Monthly Archives: July 2013

No shock if Brewer is a mayor against illegal guns

If Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer (in photo) didn’t intend to be counted among New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, he should get off the coalition’s website. But it shouldn’t be a shock to any citizen, let alone City Council member turned state Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, that Brewer believes in certain gun restrictions, given his voting record and comments from the bench about allowing concealed and open carry of firearms on city-owned property. Even as the U.S. Supreme Court has expanded gun rights in recent years, by the way, it has said the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms “is not unlimited.” As for O’Donnell’s suggestion on Facebook that the mayor opposes the state and federal constitutions: Give us a break.

Delegation isn’t rushing to sponsor marriage amendment

A bill by Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, that would amend the U.S. Constitution to block gay marriages had 47 co-sponsors as of Monday, the Hutchinson News reported. So far no other Kansas delegation member had signed on, though Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, is considering it. “I strongly believe in defending traditional marriage as between a man and a woman and am looking at this amendment carefully,” he said in a statement. The measure would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate (which won’t happen) before going to the states for a vote.

Kansas’ knife law is ‘near perfect,” lobbyist says

“In terms of knife law, Kansas is darn near perfect now,” said Todd Rathner, a lobbyist for the national group Knife Rights. As of July 1, Kansas no longer bans blades such as dirks, daggers, stilettos and switchblades or ones longer than 4 inches. “HB 2033 also prohibits local governments from enforcing any type of knife ordinance, making Kansas one of the most blade-friendly states in the union,” the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

ALEC convention still a draw for state lawmakers

More than two dozen Kansas legislators plan to attend the American Legislative Exchange Council national convention in Chicago next week, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. This includes Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, who are on ALEC’s national board. The corporate-backed ALEC has come under heat in recent years for writing “model legislation” for voter-ID and “stand your ground” laws. More than a dozen major companies, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s and Walmart, dropped their memberships. State taxpayers subsidize $475 of the registration cost of the trip per legislator, as well as paying travel costs if lawmakers serve in a leadership role with ALEC. One of the events at ALEC will be a Kansas night dinner at an expensive lakefront restaurant that will be mostly underwritten by corporate sponsors.

Poorer Kansas school districts being left behind

State school funding reductions and freezes have been particularly hard on poorer school district, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. In addition to cutting capital outlay aid to school districts, the state has held equalization aid flat. And as more districts raise local property taxes to offset state funding cuts, equalization aid is falling behind – an estimated $74 million short this fiscal year and $113 million next year. This shortfall only affects poorer districts, not the wealthiest 51 districts in the state that don’t receive equalization aid. And it is harder for poorer districts than the rich to raise money locally (which is the point of the equalization aid). For example, a single mill of property taxes in the Kaw Valley school district near Topeka generates about $281,900, while 1 mill in the neighboring district of Royal Valley raises only $27,500.

Dubious, bogus and utterly phony headlines

The following satirical headlines come from borowitzreport.com and theonion.com:

Congress Fiercely Divided Over Completely Blank Bill That Says And Does Nothing

Weiner Continues Sexting During Apology

Opponents of ‘Stand Your Ground’ Propose New Law, ‘Don’t Shoot Me for Absolutely No Reason’

Nate Silver Warns Against Overestimating His Value to ESPN

Fast food might be slow today in some cities

Some fast-food workers in seven cities, including Kansas City, are walking off the job today to protest low wages. The workers want to get paid $15 per hour, but industry officials say that the restaurants don’t have a high enough profit margin to afford that. Meanwhile, McDonald’s is getting grief for providing budgeting advice to its workers that included them working two jobs to get by (and assumed they needed to spend only $20 a month on health insurance).

State rankings improve but economy lags

The Brownback administration recently touted slight improvements in two state business rankings, but another report shows Kansas trailing most other states in economic growth. Kansas moved from eighth to sixth in the Pollina Corporate Real Estate annual rankings of states, and it moved from 15th to 14th in a CNBC ranking of state business environments. But a report by the Tax Policy Center found Kansas lagging most states in economic growth from February to May and predicted it will trail in the next six months, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. “Most states improved over the past quarter; only Alaska, Kansas, Nevada, Wisconsin and Wyoming experienced declines,” according to the report, which looked at nonfarm employment, average manufacturing hours worked, the state’s unemployment rate and real wages.

