Monthly Archives: November 2012

State, advocates work to toughen laws against child-sex trafficking

Anna Pilato, deputy secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, discusses ways to reduce child sex trafficking at a meeting with social service providers.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families is working with law enforcement on legislation aimed at reducing sex trafficking of teenagers, a department official told Wichita child-service providers Wednesday.

The legislation being drafted is designed to enhance penalties for traffickers and customers who drive demand for underage prostitutes, while treating children in the sex trade as victims rather than criminals, said Anna Pilato, DCF’s deputy secretary for strategic development, faith-based and community initiatives.

She said the proposed legislation is being written in conjunction with Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office, law enforcement agencies and judges.

DCF’s role will be to ensure that girls and boys who become involved in the sex industry get the help they need to get out and ongoing support to re-enter society in a more productive role, Pilato said.

This year, a bill to address sex-trafficking of minors passed the Senate 39-0, but then stalled in the House of Representatives and died at the end of the legislative session.

DCF is also working to try to determine the scope of the problem in Kansas. National researchers estimate that about 200,000 girls and boys nationwide are involved in sex trafficking or at risk, said Lucy Bloom, a special assistant with DCF.

Diana Schunn, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County, said child sex workers generally come from family situations that don’t provide them a lot of support.

A big part of solving the problem will be getting everyone to understand that youth prostitutes “are as important as any other child abuse we work with,” Schunn said.

She said it’s equally and possibly more important to deal with the adults who drive the sex trade.

It’s a particularly lucrative racket for the procurers, because while a drug dealer can only sell a given supply of drugs once, a pimp “can sell a girl over and over again in one evening,” she said.

And there are some who are willing to spend big money for sex with children.

“If demand wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be seeing these victims,” she said.

But even if advocates get the laws they want on the books, there isn’t a quick fix to the problem, Schunn said.

“It isn’t a situation that happened overnight and it’s not going to be fixed overnight,” she said.

While Pilato was meeting with the service providers, her boss, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore was meeting with city, county and law-enforcement officials on child support, another priority where the department is drafting potential legislation.

Gilmore said the DCF is considering a bill that would require the department to be notified when a parent who is in arrears on child support receives financial benefits from an insurance company or the workers’ compensation system.

“Right now, there is no mandatory communication if something is coming forth,” Gilmore said.

If the DCF knew of the payments, it could issue liens to ensure that child-support responsibilities are met, she said.

Health insurance exchange deadline extended; Brownback not reconsidering

Gov. Sam Brownback talks with reporters. (August 2012)

TOPEKA — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, led by former Kansas Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, extended the deadline for states to submit plans for state-federal partnerships to run health insurance exchanges by a month.

But Gov. Sam Brownback’s spokeswoman said the Governor is not reconsidering his decision last week to forego a partnership.

That sets the stage for Kansans to use a federally-created exchange, which is a one-stop shop for people to compare and purchase health insurance packages as part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.

Many have questioned whether the federal government will be up to the task, especially with several states declining to set up customized exchanges for their residents.

Valley Center student presents possible fix for long waits at DMV offices

Kayla Keith

TOPEKA – A smart phone and internet program could save Kansans a lot of time waiting in line at local DMV offices, a Valley Center High School student told state lawmakers Thursday.

Kayla Keith, a 17-year-old senior, said the state could make use of applications used by businesses such as Great Clips that allow customers to see estimated wait times and check in remotely.

“I think this is a very user-friendly solution,” she said.

Keith said she’s been talking to representatives at Innovative Computer Software, which produced the Great Clips application, and that county offices could set up services through the company.

She said a company representative said it would cost $95 a month for each location, 50 cents for each check in by users and a hardware fee of $399.

The state has already started pilot projects, including one at the state’s drivers license office in Wichita, with a similar system called QLess that allows people to get in line remotely, according to Donna Shelite, director of vehicles for the Department of Revenue.

That program allows people to call or text a number for a particular location. It then sends them a text message back that estimates their wait time.

“It’s really a slick process,” Shelite said. “I see this increasing.”

So far, the state has spent $42,000 on the system for five locations. The state also pays a monthly fee for text message services.

But the system is not available at county offices where people get titles and registrations.

Shelite said Sedgwick County officials initially felt they could create such a program on their own. But she said they haven’t yet and that she plans to meet with Sedgwick County Treasurer Linda Kizzire next week to discuss mobile systems to make things more convenient for taxpayers.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick and chair of the interim budget committee that heard Keith’s presentation, said that no one looks forward to getting tags or a new title because of wait times.

She commended Keith for taking the initiative to present solutions to county and state officials.

Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, said the state may have to find a way to deal with providing accurate wait times because the time to process titles and registrations can widely vary. But she applauded Keith.

“This is really inspiring,” she said.

 

Key part of recently axed Main Street program created 168 jobs since 2008

TOPEKA — A primary part of the Kansas Main Street program that Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration eliminated this fall created 168 jobs since 2008, according to the Department of Commerce.

But Commerce Sec. Pat George felt the state’s other economic development programs create more jobs, said Dan Lara, spokesman for the commerce department.

The department will allow communities to use existing money through the Incentive Without Walls program that created jobs.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, who is retiring from the Senate, said that eliminating the program seems inconsistent with Brownback’s effort to revitalize rural communities through incentives offered to people in the state’s Rural Opportunity Zones program.

The state has provided $3.7 million to 35 communities through the Main Street incentives program. The $982,000 spent since 2008 created 168 jobs, Lara said. It’s strongest years were 2011 and 2012, when it created 48 jobs in each year. Among those jobs were 29 in Leavenworth, 15 in Parsons, 13 in McPherson, 13 in Hutchinson and 11 in El Dorado.

