- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Topeka Capital-Journal, March 28

Senate wrong not to open probable cause affidavits:

The Kansas Senate’s shameful treatment of proposed legislation that would have opened to public scrutiny the probable cause affidavits law enforcement officials and prosecutors use to obtain search and arrest warrants was a disservice to all Kansans.

Legislators earlier this session were given legitimate reasons for treating those affidavits as open records, and House members, to their credit, passed a bill that would do just that 113-10 before sending it along to the Senate. Once there, however, provisions addressing probable cause affidavits for arrest warrants were basically gutted by the Senate Judiciary Committee before Senate leaders decided the legislation, House Bill 2555, wouldn’t be debated on the Senate floor this year.

While it was still working the bill, the Senate committee weakened provisions related to affidavits for search warrants by requiring the public to petition the clerk of the court for the information 14 days after a search warrant was executed. The subjects of a search would have immediate access to the affidavit.

Sen. Greg Smith, R-Olathe, who offered amendments to the bill as passed by the House, said his experience as a police officer made him sympathetic to concerns law enforcement officials and prosecutors had about treating the affidavits as public records.

Therein lies the problem. The Fourth Amendment protects this country’s citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. Without access to the probable cause affidavits used to obtain search and arrest warrants, citizens have no way of knowing whether the actions of law enforcement officials and prosecutors, and even the judges who sign off on the warrants, pass constitutional muster.

The Fourth Amendment wasn’t written to protect law enforcement officials and prosecutors. It was written to protect the citizens, who must have access and transparency.

Law enforcement officers have told legislators they fear release of the probable cause affidavits would lead to sensationalism and pre-trial publicity. Their fears, however, aren’t substantiated by the experiences of other states, almost all of which treat the affidavits as public records.

Keeping the records sealed only protects law enforcement officials and prosecutors from publicity about their mistakes.


The Iola Register, March 31

Ultra-conservative trajectory could be behind exodus:

Kansas needs to roll out the welcome mat.

In the past three years more residents have left the state, compared to those who have moved here.

From 2010 to 2013, Kansas lost a net 10,197 residents to other states, according to numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Over the three-year period, a total 26,949 Kansans left compared to a gain of 16,752 from outside our borders.

The numbers are dramatic when compared to just a few years earlier. From 2000 to 2009, the state saw a reduction of 17,574 to outward migration. About one-third if the current trend continues.

Kansas ranks in the bottom 10 states nationwide in the number of people who have fled our borders.

What keeps us from slipping into oblivion is a healthy birthrate. The number of babies born in Kansas continues to outpace deaths and migration. The state’s population is holding steady at about 2.9 million.

Perception is everything when trying to make a sale.

If Kansas were only known for Dorothy and tornadoes, we’d be relatively safe, though slightly embarrassed.

Today that wholesome image with an occasional storm is somewhat tarnished.

The specter of Fred Phelps and his hatred of homosexuals casts a long shadow across Kansas. With his recent death, we can only hope his heirs decide a different path.

Also to fear is the influence of ALEC, American Legislation Exchange Council, an organization that writes legislation with an ultraconservative bent.

More than 40 members of the Kansas Legislature are in the tow of ALEC, including House Speaker Ray Merrick and Senate President Susan Wagle.

ALEC provides fill-in-the-blank templates whose gist are anti-clean energy, anti-civil justice, anti-Affordable Care Act, anti-gun control, anti-public education, anti-public pension, and perhaps most dangerously, anti-senior citizen in their war against the “socialist” programs Medicare and Social Security.

Such a direction pretty much puts the rest of us on the defensive.

When outsiders, including prospective industries, get too curious, we quickly say, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” hoping they’ll be fooled by the smoke and mirrors we are forced to call democracy.

How nice if we could pull the curtain wide open, with nothing to hide.


The Hays Daily News, March 30

Threatened chicken:

The move by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act should not have come as a surprise. The grouse’s natural habitat in native grasslands and prairies has been reduced an estimated 84 percent. Last year, the bird’s population dropped by almost half from the year before to a record low 17,616.

