Monthly Archives: February 2011

Arts support reversed by full committee

The House Appropriations Committee voted 12-9 in support of Gov. Sam Brownback’s executive order abolishing the Kansas Arts Commission. That reversed a 5-2 subcommittee vote earlier this week to restore the commission. A bipartisan majority on the subcommittee recognized the important contribution arts make to Kansas’ quality of life and were concerned about the state possibly losing more than $1 million in federal and regional arts funding. One of the lawmakers voting to defund the arts was Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita. “I don’t have a problem with art,” she said. “This is money I see better spent elsewhere.”

Planned Parenthood video is latest muckraking

“You’d think the public and media would be more skeptical of right-wing video muckraking after the hatchet job that was done on Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod, and after judges reviewed the unedited video evidence against ACORN and found the group had done nothing illegal,” wrote columnist Mary Sanchez. “But here we go again.” She noted that Planned Parenthood is the latest target but argued that the heavily edited videos by an anti-abortion group “do more to illustrate what is right with Planned Parenthood than what is wrong.”

Conservatives stand up to Beck on Egypt

Good for conservative pundit William Kristol and others for challenging Fox News host Glenn Beck’s “hysteria” and wild speculation about the uprising in Egypt. “When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society,” Kristol wrote in Weekly Standard. Siding with a dictator instead of the people, Kristol wrote, is “a sign of fearfulness unworthy of Americans, of shortsightedness uncharacteristic of conservatives, of excuse-making for thuggery unworthy of the American conservative tradition.” Beck’s response: “I don’t even know if you understand what conservatives are anymore, Billy.”

Thomas’ remarkable silence

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is approaching five years without having spoken during a court argument. In the past 40 years, no other justice has gone an entire term, much less five, without speaking at least once during arguments, the New York Times reported. What is odd about Thomas’ silence is that he has an outgoing personality in private.

Kansas getting insurance exchange grant

Kansas is receiving a $31.5 million federal grant to help create an exchange where individuals and businesses can compare and purchase health insurance, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday. Kansas is one of seven states receiving the “early innovator” grants. Kansas’ grant application was jeopardized when Gov. Sam Brownback signed a letter last week threatening to back out and make HHS create and operate the exchange. He also issued an executive order that appeared to remove authority for the exchange from the Kansas insurance commissioner. But, fortunately, those concerns and missteps were resolved and the grant came through.

Lawmaker’s comment getting attention

A comment by a Kansas state lawmaker is getting some national attention — unfortunately. Rep. Connie O’Brien, R-Tonganoxie, in arguing last week for repeal of the state’s in-state college tuition law for children of illegal immigrants, recounted how she and her son saw a student who didn’t have a driver’s license pick up scholarship money at Kansas City Kansas Community College last year. “We could tell by looking at her that she was not originally from this country,” O’Brien said. When asked how she could tell that the young woman was an illegal immigrant, O’Brien said: “Well, she wasn’t black, she wasn’t Asian, and she had the olive complexion.” O’Brien issued an apology today: “I misspoke and apologize to those I offended.”

Hands are dirty in coal plant deal

Rod Bremby confirmed last week what most people assumed: He didn’t voluntarily leave his position of secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Bremby said that former Gov. Mark Parkinson’s office contacted him Nov. 2 and told him that he no longer would be KDHE secretary. “There was no rationale given,” Bremby said, though most everyone assumes it was to help ensure that KDHE approved an air-quality permit for Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build a coal-fired power plant near Holcomb. Bremby was told that he could receive a severance package if he agreed not to discuss the issues until after Parkinson left office in January. Meanwhile, a study released last week challenges Sunflower’s contention that its new power plant would be the cleanest of its kind in the country. The report found that at least 669 coal-fired generating units have lower emissions of particulate matter than the current Sunflower permit allows and at least 321 coal-fired generating units have lower emissions of mercury than the Sunflower permit allows.

Protect federal funding for special ed

The Kansas Senate acted responsibly in increasing state funding for special education by $26.3 million this fiscal year. Now the House, which didn’t include this funding in its budget bill, needs to agree to the increase. The increase was needed in order not to lose about $25 million in federal funding in future years. It would be pound-foolish to lose this federal funding, especially when special education already is underfunded.

Obama budget not getting much love

President Obama’s proposed budget is taking shots from liberals for some of its spending cuts and from conservatives for not cutting enough. A Wall Street Journal editorial complained: “This $3.73 trillion budget does a Cee Lo Green (‘Forget You,’ as cleaned up for the Grammys) to the voter mandate in November to control spending. It leaves every hard decision to the new House Republican majority. And it ignores almost entirely the recommendations of Mr. Obama’s own deficit commission.”

