- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Lawrence Journal-World, May 31

Messy budget process has Kansans wondering who will show reasonable leadership:

Watching the Kansas Legislature work on the state budget this year has been a little like watching two trains barreling down the same track toward one another. You hope one or both of them will realize they’re headed toward a catastrophe and find a way to switch to another track but, at the rate they’re going, you wonder whether they will put on the brakes in time to avoid a devastating collision.

To carry the train analogy a little further, it seems that a lot of the problem stems from a struggle among various engineers over who has control of the locomotives. Conservative Republicans hold large majorities in both the Kansas House and Senate, but leaders of factions within the conservative GOP ranks in both houses are grappling over control of the throttle.

But enough about trains. Regardless of how the state budget is resolved, the situation in the Kansas Legislature already qualifies as a train wreck, largely because of a leadership void in state government.

To be sure, there are many Republican legislators who want to be leaders, but too many of them don’t care about providing stable leadership for the state as a whole. They are more interested in playing to their anti-tax supporters than in resolving the state’s financial crisis. Their main goal is to be able to put the blame on someone else for any tax increases that may be necessary to meet the state’s obligations.

Democratic and moderate Republican legislators have mostly watched from the sidelines, as had Gov. Sam Brownback until Saturday when he outlined a revised plan for tax increases to balance the budget. It remains to be seen whether the governor’s plan, which includes increased cigarette and sales taxes but leaves mostly intact the income tax exemption for about 330,000 businesses and farmers, will help break the legislative impasse or deepen the divide.

Brownback and others are worried about the political fallout from their anti-tax supporters in Kansas and those across the nation who are watching the Kansas “experiment.” Pulling back on business income tax exemptions would be viewed as an admission that the strategy to boost the state economy by phasing out state income tax isn’t working.

In the meantime, Kansans are wondering who will stand up for the future of Kansas - not election contributors, political think tanks or special interest groups, but Kansas as a whole. Legislators agreed to work through the weekend so there’s a chance that by the time you read this, some reasonable leadership and a solid path to a balanced budget may have emerged. We hope so, but even if it has, this year’s budget process has been an unsettling embarrassment for the state.

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The Wichita Eagle, May 27

State hospitals need scrutiny, resources:

While the spotlight is on legislators’ quest to balance revenues and expenditures overall, some recesses of the state budget need much more attention and money - the state mental hospitals and the sexual predator treatment program.

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services has offered its assurances that any problems are being dealt with and patients properly cared for; its new 30-member Adult Continuum of Care Committee should provide valuable guidance about the state’s behavioral health system overall.

As it is, there are reasons for concern for lawmakers and other Kansans.

The state hospitals in Osawatomie and Larned have full-time staff vacancy rates of 40 and 35 percent, respectively, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported last weekend, with internal e-mails regarding a short-staffed shift earlier this month showing “a supervisor pleading with workers to volunteer while at the same time mandating some work an extra shift.” And the Osawatomie hospital plans to limit admissions to allow for more than $3 million in renovations stemming from federal citations regarding overcrowding, deficient care and other issues.

“It’s been a long-term travesty in terms of our state hospitals being understaffed as badly as they are. A lot of it has to do with the pay scale of state hospital workers,” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, told the Capital-Journal.

Meanwhile, a state audit released in April highlighted the soaring costs of the sexual predator treatment program at Larned State Hospital, which adds 10 to 15 patients a year but has only released three since 1994 (27 have died).

The offenders, committed by the courts to the program after completing their prison sentences, are supposed to work through seven phases of treatment. But Larned superintendent Tom Kinlen estimated 30 to 40 percent of residents have quit participating, according to Associated Press.

Auditors warned that the program’s costs could double by 2025, that its patient numbers could climb from 258 to 500, and that it will max out the capacity at its current facility in the next five years. Gov. Sam Brownback recommended increasing its funding from $13.9 million in 2014 to $20.4 million by 2017.

Like it or not, the state has taken on an obligation to these offenders, and cannot just lock them up and forget about them - or about the employees responsible for their care and treatment. “At some point over the next couple years the Legislature is going to have to make some really hard decisions about how we are going to continue this program,” Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, told AP.

