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Top 5 Decisions that impacted St. Charles County in 2011

"Patch" takes a look at five items that made news throughout St. Charles County in 2011.

1. Protesting funeral protests

For St. Charles County, 2011 started with shouts of “USA” and choruses of “God Bless America” as a flag and sign-wielding St. Charles County and St. Louis area residents countered a demonstration by four Westboro Baptist Church members.

The Topeka, KS-based church members were protesting outside the St. Charles County administrative building and the St. Charles City Hall. The protest was a response to a St. Charles County ordinance prohibiting picketing within 300 feet of funeral services one hour before and one hour after the ceremony.

"Ten years ago, we didn't need a law like this because everyone respected people's right to mourn their deceased relatives," said County Executive Steve Ehlmann, at the time. "You shouldn't have to have a law like this. But we do need it when people don't have respect for a grieving family.”

Shirley and Megan Phelps-Roper and other Westboro Baptist Church members have picketed at funerals of hundreds of soldiers. They claim God is punishing America and killing its soldiers because of its tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

The two sisters, aided by the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, the county and the City of St. Charles. St. Peters revoked its ban after courts struck down a similar law.

ACLU staff attorney Grant Doty said the lawsuits aren’t about Westboro’s message, but about First Amendment rights guaranteeing freedom of speech.

The lawsuit against St. Charles County is on hold pending a Jan. 9 hearing of the 8th Circuit Court. An 11-judge panel will hear arguments from both sides regarding the Phelps-Roper lawsuit against the City of Manchester’s law. Manchester passed an ordinance similar to the St. Charles County law.

Bob Hoeynck, associate county counselor, said the outcome could dramatically affect the St. Charles County case because judges will rule on whether there is a “substantial government interest” in regulating the protests, he said.

“We have high hopes that they will find substantial government interest in regulating protests,” Hoeynck said. “Funerals are just no place for a protest, period. These things turn into three-ring circuses, and people are trying to bury their loved one.”

 

2. Hallucinogenic bath salts banned

On March 29, a 26-year-old St. Charles man attacked three people at the First Baptist Church St. Peters after smoking Supercense, a synthetic form of marijuana that was legal. The man told police he began hallucinating and entered the church because he was scared and wanted to get help.

Two weeks later, the county council banned various synthetic chemicals marketed as bath salts, but sold as products that mimic the effects of cocaine, methamphetamine or ecstasy. The council heard from residents who told them about family members and friends who attempted suicide while on the drugs.

County Council Chairman Joe Brazil (R-District 2), who introduced the bill, said council members had been waiting on the state legislature to ban the substances.

“But when someone runs through a church attacking people and kids are attempting suicide, we can’t wait,” said Brazil, of Defiance.

In May, the Missouri General assembly did outlaw the bath salts statewide, making the sale or possession of the synthetic drugs a felony.

Some Patch readers also disagree with the ban.

“I am sick and (tired) of the government taking more and more away from people who know nothing about what they are banning.”

On Dec. 8, authorities seized products from three shops—the South Highway 94 Bait, Tackle and Smoke Shop in Weldon Spring, Retro-Active in St. Peters, and The Hookup in Lake Saint Louis.

Sheriff Tom Neer said Dec. 23 that lab tests continue, but preliminary results show that some of the products seized do contain synthetics that are illegal in Missouri.

“They continued to sell these products that, in my opinion, are highly dangerous. They continued selling them knowing the effects they have on people,” Neer said.

Shop owners said that suppliers gave them lab test results indicating the drugs are legal, according to a St. Louis Post Dispatch story.

 

3. Smoking ban down in flames

The St. Charles County Council approved a countywide smoking ban with a 4-2 vote in May. County Executive Steve Ehlmann vetoed the ban in June.

Ehlmann said his main objection was exemptions for casinos, cigar bars and hotel rooms.

“It’s about picking winners and losers,” Ehlmann told Patch. “We rant about picking winners and losers through TIFs (tax increment financing). I’m not going to turn around and pick winners and losers when it comes to competing for entertainment dollars.

“If it’s a health issue, it ought to apply to everyone,” he said.

The issue was heavily debated online and during council meetings. Residents and representatives from the American Cancer Society advocated for the ban. Bar owners and employees, casino representatives and smoking shop owners argued it would violate property rights and hurt their businesses.

County Councilman Joe Cronin (R-District 1), who had proposed the first smoking ban bill, tried again in the fall. This time, the bill would have put the smoking ban exemption on a countywide ballot in November 2012.

