Monthly Archives: May 2011

Senate rejects attempt to toughen voter ID bill; Schodorf says she feels guilty about ever voting for it

TOPEKA — A cantankerous  debate to move up by a year a requirement for new voters to provide proof of citizenship failed Wednesday on the Senate floor, with one senator saying she was embarrassed for Secretary of State Kris Kobach and another admitting she felt guilty for ever voting for the state’s voter ID bill.

Legislators defeated a last-minute maneuver to concur with the House on a substitute for Senate Bill 129  15-23.  That means people registering to vote won’t have to provide a birth certificate, passport or other citizenship proof until 2013.

It also means that Kobach won’t get the authority he sought to independently prosecute allegations of voter fraud.

Sen. Kelly Kultala, D-Kansas City, said she was “starting to get embarrassed” for Kobach, who made voter fraud a big part of his campaign.

Other legislators said they were offended an effort to push up the implementation date was coming up so late in the session, which traditionally ends on the 90th day. The 90th day is today.

Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, said “I am sorry this has been brought to be concurred because I believe that we already have a system that is able to investigate reports of voter (fraud) and decide whether those cases will be charged.”

She said she regretted ever voting for the voter ID bill. She called it “chilling,” especially against people of color.

“I have felt guilty for voting on it all the weeks that we’ve been here I’d not believe there is voter fraud in this state,” Schodorf said, admitting she was getting emotional about the issue.

But Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, spoke passionately in favor of the bill, arguing the secretary of state’s office needs power to prosecute people who violate voter laws.

In response, Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, questioned Abrams about how many cases of voter fraud Kansas  had in the last five years. Abrams answered “I’ve been told there were seven.”

Owens then questioned spending $65,000, the estimate for how much the measure would have cost,  “and expanding the functions of the secretary of state to criminal capacity for what in five years has been seven cases.”

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said her constituents wanted tougher protection in place.

“I have received innumerable e-mails expressing the concern about the 2013 date and that there are many, many Kansas citizens who are concerned about the integrity of our ballot box and how important it is that they are not disenfrachised,” Pilcher-Cook said.

Ernestine Krehbiel, president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, told The Eagle and earlier this week that that group was against requiring proof of citizenship on principle but especially against moving up implementation from 2013 to 2012.

Gov. Sam Browback signed the voter ID plan into law April 18. The Senate voted for it 36-3 on March 23, and it passed the House 111-11 six days later.

Sen. Terrie Huntington, R-Fairway, who chairs the Senate Elections Committee, said the law as it stands “puts Kansas at the forefront of election laws and goes farther than any other state to prevent voter fraud.”

In a news release she sent after the debate, Huntington said  she was open to additional provisions to the law but only with due diligence.

“The last thing we want to do is make changes that haven’t been vetted by the Legislature and haven’t been opened up for public input,” Huntington said.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said there were too many unknowns, including the cost to local elections offices.

“We owe it to taxpayers to get to the bottom of these questions before we move forward with any major changes,” said Morris. “The Legislature should have all the facts and know the tax implications for our communities before making a decision.”

Besides Abrams, area senators voting for the measure were Mike Petersen, R-Wichita; Susan Wagle, R-Wichita; Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard; Ty Masterson, R-Andover; and Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson.

Voting against it were Schodorf; Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita; Carolyn McGinn; R-Sedgwick; and Ruth Teichman, R-Stafford.

Intrust Bank Arena has operating loss in March

WICHITA — Intrust Bank Arena had an operating loss in March and lower numbers of events, attendees and ticket sales through the first quarter compared with last year, the  county said today.

Ron Holt, assistant county manager, said this year’s numbers weren’t expected to look as good as last year, which he called “a phenomenal year by all measures.”

“We do expect for the arena to be much, much, much in the black for this year,” Holt said.

Bookings aren’t always predictable and rely on how many entertainment acts are on tour, he said.

For March, net building income was down $28,390, but the arena’s year-to-date net income still showed a positive bottom line at $111,108, he said.

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Legislators make concession on interlock devices for first-time DUI offenders

TOPEKA — Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, did a talk-and-walk with The Eagle just now in the basement of the Statehouse and said conference committee members working on a bill that would toughen penalties for DUIs agreed today on a four-year sunset on interlock devices for first-time offenders.

Colloton said Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, wanted the sunset to assess how interlocks for first-time offenders affect DUIs across the state.

