- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Topeka Capital-Journal, May 22

On (May 17), U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson ordered Secretary of State Kris Kobach to allow more than 18,000 disenfranchised Kansans to vote in federal elections. All of these people attempted to register at motor vehicle offices and were thwarted by their failure to present a birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers.

Even though Robinson’s decision is a temporary injunction (the state has until May 31 to appeal, which it has already promised to do), it’s a vital challenge to Kobach’s campaign of voter suppression in Kansas.

Robinson’s ruling is partially based on a provision in the National Voter Registration Act that “requires only the minimum amount of information necessary” to assess eligibility and ensure that there are no duplicate registrations. Robinson argued that the state’s proof-of-citizenship laws violate this standard, and a registrant’s willingness to affirm his or her citizenship under penalty of perjury should be sufficient.

The National Voter Registration Act, which Congress passed in May 1993, was explicitly intended to counter “discriminatory and unfair registration laws and procedures” that can “have a direct and damaging effect on voter participation in elections for Federal office and disproportionately harm voter participation by various groups, including racial minorities.”

By invoking the act in her ruling, Robinson upheld its original meaning against a flagrant violation of voting rights in our state. Not only is this good for Kansas, it’s good for other states (such as Georgia, Alabama and Arizona) where suppression tactics have been exercised.

Kobach is the only secretary of state in the country who has the power to prosecute citizens for voter fraud. However, instances of voter fraud are extremely rare in Kansas, which is why Kobach has only filed six cases since July 2015. Of those cases, two were withdrawn and four resulted in misdemeanor convictions for double voting. Notice that none of these cases have anything to do with citizenship. Between 1995 and 2013, only three non-citizens were proven to have voted in a federal election in Kansas.

As these meager numbers demonstrate, the negative consequences of Kobach’s efforts to detect voter fraud are far more troubling than the fraud itself.

Robinson made the same point in her ruling: “.even if instances of noncitizens voting cause indirect voter disenfranchisement by diluting the votes of citizens, such instances pale in comparison to the number of qualified citizens who have been disenfranchised by this law.” Around 58 percent of these citizens are between the ages of 18 and 29, many of whom will be prevented from voting in their first election.

The director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, Dale Ho, has called Kansas the “epicenter of voter suppression.” It’s time to rid our state of that reputation.

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Salina Journal, May 21

As they wrapped up their annual session earlier this month, Kansas legislators narrowed the state’s budget deficit by sweeping $185 million from the Department of Transportation and delaying highway and intersection projects, but they failed to balance the budget, leaving that task to Gov. Sam Brownback.

None of us should be surprised by the budget cuts the governor announced Wednesday. He cut nearly $100 million from Medicaid, state universities and state agencies.

He spared K-12 education - with a lawsuit pending on the adequacy of state funding - and took his ax to higher education. The state’s two largest universities - the University of Kansas and Kansas State University - were hit hardest, with cuts of about 5.1 percent, according to a Friday story by Journal reporter Tim Unruh. Both universities have campuses in Salina.

KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program, will be cut by about $57 million, while state agencies in general will see reductions of 4 percent.

In announcing the cuts, Brownback noted that his priorities were to increase funding for Osawatomie and Larned state hospitals, increase the pay for social workers in the Department for Children and Families and protect public safety.

“Our economy continues to face challenges with declines in oil and gas production, agriculture and aviation, our three major industries,” he was quoted as saying. “This budget recognizes those challenges while protecting K-12 education and public safety and finding government efficiencies that put more money back in the hands of working Kansans.”

A better way to face those challenges would have been to repeal Brownback’s 2012 income tax cuts, which the governor refuses to do.

Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, told Journal reporter Unruh back in April that he thought the tax cuts for small businesses probably accounted for $300 million or more a year in lost revenue to the state.

The top state income tax rate for individuals and businesses was 6.45 percent before the cuts. Although Johnson thought that was a tad high for businesses, zero is way too low.

“I like being competitive, but there is a lot of room between 6.45 and zero,” Johnson told Unruh.

Repealing the 2012 tax cuts would have gone far in solving Kansas’ money troubles.

Instead, Brownback’s devastating tax loopholes remain, allowing millionaire coaches such as KU’s Bill Self and K-State’s Bill Snyder to benefit from a huge tax break while Kansas students and parents struggle with tuition increases, the poor face reduced services, and all of us dodge dangerous intersections and treacherous roads.

