- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Hays Daily News, Feb. 9

Firearms under fire:

We would like to think rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the Constitution could be taken for granted. They can’t be, of course. Whether real or imagined, somebody or something always happens that prompts lawmakers to take action.

Take our Second Amendment right to bear arms. Last year, amidst the hysteria the federal government someday would attempt to keep a list of all gunowners, try to force background checks at gunshows or with online sales, or even confiscate all the weapons, legislators in Topeka went to work.

With Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, leading the way, the Legislature passed the Second Amendment Protection Act. Knox said it was needed to protect the “constitutional guaranteed individual liberties” of law-abiding citizens.

The majority of lawmakers apparently decided there were a lot of liberties requiring protection. Among other things, the act allowed concealed-carry permit-holders the right to take their weapons inside most government buildings - unless the governmental body went to the incredible expense of ensuring nobody possibly could bring any weapons inside. The adequate measures included metal detectors and trained personnel guarding each entrance open to the public. If the city or county wasn’t willing to commit the dollars necessary, they’d simply have to allow concealed-carry weapons in their buildings.

The law also stated the federal government had no authority to regulate guns and ammunition made, sold and kept in Kansas. And then it banned federal agents from attempting to enforce any law covering those items.

Most likely, courts will find Kansas telling the United States how to conduct its business unconstitutional. Still, it’s the current law here in the Sunflower State.

But legislators are not only worried about federal overreach. They’re worried about local overreach, as well.

Currently being heard in Topeka is House Bill 2473, which prohibits cities and counties from enacting or enforcing any ordinance “governing the purchase, transfer, ownership, storage, carrying or transporting of firearms or ammunition.”

How that reconciles with the options granted cities and counties just last year of deciding for themselves if they wanted concealed-carry weapons on their premises, we’re not sure.

HB 2473 goes even further. It would ban local governments from attempting to find out if any of their employees had concealed-carry permits. This would include law enforcement agencies.

The bill would prevent cities and counties from imposing any more restrictions on firearms sales than are placed on “any other commercial good.” For example, if a person isn’t forced to show identification or pass a background check to purchase a pack of gum, then such actions could not be imposed on somebody purchasing a handgun.

And, of course, knives get the same types of protections as guns.

In short, the Kansas Legislature is saying nobody has any jurisdiction other than themselves when it comes to Second Amendment rights. Neither the feds nor local governments can do anything Topeka does not allow. Our state lawmakers fancy themselves the ultimate authority on all things weapons related.

But are they really that smart? It is difficult to say. Bogging down discussion last week was the possibility of an intoxicated individual not being able to shoot somebody if they felt threatened.

Fortunately, lawmakers are receiving sage counsel from the Kansas State Rifle Association.

Patricia Stoneking, president of the KSRA, offered: “You know, if I have two glasses of wine with my dinner, I’m fully capable of still defending myself.”

She was assured by a state attorney this would be allowed.

We’ll wait and see what the governor ultimately signs into law. We remain unconvinced state lawmakers are doing any real work in this arena other than pandering to the gun lobby. Such legislation could fail, and Kansans still would have the Bill of Rights guaranteeing them the right to bear arms.


The Hutchinson News, Feb. 8

Resolved to deny on climate change:

Kansans might not have guessed it, but the Kansas Legislature seemingly is filled with scientists and climatologists who have a deep understanding of the complex nature of the Earth’s atmosphere.

And the verdict from this learned group is in: Climate change isn’t happening, or at least it’s not happening because of anything humankind is doing, carbon emissions are essential and good for the earth, and there is no evidence that anything bad at all is happening in the world.

Period. End of story.

House Resolution No. 6043 urges the United States Congress to oppose President Obama’s climate action plan, which calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and encourages development of renewable forms of energy.

The resolution, introduced by the Committee on Energy and Environment, states:

- The climate of planet earth is somewhat predictable over hundreds, even thousands of years.

- The president’s plan is based on multiple erroneous assumptions that have been refuted by a preponderance of scientific evidence.

- CO2 produces desirable effects on plant life and is essential to the earth’s atmosphere.