If Senate Bill 6 is passed, Kansas will join 11 other states that require interlock devices for all DUIs. Interlocks test a driver’s alcohol level. If the driver fails to blow a clean test, his or her car won’t start.

Haley had been reticent about requiring interlocks (drivers with clean records convicted of a first DUI would have to drive with them for six months; people convicted of a first DUI who have three or more moving traffic violations in a year would have to drive with them for a year) on a first offense. He expressed concerns about the cost of the devices and people being caught in a “wide net.”

The House Corrections and Juvenile Justice and Senate Judiciary conference committee also learned that state law limits fines for misdemeanors to $1,000, so that will impact a plan to raise all DUI fines by $250.

One conferee, Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, has not yet signed the bill, Colloton said, so the committee has to wait for him to sign it to bring it to both chambers. She expects that to happen Friday.

Legislators seem to be getting closer on budget, meeting again at 5 p.m.

TOPEKA — Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, and head budget negotiator for the House, pitched his chamber’s offer to the Senate this afternoon that would leave the state with an ending balance of $51.7 million.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, made an immediate counteroffer, which the House plans to consider this afternoon.

The Senate is asking for $7.5 million for Kan-Ed, a program that provides high-speed Internet access to schools, universities, hospitals and libraries. The House is offering $5 million.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, said $5 million isn’t enough for the Kansas Board of Regents program, which he said is crucial for rural areas of Kansas that don’t have Internet access.

“The Senate feels very strongly we should not kill Kan-Ed at this time. We will do harm to our school districts if we kill Kan-Ed,” Vratil said.

Vratil said $7.5 million would be meeting halfway with the House wanting to fund $5 million and the Senate initially shooting for $10 million.

But Rhoades said the House felt it was meeting the Senate halfway with $5 million, and he said he had heard the program already had $2 million. Vratil said that money could come 18 months after the program applies for federal aid.

“It’s not excess money,” Vratil said. “It’s not reserve money.”

Negotiators also are haggling over e-filing for Kansas courts. E-filing would allow lawyers to file cases electronically instead of at courthouses across the state. Vratil said an e-filing system would “pay big dividends in future years and great efficiencies in government.”

It also would help Kansans who file court cases because they’d pay less in hourly fees to their lawyers since lawyers would only need to “press a button” to file a case, Vratil said.

The Senate is offering $2.1 million for e-filing; te House has offered $2.9 million.

Negotiators are also apart on bringing state salaries up to market pay.

In the latest round of offers, the Senate would give $1 million to the Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research, or CIBOR.

Asked if she thought conferees would reach an agreement today, McGinn aid “I sure hope so. We’re really running ahead of time.”

Earlier today, Rhoades said he thought conferees could finish today, sending the budget to the chambers on Friday.

It’s looking likely that legislators will be here Saturday,

Lead budget negotiator for House remains hopeful agreement will be reached today

TOPEKA — Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, met briefly with reporters after an 11 a.m. budget conference committee was canceled as legislators hash out three or four key sticking points.

Budget conferees now are shooting for meeting back up at 1 p.m.

“I’m hopeful,” Rhoades said of reaching an agreement today.

Issues to be resolved involve Kan-ed, a Kansas Board of Regents program focused on technology solutions for K-12 schools, higher education, libraries and hospitals; judicial services; and an effort to increase the number of engineers in Kansas.

Even if negotiators come to a meeting of the minds today, the budget still has to go to both floors of the legislature. Rhoades said he hopes legislators can go home Friday night, but it’s looking like they could be here still on Saturday.

Sedgwick County approves higher funding for Project Access

WICHITA — Sedgwick County commissioners approved $250,000 in funding for Project Access by a 3-2 vote this morning.

Project Access helps connect the poor in Sedgwick County with access to health care.

Three weeks ago, the commissioners deadlocked 2-2 on an agreement with the Central Plains Regional Health Care Foundation and Wichita to cooperate on the project. They had voted last August to increase funding for the program from $182,000 to $250,000, a 37 percent increase.

This morning’s  agreement solidified the commitment.

Commissioner Richard Ranzau continued his objection to the increase voted in August. He said funds should come from the private sector at a time the county is trimming its budget.

Ranzau made a motion to fund the program at last year’s level of $182,000, but the motion failed. Karl Peterjohn  was the only other commissioner to support Ranzau’s motion.

Jim Skelton, who was absent for the first vote, supported the $250,000 in funds, as did Tim Norton and Dave Unruh.

