Monthly Archives: February 2013

State agrees to work with doctors on KanCare

It’s good that the state has at least partly responded to concerns from doctors and hospitals about KanCare, the state’s newly privatized Medicaid program. The Kansas Medical Society and the Kansas Medical Group Management Association asked the state to extend for another 90 days the transition period when patients can continue to see their current doctors or doctors not yet in the new insurance networks, the Kansas Health Institute News Service reported. The medical groups cited more than two dozen problems with the transition, including billing errors, stalled payments and general confusion about which doctors the patients can see. The state declined to extend the transition period, but it announced that it would continue to deal with Medicaid service providers beyond the April 2 transition cutoff if the providers have contracts pending with the private insurance companies.

Gag order on doctors takes the cake

Limited-government state lawmakers sure like to tell doctors what they can or can’t do and say, especially related to abortion. But the “Made in Kansas” pro-gun bill this session may take the cake. It would prevent physicians (other than psychiatrists) from asking patients if they have firearms in their homes. How is this the Legislature’s concern?

10th Circuit Court up to three open seats

Nearly two years after Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran derailed President Obama’s nomination of former Kansas Attorney General Steve Six to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the court now has three of the 18 vacancies on federal appeals courts nationwide, noted Carl Tobias, University of Richmond Law School, on the Hill’s Congress Blog. Robert Bacharach, who was first nominated in June 2010, was recently renominated and is awaiting a full Senate vote; Kansas and Utah seats await nominees. “Because openings in 10 percent of circuit judgeships and in one-quarter of 10th Circuit positions can undermine justice, President Obama must rapidly nominate, and the Senate speedily consider, exceptional nominees for the appellate vacancies,” Tobias wrote.

Huelskamp’s Valentine to Politico

Credit Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, for his willingness to make light of one of his more infamous moments as a congressman. During the January vote to re-elect Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, as House speaker, Politico snapped a photo of Huelskamp (in photo) on the House floor “brandishing an iPad” and tracking potential “no” votes on a document titled “You would be fired if this goes out.” On Thursday a fellow congressman tweeted a photo of Huelskamp holding his iPad with the message “Hi, Politico!” on screen.

The most absurd piece of legislation so far this session

“Kansas Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, has introduced one of the most absurd pieces of legislation to ever see the light of day,” a Hutchinson News editorial complained. Senate Bill 119 would guarantee that state lawmakers who give notice to their employers before taking office can return to their former jobs – with the same pay, seniority and responsibility levels – if voters don’t re-elect them. “To think that they should enjoy a protection that’s not afforded to Kansans at large borders on the narcissistic, and is an insult to working families across the state,” the editorial said. A Kansas City Star editorial said that Smith “appears to have caught a touch of ‘capitolitis’” – an ailment “that causes loss of perspective and may make lawmakers think they are more important than others regard them.”

Immigration reform must also fix legal system

Of the major issues that President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address, comprehension immigration reform might stand the best chance of occurring. Obama outlined reform concepts that have broad support among the public and growing bipartisan support in Congress, including increased border security and a pathway to citizenship. Sulma Arias, executive director of Sunflower Community Action in Wichita, applauded Obama for “creating a sense of urgency around fixing the broken immigration system.” But Arias said that sending immigrants “to the end of the line is not a solution, because it assumes that ‘the line’ is an equitable and a fair process.” She added: “Hundreds of thousands of people have been waiting for 12 years or more to become citizens. The broken immigration system promotes breaking the law because there is no way to play by the rules.”

Stop citing Iowa as example for basketball mandate

The bill filed in the Kansas Legislature to require the University of Kansas and Kansas State University to play Wichita State University in men’s basketball followed KU coach Bill Self’s statement to ESPN that “Iowa plays Northern Iowa because the state Legislature says you have to.” But “there is no such legislation in the state of Iowa in regard to scheduling for men’s basketball or football. It has been widely reported through the years, but has never been the case,” Colin McDonough, assistant athletic director at the University of Northern Iowa, told The Eagle editorial board. Legislative pressure did play a role in reaching an agreement to restart Iowa-Iowa State football games in the 1970s after a 43-year hiatus. Meanwhile, a member of the Texas House has filed a bill that would require an annual football game between Texas and Texas A&M.

So they said

“If I had his Romney/Obama numbers, I would never have to worry about re-election the rest of my life. He has a great district.” – Sen. Michael O’Donnell (in photo), R-Wichita, suggesting Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn’s constituents would support his testimony in favor of a bill to criminalize lobbying by public entities

“He wants to talk Wildcats. I want to talk Tigers. Compromise possible but not on that.” – Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., tweeting about her plans to sit with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., at the State of the Union address as part of a three-way date including Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.

Pro-con: Did Obama’s speech offer positive path?