Could blind Kansans carry concealed guns?

The Legislature removed language last year from the state’s concealed-carry law that gave the state’s attorney general the right to deny applicants a license if they “suffer from a physical infirmity which prevents the safe handling of a weapon.” That prompted the Lawrence Journal-World to ask: Could a blind person get a gun permit? It’s unclear. “We are currently working to determine the intent of the Legislature,” Jeff Wagaman, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Derek Schmidt, said in a statement.

Are tax-rate concerns overstated?

Evidence suggests there is little correlation between a state’s tax rate and its overall economic health, Associated Press reported. Low-tax, low-regulation states such as Texas have gotten clobbered by the recession, just like nearly every other state. And though tax rates are one factor in business relocation decisions, businesses also are concerned about labor costs, K-12 education and infrastructure. “Concerns about taxes are overstated,” said Matt Murray, a professor of economics at the University of Tennessee who studies state finance. But Kail Padgitt, an economist with the Tax Foundation, contends that though a state’s tax burden might not have affected its performance during the recession, it will affect the pace of its recovery. “Where businesses are going to expand operations, where new investments are going to be made — a lot of these companies want to know what their taxes are going to be,” he said.

No more intersection fundraising

Wichita police want to ban it. Wichita firefighters already have stopped doing it. Now, after considering the issue for a few more weeks, the Wichita City Council should go ahead today and ban in-street charitable fundraising in the name of public safety and common sense. An alternate ordinance before the council would continue the practice but impose more rules and costs on nonprofit groups. But it wouldn’t fix the fundamental safety problem, which is that allowing people to solicit donations along the median strips at high-traffic intersections is asking for accidents.

Boehner fine with talk that Obama is Muslim

Showing House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, a clip from a Fox News focus group in Iowa in which half a dozen participants said they believe President Obama is a Muslim, “Meet the Press” host David Gregory asked: “As the speaker of the House, as a leader, do you not think it’s your responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance?” Boehner said, “The president says he’s a Christian. I accept him at his word.” But the speaker deflected any responsibility to correct such people, saying, “It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think.”

Must GOP health strategy be ‘repeal or bust’?

When Republicans helped Democrats repeal the health reform bill’s “1099” mandate on businesses, did they walk into a trap? Marc A. Thiessen thinks so, writing in the Washington Post: “Expect Democrats to replicate this approach in the months ahead, supporting other fixes that tinker around the edges of Obamacare. Each individual proposal will seem entirely reasonable and an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation. But if Republicans go along, before they know it they will find that they have been drawn into a strategy of ‘fix and save’ instead of ‘repeal and replace.’”

Judge shortage is dire

Federal judges have been retiring at a rate of one per week this year, driving up vacancies that have nearly doubled since President Obama took office, the Washington Post reported. As a result, workloads are increasing dramatically in some federal courts. Arizona, for example, recently declared a judicial emergency, extending the deadline to put defendants on trial. “It’s a dire situation,” said Roslyn O. Silver, the state’s chief judge. The White House has been slow in making nominations, but much of the blame for the unfilled positions rests with GOP delaying tactics. Fortunately, Senate Republicans are now vowing to speed up confirmations. Last week the Senate approved Obama nominees for judgeships in Arkansas, Oregon and Texas.

Dubious, bogus and utterly phony headlines

The following satirical headlines come from borowitzreport.com and theonion.com:
Republicans Cut Shirts From Budget
Obama Delivers Whispered, Untelevised Speech on Gun Control
Senator Honored for Work With Overprivileged Americans
Republicans Vote to Repeal Obama-Backed Bill That Would Destroy Asteroid Headed for Earth

Kobach, Brownback are only trying to help

Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Gov. Sam Brownback aren’t hurting undocumented college students and arts organizations; they are helping them. Or so they argued last week. Kobach contended that allowing children of illegal immigrants who graduate from Kansas high schools to pay in-state college tuition actually does them a disservice, because they might not be able to legally stay and work after they graduate. And Brownback argued that ending state funding for the arts actually helps arts organizations, because it might encourage more private donations. So what do arts groups and undocumented college students say about this “help”? No thanks.

If you can’t follow the constitution, amend it?

The Legislature isn’t fulfilling its constitutional responsibility to suitably fund education, as court rulings and its own audits have concluded. So what do some lawmakers want to do? Amend the state constitution. A House committee has proposed changing the constitution from saying that the Legislature “shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state” to say that it “shall provide the equitable distribution of public school funds in a manner and amount as may be determined by the Legislature.” So the Legislature could spend as little as it wants on education, as long at it distributes the funding equitably.

