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Missouri responds defiantly to Justice Dept. over gun law

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s Republican governor and attorney general said in a defiant letter to the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday that they stand by the state’s new law that would ban police from enforcing federal gun rules.

(Previous article: Justice Dept.: Missouri governor can’t void federal gun laws)

Gov. Mike Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt wrote that they still plan to enforce the new law, which Parson signed Saturday. The measure would penalizes local police departments if their officers enforce federal gun laws.

Schmitt and Parson wrote that they will “fight tooth and nail” to defend the right to own guns as spelled out in the state constitution and the new law.

“We will not tolerate any attempts by the federal government to deprive Missourians of this critical civil right,” they wrote.

In a letter sent Wednesday night and obtained by The Associated Press, Justice Department officials pointed out that federal law trumps state law under the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.

Brian Boynton, an acting assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, said in the letter that Missouri’s law threatens to disrupt the working relationship between federal and local law enforcement and noted that the state receives federal grants and technical assistance.

Prosecutors in Missouri’s attorney general’s office have already withdrawn from nearly two dozen federal drug, gun and carjacking cases in St. Louis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. They had been working with federal counterparts as part of the Safer Streets initiative that Schmitt touted in 2019. Attorneys from Schmitt’s office were deputized as assistant U.S. attorneys to help prosecute violent crimes.

Missouri’s new law would subject law enforcement agencies with officers who knowingly enforce federal gun laws to a fine of about $50,000 per violating officer.

Boynton said Missouri’s law “conflicts with federal firearms laws and regulation” and that federal law would supersede the state’s new statute. He said federal agents and the U.S. attorney’s offices in the state would continue to enforce all federal firearms laws and regulations. He asked that Parson and Schmitt clarify the law and how it would work in a response by Friday.

Schmitt is running for U.S. Senate.

Republican lawmakers who pushed Missouri’s new law said they were motivated by the potential for more restrictive gun laws under Democratic President Joe Biden. But state Democrats argued that it is unconstitutional and would likely get overturned if challenged in court.

Similar bills were introduced in more than a dozen other states this year, including Alabama, Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia and Iowa. In Texas, the governor has called for the state to become a so-called Second Amendment sanctuary.

Several states passed similar laws under then-president Barack Obama, though judges have ruled against them.

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Second Amendment Preservation Act: Governor Parson to sign HB 85 into law

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Governor Mike Parson will sign House Bill 85 into law Saturday, June 12, 2021.

This will establish the Second Amendment Preservation Act in Missouri.

Parson will sign HB 85 during a ceremony at Frontier Justice, a gun shop in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

The bill was sponsored by State Representative Jared Taylor, a Republican from Republic, Missouri. Lawmakers in favor of the “Second Amendment Preservation Act say it protects Missourians from federal gun laws. It would hold departments liable for up to $50,000 if an officer violates someone’s Second Amendment rights.

Earlier in 2021, Ozarksfirst talked to Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott about the legislation. Arnott told us he supports the second amendment, but he sees an issue with the language in the bill. The Sheriff says this could put his officers in a tough spot when they are investigating crimes.

Missouri’s House Minority Leader, Crystal Quade released a statement on Friday, June 11, 2021 calling the HB 85 a “radical, dangerous and obviously unconstitutional attempt to declare that Missouri will refuse to follow federal gun laws.”

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Quapaw committee disqualifies Berrey as Vice Chairman candidate

QUAPAW, Okla. – The Quapaw Nation Business Committee votes to disqualify former Chairman John Berrey as a candidate for Vice Chairman.

Berrey led the tribe for more than 20 years. He currently faces eleven criminal charges in Quapaw Nation Tribal Court, including embezzlement and conspiracy (We break down the details of charges filed by the Quapaw Nation against ex-officialsEx-Quapaw tribal leaders indicted for embezzlement)

Quapaw Nationa – Suitability of John L. Berrey’s Candidacy

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Voting rights advocates sue over 2 new Kansas election laws

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Three voting rights groups are suing Kansas election officials over two Republican-backed election laws that were passed over the veto of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.

The League of Women Voters of Kansas, Kansas Appleseed and Loud Light contend in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the laws are unconstitutional because they suppress free speech and disenfranchise voters.

One statute limits how many ballots groups or individuals may collect and deliver to election officials, a practice used by some Democrats and Democratic-leaning groups for decades to help disabled, elderly and poor voters. The second law reduces the power the governor, secretary of state and courts have to change election laws.

The lawsuit filed in Shawnee County District Court asks the court to find the laws unconstitutional and to prevent them from being enforced.

Kelly vetoed the bills in April but the Republican-led Legislature overrode the veto last month.

Republican supporters of the measures say they are needed to ensure the integrity of elections by preventing fraud.

Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, described the groups that filed the lawsuit as “left-wing groups who are opposed to securing our elections.”