Americans who have become weary of Washington’s endless battles over spending and taxes – and the stagnating economy that stalemate has produced – got a chance to hear about a different path on Tuesday night. President Obama’s message in the State of the Union address was clear: It doesn’t have to be this way. The country doesn’t have to get bogged down by demands for endless austerity and government contraction. It doesn’t have to defer investments in education and public works. The poor don’t have to remain on society’s lower rungs, and the middle class can aspire to do better. Obama said his proposals to bring about growth with government action would not have to raise the deficit. What is required to move the country forward is political will, which has been missing for too long. While many of the president’s proposals were familiar, and will probably be snuffed out by politics, his speech explained to a wide audience what could be achieved if there were even a minimal consensus in Washington. – New York Times

The big question of President Obama’s second term is whether he wants to forge bipartisan compromises in the next two years, or whether he wants to spend these years campaigning against Republicans to regain Democratic control of the House in 2014 and then finish his presidency with another liberal crescendo. Judging by his inaugural address and Tuesday night’s State of the Union, we’re guessing he’s going for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Obama’s second inaugural was a clarion call to “collective action,” as he put it, and Tuesday’s speech showed what he thinks that should mean in practice. “The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem,” he said, while proceeding to offer a new government program to solve every problem. It was what a Democratic president might expect to pass in a liberal Democratic Congress. It was not an olive branch for bipartisan deal-making with the House GOP. In its ambition and partisan framing, the agenda sounded like the opening bell in the 2014 congressional campaign. – Wall Street Journal

Get your own Rubio water bottle

Good for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for having fun with his “water bottle-gate” moment during the GOP response to the State of the Union address, when he leaned off camera and grabbed a bottle of water. Rubio tweeted a photo of the bottle and has joked about it in interviews. Others are spoofing it as a way to promote conservative causes. The Reclaim America PAC is offering a Rubio water bottle to anyone who donates $25 or more to the PAC. “Send the liberal detractors a message that not only does Marco Rubio inspire you … he hydrates you, too,” the PAC advertises.

Kansas seniors saved money on drugs, checkups

Last year 36,383 Kansans with Medicare who reached the Part D “doughnut hole” saved more than $24 million on prescription drugs as a result of discounts provided in the Affordable Care Act, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, 284,396 Kansans with traditional Medicare used one or more free preventive services in 2012, including 27,437 who each received an annual wellness checkup.

You may be in a dark spiritual area if …

Twitter has had fun with a Christian group’s call for prayers for “dark spiritual areas” of north Johnson County, Lawrence, Kansas City, Kan., and southeast Kansas – areas that just happen to be represented by Democratic legislators at the Statehouse. “Are you represented by a Republican? Is everyone you know evangelical? If the answer is no, you might be in a #darkspiritualarea,” one person tweeted. “They should have signs, like in school zones: ‘Entering #darkspiritualarea, proceed with caution,’” another wrote. The state director of the Capitol Commission, which teaches Bible studies for lawmakers, claimed the prayer request was really about economically struggling areas of the state, though he couldn’t explain why Lawrence was included in the list. The group also called for prayer for the judicial system and to ask God “to provide wisdom for restructuring the Kansas selection process.” How about asking for the wisdom to not mix religion and politics?

Gates agrees with need for oversight on drones

Former Defense Secretary and CIA chief Robert Gates supports having a special court review drone strikes against Americans linked to al-Qaida. “I think that the rules and the practices that the Obama administration has followed are quite stringent and are not being abused,” the Wichita native said. “But who is to say about a future president?”

Roberts, Moran split on domestic-violence bill

When reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act passed the Senate Tuesday on a 78-22 vote, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., voted for it (unlike last year) while Sen. Pat Roberts (in photo), R-Kan., was among the 22 Republicans on the “no” side. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also voted against it, citing “new provisions that could have potentially adverse consequences” related to funding of sexual-assault programs and prosecution of non-Indians by tribal governments. Joan Wagnon, chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party, criticized Roberts for putting “partisan politics before victims’ safety.” The House, where last year’s reauthorization effort stalled, is expected to take up VAWA in the coming weeks.

Delegation blasts State of the Union speech

Members of the Kansas congressional delegation were particularly critical and dismissive of President Obama’s State of the Union address. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said that Obama “delivered the same message of higher taxes and spending, more regulation of our lives and businesses, and refused to address the need for solvent Social Security and Medicare programs. It is no wonder our economy is shrinking and businesses not hiring.” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., complained that “rather than at least a path toward fiscal responsibility, we got another campaign speech.” Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said that Obama “just doesn’t get it. The government doesn’t drive the creation of successful manufacturing. All the government has to do is get out of the way and American businesses will take care of the rest.”