 

Kansas Lottery Director to resign in December

TOPEKA – Kansas Lottery Director Dennis Wilson plans to resign in December in order to recover from a serious knee injury, Gov. Sam Brownback announced Wednesday.

Brownback applauded Wilson’s work, noting that the state had a 5 percent increase in ticket sales under Wilson’s leadership.

Brownback will name an acting director in coming weeks.

In a news release, Wilson thanked his staff for making sure the agency and its games are “upheld to the highest industry standards.”

“I am disappointed that my service must come to an end,” he said in a prepared statement. “But I need to direct my attention to my full recovery from a serious knee injury and ensure that it does not further deteriorate.”

Wilson, who is from Overland Park, previously served as a  representative in the House from 1995 to 1999 and in the Senate from 2005 top 2009.

Gov. Brownback announces new task force to reduce childhood poverty

Gov. Sam Brownback

TOPEKA – Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday announced the formation of a task force to reduce childhood poverty.

The 12-member task force will start meeting next week, and it aims to find cost-effective ways to make sure children understand as soon as possible that their decisions can have a lasting impact on their future.

“All too often in our state, children who are living in poverty today become tomorrow’s poor parents. Intergenerational poverty such as this affects our state’s long-term productivity and wellbeing,” Brownback said in a prepared statement.

The task force members include:

  • Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families
  • Sherdeill Breathett, former president of the South Central Economic Development district and an executive board member of Real Men, Real Heroes.
  • Shawn Sullivan, secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services
  • Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department for Health and the Environment
  • Monsignor Vincent Krische,  a senior associate at Corpus Christi Church in Lawrence
  • Dan Lord, professor of marriage and family therapy at Friends University
  • Carolyn Szafran, a social work instructor and field coordinator at Washburn University
  • Barry Feaker, executive director of the Topeka Rescue Mission
  • Mary Wilkinson, a member of the Kansas Family Policy Council Board of Directors
  • Joan Schultz, executive director of The Willow Domestic Violence Center (The Willow) in Lawrence
  • Joyce Crumpton, who has retired after working as a nurse in the Kansas City area for 30 years and has previously served on the REACH Healthcare Foundation.
  • Robert DeLeon, community center director and youth program director for the Salvation Army in Garden City.

Kansas Gas and consumer advocates urge approval of settlement to increase rates

TOPEKA — Lawyers representing Kansas Gas Service and the state’s utility-consumer protection agency found themselves in a rare state of total agreement Monday, arguing that a settlement slightly raising homeowners’ natural gas rates is in the best interest of the company and the public.

“I think it’s a good settlement for all of us,” said Niki Christopher, a lawyer for the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, the state agency representing residential and small-business customers. “I would echo virtually everything Walker (Kansas Gas Service lawyer Walker Hendrix) said in terms of reasonableness of the settlement. … It’s a much better deal than we were proposed by the company originally.”

Kansas Gas had originally sought a net rate increase of $32.7 million. The company settled for $10 million.

On Monday, Kansas Gas, CURB and the Kansas Corporation Commission’s advisory staff urged the three-member commission to accept the settlement. The commission is required to make a final ruling by January 14.

In settlement negotiations, “we tried to make it as fair as we possibly could,” said Hendrix, a former chief consumer counsel with CURB. He called the settlement “fair and equitable in terms of an end result.”

That end result is an increase of about $1.99 a month next year for the average residential gas customer. Because of the way the gas company’s property tax increases are figured into the rates, the rates are expected to decline slightly in 2014, representing about a $1.46 monthly increase from today’s rates.

Despite the rate increase, homeowners will likely still see overall gas bills that are lower than in recent years, because of substantial drops in the price of natural gas itself.

Each gas bill contains two components — the cost of gas and the cost of having Kansas Gas Service run the mammoth piping system that delivers the gas to 632,000 customers.

The cost of gas is a pass-through cost to customers and rises and falls with the price of gas on the open market. Gas costs are currently very low compared to years past.

The delivery rates being considered are based on the gas company’s costs of providing service, plus a rate of return to allow the company the chance to earn a profit.

Because Kansas Gas has essentially a monopoly within its service area, the delivery rate must be approved by the Kansas Corporation Commission.

Reaching a settlement meant that an originally scheduled three days of testimony in the court-like utility hearing could be collapsed down into about two hours.

The only substantial question raised by commissioners came from Chairman Mark Sievers, who noticed there are some fairly substantial rate increases proposed for some business customers in western Kansas who buy gas directly off the pipelines.

Sievers questioned whether the interests of those western Kansas customers have been adequately represented in the settlement negotiations between the company, CURB and KCC staff.

If those consumers disagree with the settlement, “sometimes the way they express that disagreement is they go to the Legislature,” he said.

Justin Grady, chief of accounting and financial analysis for the commission, noted that if they had wanted to, the western Kansas businesses could have intervened as interested parties in the rate case, but chose not to.

That, he said, indicates that those companies “internally made a business decision that ultimately, this is not going to be so bad for us.”

The settlement does not specify what the gas company can do in terms of executive and management bonuses.

That had been a major issue earlier, because $8 million of the original rate increase request was earmarked for bonuses.

Under questioning from Commissioner Thomas Wright, the gas company’s manager of regulatory affairs, David Dittemore, noted that the overall increase is only $10 million total and characterized it as “highly unlikely” that much of that would be available to be used for bonuses.