Council members should at least discuss travel

Over The Eagle editorial board’s objections, the Wichita City Council last week approved expenditures to attend a National League of Cities conference March 12-16 in Washington, D.C., for six council members, including three who’ll be off the council less than a month later. Only Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell plans not to attend, because of scheduling conflicts. As usual, there was not a word of council discussion about the travel expenses. Too bad. Missing the point, council member Sue Schlapp said earlier in the meeting: “I hope as a lame-duck member of the City Council, my information is still pertinent to what goes on here on a daily basis, so I do feel I am still relevant.” The question is not whether lame-duck members’ views are relevant; it’s whether, especially in a budget crisis, their taxpayer-funded trips are justifiable in the waning days of their council service.

Pro-con: Ban high-capacity ammunition clips?

All the blather by gun zealots can’t hide a basic fact about the tragic shootings in Arizona. Jared Loughner (in photo) was able to squeeze off 31 rounds without reloading. When his oversized magazine ran out and he paused to insert another clip, a woman grabbed the fresh magazine. Only then were bystanders finally able to subdue him. While Loughner was blazing away, he killed six and wounded 13. The instant he ran out of ammunition, the carnage stopped. How much clearer can it be? High-capacity magazines are a danger to police and law-abiding people. They vastly increase the killing power of handguns and rifles. No one is talking about disarming anyone or repealing the Second Amendment. A limit of 10 rounds per magazine would not cause any problems for any noncriminal. If the American people don’t support commonsense restrictions on guns and ammunition, we are simply setting the stage for more tragedies like the one Tucson.

Every decent American agrees that the shootings in Arizona were a horrible tragedy. But using that event as a reason to ban high-capacity ammunition clips would accomplish nothing. The fact that Jared Loughner used a pistol magazine that held 30 rounds instead of the traditional 10 rounds is virtually irrelevant to the crime he committed. It’s almost like noting that he used a Glock handgun instead of some other brand. This country tried to prohibit high-capacity clips as part of the so-called assault rifle ban of 1994. Existing high-capacity magazines were grandfathered, and it would have been impossible to seize all of them anyway. When this ill-advised law expired in 2004, crime rates remained virtually unchanged. Criminals and mentally ill people don’t care what laws are on the books if they intend to hurt someone. If anything, law-abiding citizens should be given greater rights to protect themselves from those who abuse guns to harm and threaten innocent people. — Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise

Kobach stars at CPAC

Offering a seven-point plan for “attrition through enforcement,” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach participated in a panel discussion on “real immigration reform” at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week in Washington, D.C. “You ratchet the level of law enforcement . . . to ensure that it is in their (illegal immigrants’) best interest to follow the law and in their case, just go home,” Kobach said. Kobach also called on states to challenge birthright citizenship, claiming to know about a Mexican woman who was lowered by ropes over a border fence in order to give birth to twins who would be U.S. citizens. Anti-immigration lobbyist Mark Krikorian even suggested Kobach may be in a future CPAC presidential straw poll.

Welcome democracy for Egyptians, too

Egyptians are celebrating President Hosni Mubarak’s decision today to resign and hand over power to the military. But columnist Nicholas Kristof has been disappointed in the Obama administration’s indecisive response to the people’s rebellion in Egypt and apparent preference for “stability, order and gradualism.” Kristof asked: “Why does our national policy seem to be that democracy is good for Americans and Israelis, yet dangerous for Egyptians?”

Facts don’t matter in voter-fraud debate

It apparently doesn’t matter to most GOP legislators that there is no evidence of significant voter fraud in Kansas. It doesn’t matter to them that groups involved in promoting voting and protecting the rights of minorities oppose requiring a photo ID to vote. It doesn’t matter that requiring a birth certificate to register to vote is likely to discourage voting. “A lot of people campaigned on this,” said state Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, chairman of the House Elections Committee. “To say, well, we’re not going to do it, I think, is a little bit of a stretch.” Only if facts and consequences don’t matter.

Open thread 2/11

It depends on chamber’s definition of ‘neutral’

The president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce wrote in a letter to the editor that his organization is “neutral” on whether the state should repeal last year’s statewide sales-tax increase, and that it is not “opposed” to the repeal, as I wrote in a column and the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. But the chamber has an odd definition of “neutral.” In prepared testimony last week before the House Taxation Committee, J. Kent Eckles, vice president of government affairs at the state chamber, said the chamber was “‘neutral’ on this bill because we would prefer the committee consider not repeal(ing) the recently enacted sales-tax increase as written in law (in 2013) and continue to use those revenues to offset the elimination of the corporate income tax.” So “neutral” means not wanting the sales tax repealed? And how is that not a flip-flop from the chamber’s fierce opposition last year to the sales-tax increase?