- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Iola Register, Feb. 13

Expanding Medicaid is very pro-business:

If Kansas truly wants to be a pro-business state, it would take advantage of the federal government’s offer to expand its Medicaid guidelines.

Why?

The cost of health insurance is sinking small businesses.

Fifteen years ago, about 84 percent of those employed at small businesses received health insurance through their employers. Today, the number is about 75 percent.

Increasingly, small businesses have been forced to drastically reduce their participation in health insurance because of higher insurance costs and the burden of administering the benefit.

On the flip side, for many employees their company’s health insurance program eats up too much of their paycheck so they don’t participate or they work too few hours to qualify for a company’s program.

If Kansas were to participate in the Medicaid expansion, more residents could receive tax credits to apply to their health insurance premiums. And the more people enrolled in health insurance, the more secure the payments to area hospitals and clinics.

Under the expansion, a family of four could earn up to $35,355 and receive Medicaid benefits. That number is equivalent to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Once that family earns above that level, it can qualify for tax credits to apply to its health insurance premiums. The credits are figured on a sliding scale based on one’s income.

But, because Kansas has said no to the expansion, the same size family is shut out from receiving either Medicaid or tax credits if its annual income is above $7,770 - the state’s upper cap for Medicaid for a family of four - or below $23,550, the FPL.

The Affordable Care Act was designed specifically to help the category of people that Kansas chooses to discriminate against - the working poor. If Medicaid is not expanded an estimated 78,400 will fall into this Medicaid Gap.

State legislators have the opportunity to take advantage of this win/win proposal. Our bet is if proposed, area businesses and concerned citizens would rally their support.

It’s worth a try.

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The Hays Daily News, Feb. 16

Religious liberty, II:

If a black man went into a Hays restaurant and was refused service because of his skin tone, most people would recognize an illegal act had been committed. The same if a white woman was denied the opportunity to register at Fort Hays State University because she was female.

The local energy company is prohibited from telling a Hispanic couple they can’t have power at their house because of their ethnicity. The municipality cannot refuse to pick up garbage at a widow’s residence simply because she’s old. And it’s been a long time since any company in town told a non-Catholic to take their business elsewhere.

We could go on, but you get the point. Laws prevent both public and private sectors from discriminating because of race, gender, ethnic origin, age and religion.

Take any of those examples, however, and insert gay or lesbian - and suddenly there are 72 members of the Kansas House of Representatives fighting to make that not only acceptable, but legal, as long as one’s objection was based on sincerely held religious beliefs.

We’re sure to Gov. Sam Brownback’s dismay, the other side of the Statehouse was not so easily led by the nose of non-existent threats to anybody’s faith-based sensibilities. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, promised Friday House Bill 2453 would not pass in its current form.

“I believe the intent of the House was to protect religious liberties,” Wagle said. “We respect that, but the business implications are going to harm the practice of employment in Kansas.”

We expected the uproar that was heard around the country, but were pleasantly surprised the in-state protests actually were noticed and paid heed in Topeka.

Even House Speaker Ray Merrick, who voted for the legislation, was speaking a different tune Friday afternoon. The Republican from Stilwell suggested the House couldn’t pass the same bill now that lawmakers had heard from constituents.

That doesn’t say much for deeply held convictions about religion freedoms being assaulted. Amongst the 72 House members who voted yes Wednesday were area legislators Reps. Sue Boldra, R-Hays; Travis Couture-Lovelady, R-Palco; Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, and John Ewy, R-Jetmore.

Couture-Lovelady described his vote thusly: “One of the founding principles of our country, inscribed in the First Amendment, is the right of the people to be led by their conscience and follow their own deeply held religious convictions without fear of penalty or reprisal.”

Voting to reject such blatant discrimination were Rep. Troy Waymaster, R-Luray, and Don Hineman, R-Dighton.

Hineman offered: “My closely held religious belief is that God is love. I cannot vote yes for this bill if I am to heed the words of Christ when he said, ‘Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.’ “

Amen.

At least one of the local yes votes took to social media to explain a change of heart. Boldra wrote on Facebook she had indeed changed her mind since Wednesday’s roll call vote. The college-level civics instructor said she “did not see the discrimination element” and that “the legal experts assured us that this was a narrowly defined bill and not discriminatory nor targeted.” While blaming the press for distorting the intent, she did apologize for offending “any and all of my friends.”