Cronin also included no exemptions in the main bill, but did introduce a separate bill that would exempt casinos. He argued the council could decide on the exemption issue separately from the countywide smoking ban.

Ameristar Casino General Manager Jim Franke told the council a smoking ban would reduce Ameristar’s revenue by at least 20 percent, especially with Harrah’s Casino one mile away operating with a smoking ban exemption. He revoked the exemption in a last-ditch effort to get the countywide ban on the ballot.

Still, the bill failed, ending with a 3-3 county council vote. Councilwoman Nancy Matheny (R-District 3) supported the original bill in the spring but voted against the revised bill, citing concerns about its effect on businesses.

“Mostly, it’s the inequity,” Matheny said. “If we can’t do it statewide, as the county executive says, it just picks winners and losers. You would have St. Louis County operating under one set of rules and St. Charles County under another set of rules.”

But the countywide smoking ban is anything but dead.

Stacy Reliford, field government relations director of the American Cancer Society in St. Louis, said the anti-smoking group would consider its options carefully before taking action. She said it wouldn’t automatically launch an initiative petition to put a countywide ban on the ballot.

Meanwhile, Matheny suggested the council isn’t necessarily finished with smoking bans. She said she favors approving a ban on places that allow people younger than age 21. Matheny said that approach would solve the issue for bars, casinos and some private clubs, and many restaurants already.

However, Reliford told Patch the organization would not support the age 21 and older rule.

 

4. Rx for meth problem

St. Charles County residents now require a prescription to purchase cold medication containing pseudoephedrine. In July, law enforcement officials in a four-county area urged the move due to the epidemic rise in methamphetamine labs throughout the state.

The move was opposed by organizations representing allergy sufferers and pharmaceutical companies.

Joy Krieger, executive director of the Asthma and Allergy Association of America St. Louis Chapter, said the move would make the drug difficult to get for allergy sufferers and asthmatics, especially those without health insurance.

Krieger said ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are the drugs of choice when asthmatics have a cold.

“They can’t take antihistamines because they enlarge tissue membranes. Asthmatics already have issues with enlarged membranes blocking off their airways,” she said.

Neer said St. Charles County hasn’t experienced the desired results yet, but that’s because the drug is easily available without a prescription in St. Louis County.

Sales of pseudoephedrine spiked in St. Louis County cities bordering St. Charles County in September when the new law took effect.

Brazil said, “If this is just symbolic, then it still serves a purpose. It’s a statement to our state legislators that says, ‘Hey, we need a lifeline. Throw us a lifeline.’”

Neer said he hopes state legislators will examine effects in Oregon and Mississippi, which had 90 percent and 70 percent drops in meth lab numbers after those states enacted a statewide prescription requirement for pseudoephedrine.

“Like all municipalities and counties, we’re trying to convince neighboring counties to adopt the same law, which we hope will open the eyes of our state legislators.

 

5. A weight off their shoulders

For a group of parents and concerned residents, new shoulders on roads in southwest St. Charles County meant a weight off their shoulders.

Throughout a span of 14 months, 11 people were killed in accidents along highways 94, D and DD where there were no shoulders and no margin for error.

Defiance area residents lost sons and daughters. They responded to sirens with a flurry of phone calls and texts to check on loved ones and neighbors.

In 2009, they banded together to form the group Shoulders fOr Safety, or SOS, to advocate for road improvements before state and county officials. State and St. Charles County officials listened. In 2010, MoDOT agreed to use safety funds to add shoulders to the narrow, hilly stretches of state roads. The county contributed 10 percent in matching from its road fund.

On Dec. 9, the Missouri Department of Transportation hosted a ribbon cutting to dedicate $5.5 million in road improvements, including to highways 94, D and DD. The ceremony at August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area took place just about a mile from where Randy Frump’s son, Bryan Frump was killed New Year’s Day in 2009.

"The roads are safer," Frump told the Suburban Journals after the ceremony in December. "Obviously in an ideal world where money isn't a problem we'd like to have full shoulders where you can pull over if needed. As narrow and windy as these roads were, these roads are much safer than they were and there's no doubt they will save lives."

BillHannegan December 29, 2011 at 08:17 AM
St. Charles County Councilman Nancy Matheny is right on with the "over 21" exemption idea. That is what we need statewide. Look at what happened in O'Fallon when "over 21" bars get included in a smoking ban: http://www.stltoday.com/suburban-journals/stcharles/news/smoking-ban-chokes-o-fallon-bar-business/article_650ddbc6-a62a-5c8b-956d-7f79544c2d40.html

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