Recent Kansas editorials

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The Hays Daily News, Jan. 31

Religious liberty:

In 2005, Kansas voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that restricted marriage in this state to be between one man and one woman. Since that time, almost 100,000 one-man, one-woman Kansas couples have divorced.

Perhaps the argument that same-sex couples threaten the sanctity of holy matrimony should be laid to rest.

While arguing in favor of the gay-marriage ban, then-Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline said if courts can allow gay marriage, they also can limit lawmakers from attempting to prohibit polygamy and incest. He might as well have thrown bestiality in there as well, as most opponents of gay marriage usually list that second in the domino effect.

Has the moral decay heralded by proponents of the ban been lessened by the law? We suppose it’s how one actually defines that moral decay. We suspect those proponents were equating the numbers of gay, lesbian, transgender and questioning Kansans with the decay.

The ban has done nothing to decrease the number of same-sex couples statewide. All it has done is allow the state to legally discriminate against them. There is no other way to describe how heterosexual couples are allowed all the rights and incidents of marriage while homosexual couples are not.

That is about to change.

Federal judges in Utah and Oklahoma recently have struck down same-sex marriage bans in those states, which fall under the same jurisdiction Kansas does - the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States,” was cited in both decisions.

Kansas lawmakers are working feverishly to put different barriers in place in hopes the discriminatory practices can continue. House Bill 2453, described as an act “concerning religious freedoms with respect to marriage,” would make it legal for any individual or religious entity to deny or refuse “any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges” to anybody preparing to celebrate marriage, domestic partnerships, civil unions or similar arrangements. If one’s religious convictions are sincere enough, they wouldn’t even have to “treat any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement as valid.”

Anybody believe they’re thinking about marriages between one man and one woman? We don’t. To top it off, the legislation even denies legal recourse to the aggrieved party.

Supporters of the bill say they’re trying to protect the religious liberties of individuals who find homosexuality offensive.

“Religious freedom has always meant the freedom to live one’s faith and to bring your religiously informed moral judgments into the public square,” said Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.

Bring those moral judgments to the public square. We encourage it. For it is in the public marketplace of ideals that truth emerges. One of those truths will be one can’t impose their religious viewpoint upon others. It makes no sense to us a shop-owner could sell invitations, bake a cake, or take photographs of an opposite-sex couple - then turn around and deny the same service to a same-sex couple. There is no difference between that scenario and water fountains for whites only.

Kansas lawmakers should be able to read the writing on the wall. The federal Defense of Marriage Act has no defense any longer before the U.S. Supreme Court. That same body, the highest court in the land, has struck down federal bans on benefits for gay married couples.

There is that 14th Amendment, which also prohibits any state from denying “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Or legislators in Topeka simply could look at the Kansas Bill of Rights. It begins with: “All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” All men.

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The Iola Register, Feb. 3

Praeger sounds alarm on Brownback’s administration:

Today’s politicians profess to practice bipartisanship; reaching across the aisle to compromise.

But a recent gesture from Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger probably wasn’t what Gov. Sam Brownback had in mind.

Last week Praeger joined a bipartisan group called “Reroute the Roadmap” in an effort to unseat Brownback. The “reroute” is in reference to Brownback’s “Roadmap for Kansas,” 2010 campaign theme.

Also defecting - though probably for just this upcoming election -from the Republican ranks are Rochelle Chronister, Neodesha, who served as assistant majority leader in the House as well as chair of the Kansas Republican Party, and former U.S. Sen. Sheila Frahm of Colby.

Democrats Jill Docking, running mate of Rep. Paul Davis, who is likely to be Brownback’s Democratic challenger; Joan Wagnon, a former revenue secretary; and State Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, are the other members of the gang of six.

The women contend Brownback’s refusal to expand Medicaid eligibility, his intransigence to adequately fund education and his goal to eliminate the state income tax all jeopardize the future of Kansas.

Rural hospitals, especially, will face difficult times if Medicaid eligibility is not expanded, Chronister said, pointing out the recent eliminations of 29 jobs at Mercy hospitals in Fort Scott and Independence.

Caring for the indigent is a big expense for hospitals. Where before the federal government reimbursed hospitals for those costs, the new health care law shifts that responsibility to the Medicaid program with the understanding states would broaden the income guidelines.

If Kansas continues not to participate in an expanded Medicaid program, hospitals will have to pick up the bill for caring for the uninsured. For Allen County Regional Hospital, that’s in excess of $1 million.

Praeger’s defection is not an outright vote for Davis. A lifelong Republican, the Lawrence native has been in state politics since 1990 when she first served in the Kansas House and in 1992 was elected to the Kansas Senate, where she served three terms before being elected insurance commissioner in 2002.

Nearing 70, Praeger has announced this is her last year in state government, which no doubt gives her more freedom to speak her mind as a Republican who’s not in line with the governor’s direction.