“The fact that they are challenging modest limits on ballot harvesting and rules against impersonation of an election official demonstrates how radical these groups are,” Masterson said in a statement.

The voting rights groups contend Republican supporters of the new laws have presented no evidence that Kansas elections are not secure.

“In most instances, the Legislature relied on little more than vague references to concerns about elections integrity or fraud that was rumored to have occurred in other states,” the lawsuit said. “Yet, no legislator pointed to even a single instance of fraud precipitating the need for these drastic changes.”

Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a defendant in the lawsuit, who says Kansas had “free and fair” elections in 2020, declined to comment on the lawsuit before his office had been formally served, The Wichita Eagle reported.

A spokesperson for state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, another defendant, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Davis Hammet, founder of Loud Light, a state voting rights organization, said he told lawmakers before they voted that the laws would pose constitutional concerns.

“When you make up a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist you make new problems,” Hammet said. “The legislature responded to a lie and used it as the basis for disenfranchising Kansans in the name of improving election integrity.”

One law makes it a misdemeanor for someone to collect and return more than 10 ballots or “give the appearance of being an election official.”

Hammet said he and other Loud Light volunteers have been mistaken for election officials in past elections.

“We’re all nervous that if we go out and do these activities can we go to jail?” he said.

The lawsuit also contends a $20 advance voting application fee would harm low-income voters, and a method used to match signatures on ballots would cause voters to be “disenfranchised as the result of inexpert and arbitrary decisions by elections officials.”

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Oklahoma high court strikes down governor’s Medicaid plan

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plan to privatize much of the state’s Medicaid program is unconstitutional.

The court determined in a 6-3 ruling Tuesday that the Oklahoma Health Care Authority did not have the legislative approval to move forward with the plan. The Republican governor has pushed the plan to outsource management of the state’s Medicaid system to for-profit insurance companies. He maintains that approach will maximize health care quality while cutting costs. But a group of medical organizations filed suit in February seeking to stop the plan.

Plaintiffs included the Oklahoma State Medical Association and the Oklahoma Dental Association.

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Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announces resignation

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter on Wednesday announced his resignation, citing “certain personal matters that are becoming public.”

In a statement released by his office, the Republican said he plans to step down June 1. In the statement, Hunter expressed concern that his personal issues could overshadow the work of his office.

“Regrettably, certain personal matters that are becoming public will become a distraction for this office,” Hunter said. “The office of attorney general is one of the most important positions in state government. I cannot allow a personal issue to overshadow the vital work the attorneys, agents and support staff do on behalf of Oklahoma.”

Although the statement did not describe the personal matter, Hunter filed for divorce from his wife, Cheryl, on Friday. The couple had been married for nearly 40 years and have two adult children.

Hunter was appointed to the post in 2017 by then-Gov. Mary Fallin after Scott Pruitt, who was attorney general at the time, was tapped by former President Donald Trump to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hunter narrowly defeated Tulsa attorney Gentner Drummond in a bruising GOP primary in 2018, winning by fewer than 300 votes, before coasting to an easy victory in the general election.

Hunter helped lead the state’s lawsuit against the makers of pharmaceuticals blamed for contributing to the nation’s opioid crisis, the first lawsuit of its kind by a state, ultimately securing a $465 million order against consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson. That ruling is being appealed.

Hunter’s resignation means Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt will name his replacement, allowing the governor to put an ally in the post. Stitt and Hunter, both Republicans, have occasionally clashed on various matters, including over Stitt’s decision to renegotiate the state’s gaming compacts with Native American tribes.

In December, a multicounty grand jury led by Hunter’s office indicted Stitt’s secretary of digital transformation and technology, David Ostrowe, on one felony count of attempted bribery of an officer. Ostrowe is accused of attempting to bribe members of the Oklahoma Tax Commission. He has denied wrongdoing, and the case is pending in Oklahoma County.

And in April 2020, Hunter requested an investigative audit of the state Health Department over the agency’s spending of state-appropriated funds. At the time, Stitt said he was disappointed in Hunter’s request when the agency was “in the midst of responding to the most historic pandemic of our time.”

Hunter served as secretary of state and special legal counsel under Fallin until he was appointed attorney general.

Hunter also has served as secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office, a $4 billion land and investment trust in Oklahoma. He previously served as secretary of state under former Gov. Frank Keating and was Keating’s chief liaison to the Legislature, the state judiciary and its congressional delegation.

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Kansas City board considers legal action on police funding

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – The state-controlled board that oversees Kansas City’s police department has voted to initiate legal action over city leaders’ decision to change how some of the department’s budget gets spent.

Minutes posted on the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners website said board members voted Monday in a closed meeting to authorize a potential lawsuit to enforce their authority over the police department. The vote was in response to two ordinances passed last week by the city council that would reallocate about $42 million of the department’s budget for social services to help address root causes of the city’s violent crime.

