as opponents of the law are fighting in court to force the Republican to approve two similar petitions for a referendum that he rejected last week.

The ACLU of Missouri and wealthy Republican businessman David Humphreys filed the petitions to put the law on the 2020 ballot in hopes that voters will overturn it. The abortion ban includes an exception for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest.

Ashcroft cited a provision in the Missouri Constitution that prohibits referendums on “laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety” in his decision to reject the petitions.

A majority of the law, including the eight-week abortion ban, takes effect Aug. 28. But a provision that changed the rules on minors receiving abortions was enacted as soon as Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed the bill in May.

The new law requires a parent or guardian giving written consent for a minor to get an abortion to first notify the other custodial parent, unless the other parent has been convicted of a violent or sexual crime, is subject to a protection order or is “habitually in an intoxicated or drugged condition.”

The law’s “emergency clause” states that enacting the parental-consent portion is vital “because of the need to protect the health and safety of women and their children, both unborn and born.”

In court filings, attorneys for the groups trying to repeal the law argued that enacting that provision is not an actual emergency.

Attorneys for both plaintiffs cited a statement by the bill’s state Senate handler, GOP Sen. Andrew Koenig, who told St. Louis Public Radio that lawmakers tried to “pre-empt that type of situation by putting an emergency clause in there.”

“So there can’t be a referendum,” he said.

ACLU attorneys wrote in court filings that the legislature “cannot tack an emergency law onto a nonemergency law in order to evade citizens’ fundamental right of review on laws that fall unambiguously within the people’s constitutional referendum power.”

A court hearing on the lawsuits is scheduled for next week.

The legal dispute over the abortion law comes as the state’s only abortion clinic fights its own court battle to continue providing the service, despite the state health department’s refusal to renew the clinic’s license.

A St. Louis judge issued an order Monday to keep the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic operating while the fight over the facility’s license plays out in court. Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer also ordered the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to decide on Planned Parenthood’s application to renew its license by June 21.

“We will not stop speaking out about the injustice that Gov. Parson and director Randall Williams from the department of health have intentionally created for the people of Missouri in a sick obsession to ban abortion and to not let women be equal citizens in this country,” Planned Parenthood Medical Director Dr. David Eisenberg said at a Tuesday news conference in reference to Republican Gov. Mike Parson.

Messages seeking comment from spokeswomen for the Republican governor and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services were not immediately returned.

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District may look at renovating Noyes as early-childhood-education center

The St. Joseph School District’s long-range planning committee met Tuesday afternoon to discuss various topics, including plans to repurpose Noyes Elementary School as a Pre-K institution.

Noyes Elementary School, which closed in 2014 due to low attendance, among other factors, originally was slated to be renovated as an early childhood education center in 2016. Under previous Superintendent Dr. Robert Newhart, those plans fell through.

However, Tuesday afternoon, current Superintendent Dr. Doug Van Zyl came in with several large sheets of paper bound by rubber bands, saying those plans may get to see the light of day.

“We see that there’s a big gap right now. We’re serving maybe a fourth of our students that we could be serving, and that’s a challenge for us, because if you really take a look at research — getting kids involved early, giving them opportunities to learn and be socially exposed to that learning as well as the expectations of school — it is a big cost saver once they get to that school age. We’re looking at how we can close that gap for some of our students and get them all on a level playing field to start.” he said. “I think it would be wise, even outside of the facilities study that we have going on, that we take a look at how we can make this a priority for what we do as a district.”

The plan in 2016 was set to cost around $4 million, Van Zyl mentioned. However, he’d like to cut that number in half while still meeting the needs of students.

Furthermore, a meeting has been set up with a representative from the state regarding reimbursement opportunities to help the district pay for such a project.

Partnerships may also arise, allowing organizations to support the effort as well.

School Board President Seth Wright brought up a few issues regarding staffing and transportation, though Van Zyl said nothing is set in stone. Other buildings even are being considered to house the early childhood learning center.

“This is a starting point, because we do already have plans that some dollars were invested in,” Van Zyl said. “It’s not something that will happen tomorrow. To us, the plan is to start today, and maybe if we’re lucky it’s ready to go next year.”

Plans to support alternate high school efforts at the Webster Learning Center also were discussed during Tuesday’s meeting.

Jon Slanky, the administrator at Webster, said there were approximately 60 students served at the beginning of the previous school year, though he believes that with the school district’s support, more high-schoolers can be supported through the programs, which focus on a more freeform schedule designed for credit-deficient students or those with waning interest in the schooling system.

“They’re going through the process right now of how do they roll it out to students and parents,” Van Zyl said of the programs. “Sometimes, I think people think of the alternative high school as a consequence or a punishment, when rather we’d like to show this as an opportunity for some of our kids who may not think that regular high school is what’s for them.”

Van Zyl also was tasked at looking at some of the gaps regarding organization within the district’s administrative positions.

He explained that the district had been in a mode of “budget-reduction,” pushing several positions together to help save money over the past few years.

“People were taking a look at some of the administrative positions and looking to shave some of those positions to save some dollars,” he explained. “And that’s all well and good and well-intentioned. The challenge is that there’s still a lot to do in the district, and when you shave a position and add things to somebody’s plate, not everything gets done well. We’ve got great people working really hard, but there are some things falling through the cracks and don’t make us efficient and effective in what we’re doing.”

For example, the special education department within the St. Joseph School District was comprised of around three people only a few years ago. Now, it only has one. And while Van Zyl was complimentary of this employee’s efforts, he said it’s easy for them to get overburdened in an area that deals with federal programs, laws and legalities.

The district also discussed the facilities study helmed by DLR, a company based in Overland Park.

The company released information regarding its first online survey provided to parents late last month. Over 1,900 people participated in the survey, and Van Zyl said some of the information provided by DLR so far echoes much of what those in the district knew already: a number of facilities are in poor condition.

“Even the spaces that we are using aren’t designed for the education that we’re providing,” he said.

Finally, the committee discussed the Mosaic Life Care administration’s move to take a number of buildings off of its tax roll, which would adversely affect the district’s budget in the process.

Mosaic, a not-for-profit organization, is not required to pay taxes on their buildings, but has continued to do so through the years. However, a recent decision will have Mosaic paying on fewer buildings in favor of more direct community involvement and support.

“They’re looking for how they can support us as a school district and in turn support the community and make us a better community as a whole,” Van Zyl said.

The move will result in an approximately $145,000 hit to the district’s $120 million-plus budget this year and around half-a-million dollars next year.

Van Zyl said their relationship with Mosaic is unaffected by such a move, citing the district’s own efforts to look for efficiencies and pave the way toward future success.

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