When those of the same ilk believe they are being led astray, it would seem to be noteworthy.

Stay tuned.

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The Hutchinson News, Feb. 3

Discussion over new gun laws theft of local control in disguise:

Last year, when the Kansas legislature was worried that local governments would complain about a mandate that expanded the state’s concealed carry law to include government buildings, they solved that problem with another law making it illegal for municipalities to comment on the matter.

This year, that same group of lawmakers is seeking to further restrict the right of local control by imposing a statewide law that would bar cities from creating their own ordinances to regulate the open carry of firearms or using public funds for gun buyback programs.

Mike Taylor, a lobbyist for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, offered the reasonable testimony that the practice of open carry is viewed differently in urban and rural settings - and that a one-size-fits-all approach might not function very well in Kansas.

And thanks to last year’s law to silence discussion on the matter, Taylor might find himself in trouble for the comments.

According to a story in The Topeka Capital Journal, Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, said he planned to ask for an Attorney General’s opinion on Taylor’s testimony to determine whether the lobbyist had violated the law.

This is not a gun issue - it is an issue of local control and an issue of whether Kansans are willing to accept the idea that local governments have no right to freely speak on issues that will affect their residents.

This legislature and administration have a history of laboring to silence dissent in any form - whether it be efforts to restrict counties from regulating corporate farms, to silencing those agencies that advocate for the disabled by threatening to withhold their funding. The message from Topeka is clear: If you’re not with us, you’re against us, and if you’re against us, we are not interested in hearing anything you have to say.

One must wonder what Kansas will look like when the overwhelming majority has the power to do as it pleases, without fear that even the U.S. Constitution can stand in its way.

When such practices are put in place, it’s worthwhile to consider the long view.

As rural Kansas continues to lose population and political clout, the urban areas are gaining - and one day may well hold enough power to impose its will on the entire state. When that day comes - and it most likely will - those urban areas could very well move to implement strong anti-gun laws that would apply equally to cities of 500,000 or towns of 500.

If these anti-free speech laws are allowed to stand and the people continue to allow Topeka to usurp the authority of individual communities, rural Kansans will effectively have no voice, no power, and no way to stop the juggernaut of the majority’s will.

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The Manhattan Mercury, Feb. 2

Kobach is ruffling a new set of feathers:

In pushing a state law to exclude the Lesser Prairie Chicken in Kansas from federal protection that doesn’t exist yet, Secretary of State Kris Kobach is picking an unnecessary and probably expensive fight with the federal government. It’s a fight the Kansas Legislature should reject.

The legislation, introduced into both houses of the Legislature last month, would bar federal protection for the Lesser Prairie Chicken (and the Greater Prairie Chicken, which is more abundant). Further, it would claim sovereignty over nonmigratory wildlife and declare any federal law in Kansas pertaining to the Lesser Prairie Chicken void. It also would authorize state officials to charge federal officials with a felony if they try to enforce a federal law pertaining to the Lesser Prairie Chicken.

What has spurred this action is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Among federal concerns is that the historical range of the Lesser Prairie Chicken has shrunk by 84 percent, primarily because of development and because native grasslands have been converted to agricultural uses. A decision on the birds’ status is expected this spring.

Mr. Kobach’s allies include Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Electric Cooperatives Inc., which are concerned that listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened species would take a severe toll on agriculture and energy jobs and development in western Kansas. Those concerns have merit.

Other groups question the wisdom of listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken as threatened, but for significantly different reasons. Among those is an association of wildlife officials from the five states that form the Lesser Prairie Chicken’s traditional habitat: Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico. They simply don’t think the listing is necessary.

They believe that, working with agriculture and other interests, they can protect and even restore the Lesser Prairie Chicken population. In fact, they have proposed a conservation plan to do just.

They also are concerned that the Kansas legislative proposal, which would outlaw federal-private efforts on behalf of the Lesser Prairie Chicken, would leave the animal even more vulnerable.

Despite the multi-state wildlife officials’ effort, which could well win over federal conservation authorities, Mr. Kobach considers the legislative action necessary and likens it to “holding a club in the background.”

It’s a club that would seem as likely to provoke federal authorities as dissuade them from action. According to the Lawrence Journal-World, Mr. Kobach called the issue “a fight worth fighting.” He said the legislation could result in a legal battle pitting states’ rights against federal law, and estimated legal costs at $100,000 to $400,000.

In our view, if Mr. Kobach objects to protection for the Lesser Prairie Chicken, he ought to take it up with the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and our state’s congressional delegation. Rather than defying the federal government, he should work with it.

Though this effort might go over well with the Legislature’s tea party caucus, Mr. Kobach has no business deciding which federal laws Kansas ought to obey and which to ignore.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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