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Justin Kennedy preps for the Cattlemen Days Rodeo at the Cedar Valley Riders Saddle Club Arena

Justin Kennedy preps for the Cattlemen Days Rodeo at the Cedar Valley Riders Saddle Club Arena on Thursday in Ashland. Kennedy is a crew member of Three Hills Rodeo Company from Luana, Iowa.

Student found unresponsive

The MU Police Department identified a student who died Wednesday as Erik Severson, 18, of Aurora, Illinois.

Officers responded to a call at 4 p.m. Wednesday to check on an unresponsive man in Excellence Hall. Severson was pronounced dead at the scene.

A cause of death is being determined by the Boone County medical examiner. Sara Diedrich, MU police spokesperson, said in a statement late Wednesday night no foul play is suspected.

Grief counselors are available to meet with students, Bill Stackman, vice provost for student affairs, said in an email sent to students Thursday afternoon. Students can reach out to the Counseling Center directly, and 24-hour crisis and consultation support is available at 573-882-6601.

Faculty and staff can contact the Employee Assistance Program at 573-882-6701 for counseling services, Stackman said.

“As the semester unfolds, I ask that you please watch out for each other,” Stackman said in the email. “If you are concerned about someone, please don’t hesitate to encourage them to reach out for help.”

Art project to celebrate Columbia's bicentennial
 ClaireColby  / 

The Mayor’s Task Force on Bicentennial Celebration Planning will build a 12-foot-tall sphere decorated with words provided by Columbia citizens as part of CoMo200, which celebrates the 200th anniversary of the city of Columbia.

The task force is calling this the “One Word Project.” It plans to launch a campaign asking residents to describe the city of Columbia in one word. Then the task force will compile those words to create a collage on the sphere.

Deb Sheals, co-chair of the task force, says the group will likely launch the campaign around Oct. 1. The sphere will be created by 2021, the bicentennial anniversary.

“This is kind of the capstone of CoMo200,” Sheals said. “It’s our birthday gift to the city of Columbia.”

The sphere will be placed on the intersection of Providence and Broadway and will be funded through private donations.

Critics of Missouri abortion law sue over referendum failure

Abortion-rights advocates on Thursday sued Missouri’s top election official, alleging his actions and state laws denied them the right to put one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws to a public vote.

No Bans on Choice Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union sought to put the law on the 2020 ballot in hopes that voters would overturn it. The measure bans abortions at or after eight weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest.

But they ran out of time to gather enough signatures to put the law on holding pending a public vote. It’s slated to take effect Wednesday, although a federal judge on Monday will weigh whether to pause the law as another lawsuit against it plays out in court.

Attorneys for those who sued put the blame on Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft. They claim Ashcroft dragged his feet in processing the referendum petition, leaving them with only two weeks to gather 100,000 signatures.

ACLU of Missouri Acting Director Tony Rothert said at this point, there’s nothing to do to salvage the referendum effort. Instead, critics of the law want a Cole County judge to rule that petitioners should be allowed to collect signatures earlier in the referendum process, possibly preventing a similar issue from happening again.

“We want to make sure that Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and any future politician is never able to deny Missourians the right to put laws like this abortion ban to a vote,” No Bans on Choice Treasurer Robin Utz said.

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, which defends state laws against court challenges, said state attorneys are currently reviewing the lawsuit.

Ashcroft spokeswoman Maura Browning didn’t immediately comment on the lawsuit, saying the office needs to read it first. But she’s previously said the Secretary of State’s Office “followed the same process we use for every initiative petition and referendum, and has taken an amount of time comparable to any other petition or referendum.”

Critics point out that Ashcroft on June 6 rejected the ACLU’s petition, along with a similar petition backed by wealthy Republican donor David Humphreys, another critic of the law.

He had cited a provision in the Missouri Constitution that prohibits referendums on legislation that has already taken effect. Although most of the law is set to take effect Wednesday, the Republican-led legislature voted to make a section of the bill, that changed parental consent laws for minors seeking abortions, take effect immediately.

But the ACLU sued against Ashcroft’s decision ... and ultimately won.

Browning has said the ACLU could have saved time by filing the petition 11 days earlier, after the legislature passed the bill. The ACLU waited until Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed it May 24.

“It’s now been adjudicated that he broke the law,” Acting ACLU of Missouri Director Tony Rothert said of Ashcroft’s action, “and he’s trying to weasel out of responsibility for that.”

In the lawsuit, attorneys for those who sued also alleged that Missouri laws impede citizens’ right to referendum. That’s because for referendums, state law prohibits petitioners from collecting signatures until a ballot title is certified.

“State officials can prevent a referendum on a favored piece of legislation simply by using all of their statutorily allotted time to complete their administrative tasks and thereby delaying certification of a ballot title for 51 days after a proposed referendum petition is submitted,” the lawsuit alleged.

Karisa Gilman-Hernandez told reporters Thursday that she and thousands of other volunteers for No Bans on Choice spent money on training to collect voter signatures and had planned to be ready at a moment’s notice to begin the effort.

NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri Executive Director Mallory Schwarz said abortion-rights advocates are now redirecting resources toward registering voters in advance of the 2020 elections. Both Parson and Ashcroft are up for re-election.