Category Archives: Kansas government

Arizona governor again vetoes gun bills

gun3On the same day that Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill nullifying local gun ordinances in Kansas, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed guns in public buildings and events lacking security guards and metal detectors. Brewer has vetoed two other similar bills, saying in 2012 that such a decision on whether to allow or prohibit guns in “sensitive” government locations “should be cooperatively reached and supported by a broad coalition of stakeholders, including citizens, law enforcement officials and local government leaders.” She also vetoed a bill on Tuesday that would allow local government officials involved in regulating firearms to be fined and removed from office. (And also unlike Brownback, Brewer vetoed a bill in 2011 to set up a health care compact with other states. Brewer was concerned about the structure of the compact and that it would “result in additional fiscal challenges for our health care system.”)

Lawmakers focused on what’s best for students, Merrick says

merrick_ray“With the education bill officially signed into law, Kansas children will now reap the benefits of more money in the classroom, broader local control, expanded opportunities for those from low-income families, and millions in property-tax relief,” House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, wrote in a commentary on Wednesday’s Opinion page. Though lawmakers have been strongly criticized for eliminating state due-process protections for public school teachers, he argued that lawmakers were focused on Kansas students. “Too often in debating school finance and policy, the conversation somehow gets twisted into what’s best for the institutions, teachers and administrators,” he wrote.

Suddenly due-process change is about local control?

teacherstenureThere was little discussion about local control when state lawmakers debated revoking due-process rights for public school teachers. But after criticism of the provision began mounting, local control suddenly became a key GOP talking point. If revoking a right that has existed since the 1950s was about local control, what locals asked for that control? The Kansas Association of School Boards didn’t propose the law change. There wasn’t even a hearing to ask locals what they thought of the change. About the only group to endorse the change was Americans for Prosperity. The local-control claim also rings hollow given that lawmakers ignored the pleas of local governments this session and banned local weapons regulations, and they regularly meddle in school curriculum issues.

Brownback ahead in new poll

thumbsupGov. Sam Brownback is leading his presumed Democratic challenger, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, by 47 to 40 percent, according to a new Rasmussen Reports poll. Surveys by two other polling groups had Davis alightly ahead in the potential fall matchup. Davis led by 42 to 37 percent among independent voters in the Rasmussen poll.

States fighting ACA lag in reducing uninsured rates

Doctor Speaking with PatientStates that created their own insurance exchanges and allowed an expansion of Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act were three times more successful in reducing their percentages of uninsured citizens than states such as Kansas that did neither, according to a new Gallup survey. “The uninsured rate, on average, declined 2.5 percentage points in the 21 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have implemented both of these measures, compared with a 0.8-point drop across the 29 states that have taken only one or neither of these actions,” Gallup reported. An estimated 75,000-plus Kansans would qualify for health insurance if Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature allowed the Medicaid expansion.

In Olathe and elsewhere, more taxing authority won’t offset cuts

schoolmoneyKansas City Star columnist Steve Rose praised the school-finance bill because “Johnson County schools finally got more local control,” predicting the Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Blue Valley districts will take advantage of how the legislation enables them to raise local property taxes. But the Star also reported that extra local taxing authority won’t offset years of cuts. Shawnee Mission gains $3.3 million from the bill but had to cut its spending by $28 million from 2009 to 2012. Blue Valley, where cuts have totaled $11 million, could see $3 million more because of the bill, while Olathe’s $6 million gain compares with $25 million in recent cuts. Olathe superintendent Marlin Berry told the Star the greater taxing authority is “a very small step” toward what’s needed for classrooms and staff.

Help mentally ill by expanding Medicaid

mentalhealthGov. Sam Brownback’s mental health task force made some good recommendations last week on improving the state’s mental health system, such as having the state offer financial support to preschool and early childhood behavioral health care programs and doing a better job integrating services. But the most cost-effective improvement the state could make is allowing the federal expansion of Medicaid. The expansion, which would be fully paid for by the federal government for the first three years and nearly fully funded after that, would enable thousands of Kansans to receive mental health treatment in their communities.

