- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Wichita Eagle, Jan. 28

Don’t use private emails for public business:

Don’t use private e-mail accounts to conduct government business. And don’t give lobbyists insider access and information.

State budget director Shawn Sullivan ignored both of these commonsense principles of open government when he sent a working version of the governor’s proposed state budget to several top administration officials and two lobbyists.

Sullivan sent the budget from his private e-mail account, and it went to the private e-mail accounts of most of the recipients.

Sullivan said he used the private e-mail accounts because he and other administration officials were at their homes for the Christmas break. It wasn’t an attempt to circumvent state open-records laws, he contended.

Why did the two lobbyists, both former Brownback administration officials, have input into the budget process before most lawmakers saw the plan? Eileen Hawley, the governor’s spokeswoman, said, “We sought the counsel of a lot of people in that process.”

Hawley also denied that the use of personal e-mails had any connection to The Eagle’s filing of an open-records request in October for e-mail correspondence and phone communication between the Governor’s Office and one of the lobbyists, David Kensinger. Last April, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported that Kensinger was the subject of a federal probe for influence peddling at the Capitol.

Hawley and Sullivan would not directly tell The Eagle how often the governor’s staff used private e-mails for public business.

Even if Sullivan didn’t deliberately try to circumvent the law, he should have known that it would look that way.

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The Hutchinson News, Feb. 2

Huelskamp’s oiled truth:

U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas is a symbol of Washington irony.

In a January statement about the Keystone XL pipeline, Huelskamp blasted President Barack Obama for placing his “ideology and politics above the needs of the American people” and then falsely laid out how construction of the controversial pipeline would benefit his district.

“The NCRA refinery expansion already underway in McPherson is a $327 million investment made in part to take advantage of the Keystone XL project.”

That statement is completely wrong, and it’s a ongoing example of Huelskamp’s willingness to go to any length to prop up his blind ideology and vitriolic disapproval of the president.

The owners of the NCRA refinery have so little interest in the Keystone pipeline that they have not taken a position on the issue. Furthermore, the company primarily processes crude oil from Kansas and the surrounding states. And in Kansas, the Keystone pipeline is already in place, and it’s already functional. The debate is focused on an extension of the northern pipeline.

“We don’t actually see any impact in terms of jobs,” a spokesman for NCRA told The News about the pipeline. “It just won’t have much of an impact on our business.”

To hear Huelskamp tell it, however, the McPherson refinery needs the Keystone pipeline for its future livelihood.

Of all the manufactured issues to come out of Washington, D.C., lately, few are as ridiculous as the rhetoric over the Keystone pipeline. It’s largely already built, it won’t create as many jobs as advertised, and refineries in Kansas aren’t waiting for the pipeline to achieve full production capacity.

Keystone Pipeline is a non-issue, except for its use as a political talking point.

What is an issue, however, is Huelskamp’s willingness to mislead the people of Kansas’ 1st Congressional District by attaching a local oil refinery to a politicized pipeline when there is no connection at all.

Kansans deserve better. At the least, we deserve a congressman who will put the truth above his desire to score political points.

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Topeka Capital-Journal, Jan. 29

Adjust sentenced for pot convictions:

Kansas legislators are paying little attention to a call for legalization of medical marijuana use. And champions of recreational marijuana use - basically decriminalization at the state level - won’t find sympathetic ears in the Statehouse.

However, there is one bill floating around the Capitol regarding marijuana that legislators should seriously consider.

The bill would reduce the penalty for first and second convictions on possession of marijuana.

Scott Schultz, executive director of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, said the change would remove more than 400 marijuana possession cases annually from the state’s felony docket and divert about 46 people from state prisons in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Schultz estimated the cost savings at $1.1 million.

Legislators already have reviewed proposed bills that call for creation of new crimes with presumptive prison sentences and assigning longer prison sentences to some existing crimes. Those things come at a cost at a time when the state doesn’t have a lot of money to toss around.

The best course of action would be to reject calls for new crimes and stiffer sentences and still adopt the law reducing the penalty for simple marijuana possession on the first and second convictions. That would create real savings.

Absent that, legislators should at least consider changing the penalty for first and second convictions of simple marijuana possession as a way to pay for other changes they might make.

Now, a first possession conviction is a Class A misdemeanor and the second conviction is a level five felony, which calls for a sentence of 10 months to 42 months. A third conviction also is a felony.

Under the proposed bill, a first conviction would be a Class B misdemeanor and a second conviction would be a Class A misdemeanor. Third and subsequent convictions would remain felonies.

Jennifer Roth, legislative chairwoman for the Kansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, notes the sentence for a second marijuana possession conviction under the current law is stiffer than that for someone who burglarizes a home.

Given the state’s financial condition, and the fact Kansas prisons are crowded and headed toward overcrowding, adjusting the sentences for some marijuana possession convictions makes a lot of sense.

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The Salina Journal, Feb. 1

There’s no lucky lottery ticket:

Kansas should forget the dream of building an aqueduct

Sometimes it’s fun to dream, like imagining all the things you would do if you won the lottery.

At other times, dreaming rather than dealing realistically with a problem can be harmful.

The lottery-ticket approach to problem-solving is one being used by the folks who want to build an aqueduct to transfer excess water from the Missouri River in northeast Kansas to western Kansas. The water would be stored it in a reservoir, which would require more than 19,000 acres of land, and then pumped 360 miles away and 1,745 feet uphill, via a concrete-lined ditch.

This isn’t going to happen, nor should it. So, why even contemplate building it? Because much of the economy of western Kansas is tied to the Ogallala Aquifer, the vast underground water reservoir that stretches from Texas to the Dakotas. And after many decades of pumping the Ogallala, some areas are dry, and others have a short time left.

Without that water, the area, as it currently exists, probably will be far less productive and support fewer people.

The first obstacle is the cost. The aqueduct comes with a $18 billion price tag and would cost $400 million a year to operate. By comparison, that $18 billion would consume all the revenue flowing into the state’s general fund budget for three years.

Then, we’d have to get all the affected parties to sign off. Forget that.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called the proposed aqueduct a “harebrained” idea and said, “We can’t let that happen.” Speaking at a recent meeting in Salina, Tim Rhodd, a member of the committee studying the aqueduct and chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, said, “You guys are gonna put us in the same crisis that you’re in now.

“All it’s going to do is buy you a little more time, and get us there quicker.”

Mark Rude, executive director of Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3, based in Garden City, told Rhodd, “It doesn’t look good, but we’ve got to start somewhere.”

How about starting with the reality that western Kansas is running out of water because it can’t sustain the economy that’s evolved there? The sooner that we learn to live within our means with different crops and farming techniques and better technology, the better off we’ll be.

Dreaming is fun, but there’s no magic “lottery-ticket” answer to our water problems.

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