Open thread (April 9)

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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?

Nonprofit plan for NBC World Series looks promising

nbctourneyThe city of Wichita seems to be moving the National Baseball Congress World Series toward a secure future via the nonprofit NBC Baseball Foundation. There is even talk of trying to get a TV deal for Championship Week, which would be great for the players, teams and city. In any case, the tournament will need an engaged, hardworking board and a lot of help from community donors, sponsors and volunteers. But the NBC World Series’ rich history is wedded to that of the city and Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The plan also should be better for the Wichita Wingnuts, which had been overseeing the NBC.

Reid wrong to call Kochs ‘un-American’

reidharry“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., broke down all barriers to protocol recently when he called the Kochs ‘un-American,’” columnist Kathleen Parker wrote. She acknowledged that “allowing the super-wealthy to disproportionately influence political outcomes may indeed be bad for the democratic process – and that’s of legitimate concern to all. But one’s eyes should be wide open when people are singled out as un-American.” Parker’s conclusion: “Reid owes the Kochs – and the American people – an apology.”

Open thread (April 8)

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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.”

Open thread (April 7)

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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.

Kansas delegation stands out for youth

CapitolBuildingThe Washington Post’s Wonkblog found that “Congress is actually getting younger,” and that Kansas’ delegation is the youngest of them all – an average 45.8. That is thanks in large part to 38-year-old Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, are both 50. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, is 45. (Wonkblog excluded states with House delegations of one.) “We normally associate youthful dynamism with coastal metropolitan areas, but as far as the House is concerned that energy seems to be coming from the heartland,” the blog noted. The age of Kansas’ two senators averages out to 68.

Open thread (April 6)

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Moran read Koch’s commentary into congressional record

morannew“The fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom are under attack by the nation’s own government. That’s why, if we want to restore a free society and create greater well-being and opportunity for all Americans, we have no choice but to fight for those principles,” wrote Koch Industries chairman Charles Koch in a Wall Street Journal commentary last week. His explanation of his free-market beliefs and political involvement was read into the congressional record by Sen. Jerry Moran (in photo), R-Kan. “In Kansas, there’s a company called Koch Industries that is a component of our state, its economy, and many, several thousand, Kansans work there. And unfortunately in the political discourse of our country, Koch Industries, its owners, are often subject to attack,” Moran said. According to the Washington Post, the political network backed by the Koch brothers raised at least $407 million for the 2012 elections, and their ongoing spending has inspired criticism by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on the Senate floor, including his contention that Republicans are “addicted to Koch.”

Citizens expect nothing less than ‘safe and secure’ jail

countyjailTo his credit, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter emphasized last week that his “office has a zero tolerance policy against sexual assault and harassment of inmates” and is dedicated to operating a “safe and secure” Sedgwick County Jail. Citizens expect nothing less. It will be up to Easter and his team to ensure that the track record at the jail improves. The community has reasons for concern, including the charges against a former sheriff’s deputy of multiple counts of unlawful sexual relations at the jail and the reported incidents since 2013 of sexual assaults, harassment and misconduct involving inmates. Adding about 250 video cameras at the jail should be an asset in deterring and investigating such cases.

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

Open thread (April 5)

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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.

ACA working despite efforts of ‘haters’

healthcaregovpage“It has been obvious for some time now that the great fear among these politicians and conservative pundits was not that Obamacare would fail but that it would succeed,” wrote columnist Bob Ray Sanders. “I can only imagine how they must feel after watching people line up around the country Monday in an attempt to register for health care on the last day of enrollment, and to see the number of participants swell over the 7 million mark.”

Open thread (April 4)

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Brownback wanted economy measured in ‘timely manner’

taxrevenueIn the commentary on today’s Opinion page, Stan Ahlerich, executive director of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors, argues that it is irresponsible to look only at “a narrow, short-term set of facts” when evaluating the state’s economy. But these facts are the very benchmarks that Gov. Sam Brownback and the council established to measure the state’s economy. And Brownback himself said two years ago that they should be used “to monitor in a timely manner if our policies and initiatives are having the desired economic effect.” Brownback also said that his tax cuts would act like “a shot of adrenaline to the heart” of the Kansas economy. That sounds like Kansas was supposed to see quick improvements – not see lower growth rates than the regional average on all but one of the measurements. Even when the past five years are compared, Kansas lags the regional average in nearly all the council’s benchmarks.

More death, heartache at Fort Hood

forthood2014Americans again have Fort Hood on their minds and in their prayers after Wednesday’s shooting spree. The gunman, an Iraq War veteran being treated for mental illness, killed three people and injured 16 others before committing suicide. Though the incident stirred fears of another terrorist attack like the 2009 one in which more than a dozen died, it now seems more like another indicator of the urgent need to deliver help and hope to those active-duty military and veterans suffering from depression and other serious mental illnesses. It’s sobering, too, to realize that the military deaths on American soil followed the first month in 11 years with no U.S. fatalities in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Open thread (April 3)

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Could Pompeo lead the House intel panel?

pompeo,mikeRoll Call and other Capitol-watching media have included Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, among the lawmakers interested in succeeding Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, along with Reps. Peter T. King of New York, Devin Nunes of California and Jeff Miller of Florida. “All those candidates would carry on Rogers’ hawkish stance as chairman of the committee, and all are fairly close to Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, relationships that could be a major determining factor if Boehner continues his reign into the 114th Congress, as he has said he will,” reported Roll Call. Pompeo spokesman J.P. Freire told Roll Call that “it’s far too early in the process to speculate on who might be the next chairman, especially given that this is a decision only the speaker can make.” Pompeo lacks seniority on the panel, but has been an unflinching public defender of the intelligence community amid the Edward Snowden revelations. Rogers’ decision to retire at the end of the year took some by surprise.

Legislature doesn’t want ACA to work in Kansas

healthcarereformEven after its disastrous rollout, the Affordable Care Act exceeded projections and enrolled 7.1 million Americans in private insurance plans by Monday’s deadline. This is on top of the more than 3 million adults younger than 26 who were added to their parents’ insurance plans, and on top of the millions who gained coverage through Medicaid expansion. “It’s working. It’s helping people from coast to coast,” President Obama said. But state GOP legislators are still determined to keep the ACA from helping low-income Kansans. The Kansas Senate voted last week to prohibit the state from expanding Medicaid unless the Legislature approves. And the House approved a bill to remove Kansas from the ACA (and potentially Medicare) and join a multistate compact.

Open thread (April 2)

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Ditch legislative pay raise but curb pension perk

money-bagA proposal by Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, to more than double the pay of state lawmakers hasn’t gotten far this session – and understandably so. Lawmakers haven’t exactly shown themselves to be deserving of a pay raise. But one part of his proposal does deserve legislative action: ending the sweetheart deal lawmakers get in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. Lawmakers’ pensions are calculated as if they were paid every day of the year, not the typical 90-day session. What’s more, they can include their daily expense allotment in the calculation and any out-of-session expense payments (also pretending that both were paid every day of the year). Thus, even though the real salary of an average state lawmaker is $7,979, the pretend pay for KPERS can be $86,528. And then they complain about KPERS being underfunded.