Federal funding cuts will force painful debates, choices

The Wichita City Council heard impassioned pleas Tuesday not to cut funding for neighborhood city halls and Project Access in the face of federal grant cuts. It’s sobering to realize that such painful debates are just the start, and will be replicated before local governing bodies nationwide, if Congress doesn’t avoid the mandatory, across-the-board sequestration cuts scheduled to go into effect March 1 – or even if it does by approving deep but targeted reductions in federal spending. A lot of important and effective programs at the local level have been fueled by federal dollars, and counties, cities and school districts will have to scramble to adapt. The money may evaporate, but the needs won’t. Whatever Congress does will put local leaders to the test.

State of the Union thread

What is O’Donnell’s beef with health department accreditation?

State Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, wouldn’t comment Monday on a bill he has proposed to prohibit county health departments from seeking national accreditation, other than saying it was prompted by “widespread concerns that many people have had.” What concerns? What people? Is this some Agenda 21 thing? Health officials are also puzzled. At least 12 health departments in Kansas, including Sedgwick County, have been working on becoming nationally accredited, the Kansas Health Institute News Service reported.

Loosen up on home-brewed beer

The Wichita Homebrewers Organization was among the groups that provided testimony last week in favor of a bill to loosen state law on home-brewed beer. Current law says that such beer can be made only for the use of the brewer and family members who live in the same residence, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. The Kansas Department of Revenue’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control is OK with changing the law to allow the brewers to take their beer to club meetings and competitions, but it doesn’t want home brewers to receive compensation for their beer. Does the state really need to be so controlling?

WATC proving value of its degrees

The Wichita Area Technical College is demonstrating the impressive value of its degrees among employers, even in a lackluster economy. WATC’s survey of 90 percent of its fall graduates revealed that 97 percent of them had found jobs already, mostly in the area. Meanwhile, spring enrollment is 19 percent higher than last spring, just as last fall saw a 25 percent increase over fall 2011. Much of the momentum can be linked to WATC’s strengthened partnership with USD 259, and to the state funding made available by the career and technical education initiative promoted by Gov. Sam Brownback. But credit also is due WATC president Tony Kinkel and the elected officials at all levels, led by Sedgwick County commissioners, who pressed ahead with the funding and construction of the National Center for Aviation Training, one of WATC’s three campuses. Because they didn’t let the downturn cloud their foresight about workforce needs, Wichita-area employers are able to look to WATC for the workers they need now.

Pope’s decision to resign is remarkable

Pope Benedict’s decision to resign is remarkable historically, as the last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415, and that was due to a schism in the church. Benedict said he lacked the strength to continue the demanding job. “In order to govern the bark of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary – strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me,” he said.

Voters should understand what’s on the ballot

Good for Secretary of State Kris Kobach for backing a bill that would allow a plain-language “explainer” to be posted at election sites when a ballot measure is too confusing. Wichita’s vote last year on the Ambassador Hotel tax subsidy was exhibit one for why such explanations are sometimes needed. The ballot measure was filled with so much legalese (as required by the state constitution) that it was difficult to decipher what a “yes” or “no” vote meant. And election officials are prohibited from explaining the measure to voters. One concern about an official explanation is that it might be written in a way that influences voting. But the bill includes checks to ensure the explanation isn’t biased.

Allow candidates to transfer funds

After last year’s redistricting, a lot of members of the Kansas House ran for the Senate but couldn’t legally use leftover campaign funds, which under current law end up being returned to donors or given to charity or state parties. House Bill 2112 would change that. As state Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said last week: “Most campaign contributions are made because of the person running for office.” Then-congressmen Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran were able to transfer $1 million and $2.4 million, respectively, from their campaign treasuries to be used as they ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010. Why should state candidates’ leftover funds be unusable?

Bill would require chief justice to address Legislature

Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, was free to deny Chief Justice Lawton Nuss’ (in photo) request to speak to a joint session of the Legislature, and ask the chief justice instead to put his State of the Judiciary report in writing. But a bill introduced by Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, would newly spell out the chief justice’s responsibility to deliver such an oral report to the Legislature at the beginning of each session. It also says the governor “shall deliver an oral State of the State address to every session of the Legislature” – an annual tradition not currently required by law, Ward said.

Sex-trafficking law could cost county $255,000 a year

Because of the aggressive measures taken by Sedgwick County officials, including a staffing reduction of more than 10 percent in the past couple of years, the county’s chief financial officer, Chris Chronis, was able to report to the County Commission last week that the county would avoid a budget deficit again in 2013. But among the reasons for “heartburn,” Chronis said, is the bill targeting human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children, Senate Bill 61, being pushed by Gov. Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt. While acknowledging the importance of the issue, Chronis told commissioners that because the bill “would cause certain juveniles to have to be housed in the county’s juvenile corrections facilities,” the annual cost to the county would be about $255,000. “That is a new cost to Sedgwick County if that bill should be passed,” Chronis said. And it did pass the Senate the next day, on a 38-0 vote, and head for the House.