Brownback should veto bill giving state control of Medicare

praeger“To include Medicare into an attempt to make political statements about the Affordable Care Act, I think, is wrong,”  said Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger (in photo). It is wrong. Yet House Bill 2553 would give the state control of all federal health care programs, subject to congressional approval, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Brownback needs to veto the bill, which is being promoted by an out-of-state group, and not jeopardize the health care of senior citizens. Praeger also cautioned that there could be political consequences if Brownback signs the bill: “I would be very nervous if I were running in a statewide campaign about making that bloc of seniors upset.”

On social media policy, regents should listen to faculty

mortarboardSurely the Kansas Board of Regents didn’t expect a work group of university professors and other personnel to endorse its sweeping, punitive policy to make faculty’s use of social media a potential firing offense if it is “contrary to the best interests of the university.” The work group, which was asked in January to make recommendations about the controversial new policy, came back with a response that affirmed academic freedom and safeguarded free speech. Eighty distinguished professors from regents universities endorsed the group’s advisory revision and inclusive, scholarly process. Yet at a Wednesday committee meeting, some regents’ initial reaction to the work group’s version was unduly hostile – and also tone-deaf to the national uproar the board’s overreaching policy had created. “Someplace this train got off the tracks,” regent Tim Emert said of the group’s work. “If any professor gave an assignment and the student came back with something completely different, the grade would not be very good.” Are the regents so intent on ensuring that universities can discipline and dump professors for tweets and Facebook posts that they are now willing to dismiss the concerns and work of dozens of university faculty members and the criticism of the American Association of University Professors, as well as chill academic speech and inquiry? Adding language saying the board “strongly supports principles of academic freedom,” as the regents have proposed, doesn’t help if the rest of the policy says otherwise.

Brownback: Get off the fence on due-process rights

bbackwinWhy won’t Gov. Sam Brownback say whether he supports eliminating due-process rights for public school teachers? He’s been riding the fence since the Legislature passed a school-finance bill that strips teachers of these rights. If he supports that, he should say so. If he doesn’t, he should also say so – and then take action, by either vetoing the bill or demanding that legislators repeal the provision when they return to Topeka on April 30.

Paying less to Kansas but more to IRS

taxrevenueFormer state budget director Duane Goossen recently noted one little-discussed consequence of Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012-13 tax cuts: “When Kansans file their federal income-tax returns, they can deduct the amount they pay in state income taxes from their federal taxable income. So if a person’s state income-tax bill goes down by $1,000, their federal taxable income goes up by $1,000 because they lose the deduction,” he wrote on his blog for the Kansas Health Institute, where he is vice president for fiscal and health policy. He also wrote: “At a time when many Kansas lawmakers have been reluctant to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid eligibility, Kansas tax policy allows state dollars to flow the other way.”

Let world know there’s no place like Kansas

keeperbridge“There’s No Place Like Kansas” is a nice variation on the “Wizard of Oz” line and a good slogan for promoting Kansas tourism. More than 32 million people visit Kansas annually, generating $8 billion in expenditures, according to a news release from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. But Kansas has the potential to attract even more visitors. As Gov. Sam Brownback noted when he was in Wichita last week kicking off the new tourism campaign: “Kansas is a special place and we know it. Now we have to tell the rest of the world about it.”

House curbed teachers’ rights, then heard jewelry pitch

capitoldomeThere was an awkward moment in the minutes after the Kansas House vote to approve the school-funding bill, observed by the dozens of teachers in the gallery who’d just lost their due-process rights: Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, made an upbeat pitch to his colleagues that there was now a jeweler in the House (Rep. Steve Anthimides, R-Wichita) and they should check out the options for legislative bling. Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss observed: “After stripping teachers of their tenure, legislators had a brief discussion about jewelry…. Remove tenure and buy a ring. Makes all kinds of sense, doesn’t it?”

