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(Kansas City) (AP) – A Missouri school district has apologized to the family of a blind student whose cane was replaced with a swimming pool noodle after he allegedly misbehaved on the bus.

Rachel Nafzinger tells WDAF-TV that school officials took the cane from her 8-year-old son, Dakota, on Monday. North Kansas City School District spokeswoman Michelle Cronk says the boy reportedly hit someone with his cane on the bus and that officials gave him the pool noodle as a substitute because he fidgets and needed something to hold.

The 8-year-old was born without eyes, a condition known as bilateral anophthalmia.

The district released a statement Wednesday that acknowledges making a mistake. His mother says school officials visited their home Wednesday morning, returned the cane and apologized to the family.

By ALAN SCHER ZAGIER
Associated Press

In this photo taken on Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, Ferguson Commission Co-Chair Rev. Starsky Wilson, second from the left, talks with from left, Shirlissa Pruitt,  Anthony Levine, Tina Cramer and Amir Brandy during a break in the third Ferguson Commission meetings in St. Louis, at Il Monastero St. Louis University. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, David Carson)

In this photo taken on Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, Ferguson Commission Co-Chair Rev. Starsky Wilson, second from the left, talks with from left, Shirlissa Pruitt, Anthony Levine, Tina Cramer and Amir Brandy during a break in the third Ferguson Commission meetings in St. Louis, at Il Monastero St. Louis University. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, David Carson)

(St. Louis) (AP) – In the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death, legal activists suggested that some of the raw anger in suburban St. Louis had its roots in an unlikely place – traffic court.

It was there, they said, that low-income drivers sometimes saw their lives upended by minor infractions that led to larger problems. If left unpaid, a $75 ticket for driving with expired tags could eventually bring an arrest warrant and even jail time.

So courts began an experimental amnesty program designed to give offenders a second chance by waiving those warrants. But the effort is attracting relatively few participants, despite a renewed emphasis on municipal court reform after Brown’s death last summer in Ferguson.

St. Louis County’s jumble of more than 80 municipal courts has been targeted by some public-interest lawyers who say the courts are virtual debtors prisons, extracting fines and fees from poor drivers and using the money to fund local governments, which in some cases serve just a few hundred residents.

“They make people poor, and they keep people poor,” said Thomas Harvey of the nonprofit legal clinic ArchCity Defenders, which is suing Ferguson and six other small cities, alleging they collect illegal court fees.

On Thursday, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced a lawsuit targeting 13 St. Louis County municipal courts over financial reporting requirements. Later in the day, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay planned to announce a new effort to give municipal judges more discretion to consider violators’ ability to pay when handling traffic offenses.

Critics of the traffic courts describe prolonged legal nightmares that can begin with tickets for driving with a suspended license or without proof of required inspections, what Harvey called “crimes of poverty.”

Defendants unable to pay those fines or hire an attorney to negotiate a plea deal may then miss their court dates or fail to sign up for payment plans. Judges issue failure-to-appear warrants, which can lead to larger fines and court costs and even jail time on top of the original penalties, not to mention time missed from work or school.

Robert Lamont Douglas, 39, was recently issued five citations in the village of Bel-Ridge for traffic violations that included driving without insurance and failing to register his car.

“The main question was, `Am I wanted or do I have drugs in the car?’” Douglas said. “I was singled out because I was black. The assumption is I must have warrants, drugs or guns.”

A 2013 report by Koster’s office found that Ferguson police stopped and arrested black drivers nearly twice as frequently as white motorists but were also less likely to find contraband among black drivers.

The amnesty program in the city of St. Louis allows defendants who face arrest for failing to appear in municipal court to reschedule those hearings without penalty. But it has attracted fewer than 4,000 participants out of 75,000 who are eligible, despite an aggressive outreach campaign.

“It’s a matter of trust,” said the Rev. Starsky Wilson, co-chairman of the state’s Ferguson Commission, on the low amnesty participation rates. “It’s something that has to be rebuilt over time.”

The story is similar in St. Louis County, where just a few hundred people have opted for an amnesty program that requires a $100 payment to wipe out traffic-court arrest warrants. Both efforts continue through the end of the year.

In Ferguson, the city no longer issues failure-to-appear warrants and is dismissing the charge in pending cases. Elected officials in September voted to cap municipal court revenues at 15 percent of the city’s total revenue. They also eliminated a fee for towing cars and forgave warrants for nearly 600 defendants.

Municipal courts in St. Louis and St. Louis County collected nearly half of the $132 million in fines and fees paid statewide, despite the area being home to fewer than 1 in 4 Missourians, according to an October study by the nonprofit group Better Together.

More than $45 million – or 34 percent – of that amount came from the county’s municipal courts, even though their combined population represents just 11 percent of the statewide total.

Fourteen of those cities – including Vinita Terrace, population 277, and Bellerive, population 188 – depend on traffic-court fees and fines as their largest source of revenue, eclipsing sales and property taxes. Each lies in the predominantly black inner suburbs known as North County.

In Calverton Park, a seven-officer police force helped generate $484,000 in fines in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. That’s almost 65 percent of the annual revenue for a city with fewer than 1,300 residents, some 40 percent of whom are black.

Without revenue from fines and fees, the communities could not afford to operate, the study concluded. “The municipal courts in many areas of St Louis have lost the faith of their communities,” it said.

Among the recommended changes to Missouri’s municipal courts is a rule that would limit them to providing 10 percent of the revenue for local government, compared with the current limit of 30 percent – a threshold that is rarely enforced. The Missouri Municipal League says such a limit would bankrupt many of its smaller members.

Vestiges of a court system unaccustomed to outside scrutiny persist.

On Monday, court officials and St. Louis marshals ordered an Associated Press reporter to leave the municipal courthouse during an open court docket, despite state laws that generally allow for public access to legal proceedings with limited exceptions.