If the state’s bigger fiscal problems are distracting lawmakers from giving the state hospitals and the sexual predator treatment program the scrutiny and resources they demand, that may not be possible for much longer.

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The Salina Journal, May 31

Even if you’re drunk, you’re responsible for your actions:

Recently, a Salina man failed in his attempt to be acquitted of charges connected with entering a woman’s home, repeatedly punching her in the face, pulling her hair and groping her.

Fortunately, the jury didn’t buy Michael Darnell’s rather novel voluntary intoxication defense, which went something like this: I was so drunk I was incapable of forming the intent to commit the crime.

Darnell was convicted of aggravated kidnapping, burglary and sexual battery, and a misdemeanor count of battery.

A doctor who testified in Darnell’s defense estimated that he had a blood alcohol content well above what it would take to kill someone who was not an alcoholic, which Darnell is.

The Darnell case brings to mind a couple of recent cases that also touch upon the importance of personal responsibility. In December 2013, then-Lindsborg resident Mija Stockman, a McPherson teacher, was on her way to work when Jeffrey Davis, 50, of Hesperia, Calif., hit her car head-on. Davis, who twice had been convicted of DUI, was drunk.

At Davis’ sentencing, Stockman, a mother of three daughters, arrived in a wheelchair, unable to move her arms and legs or talk. Davis will be out of prison in less than three years. Stockman will never get her life back.

In another recent case, a retrial for Douglas Aldrich, who’s been in prison since 2003 for the stabbing death of Salinan Jerry Bird, witnesses told how Aldrich, Bird and others spent an afternoon in a Salina bar. When Aldrich, who’d been drinking shots of tequila, started causing problems, Bird got him outside and tried to force him to leave.

It was then, Aldrich claims, that Bird ran into Aldrich’s knife. No, the jury didn’t buy that one, either.

People are going to drink and then drive, assault and kill others. That’s just the way it is. But if you’re the one who put someone in a wheelchair or in the ground, don’t expect sympathy from the public.

Even if you’re an alcoholic, you are responsible for your actions.

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Topeka Capital-Journal, May 30

Wait for NBAF ends:

Construction of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility at Manhattan isn’t expected to be completed until 2021, and it probably won’t be fully staffed and operating at capacity until 2023.

But the important news is that construction has begun on the major portion of the facility and there no longer is any concern that what many Kansans worked so hard to bring to the state might not become a reality. (Construction began earlier on some infrastructure for the research laboratory.)

Manhattan was selected in 2011 as the site for a new laboratory to replace an outdated one on Plum Island, N.Y., that conducts research on dangerous animal diseases. Concern (much of it raised by officials in states that had lost in the selection process) held up the project for a time and the federal government’s tardiness in funding the project - it eventually asked Kansas to increase its financial participation in the $1.25 billion project - was enough to make some wonder if it was ever going to happen.

It is.

The state has increased its contribution to about 25 percent of the project’s total and the federal government earlier this year appropriated the final piece of its funding.

That “the money is in the budget” sometimes doesn’t mean a whole lot when we’re talking about the federal government. But when the governor, federal Cabinet members, members of Congress and state legislators gather to toss some dirt around, as they did Wednesday in Manhattan near Kansas State University, the case is closed. NBAF is happening, finally.

Sen. Pat Roberts noted in his remarks that it was difficult for many who fought long and hard for NBAF to believe the day (for groundbreaking) had arrived. “It is equally hard to understand why it took so damn long,” Roberts added.

Those delays - 10 years between initial selection and the end of construction - have been the subject of several editorials on this page. But it is time to look forward.

The construction phase will be good for Manhattan’s economy and an operating research lab that employs between 250 and 350 people, many of them well-paid professionals, is going to be a substantial, enduring boost to Manhattan’s economy and is expected to be an economic driver for the state, as well.

Research to be conducted at NBAF - on such animal diseases as foot and mouth disease, Rift Valley fever, Nipah virus and two swine fevers - will help protect a section of the nation’s food supply from natural or deliberate threats.

NBAF will be a valuable asset to Kansas and the nation, and it is good to know construction is underway.

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