- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Lawrence Journal-World, June 5

The Kansas Legislature was right to pass a bill exempting publicly owned hospitals, mental health centers, adult care homes and health clinics from concealed handgun rules that take effect July 1.

The bill is a sensible and pragmatic solution to the vexing problem of keeping guns out of hospitals. Kansas’ concealed carry law allowed for guns to be carried into all public buildings unless the agency in charge of the building could implement security measures to ensure guns did not enter the facility. Public agencies such as hospitals and universities were given four years - until July 1, 2017 - to comply with the law.

It would have cost millions - and potentially caused delays for patients needing care - to implement the security screening necessary at hospitals. In fact, the state’s Department on Aging and Disability Services had requested $25 million over the next two years to install metal detectors and security guards at the state’s four psychiatric hospitals to comply with the concealed carry law. That request prompted the exemption bill.

The Senate voted 24-16 to approve the bill. The vote in the House was 91-33. Lawmakers in both chambers bucked pressure from the National Rifle Association in approving the legislation. That’s no small feat; the NRA has largely gotten its way in the Legislature in recent years.

The bill will allow Lawrence Memorial Hospital as well as the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and the University of Kansas hospital to continue banning guns in their buildings. It also applies to state psychiatric hospitals as well as municipally owned hospitals, indigent care clinics, community mental health centers and adult care homes.

The University of Kansas Health System estimated one-time expenses at $5 million and annual security costs at $27 million. Hospital officials also said without the exemption, the concealed gun law likely would cause existing staff and hinder recruiting of quality personnel to their facilities.

The bill now goes to Gov. Sam Brownback, who, depending on whom you believe, will sign it or veto it. Brownback would be wise to approve the bill, given that it will preserve staffing and save millions of dollars at Kansas hospitals.

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Salina Journal, June 3

The calls are heard frequently over the police scanner on warm, sunny spring days: “Controlled burn out of control.”

And many times, volunteer firefighters from a second and even third rural fire district are called to assist because of residences or outbuildings threatened by a blaze, or because a blaze is consuming large swaths of fields.

That’s why everything possible should be done to encourage county residents to follow the rules and take precautions when burning pastures - including implementing new regulations requiring restitution be paid in some cases if rural fire departments are called to put out a blaze, as well as imposing stiffer penalties for those not following the rules.

Hannah Stambaugh, Saline County’s emergency management director, told Saline County commissioners Tuesday that a group formed more than a year ago is in the preliminary stages of developing new regulations regarding prescribed burns.

The review was prompted, she said, by the large number of burns that get out of control.

In 2016, firefighters responded to 102 grass fires, 43 of which started as prescribed burns, or 42 percent. In 2015, 65 out of 151 grass fires, or 43 percent, fought by rural firefighters started as prescribed burns.

“When the numbers get that high, that’s quite concerning,” Stambaugh said.

We realize that in most cases farmers are cautious and responsible, monitoring the weather and wind conditions, assembling the proper equipment and enough people to maintain control and setting their burns in the proper manner.

We also realize that farmers setting controlled burns are dealing with conditions that can’t be controlled - the weather and the wind, which can be unpredictable and change direction, thwarting even the best efforts at preparation. Things can happen, and burns can get out of control.

If a farmer followed all prescribed regulations in setting the burn and had all of the proper equipment and personnel in place in an effort to keep control, no restitution or fines should apply if a burn gets out of control and firefighters are called.

But in cases in which regulations aren’t followed and the proper equipment and personnel aren’t in place, Saline County’s new regulations should include restitution for rural fire departments called out to fight out-of-control prescribed burns.

The regulations also should include fines large enough to discourage people from ignoring the burn regulations.

As Stambaugh told county commissioners earlier this week, the number of out-of-control burns needs to be brought under control, and tougher regulations could be a start.

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Topeka Capital-Journal, June 4

When a household doesn’t have reliable access to nutritional food (or, at times, any food whatsoever), it’s considered “food insecure.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this is a problem that affected more than 42 million Americans in 2015, including almost 11 million adults who faced “very low food security.” This is the most severe form of food insecurity, which the USDA defines as “Reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.”

