- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Wichita Eagle, April 11

Funding bill erodes court’s authority:

While Kansans were focused on the twists and turns of school finance last week, lawmakers made an unnecessary and historic change in how the state’s district courts operate, coercively tying the reforms to badly needed funding.

Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss warned this was coming, objecting in an Eagle commentary last month to “the diffusion of the unified court system’s centralized authority in exchange for money to keep courts open.” He also noted that Kansas voters opted in 1972 to add this sentence to the state constitution: “The Supreme Court shall have general administrative authority over all courts in this state.”

That clear-cut instruction has meant a single budget for the entire judicial branch controlled by the Supreme Court. Yet House Bill 2338, which cleared both chambers and has gone to Gov. Sam Brownback, allows the chief judge of each of the state’s 31 judicial districts to submit and control his own budget.

The new legislation also allows judges to select the chief judge for their own district court, further eroding the Supreme Court’s authority.

Plus, the bill includes some significant increases in docket fees, raising the cost of Kansans’ access to their courts.

In his commentary, Nuss expressed no opinion on the legislative package’s constitutionality, which might become a question for the court to decide. But he aptly asked whether this legislation reflected the will of the people. He also took issue with the “glaring” offer of money “in direct exchange for judicial branch restructuring,” claiming the Kansas District Judges’ Association was told that if it wanted the extra funds for court operations it would support the package deal.

Though several Sedgwick County District Court judges offered testimony favoring the provisions on budgetary authority and chief judge elections, the changes drew opposition from other judges as well as the Kansas Bar Association and other attorney and court employee groups.

At the very least, such a legislative overhaul of the judicial system’s administration deserved more thoughtful study and public debate. The measures bundled together in the final bill never even were considered by the House Judiciary Committee. The Kansas Association of Defense Counsel, for example, noted that the 1970s unification of court administration in Kansas was meant to remedy “a court system that was archaic in its multiplicity of courts, preservation of concurrent jurisdictions, and waste of fiscal resources.” This looks like a step backward.

It also strikes many as political payback related to the high court’s school-funding or other decisions. In any case, it’s wrong for the Legislature to use its appropriations power to force unwanted and unwarranted systemic change on the judiciary. Though it’s highly doubtful that the governor will veto the bill, he should.


The Salina Journal, April 10

Mind the purse strings:

One of the central arguments from Kansas legislators in their continuing resistance to meet the legal obligation to fund K-12 public education is that they control the purse strings.

They don’t believe that any nonelected, responsible-to-no-one justices on the Kansas Supreme Court have any business telling legislators how to spend money.

Given that attitude, we were pleased to see that the education funding bill the Legislature passed and sent to Gov. Brownback addresses the funding requirement of the court’s most recent ruling.

But senators couldn’t leave well enough alone. According to the Associated Press, conservative senators determined that if they were going to be forced to spend more money on education, then they were going to extract something in exchange.

So, in the bill passed Sunday, legislators voted to change the due process protection granted the state’s K-12 teachers. Under current policy, after three years on the job a teacher who faces dismissal must be given a written explanation and can have the case reviewed.

The Kansas National Education Association, a teachers union, argues that that keeps good teachers from being fired for arbitrary reasons.

Sen. Tom Arpke, R-Salina, who introduced the amendment to change the law, told the Journal’s Michael Strand that it’s “completely untrue” that the bill strips teachers of their due process rights and allows districts to fire without cause.

What the bill does, according to a story in the Wichita Eagle, is change the definition of “teacher” to exclude K-12 teachers, but not others, such as community college instructors.

Conservatives claim the current system makes it too difficult to get rid of poor or abusive teachers.

The Arpke amendment was backed by the conservative special-interest group Americans for Prosperity. Jeff Glendening, AFP’s state director, said the change wasn’t about “protecting the institutions or the labor union. It’s about protecting our kids,” a talking point echoed by Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina.

We’re not buying it. This is about weakening labor unions. This was about power.