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Lawrence Journal-World, May 22

Another court ruling challenging the Kansas voter registration law has added one more level of confusion to an already scrambled election picture in the state.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ordered Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to accept the registration applications that about 18,000 Kansans filed at drivers license stations across the state. Those registrations were placed on hold because they didn’t include the proof of citizenship required by Kansas law. However, Robinson said the state law conflicts with the federal Motor Voter Act, which allows voters to register at motor vehicle offices by swearing, under penalty of perjury, that they are citizens but without presenting a birth certificate or other citizenship documents.

Kobach promptly indicated he would file an emergency appeal of Robinson’s decision with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. To accommodate that appeal Robinson delayed implementation of her order until midnight on May 31.

Kobach also made a quick announcement about policy steps his office had taken to help facilitate the transfer of citizenship documentation from the Department of Motor Vehicles to the secretary of state and local election officers. It’s too soon to tell whether those steps will make a significant dent in the number of registrations that have been placed on hold, but even if they do, the policy changes ignore the key point of Robinson’s ruling, which is that Kansas has no authority to require citizenship documentation from those voters in the first place.

The ruling, however, applies only to federal elections, which likely would perpetuate the state’s two-tier election system that allows some Kansas voters to vote in local, state and federal races while other Kansas voters can vote only in congressional and presidential races based on how they registered. Although Kobach instituted the dual system in the last election cycle, he said on Wednesday that the court order “would be a nightmare to administer.”

Robinson was unswayed by Kobach’s argument, saying that any problem the state faces “is outweighed by the risk of thousands of otherwise eligible voters being disenfranchised in upcoming federal elections.” The ruling also commented on the larger picture of Kansas voter registration laws being justified as necessary to prevent voter fraud. Noting that the state had identified only three illegal voters and 14 illegal registrants from 1995 to 2013, Robinson concluded that “the Court cannot find that the State’s interest in preventing noncitizens from voting in Kansas outweighs the risk of disenfranchising thousands of qualified voters.”

In other words, the cure is worse than the illness.

Unfortunately, the current confusion about who gets to vote in Kansas and in what races isn’t just a bad dream. With the Aug. 2 primary less than three months away, the state is running out of time to settle these issues in a way that doesn’t bar thousands of qualified Kansas voters from casting their ballots.

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Wichita Eagle, May 22

Kansas’ fiscal mismanagement is not a victimless crime. On Wednesday the list of the injured grew as the state slashed Medicaid payments and higher education spending, the Wichita school board cut jobs and bus access, and state universities requested tuition and fee hikes.

The toll on schoolchildren, college kids, poor Kansans and others surely will mount, until Statehouse leadership does more than ignore, defer, compound and off-load the problems.

Gov. Sam Brownback delivered his part of Wednesday’s bad news as he signed the budget, which already heavily relied on delaying a pension payment and raiding the highway fund. More than half of the $97 million cuts were made to KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid system, in the form of 4 percent lower reimbursement rates to providers. That move counterproductively reduces federal Medicaid dollars to Kansas by $72 million - on top of the $1 billion in federal dollars Kansas has foolishly sacrificed by refusing to expand Medicaid.

The governor’s array of cuts also hit up the state universities for $30.7 million, under a formula that penalized the University of Kansas and Kansas State University (by 5.1 percent each) for their success in obtaining research grants. Wichita State University’s 3.8 percent cut will amount to $2.8 million.

The cuts leave the system with nearly $100 million less in state general fund appropriations than in 2008. As WSU’s Joseph Shepard and six other student body presidents said in a joint response: “When higher education funding is cut, students suffer.”

Quantifying some of the suffering Wednesday, university leaders presented their requests for tuition and fee hikes as high as 5 percent to the Kansas Board of Regents.

That same day, the Wichita school board approved $18 million in cuts for the 2016-17 school year, leaving $5 million in tough decisions to go. Squeezed by flat state funding and rising costs, the board will ax more than 100 positions, close Metro-Meridian Alternative High School and eliminate bus transportation for 2,185 students, among other cuts. The vote followed emotional pleas from students and teachers and, in the editorial board’s view, insufficient consideration of the teachers union’s proposals or a small property tax increase.

If the pressure on the state budget and state-funded services is bad now, it will only build if the Kansas Supreme Court orders lawmakers and the governor to increase K-12 spending by June 30.

Brownback is prevented by term limits from running again. But many of the lawmakers who have abetted his agenda, which all started with the 2012 income tax cuts, will be on the ballot later this year - as will many good candidates who understand how imperative it is to make tax policy fair and sustainable again.

Kansans need to note how state leaders’ mistakes are costing their families, schools, communities, health and quality of life, and vote accordingly.

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