There were also 6.4 million children living in food-insecure households in 2015 (though some estimates are much higher), 541,000 of whom suffered from very low food security. While a lack of healthy food is associated with an increased risk of chronic health conditions among adults (for example, a 2010 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that food insecurity increased “cardiovascular risk factors” among low-income Americans), the effect on children is particularly harmful. This is because nutritional food is essential for healthy cognitive development. If children aren’t eating well, their intellectual growth will be stunted - especially in the early years (between birth and age three) when the brain is developing at a rapid pace.

When cognitive development is hampered, the consequences are felt in practically every area of life. Children who are forced to attend school on an empty stomach don’t perform as well as their peers because they’re less able to concentrate and process the material they’re supposed to learn. Moreover, childhood food insecurity can have destructive social repercussions - hunger leads to irritability, exhaustion and other problems that create tension at school and within families. These factors increase the likelihood of truancy and behavioral issues in the classroom, which have a drastic negative impact on academic performance.

Hungry students are also at a greater risk for chronic absenteeism, which can lead to academic deficits that are often impossible to escape. When a student’s skills (such as reading proficiency) are below average early on, he or she is far less likely to graduate from high school.

While 22 million American students received free or reduced-price lunches at school in 2015, this was only around half of the kids who were eligible. And as summer approaches, it’s important to remember that the low-income families who rely on school lunches must make other arrangements when the final bell rings in May. Although the USDA offers the Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option, less than 20 percent of the students who use the National School Lunch program during the school year take advantage of its summer equivalent. And in Topeka, 75 percent of USD 501 students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

This is why local summer food programs like the one offered by Harvesters Food Network and the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library are so critical. Between June 1 and Aug. 11, free lunch will be served to area kids under the age of 18 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the library. With the help of a generous group of volunteers, the organizers expect to serve between 40 and 60 kids every day of the workweek.

Local childhood hunger initiatives are on the rise in the U.S., and they’ll help students stay healthy and well-fed through the summer. We’re fortunate to live in a community that recognizes the importance of combating food insecurity whether school is in session or not.

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Wichita Eagle, May 21

We commend the Wichita Community Foundation for its Impact Literacy project, which was announced this month.

The Wichita Eagle and Kansas.com are proud participants in this project, but it was the Foundation that recognized the need and has strategically devoted resources to raise awareness and move our community forward.

A study commissioned by the Foundation and released in 2015 contained some stark realities about literacy in Wichita. The study quoted Kansas State Department of Education information that showed only 64 percent of third-graders in the Wichita school system were proficient in reading in 2013, noticeably worse than the state average of 80 percent.

Unfortunately, things have not improved. In 2016, still only 64 percent of the system’s third-graders were at grade level in reading. The state average was 77 percent. The numbers are even worse for Hispanic and African-American children, who fall into what is known as the “achievement gap.”

Why is this important? Studies show that many children who are behind in reading at the end of third grade never catch up. The study commissioned by the Foundation quoted a report that found students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than those who are proficient readers.

“Why should I care?” some may ask, particularly if they don’t have children, their children are grown or their kids are doing well in school.

Here’s why we all should care: The ripple effects of illiteracy spread wide and deep into areas reflective of the health and vitality of our community.

The Foundation’s study said: “Strong literacy skills are closely linked to the probability of having a good job, decent earnings, and access to training opportunities. Individuals with weak literacy skills are more likely to be unemployed or, if employed, to be in jobs that pay little or offer poor hours or working conditions, increasing their chances of living in poverty.”

The Wichita Community Foundation has awarded $160,000 in grants for three year-long projects as part of Impact Literacy.

One grant will fund work by The Eagle and Kansas.com to report on issues and programs related to literacy, with an eye toward identifying solutions.

Another grant goes to Watermark Books & Cafe, which will work with the Wichita Police Department on a book distribution project for Wichita families.

The third grant will fund an expansion of the Wichita Public Library’s program called “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten.” The program will increase participation from 1,000 students to 7,500 students.

Leaders of the Foundation were wise to identify the importance of literacy and how it is tied to making Wichita a better place to live and work. We look forward to the success stories of Impact Literacy over the next year.

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