After abuse claims, Parson OKs Missouri boarding school law

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has signed legislation for greater oversight of unlicensed residential care facilities for children. Parson signed the bill Wednesday.

The measure comes after allegations of long-running abuse at some Missouri boarding schools. In March, Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed more than

100 criminal charges against the owners of the former Circle of Hope Girls Ranch in Cedar County. They have pleaded not guilty while awaiting trial.

The legislation would require such facilities to notify the state of their existence and undergo background checks for their personnel.

Previous stories: 

Missouri lawmakers advance legislation providing oversight for unlicensed boarding schools

Alleged victims relieved to see charges filed against Circle of Hope owners

Circle of Hope owners speak out, close doors, amid state level investigation

Oklahoma House OKs ban on teaching critical race theory

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Oklahoma public school teachers would be prohibited from teaching certain concepts of race and racism under a bill given final approval by the state House on Thursday.

The GOP-controlled House voted 70-19 for the bill that prohibits teaching of so-called “critical race theory.”

“Students are being taught that because they’re a certain race or sex, they’re inherently superior to others or should feel guilty for something that happened in the past,” said Rep. Kevin West, a Moore Republican who sponsored the bill. “We’re trying to set boundaries that we as a state say will not be crossed when we’re teaching these kinds of subjects.”

Among the concepts that would be prohibited are that individuals, by virtue of race or gender, are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Some Republicans expressed concerns that public school children are being indoctrinated into thinking that white people are inherently racist or sexist.

Democrats said the bill was a waste of time and addressed a non-existent problem.

“Instead of focusing on the real issues facing Oklahomans, the majority party continues their attack on anyone in Oklahoma who might not look, think, love, or act like them,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Emily Virgin, a Democrat from Norman.

The bill is similar to measures signed into law in Utah and Arkansas.

The measure would also prevent colleges and universities from requiring students to undergo training on gender or sexual diversity. Virgin, whose district includes the University of Oklahoma, said that provision is particularly troubling because the university is one of several in the state that provides training on gender and sexual diversity and for incoming students.

“That’s what freshman orientations are about: making it clear that this is an inclusive space and inclusive environment and no one should be made to feel that they don’t belong,” Virgin said. “To say in this building that we should prohibit that sort of training goes against the very fabric and very idea of higher education.”

The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt for final approval.

Oklahoma Gov. signs bill to crack down on protesters blocking roadways

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signs legislation to increase penalties for blocking roadways. The measure also grants immunity to motorists who kill or injure rioters while trying to flee.

(You can find the bill information here: Oklahoma State Legislature)

The bill makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine for anyone who obstructs a public street during the course of a protest, according to the legislation. House Bill 1674 also states that drivers cannot be held criminally or civilly liable for killing or injuring a protestor if they are “fleeing from a riot,” and there is “reasonable belief” that they are in danger.

The bill comes in the midst of a national conversation around policing, racial bias and the right to demonstration. The move comes months after protests sparked by the death of George Floyd – some of which turned into riots.

There have also been calls for justice after the recent fatal police shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright. The first days of the protests over Wright’s death turned chaotic as some demonstrators threw bottles and launched fireworks and officers deployed tear gas and stun guns.

“We are sending a message today in Oklahoma that rioters who threaten law abiding citizens’ safety will not be tolerated. I remain unequivocally committed to protecting every Oklahoman’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest as well as their right to feel safe in their community,” Stitt said.

A group protesting the legislation briefly gained entry to the House Chambers inside the State Capitol in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, according to KFOR. The session resumed after the protestors left the Capitol building, KFOR reported.

Oklahoma seeks coordination on Indigenous peoples cold cases

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Tuesday signed into law a bill intended to coordinate state and federal law enforcement efforts when investigating missing or murdered Indigenous people.

The law requires the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to coordinate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice to obtain federal funding and coordinate their efforts to gather information and data about missing and murdered indigenous people in Oklahoma.

The OSBI would create an Office of Liaison to develop protocols for law enforcement response to reports of missing or slain Native Americans and to assist victims’ families in understanding the legal processes.

“Far too often when a Native (American) goes missing or is found murdered their families have to navigate a complex checkerboard of jurisdiction,” Stitt said. “This bill will ensure a more coordinated response” between state and federal agencies.

Known as Ida’s law, it is named for 29-year-old Ida Beard of El Reno, a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, who disappeared in 2015 and has never been found.

Beard’s cousin, LaRenda Morgan, said the law leaves her with a sense of gratitude.

“I’m just very, very grateful, thankful,” Morgan said. “Thank you so much, all of you, for showing compassion and showing that you care about Indian Country.”

In 2019, then U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced a nationwide plan to address missing and slain Native American women. Missing Native American men and boys were added to the plan in 2020.

The project includes $1.5 million to hire specialized coordinators in 11 U.S. attorney’s offices across the U.S. with significant Indian Country caseloads, which include Oklahoma. The coordinators are to develop protocols for a better law enforcement response to missing persons cases.

U.S. attorneys and tribal leaders in Oklahoma and Montana last year announced they will participate in pilot projects to better coordinate investigative efforts surrounding cases of missing or murdered Indigenous peoples.

An Associated Press investigation in 2018 found that nobody knows precisely how many cases of missing and murdered Native American women happen nationwide because many go unreported, others aren’t well documented and no government database specifically tracks them.

Southwest Missouri counties provide transparent spending data online

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Jasper and Newton Counties are counted among the 10 counties participating in the state’s Local Government Checkbook Program. Participants provide spending data to available on online in an effort government transparency.

Spending data from ten local governments, Cape Girardeau County, Cass County, Clay County, Cole County, Franklin County, Greene County, Jasper County, Newton County, St. Charles County and the City of St. Louis, can be searched, with 16 additional counties in progress.

Visitors to the Checkbook can examine expenditure data detailing funds, departments, vendors, payment descriptions, and totals for the available government entities.

“Government transparency is essential to a functioning republic,” Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick said. “As Treasurer, I will always strive to improve transparency because I want Missourians to trust that their government is working for them and their tax dollars are being spent wisely. Increased transparency helps facilitate that trust and I am hopeful that more county leaders will volunteer to participate in the local government checkbook.”

In 2020, Treasurer Fitzpatrick announced the expansion of the Show-Me Checkbook to include local governments. He also facilitated aggregating state expenditures related to CARES Act funding in one portal on the Treasurer’s Office website for Missourians to search. The Local Governments section of the Show-Me Checkbook can be found here.

March 14 kicked-off Sunshine Week. The week celebrates open government and access to public information. It runs through March 21.