Maggie Crane, a spokeswoman for the St. Louis mayor, later said the exclusion was a mistake.

(Centralia) (AP) – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is planning to hold a summit to brainstorm ways to beef up the state’s cattle industry.

Nixon announced the summit during a Wednesday visit with Future Farmers of America members at Centralia High School. It’s meant to find ways to expand the industry and spur economic development in rural Missouri.

A statement from the governor’s office says Missouri is ranked second for its large numbers of beef cows, but 95 percent of the cattle are finished and processed in other states.

Industry stakeholders will meet Jan. 5 at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Cattle genetics experts from the university, national beef packers and cattlemen will speak at the summit.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander says he is reducing the amount of state tax revenue needed for his office.

Kander said his general revenue request for the 2016 operating budget, which begins next July, will be the smallest for the secretary of state’s office since 1999.

The Democratic secretary of state says he is shifting some office costs off of Missouri tax dollars to previously existing special funds. Kander says he also has eliminated some positions and spending. He says he saved $20,000 by reducing the size of a business registration reminder that is mailed out.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri will get more than $280,000 from T-Mobile following claims that the company was unfairly charging customers for third-party text message subscriptions.

Attorney General Chris Koster on Friday announced Missouri was among 49 states that settled with T-Mobile for a total of $90 million in penalties and restitution.

Customers complained that they were being charged for horoscope, trivia and other text subscriptions for which they never signed up.

The practice is called cramming. T-Mobile is refunding customers $67.5 million for the charges. Missourians can receive refunds by submitting claims at t-mobilerefund.com.

The company now must obtain express permission before billing users for third-party charges.

Koster says he’s also been charged for third-party texts from AT&T, which last fall stopped billing customers for the subscriptions.

Koster calls cramming “an insidious practice.”

(Jefferson City) (AP) – The Missouri Gaming Commission will be getting a new executive director next year.

The commission says Executive Director Roger Stottlemyre will be retiring March 1 and will be replaced by William Seibert, who is currently the commission’s deputy director for regulatory enforcement.

Stottlemyre is a former Missouri State Highway Patrol superintendent who has led the gaming regulatory agency since 2010.

Seibert was a Highway Patrol officer from 1977 to 2006. He served on the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole and as deputy chief of the O’Fallon Police Department before joining the Gaming Commission staff in July 2010.

(Willow Springs) – The play “Who’s Haunting the Church for Christmas?” by Christy Cunningham will take place at 7 PM Friday, Saturday and Sunday, December 19-21 at the First General Baptist Church, 2507 Railroad Drive in Willow Springs.

Organizers say the play is a sequel to last year’s Christmas play at the church, and includes many of the same characters from last year.

Admission to the play is free.

(Jefferson City) – Two officers with Highway Patrol Troop G have been honored with the Missouri Medal of Valor after a ceremony on Thursday.

In the early morning hours of April 18, 2013, Troopers Daniel Johnson and Jason Philpott helped rescue an elderly couple trapped in the mobile home near Route A and County Road 409 after heavy rains flooded the area. Troopers Johnson and Philpott launched a patrol boat, got to the home, outfitted the couple with personal flotation devices and placed them into the rescue boat. As they pulled away, the vessel’s motor stalled and eventually the boat capsized. All four occupants began drifting downstream in the swift moving water, headed toward a certain crash into a flooded concrete bridge. Troopers Johnson and Philpott each swam to and retrieved the elderly couple. Once they had them, they swam against the swift current and brought them to shore.

The Medal of Valor was first awarded in 2008 and is bestowed annually based on recommendations submitted by the Medal of Valor Review Board. Recipients must serve a public agency, with or without compensation, as a firefighter, law enforcement officer or emergency personnel. The nominating form states the Medal of Valor is awarded “to a public safety officer who has exhibited exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, and unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her own personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect human life.”

(Houston) – The Walmart Foundation has provided a $35,000 grant to the Texas County Food Pantry through the Foundation’s state-level program to assist with Hunger Relief efforts in Texas County.

TCFP officials say that the grant will provide additional funding for food and equipment, food transportation costs, the salary for a food manager, and support for the Houston and Success Weekend Food Backpack Programs for schoolchildren.

The mission of the Texas County Food Pantry is to respond to the legitimate needs of the people who request assistance for the basic human needs of food, clothing, healthcare and shelter.  The staff and volunteers are committed to listen with a caring heart, in a manner that respects the person. We challenge and encourage our clients to use the services of the food pantry as an opportunity for change and growth in personal responsibility.

As part of Walmart’s $2 billion commitment to fight hunger through 2015, Walmart stores in Missouri donated 23.7 million pounds of food, in fiscal year 2013, or the equivalent of 19.7 million meals. Additionally, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation gave $43.3 million in fiscal year 2013 in Missouri alone.

(West Plains) – West Plains Bank and Trust Company was recently named a recipient of a $15,000 Strong Communities Fund grant awarded by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines. The Homeownership Fund award supports homeownership opportunities for families and individuals across five Midwestern states.

Through the Homeownership Fund, individuals and families who are unable to cover upfront costs can make their dreams of homeownership a reality. The program assists qualified families with the down payment, closing cost, counseling or rehabilitation of property.

Five eligible homebuyers will benefit from $3,000 each through West Plains Bank and Trust Company as a result of the Homeownership Fund grant.

Each year, FHLB Des Moines returns 10 percent of its net income to communities throughout its district, an investment of over $241 million which has created or rehabilitated more than 51,000 homes.

If you are interested in purchasing a home using the Homeownership Fund grant, contact a West Plains Bank and Trust Company mortgage lenders for details. For additional information on the program, visit www.westplainsbank.com or call 417-256-2147.