We’re not sure how Boldra and the others could have missed the discrimination element in the two-and-a-half-page bill. Or how the pleadings and offers of assistance from the Equality Kansas group during House testimony didn’t give anybody the heads up.

Perhaps instead of worrying about non-existent threats to religious freedoms, the Kansas Legislature should amend the state’s nondiscrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s obvious these Kansans face real threats when lawmakers do it without even recognizing it.

___

The Hutchinson News, Feb. 14

Opening law enforcement records:

A bill before the Kansas Legislature seeks to force law enforcement and prosecutors to make public the probable cause affidavits that support search warrants, which have been sealed since 1979.

And the family behind the legislation has good reason for pushing the change in the law. In April 2012, Johnson County sheriff’s deputies in full tactical gear raided the home of Leawood residents Robert and Adlynn Harte and their then 7- and 13-year-old children. During the raid, Robert Harte was held on the ground while an officer kept an assault rifle trained on him.

The fruitless raid was based on information from the Missouri Highway Patrol that the Hartes had visited a hydroponic store and left with a bag of indoor gardening merchandise. While the heavily armored and armed officers expected to find marijuana, what they found were two scared kids, some tea leaves and tomato and squash plants.

When the Hartes sought to uncover why the police needlessly raided their home, they met resistance, and it took nearly a year for the couple to learn that the baseless raid was founded on their visit to the gardening store and the three times police dug through their trash cans and found tea leaves they believed were marijuana.

House Bill 2555 would force law enforcement to open their supporting affidavits behind search and arrest warrants.

But more importantly, it would shine light on the work of law enforcement and require them to prove to the public that they have built enough of a case to justify violating someone’s home or putting them in jail.

The issue is more important than ever before as technology continues to advance in ways that allow law enforcement to remotely track and monitor individuals.

Naturally, the law enforcement community has responded that opening the records would add another layer of review and slow the time between investigations and court proceedings. That, however, is of little concern to families like the Hartes, who were the victims of a careless and weak investigation that never should have ended with a full-blown crack house-style raid in a suburban neighborhood.

The concerns of law enforcement do not trump the constitutional rights of the individual. And in an era when Americans have learned more about the extent and scope of domestic surveillance, we’ve also learned that the processes in place to protect us against unlawful search and seizure are not adequate protection.

Frankly, Kansans have no idea if supporting affidavits are even produced, whether judges critically review those documents or if legal authorities simply accept the word of an investigator who is in a hurry to make an arrest.

One sure protection, however, is to force law enforcement to become more open and accountable to the public. In the process, Kansas will end up with more thorough, complete investigations and less likelihood that innocent people will be targeted or that guilty people will be able to exploit weak investigations that never see the light of day until trial.

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Lawrence Journal-World, Feb. 14

Reasonable requirement:

Requiring public school teachers and administrators to be fingerprinted to facilitate background checks is a reasonable way for the state to protect the safety of Kansas students.

It’s understandable that state teacher groups would oppose the policy that the Kansas State Board of Education decided this week to pursue, but the concerns voiced by teachers have to be weighed against the importance of identifying school personnel that might pose a physical or emotional threat to students.

The requirement for fingerprinting and background checks has been in place since 2002 for new educators applying for their initial licenses. The new rules will simply extend that requirement to teachers who had obtained their licenses before 2002. That will affect an estimated 35,000 educators across the state.

Among other things, the Kansas National Education Association objected to the fact that it would cost teachers about $50 to meet the requirement. That’s not a huge amount, but maybe individual school districts could consider sharing the expense. Instead of making teachers take time to schedule and complete the fingerprinting process on their own time, maybe districts could make the process more convenient by bringing technicians to the teachers, perhaps at an in-service event.

The kind of checks that will be required of teachers aren’t much different than those being required by many companies these days, and it’s important, for the sake of our children, that schools be able to check the backgrounds of teachers and administrators.

It’s unfortunate, in a way, that school districts and other employers see a need for this kind of check, but, especially for people who are responsible for children in public schools, the fingerprinting requirement doesn’t seem out of line.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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