Opponents charge the change is a roundabout way to “defund” the police department.

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News To Know (5/26/21)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Prosecutors examining former President Trump’s businesses are said to have convened a special grand jury as part of their investigation. The move suggests the Manhattan District Attorney may be preparing criminal charges. In a statement, Trump called the report, quote, “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in American history.”

CHEROKEE COUNTY, Kan. – The search continues for two inmates who escaped from Cherokee County, Kansas late Monday night. The Cherokee County Sheriff says the escapees are Michael Martslof and Mark Hopkins II. Martslof was in jail for drug crimes and Hopkins was held for a double homicide. Authorities say the pair escaped through the jail’s sewer system. Officials say Martslof and Hopkins are both considered armed and dangerous. If you see them you are asked to contact police, but do not approach the suspects. ($5,000 reward offered for escaped Cherokee County inmates)

JOPLIN, Mo. – A Joplin man pleas guilty to child molestation. Authorities say James Myers sexually assaulted several children as far back as 2007. Myers pled guilty to five counts of Class A Felony First Degree Child Molestation and one count of Class B Felony First Degree Child Molestation. He will serve 25 years in prison without parole. (Joplin resident gets prison time for child molestation)

JOPLIN, Mo. – Some 4-state students will return to class without masks. The Joplin School Board voted to end the school’s mask requirements, as the district looks to return to some semblance of normalcy. Neosho’s district wide mask mandate ends today and across the state lines, Pittsburg Schools rescinded the USD 250 mask mandate on Tuesday. (Joplin joins other area schools ending mask requirements)

KOAM InstaPoll: Are you traveling this Memorial Day weekend? koamnewsnow.com/vote

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Kansas Gov. signs legislation fully funding education

TOPEKA, Kan. – Governor Laura Kelly today signs legislation fully funding Kansas education through fiscal year 2023.

Education advocates and a bipartisan group of lawmakers joined the Governor today, May 24, 2021, for the signing.

“When I took office, the State of Kansas had failed to fully fund our public schools for nearly a decade,” Governor Kelly said. “That’s why today I’m proud to say that, for the third year in a row, I have signed bipartisan legislation fully funding our schools.

“I want to thank the coalition of legislative colleagues, advocates, teachers, and faculty for their advocacy. With their support, we followed through on our commitment to ensure students, teachers, and schools have the resources they need.”

Governor Kelly today also noted, “Ensuring kids have access to a quality education not only helps them succeed. It helps our businesses succeed and promotes economic development by providing employers with a highly-educated, skilled workforce.”

(Related: Kansas governor OKs extra funds for courts, higher education)

Other items in HB 2134

In addition to fully funding education in Kansas, House Bill 2134 does the following:

  • requires an annual report card for children in foster care,
  • authorizes limited remote learning,
  • provides the criteria for identification of students eligible to receive at-risk programs and services,
  • requires boards of education to allocate sufficient school district moneys to improve student academic performance,
  • authorizes school districts to pay tuition and fees for concurrent and dual enrollment programs,
  • expands student eligibility under the tax credit for low income students scholarship program,
  • extends the high-density at-risk weighting,
  • and provides ACT college entrance exams and workkey assessments to certain nonpublic school students.

Kansas HB 2313

Governor Kelly also signed House Bill 2313, which does the following:

  • extends the dedicated statewide mill-levy which funds a portion of the overall K-12 budget,
  • provides for reimbursement of property taxes for certain business shutdowns or restrictions,
  • allows Kansas national guard and reservist members who are in good standing to receive a property tax exemption for up to two motor vehicles,
  • authorizes appointment by the governor of a member pro tempore when a vacancy on the state board of tax appeals exists and
  • directs post audit study of the impact of non-profit and governmental entities competing against for-profit businesses.
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Kansas governor OKs extra funds for courts, higher education

TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly approves a nearly $21 billion spending blueprint for the state government. It includes extra spending for education, courts and a new state health laboratory.

The measure is for the budget year beginning July 1.

Kelly used her power to veto individual budget items to remove only one provision. It would provide $500,000 for clinical trials of a COVID-19 treatment using stem cells. Kelly called it “unneeded” because of existing treatments and COVID-19 vaccines.

The measure included an additional $53 million for state universities and colleges to meet a federal requirement for states to maintain “historic” higher education funding to get coronavirus relief funds.

The measure had $17 million to increase pay for state court employees, including judges, and hire 70 new court services officers.

Lawmakers didn’t include raises for all state workers. Some argued taxpayers would be angry after thousands of people lost jobs and businesses closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure also authorizes $120 million in bonds to renovate a 1950s state office building near the Statehouse and $65 million in bonds for a new state Department of Health and Environment lab in the Topeka area.