“The lesser prairie-chicken is in dire straits,” said Dan Ashe, director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Knowing the threats the lesser prairie chicken faces remain and are expected to remain in the future, it is likely the bird will move to the endangered list at some point. As such, labeling it threatened was justified in the federal bureaucracy’s line of thinking.

That thinking - and the threatened label - was greeted with disappointment by virtually everybody at the state and local level already heavily invested in the bird’s survival.

“That is bad news,” said Jim Pitman with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

“This wasn’t the decision we hoped to hear,” said KDWPT Secretary Robin Jennison.

“This is an overreach on the part of the federal government,” said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, “and I am concerned about the effect this designation will have on Kansans and the Kansas economy.”

“We will fight to undo this foolish and overly prescriptive rule,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

“The Obama administration is threatening the private property rights of farmers and ranchers, as well as threatening needed energy production,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.

We get the point. Nobody likes the listing.

But did anybody actually read what USFWS recommended?

“In recognition of the significant and ongoing efforts of states and landowners to conserve the lesser prairie-chicken, this unprecedented use of a special 4(d) rule will allow the five range states to continue to manage conservation efforts for the species and avoid further regulation of activities such as oil and gas development and utility line maintenance that are covered under the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (WAFWA) range-wide conservation plan. This range-wide conservation plan was developed by state wildlife agency experts in 2013 with input from a wide variety of stakeholders. The special rule also establishes that conservation practices carried out through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative and through ongoing normal agricultural practices on existing cultivated land are all in compliance with the ESA and not subject to further regulation.”

The federal government not only recognizes what the various entities in Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas - where the lesser prairie chicken resides - have developed to help protect the species, USFWS very specifically states the programs in place are what is needed.

How is that overreach? How are farmers and ranchers threatened if they continue doing what they voluntarily signed up for? If utilities and oil and gas companies aren’t subject to any additional requirements, how can energy production be affected?

For a change, the federal government was using common sense and letting the people and organizations closest to the problem have the authority to solve it. Even the role of ongoing drought was acknowledged. It strikes us the politicians and bureaucrats so quick to attack the ruling should have been thanking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services instead.

The lesser prairie chicken should be listed as threatened. Without mitigation, this particular bird likely would become endangered and then extinct. State and local stakeholders have the opportunity to ensure that doesn’t happen. They should be grateful, not threatening legal or congressional action.


The Hutchinson News, March 28

Western Kansas university:

The potential merger of Dodge City Community College, a two-year institution, and Fort Hays State University, a four-year college in northwest Kansas, is an exciting prospect.

It would, at long last, put a four year college in western Kansas.

On March 25, the DCCC Board of Trustees approved a proposal that eventually would give administrative control of the community college to Fort Hays. This likely will be a drawn out process because it requires the approval of the Board of Regents, the Legislature and the governor.

There are other hurdles. The March 25 meeting drew a large crowd and faculty criticized the lack of inclusion by the trustees in planning such a huge change in DCCC’s future.

Scott Thompson, president of the Faculty Association, termed the trustees’ action as secretive.

“This could have been a win-win,” Thompson said. “We haven’t been involved in any of this stuff at all.”

Faculty concerns range from their financial packages to wondering if students would lose the low-cost option of a two-year community college.

Many of the details will be hammered out over the several years it will take to merge the two schools and faculty will have ample opportunity then to be involved.

Perhaps the trustees deserve some of the criticism but they seem to be acting in the best interests of the community and southwest Kansas. They want to secure and enhance DCCC’s future in western Kansas and provide the area with its first four-year university. The idea certainly is worth exploring all the possibilities.

A Board of Regents member came to the defense of the trustees and their vote.

“What we have is an opportunity to take what we have and enhance it by a factor of three or four times,” said Shane Bangerter, who acknowledged it was critical for the community to support the merger.

Even faculty had to admit the advantages of transforming a two year college into a four-year university outweigh their hurt feelings.

The entire process still can be a win-win for western Kansas and that is what faculty and trustees need to keep in mind. It’s not about them, it’s about giving the area a four-year university without the enormous expense of building one from scratch.

Merger talks should begin in earnest now that the trustees have voted to pursue four-year status for DCCC. It’s a good move.

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