DeBacker’s expertise, enthusiasm will be missed

Gratitude and best wishes are due Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker upon her resignation to become an adviser to the director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council in the United Arab Emirates. In her five years in the state’s top job in K-12 public education, DeBacker demonstrated a keen understanding of the complexities of education policy and policymaking as well as an enthusiasm for taking Kansas to the challenging next level on academic standards and student achievement.

Delay in alerting residents to water pollution is outrageous

waterfaucetWhat’s even more alarming than the report that the groundwater in several northwest Wichita neighborhoods is contaminated is the news that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment discovered the pollution in 2009. Why didn’t KDHE tell residents about the pollution sooner? Funding used for testing private wells wasn’t made available through the KDHE’s Dry Cleaning Remediation Program until earlier this year. So some residents have been drinking and bathing in potentially cancer-causing water for the past four years because KDHE couldn’t scrape up some money to test a few more wells? That’s outrageous.

GOP candidates support state takeover of Medicare

doctormedicareNot only did the Legislature approve a bill that could put the state in charge of Medicare, but all of the GOP candidates for Kansas insurance commissioner think it is a good idea. Seriously? At a forum in Wichita last week, the four Republican candidates said they supported Kansas joining a compact of states seeking to exempt themselves from federal health care rules. Though their comments focused on the Affordable Care Act, House Bill 2553 would give the state control of all federal health care programs, subject to congressional approval, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Sandy Praeger, the state’s current insurance commissioner (does she really have to retire?), warned that a state takeover of Medicare “could jeopardize the coverage and benefits that seniors have come to count on.” Senior citizens need to call Gov. Sam Brownback at 877-579-6757 or contact him through his website at governor.ks.gov and tell him to veto House Bill 2553. They, and all other Kansans, also need to think carefully about whom to vote for in upcoming elections.

Some relief for Kansans in seeing Sebelius go

sebeliustestifyFor Kansans who felt some guilt by association during the worst of the passage and rollout of the Affordable Care Act, there is some relief in seeing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius step down. The former Kansas governor was a smart choice for the key Cabinet post in 2009 because of her experience and her passion for health care policymaking and commitment to covering the uninsured. And Sebelius exits with ACA enrollment at 7.5 million – more than the target. But what an ordeal, including that appalling initial flop of the HealthCare.gov website. Any benefit for Kansas from her status was lost to partisanship, as Republican Gov. Sam Brownback wanted nothing to do with the ACA. Sebelius’ resume is now tarnished and her political career is surely over. Perhaps she will write a book about her experience at the center of the biggest political storm of the Obama presidency. It’s hard to believe now that Sebelius, as governor, had approval ratings in Kansas as high as 70 percent back in 2007.

So they said

huelskamp“What difference does it make?” – U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (in photo), R-Fowler, calling the House-passed budget blueprint crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a “ceremonial bill” (though Huelskamp voted for it)

“Brownback, see me after class!” – among the messages on signs carried by schoolteachers at the Capitol last weekend

“They took out a dozen of us. It was very personal and extremely dishonest. That’s the kind of thing that went on, and now it’s coming back to roost.” – former state Sen. Dick Kelsey, in a Politico Pro story about the 2012 purge of centrist GOP senators

“Yeah, it happens all the time.” – Secretary of State Kris Kobach, to a Florida radio host’s suggestion that “widows are voting for their dead husbands”

More polling problems for Brownback

brownbackofficialmugAnother Public Policy Polling survey has found Gov. Sam Brownback lagging Democratic challenger Paul Davis. In the firm’s April 1-2 poll of 886 Kansas voters (52 percent Republicans and 30 percent Democrats), 45 percent said they would vote for Davis, a Lawrence attorney who is the House minority leader, if the gubernatorial election were held today; 41 percent favored Brownback and 14 percent weren’t sure. Fifty-two percent said Kansas should accept the new federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage, and 41 percent said Brownback’s opposition to expansion would make them less likely to vote for him. In a February survey by the same North Carolina-based firm, Davis led Brownback 42 to 40 percent. The latest PPP survey was funded by the liberal group MoveOn.org, and a Brownback campaign spokesman dismissed the results.