County stepped up to help citizens dispose of debris

Kudos to Sedgwick County for stepping up to help people dispose of debris from recent storms (in sharp contrast to the “it’s not our problem” approach of the city of Wichita). The county’s tree debris site at 63rd Street South and Meridian will be open through the end of this month. So far, it has received more than 15,000 truckloads of debris. The county also is offering coupons allowing residents to dispose of up to 1,000 pounds of bulky waste at two area solid waste transfer stations. To request a coupon, which must be used by Oct. 17, call 316-660-9110 or go online to sedgwickcountyservices.org/coupon/trash.

Wannabe voters ‘in suspense’ are less partisan

More than 12,000 Kansans’ right to vote is in limbo, with their registrations held “in suspense” due to the new state law requiring proof of citizenship to register. It’s particularly concerning that, according to the Lawrence Journal-World, some of those whose registrations have been delayed say they already presented documents verifying citizenship to their driver’s license office. A legislative panel recently declined Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s request to let such wannabe voters cast provisional ballots in upcoming local elections because, as League of Women Voters of Kansas president Dolores Furtado noted, “It doesn’t fix the problem, it just disguises it.” The more than 12,000 suspended voters are less partisan – 57 percent unaffiliated, 23 percent Republicans and 18 percent Democrats – than the state’s more than 1.7 million already registered voters, who are 45 percent Republicans, 30 percent unaffiliated and 25 percent Democrats.

So they said

“Welcome back to the jobs conversation, Mr. President.” – Sen. Pat Roberts (in photo), R-Kan., in a statement responding to President Obama’s economic speech

“Had yesterday’s vote been taken by secret ballot, like the secret spying of #NSA, it would’ve passed. #Irony” – Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, tweeting Thursday about his “no” vote on the failed amendment to limit the National Security Agency’s data collection

“3 hops of snooping should make citizens hoppin mad!” – Huelskamp, also on Twitter, about House testimony that NSA analysts look “two or three hops” from suspects when evaluating terror activity

“The real damage isn’t to Tim Huelskamp in western Kansas or Mike Pompeo in Wichita. The real damage is to Republican presidential hopefuls.” – KU political science professor Burdett Loomis, to Bloomberg Businessweek, describing the House GOP zeal to cut food stamps as “another one of these 47 percent things”

“It’s like they’re living in some bizarro world.” – Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, about the Brownback administration’s rosy reports about KanCare, the state’s privatization of Medicaid

2013 may have ended Riverfest’s slump

It was great to learn that button sales for the recent Wichita River Festival were up 38 percent over last year, with the 104,000 total sold the most in five years. Festival revenues were $170,000 more than 2012, too, positioning the festival to turn a profit for the first time since 2008. The positive numbers certainly match the mood of the 2013 festival, which had mostly good weather, smart programming and nice crowds. Mary Beth Jarvis, the CEO of Wichita Festivals since November, still has some challenges to work through, including questions about whether this year’s tight fencing and button policing diminished the festival’s free spirit. But 2013 may have ended Riverfest’s slump.

Keep special legislative session focused and brief

Gov. Sam Brownback was persuaded of the need to call a $35,000-a-day special session of the Legislature on Sept. 3 to rewrite the state’s “Hard 50” law, because of questions about its constitutionality in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last month in a Virginia case. Brownback called the session Friday in response to Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s warning that at least two dozen murder cases could be affected. The Hard 50 sentences now in doubt include that for Scott Roeder, convicted of murdering Wichita abortion provider George Tiller in 2009. Now that Brownback has decided that a special session is unavoidable, it will be up to legislative leaders to keep it narrowly focused and brief.