Senate accepts House position on Kansas Affordable Airfares

TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate has accepted the House’s offer to fund the Kansas Affordable Airfares Program at $5 million, which Gov. Sam Brownback had recommended.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said she thinks budget negotiators are getting close on how to spend taxpayer dollars next year.

After two week of gridlock, she said there appears to be progress this week.

Legislators are scheduled to go home on Thursday, but that is looking unlikely as the budget still needs to be approved and sent off to the governor.

Budget conferees return to committee at 4 p.m. today.

Council approves WaterWalk sculpture in 4-3 vote

Here's a rendering of the scupture. What do you think? Hit the comment section below.

Mayor Carl Brewer today said art is in the eye of the beholder. And so was the worthiness of the $350,000 sculpture at WaterWalk the city council approved in a 4-3 vote.

Several members of Wichita’s art community applauded the sculpture — a 38-foot abstract piece made from Cor-Ten steel and bronze that will act as an entrance to the public-private project just north of Kellogg on the Arkansas River. But three council members said the sculpture isn’t the right thing, right now.

Council member Michael O’Donnell opposed the Albert Paley sculpture because he felt the city should send a message to taxpayers that they won’t spend money — even if it can’t be spent elsewhere — at a time when the city is struggle to keep basic services intact. Council member Jeff Longwell opposed the sculpture because he felt the project should involve water — as was originally envisioned when WaterWalk received its initial support years ago. And council member Pete Meitzner said he simply didn’t like how the project surprised him on the agenda late last week, forcing him to make a quick decision on an expensive sculpture that he said he doesn’t know much about.

Council member Janet Miller supported the project. She noted that the sculpture has been discussed publicly at council meetings and committee meetings for months, and she said the city will soon talk about the Waltzing Water fountains and public gathering place next to the river.

“There are lots bigger items in this agenda that we’re voting on today that have not had 18 months of public discussion,” she said.

The sculpture is being paid for with tax increment finance money, which has a wide range of uses but must be used inside the district. The district runs along the river and includes WaterWalk, giving the city a lot of potential options. But more than a year ago the council agreed to spend the money to hire a nationally-acclaimed sculptor to create something at the corner of Waterman and Main. The corner will also have plants and other landscaping.

House budget negotiators increase education offer

By Brad Cooper

House budget negotiators returned this morning with new offers to settle its budget fight with the Senate.

Among other things, it has agreed to reduce the amount it wants to cut education so long as the Senate agrees to pass three other bills that would bring in additional funds.

The House also wants passage of a bill that would allow schools to access reserve funds to offset cuts in state aid — a bill that Kansas City area schools districts say might not help them a whole lot.

The House now is willing to fund elementary and secondary education at a rate of up to $3,780 per pupil, up from its original position of $3,762.

The governor originally had wanted to fund education at $3,780 per student, down from the $4,012 that schools received at the beginning of the year. The cut was because the governor chose not to replace federal stimulus funds.

The Senate has wanted to fund education at a rate of $3,786 per pupil.

The House and Senate return this afternoon for more talks.

House puts in $1.5 million for community corrections for DUI offenders

A Sedgwick County Sheriff's officer watches while a suspected drunken driver walks a line during a Sedgwick County Sheriff DUI check point on South Webb Road in 2005 in Wichita

TOPEKA — The House has agreed to put in $1.5 million for community corrections for DUI offenders, which is welcome news to the Kansas DUI Commission as well as six members of a conference committee pushing for passage of a bill that strengthens penalties for drinking and driving. Senate budget negotiators accepted the funding this afternoon.

Those dollars, combined with a $250 across-the-board increase in fines, should pay for community corrections, said Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood.

Members of the House corrections and juvenile justice and Senate judiciary conference committee agreed Monday on the final details of the DUI bill, which will require interlock devices for first-time offenders and will set up a central repository to track DUI offenses across the state.

Colloton said the committee’s statute revisor is working on the bill, and it will go to legislators on Thursday.

Mary Ann Khoury, president and CEO of the DUI Victim Center of Kansas in Wichita, said she was pleased with many components of the proposed bill, although she wished the state would make it a crime to refuse a breath alcohol test. She said the repository “is very important” and said Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, was “sold on interlock devices for first-time offenders.”

Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, said Monday that it’s time for Kansas to get tough on people who drink and drive. Owens chairs the DUI commission, which began meeting after a drunken driver crashed into a 4-year-old Wichita girl and her mother in 2008 while they were crossing the street to school.