- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Topeka Capital-Journal, March 3

Legislators get passing grade:

Assigning a midterm grade to the work of Kansas legislators isn’t a simple task, largely because bills have simply shuttled from one chamber to the other and work remains to be done before they are sent to Gov. Sam Brownback for his signature.

The 2014 legislative session has reached the point when most bills are to have been dealt with in their originating chamber, either the House or Senate, and moved across the rotunda for consideration by the other chamber. Other bills will be introduced before the session closes, however, and issues that now appear dead may resurface as amendments to other measures - although the thinking here is that anything already on life support is there for a reason and shouldn’t be resurrected.

Given all that is yet to come, the only fair grade now would be a “C,” from which the legislators can take the session up or down.

That doesn’t mean the 2014 session hasn’t produced anything worthy of comment.

On the lighter side, kudos go to House members who chided their colleagues on the time spent naming official state fossils. It isn’t unusual for an individual or group ask legislators to put the state’s stamp on a specific critter or plant, and Rep. Mike Kiegerl, R-Olathe, rightly said the foolishness has to stop sometime. Regardless, the House approved a bill to honor the tylosaurus and pteranodon as the state fossils.

The House receives a high mark, though, for advancing to the Senate a bill that would unseal court records used to establish probable cause to obtain a search or arrest warrant. Kansas is the only state that now automatically seals all such records.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects U.S. citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The way to ensure searches and seizures by law enforcement officers are reasonable is to open the records used to obtain warrants. The fact prosecutors and law enforcement officials have reservations about the bill should be cause for concern.

An issue that hasn’t gained much traction in the Senate or House is Brownback’s push for state funding of all-day kindergarten. House and Senate leaders aren’t fond of the $80 million price tag the proposal carries, but the governor’s request is a sound one that may have gained some support with recent reports of higher than expected state income tax receipts.

Most Kansans expected the Legislature to respond in some manner to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling on a case challenging the level of funding provided for K-12 education. The court has not yet ruled on the case, however, nor indicated with any precision when it will.

If the issue does come to the Legislature, how it is handled certainly will impact Kansans’ opinion on the success of the 2014 session.

In the meantime, we’d encourage legislators to concentrate on what they must do and should do and not waste time on the frivolous stuff and issues that really aren’t issues.


The Garden City Telegram, March 2

Water crucial to a way of life:

The region’s water supply remains a topic of grave concern.

So, it was good to hear something positive on the Ogallala Aquifer, the underground water supply that helps sustain a region heavily dependent on agriculture.

A recent report showed the rate of depletion of the aquifer slowed last year.

In the southwest Kansas groundwater management district covering all or part of Grant, Haskell, Gray, Finney, Stanton, Ford, Morton, Stevens, Seward, Hamilton, Kearny and Meade counties, levels dropped 2.31 feet in 2013, after declining more than 11 feet collectively in the three previous years, according to data from the Kansas Geological Survey.

Late-season rains and a cooler summer helped ease water needs for farmers.

But as welcome as the news was, it could not drown out lingering concern over a water source considered the economic lifeblood of the region - especially in western Kansas, where water security is essential in powering ag operations.

That said, the issue isn’t limited to western Kansas. Knowing it’s a problem for the entire state, Gov. Sam Brownback called for more focus on the state’s water issues, including depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer.

The challenge, though, is in getting something done. A diverse mix of aggressive strategies is needed to extend the life of the Ogallala and other aquifers, ranging from water conservation to the pursuit of more drought-resistant crops.

Even the notion of pumping water from the oft-swollen Missouri River west to nourish places across Kansas resurfaced after being floated in the early 1980s.

The 1982 High Plains Ogallala Aquifer Regional Resources Study by the federal Department of Commerce - done to satisfy a 1976 congressional mandate to examine declining water supplies in the High Plains - recently was dusted off for consideration.

Without a dramatic fix, an agriculture-driven economy that fuels many jobs and related ventures throughout Kansas will evaporate.

We know extraordinary problems demand extraordinary solutions. While policymakers say it’s a priority, they need to devote more time and energy to remedying the state’s water woes.

One encouraging year in terms of depletion represents just a drop in the bucket toward progress needed to reverse the costly toll on the aquifer.


The Salina Journal, Feb. 27

He’s still crying Wolf:

Milton Wolf, Sen. Pat Roberts’ GOP primary challenger, is using the time-honored tactic of portraying his opponent as an out-of-touch Washington insider, someone who doesn’t even live in Kansas anymore, let alone care about its people.

Wolf’s campaign refers to Roberts, who lives with his wife in Alexandria, Va., as “Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Va.” Cute.

It’s true that Roberts no longer lives in Kansas. In fact, he’s been in Washington since 1967 - longer than Wolf, 42, has been alive. But is that a reason to toss him overboard for Wolf, who’s only apparent qualification is that he’s a tea party Republican?

Wolf’s tea party status hardly works against Roberts, who’s about as conservative as they come.

There are two schools of thought here. One is the approach used by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. That’s where you come home about every weekend, show up at the county fairs and chicken-noodle luncheons, Veterans of Foreign Wars events and every political shindig.

Maybe such politicians really are staying in touch, maybe they’re just protecting their political rears, but it is comforting to have a senator or representative making the occasional appearance to hear what the locals are saying. From time to time, politicians need to get an earful from the people who actually live and vote here.

The other thought goes something like this:

“What the hell are you doing flying home every other weekend? We know what you look like, we elected you, for God’s sake. We don’t need to see you at every parade and garden club meeting. We sent you to Washington to do your job, not live the jet-set life.

“Of course we expect you to live in Washington. That’s where we sent you.

“Come home every once in awhile and say hi, and take our calls when we have a problem, but quit racking up the frequent-flier miles. Do your job!”

What we want is an honest, hard-working person who looks out for the interests of the state and the country. At this point, we don’t see Wolf as an upgrade.


Lawrence Journal-World, Feb. 27

Raises for state employees:

So far, prospects for a modest salary increase proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback for classified state employees aren’t particularly bright.

In his budget proposal, the governor recommended a 1.5 percent pay increase for classified employees, who haven’t received a pay raise for five years. However, legislative committees have been systematically removing those raises when they review individual agency budgets. When a member of the House Appropriations Committee questioned that action earlier in February, he was told by committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, that legislators would debate the pay raise in a “global” sense later in the session rather than discussing it for each specific agency. However, Rhoades noted that the pay raise wasn’t included in the two-year budget the Legislature approved last year.

“It’s an additional spend,” he added. “We are going to continue to strive to keep government small. Some of you like to spend money. I don’t like to spend money.”

That doesn’t sound particularly optimistic for classified employees who probably are among those who would “like to spend money” - and might even give the state economy a boost - if they had a little more money to spend.

Five years is a long time to go without a raise. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2010 to 2014, the consumer price index has risen about 7.3 percent. What cost $20 in 2010 would cost $21.45 this year. If a state employee made $30,000 in 2010, he or she would need to be making $32,175 this year, just to keep up with inflation. In addition to stagnant salaries, many state employees also have seen their workload increase in recent years because of budget cuts and subsequent staff reductions at many state agencies.

As the economy improves and the job market brightens, the state will find itself increasingly vulnerable to many of its best employees being lured into higher-paying jobs in the private sector. The best employees are likely to go first, which will have an impact on the efficiency of state operations and the level of service they provide to Kansas residents.

Continuing to squeeze state salaries is a penny-wise, pound-foolish strategy. Perhaps legislators simply do want to consider the salary proposal as a “global” issue, but it would be too bad if removing the increases from agency budgets is just part of a strategy to kill the modest raises later.

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