Finney wants review of ‘stand your ground’ law

Though she knows it is a long shot, Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, wants the state to revisit its “stand your ground” gun law. “It needs to be looked at and reviewed very closely,” Finney told the Topeka Capital-Journal. She contends that the law “has so many loopholes” that defendants could take advantage of in cases in which self-defense is murky. She also is concerned that it could be used against people who look a certain way. “I’ve often spoke about racial profiling in Kansas,” Finney said. “The problem is really prevalent throughout Kansas, and it seems like it often fell on deaf ears.”

Second driver’s license office in county can’t open too soon

Details are sparse about the Kansas Department of Revenue’s plan to open a second driver’s license office in Sedgwick County, which was reported to county commissioners Wednesday by County Treasurer Linda Kizzire. In any case, the overdue move is worthy of celebration. Wherever and whenever a second office opens, it will have to be an improvement over the status quo. The three- to six-hour waits this summer and last in Wichita’s single driver’s license office at 21st and Amidon have been infuriating and absurd. And the state’s explanations have been as unsatisfying as the text-messaging system meant to reduce the on-site waiting. The situation also has been bad at the Andover office. So some Wichitans desperate to renew their licenses or get learner’s permits have been forced to drive even farther – sometimes paying extra fees because of the state’s failure to accommodate the demand in Wichita. Especially with more upheaval predicted during a computer upgrade, the state is right to do something to help Sedgwick County drivers.

Is audit a payback for organizations opposing KanCare?

“This audit is the Brownback administration’s political payback for community opposition to the KanCare carve-in of developmental disability services,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (in photo), D-Topeka. He was complaining about an audit ordered this week by a legislative committee on whether conflicts of interest exist among more than two dozen organizations serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. But Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said the audit is not politically motivated. “The goal of the audit is to explore a potentially serious problem and ensure the most vulnerable Kansans are receiving the best possible care,” he said. Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, a statewide association of service providers, said he doesn’t object to the audit but wondered why lawmakers aren’t also concerned about possible conflicts of interest with the private insurance companies that manage KanCare. “If it’s a big deal, why aren’t you looking at it in every other area?” Laing said.

An ‘Ellison said, Pompeo said’ situation

In an ABC News interview highlighting his status as the first Muslim elected to Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison (in photo), D-Minn., mentioned a fellow House member who “said Muslim Americans are not condemning terrorism enough.” That was a reference to a June floor speech by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita. Ellison’s anecdote continued: “And I said, ‘well, let me guarantee you, Muslims are condemning terrorism every day all the time…’ and I gave him a whole list, and he said, ‘Thanks for telling me, I didn’t know, I won’t be saying that again.’” Asked about the incident, Pompeo told The Eagle editorial board in a statement: “Rep. Ellison’s claim is wrong. I continue to believe that Islamic clerics in mosques and the madrassas around the world have an obligation to consistently denounce terrorism done in the name of their faith. While it is true that Rep. Ellison did complain to me on the House floor, it is a shame that he did so by simply repeating the comments of (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) and demanding I back down.”

Stark difference in how races view Zimmerman case

It’s not news that many whites and African-Americans viewed the George Zimmerman trial and verdict differently, but a Washington Post/ABC News poll shows how stark that difference is. When asked about the jury’s verdict finding Zimmerman not guilty in Trayvon Martin’s death, 51 percent of whites surveyed said they approved compared with only 9 percent of African-Americans. And while whites were divided on whether the shooting was justified – 33 percent said “yes,” 33 percent “no” and 32 percent were not sure – African-Americans were not divided, with 87 percent saying it wasn’t justified. On the broader issue of whether African-Americans and other minorities receive treatment equal to whites in the criminal justice system, 54 percent of whites said “yes” while only 8 percent of African-Americans did.

Can ‘Carlos Danger’ still become New York’s mayor?

Can former congressman Anthony Weiner survive the disclosure of more sexting (including his online name, “Carlos Danger”) and still get elected mayor of New York City? The New York Times editorial board hopes not. “Weiner should take his marital troubles and personal compulsions out of the public eye, away from cameras, off the Web and out of the race for mayor of New York City,” its editorial said, arguing that Weiner has a “repellent pattern of misleading and evasion.”