There’s no end to the argument over whether labor unions do more harm than good. But if you want a clear example of why people form unions, meddlesome legislators and their special-interest groups bumbling around where they have no business would provide a good example.

Legislators would do better to just mind their purse strings.


The Hutchinson News, April 9

Tourism slogan:

Kansas doesn’t get great mileage out of its tourism slogans. Maybe we’re just too great to articulate in mere words.

We always remember that Texas is “like a whole other country.”

As for Kansas, are we the “Land of Ahs”?

“As big as you think”?

Or maybe something else to do with “The Wizard of Oz”?

The latest state tourism slogan is in part a reference to the movie many Kansas would just as soon distance themselves from. Unveiled this week, the new message is “There’s no place like Kansas.”

Other than the Oz connotation, it’s not a bad theme. Kansas can do some things with the notion that we have some uniqueness to our state that makes it a special place to visit, if not live.

No mountains or ocean but some stunning landscapes nonetheless. Quirky sights such as the “Garden of Eden” in Lucas. Good food and warm hospitality. Leisure places.

The video and television spots create a sense of relaxation and wonder about our fair state. And the theme song, “Sunflowers,” an original recording by Clearwater native Logan Mize, is catchy. Hutchinson is among seven communities with its own TV spot. Dodge City is another.

Marketing campaigns aren’t done well by committee, but no doubt Kansans will have their opinions on “no place like Kansas.” For many, it is likely to make them think of Oz, and “no place like home” doesn’t work too well as a tourism slogan since you’re trying to get people to leave home to come visit Kansas.

We wouldn’t be surprised if some people extended “There’s no place like Kansas” to describe some of the wackos and their shenanigans in the Statehouse these days.

Maybe “no place like Kansas” works better as a resident retention campaign, which, given the population trends, maybe should be the focus anyway. It also can play well for in-state tourism, encouraging the “staycation.”

But whether for tourism or retention, the effort can’t stop with the creative. The state needs to budget money to spend on marketing. In the past, Kansas has ranked near the bottom of states in spending on marketing and promotion.

One of these days we might land on a slogan that sticks. In the meantime, what we do with the message probably is more important than finding the universally winning message.


The Garden City Telegram, April 11

Koch brothers benefit from Affordable Care Act:

The Koch brothers did their best to link select Kansas lawmakers to controversial Obamacare as a way to torpedo their campaigns.

Several state lawmakers - namely traditional, more moderate Republicans who wouldn’t serve as puppets for a far-right agenda coveted by Gov. Sam Brownback and other Koch allies - were targeted in the August 2012 GOP primary,

The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and Kansas Chamber unleashed last-minute, misleading ads designed to take down lawmakers who dared to challenge their radical pursuits.

Unfortunately, many voters fell for the outlandish claims that lawmakers who were targeted somehow supported the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. It was bunk, of course, as those singled out had nothing to do with the federal law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Koch-AFP-Kansas Chamber camp recently dredged up Obamacare again in calling for repeal of Kansas’ Renewable Portfolio Standard.

While it clearly was another absurd claim, they argued the RPS was just another costly mandate. Yet the chief critic - giant oil-and-gas conglomerate Koch Industries - has long reaped the benefit of taxpayer subsidies involving energy production, among other government-related deals.

And now it appears Obamacare wasn’t such a problem after all for Koch Industries, as the company benefited from the same health-care reform the Kochs say they detest.

Koch Industries reportedly was among big corporations that reaped millions of dollars from the Affordable Care Act, even as the Kochs continued to support GOP candidates who have vowed to work on repeal of the law.

Federal records show Koch Industries benefited from a temporary provision of the health-care law in an Early Retiree Reinsurance Program, which helped the company pay health insurance costs for retirees not covered by Medicare. The records show Koch Industries applied for and received $1.4 million in early retiree subsidies.

So, an Affordable Care Act in place to help the uninsured, seniors and young adults with coverage also has something in it for large businesses. The Kochs, like others, took advantage.

Kansans should keep such hypocrisy in mind when the next Koch-financed onslaught of political advertising materializes.

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