Shame on Legislature for undermining teachers’ rights

teacherShame on the GOP leaders of the Kansas Legislature for using a Kansas Supreme Court order on school-funding inequities as an excuse to undermine teachers’ rights and meddle in education policymaking. As our Tuesday editorial asked: Where was the love for schools as the Legislature voted to strip teachers of their due-process rights, subsidize private education with a corporate income-tax credit, and pass unproven ideological reforms while trampling on the policymaking responsibilities of the Kansas State Board of Education?

Kansas gets costs, not benefits, of expanded Medicaid

healthcaregovOne of the projected costs of expanding Medicaid is the “woodwork effect.” It refers to people already eligible for Medicaid who come “out of the woodwork” as they learn about the program. But this effect happens even in states such as Kansas that refuse to expand Medicaid, because of all the publicity about the Affordable Care Act. Kansas’ enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program increased to 415,284 in February, up more than 17,000, or 4.3 percent, from monthly averages before the launch of the ACA insurance marketplace. So Kansas’ costs are increasing, but it isn’t receiving the financial benefit of expanding Medicaid.

Butler Co. lawmakers backed effort to burn teachers

candidateIn a commentary headlined “Teachers get burned while Masterson gets a tan,” Kent Bush, publisher of the Butler County Times-Gazette, blasted area lawmakers for revoking due-process rights of public schoolteachers and for being puppets of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. He particularly called out Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, who led the Senate negotiations before leaving for a family vacation. Bush described Masterson as a nice guy away from the state Senate. “But if you want someone to determine education policy, I can’t think of many people who would be worse,” Bush wrote. “Masterson has never made it a secret that he holds public schools in low regard – seeing them as ineffective and inefficient.”

Rhoades blames House education bill on ‘election year’

candidateRep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, is saying a bit more about his resignation last week as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He wrote in a blog post that he could only support adding significant funding to equalize school aid, as ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court, if it was tied to reforms aimed at improving education outcomes. But House leadership rejected several reforms in his initial bill, and he said “it was clear there was little appetite for allowing changes to the bill in committee.” Why didn’t the House bill include measurable education outcomes? “Because it’s an election year,” Rhoades wrote. Another possibility is that schools already are overloaded with educational measurements. The bill was supposed to fix an unconstitutional funding problem, not be a tool for ideological mandates.

So they said

“Representative, this isn’t on the topic of the bill.” – House Speaker Ray Merrickmerrick_ray (in photo), R-Stilwell, interrupting as Rep. Randy Garber, R-Sabetha, brought abortion into the debate on a bill to bar another Sedgwick County gambling vote until 2032 (to which Garber said, “Pardon?”)

“Secretary Sebelius why is #unpopularity of ObamaScare so #shocking to you?” – Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, tweeting a link to an article saying HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was “speechless” when asked about the ACA’s poor polling

“@CongHuelskamp You do recognize you are a member of Congress? Might want to actually start acting like it. ‘ObamaScare’? What are you, 5?” – David Badash, editor of the online journal the New Civil Rights Movement, responding to Huelskamp on Twitter

“Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) hit the first three-pointer of the night.” – Washington Post article on a charity basketball game in which the Hill’s Angels (members of Congress and staffers) defeated the Hoya Lawyers (Georgetown Law School faculty) 46-40

Bill banning slots vote was unnecessary, overkill

slotsThe Kansas House wisely rejected a Senate bill Friday that would prohibit Sedgwick County from holding another vote on gambling until 2032. The bill was unnecessary and overkill, as the Legislature already controls whether county residents can revote on allowing slot machines at Wichita Greyhound Park. There is no need to ban another vote for 18 years. The bill also sends the message that lawmakers don’t care what locals think, now or in the future.