Kansas delegation raising some big money for 2014

Most of the Republican incumbents in Kansas’ congressional delegation seemingly are setting a million-dollar bar for any would-be challengers next year. As of the June 30 filings of campaign contributions with the Federal Election Commission, the 4th District’s Mike Pompeo had $1.4 million on hand, the 2nd District’s Lynn Jenkins had $1.2 million, the 3rd District’s Kevin Yoder had nearly $1.6 million and the 1st District’s Tim Huelskamp had $670,000. Meanwhile, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who is running for his fourth term next year, reported having nearly $1.5 million on hand. According to OpenSecrets.org, the last time a Kansan won a contested congressional race with less than $1 million was 2006, when Democrat Nancy Boyda spent $710,000 to upset the 2nd District’s Jim Ryun.

Kobach wins one, loses one on renters’ ban

When a U.S. Court of Appeals recently upheld an ordinance in Fremont, Neb., banning landlords from renting to anyone who is in the country illegally, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who drafted the ordinance, said that the ruling would boost the legal prospects of a similar law in Farmers Branch, Texas. But on Monday a different U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a lower-court decision blocking that ordinance. The court said that multiple parts of the law were unconstitutional. Kobach served as attorney for Farmers Branch, which has spent nearly $6 million in legal bills and expenses related to its immigration laws.

Fall hearing doesn’t avoid confirmation wait

It’s all well and good that Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King, R-Independence, wants to hold a hearing in October or November for Gov. Sam Brownback’s to-be-announced nominee to the new 14th seat on the Kansas Court of Appeals. But the judge still can’t be sworn in until after the Kansas Senate convenes in January and holds the newly necessary confirmation vote on the position. That’s more than six months after the position became available. Under the system the Legislature just threw out after three decades, with the statewide nominating commission vetting Court of Appeals applicants and submitting three nominees to the governor, the selection process had a statutory limit of 120 days. For example, when a member of the Court of Appeals died in April 2010, his successor was sworn in that September. Under the new system, the same scenario would leave the seat unfilled for nine months.

Dole still bringing people together

Among the many “happy 90th birthday” wishes Monday for Bob Dole is a video prepared by the Bipartisan Policy Center, which Dole co-founded. It features a who’s who of politicians and journalists offering their appreciation to the former Senate majority leader from Kansas. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., thanks Dole for all he’s done for our country and for veterans, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says that Dole has been and remains “a consummate public leader.” Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., thanks Dole “for being the role model to all of us.” Former Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe notes: “Once again, you have proven that you’re the only person who has the ability to bring Republicans and Democrats together.” Dole’s birthday has even prompted its own hashtag on Twitter, #Dole90.

Jenkins wants to fix problems

When U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, was a state lawmaker, she had a reputation for being pragmatic and middle-of-the-road. But after she was elected to Congress in 2008, she soon became, by her own admission, a proud member of the party of “no.” So it is encouraging that that she has joined the No Labels coalition seeking to break the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C. “This Congress is terribly unpopular, and for good reason: Next to nothing is getting done,” Jenkins said in statement last week. She told the Topeka Capital-Journal that the solution to the dysfunction is for lawmakers to seek common ground. “In a divided Washington, neither Democrats nor Republicans can get things done unilaterally,” she said. “Either we work together to fix problems, or we achieve nothing.”

No easy exit from sexual predator program

As a task force began drafting its recommendations last week on how to improve the sexual predator treatment program at Larned State Hospital, some striking numbers emerged: Of the more than 250 patients who have entered the program in the past 18 years, only four have been released. (At least 16 have died.) The Kansas Health Institute News Service also reported that each patient costs taxpayers about $87,000 a year. It’s been 16 years since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 1994 law allowing Kansas to keep some sexual predators behind bars even after they’ve completed their prison sentences. But if, as then-Attorney General Carla Stovall once said, “our goal is treatment so these people can have a productive life,” that doesn’t seem to be working very well.