- Evidence shows there’s a disconnect between humans and CO2 emissions

- Oceans are rising, but that’s not the fault of mankind - glaciers have been melting for hundreds of years.

- There’s record ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

- There’s no increase in the number of significant tornadoes; in fact the trend line has been down since 1974.

- The worst droughts came between 1930-1942 and 1953-1960. The United States has been “materially wetter” in the past five decades.

Anyone who has lived in Kansas the past few years knows that these “facts” are questionable. Just this year, much of the state emerged - barely - from a prolonged, severe drought that left fields scorched. We’ve had exceptional storms, massive rainfall in August and summer temperatures in the spring.

Moreover, data from the National Climatic Data Center tells a different story: 2013 tied as the fourth hottest year on record since record-keeping began in 1880; the global land temperature was nearly 2 degrees hotter than the 20th century average, and nine of the 10 hottest years occurred after 2002.

The past two years have seen fewer tornadoes, but since 1950 the trend line is decidedly upward, as is the number of severe storms, and much of North America has experienced more frequent extreme temperatures.

The scientific community has nearly universally accepted that the world’s climate is changing and that it is the result of human activity. The deniers - like those behind this resolution in the Kansas House - will argue that’s simply part of the natural earthly cycle.

Even if there was merit to the deniers’ claims, what’s the harm in efforts to reduce pollution and prepare for the future by developing today the renewable energies that one day might be necessary?

Continued efforts to deny easily discernible facts damage our ability to address a real issue and handicap our capacity to examine those issues and develop practical solutions.

Such efforts by nonscientists in the Kansas Legislature are just a sadly comical waste of time and effort.


Lawrence Journal-World, Feb.9

Stifling free speech:

Listening to the people of Kansas should be Job 1 for all members of the Kansas Legislature. That means listening both to the people who agree with them and those who don’t - not trying to figure out how to silence those who hold a different opinion.

This issue arose recently during a Kansas House hearing on a bill that would prohibit cities and counties from setting their own restrictions on the open carry of firearms and knives and ban them from using tax dollars to administer gun buyback programs. Logically, one would think that city and county government representatives might have some pertinent perspectives to offer to this debate.

However, when Mike Taylor, a lobbyist for the Unified Government of Kansas City and Wyandotte County, showed up to testify against the bill, he was confronted by Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, who said Taylor, simply by speaking on behalf of Wyandotte County, may be violating a new state law. That law, which took effect last summer, prohibits the use of state dollars for lobbying or other forms of advocacy on gun-control issues. Although Taylor said he was being paid by local tax dollars, Hildabrand said he was considering asking Attorney General Derek Schmidt for a legal opinion on whether Taylor had violated the law.

If he did, there’s something wrong with the law.

It’s never been clear how the law would be enforced because it includes no penalties for violations. Nonetheless, as illustrated by Hildabrand’s complaint, the measure can be used to try to stifle debate and, specifically, any input from local governments or other state entities, including state universities, on gun control legislation.

The law sets a troubling precedent. The measure passed last year relates only to gun control, but what if legislators seek to apply similar restrictions on other controversial issues? Do state legislators believe their knowledge of local government and what’s best for the state is so complete that they have no need to hear from anyone who may disagree with their opinion?

It’s said that, in the nation’s current politically polarized atmosphere, most people choose to get their news and information only from sources that they know will reinforce their own political viewpoints. That may be an acceptable choice for the average citizen, but it’s not an acceptable choice for the state’s elected representatives. Like it or not, legislators have a duty to listen not only to those who agree with them, but also those who don’t.

Hildabrand said his understanding of the new Kansas law is that “taxpayer money can’t be used to lobby against the 2nd Amendment because that is a constitutional law.” While they’re talking about the U.S. Constitution, maybe legislators also should consider the 1st Amendment and its guarantee of free speech.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Feb. 9

Judging educational success is difficult:

The ability of K-12 students in Kansas to read at their appropriate grade levels is receiving a lot of attention from legislators, as it does every year and as it should.

A recent report shows that far too many of Kansas fourth-graders, and other students, are testing below proficient in reading and that the achievement gap between students from low-income homes and higher-income homes is widening.

State and local education officials should be alarmed at such findings and should do everything possible to increase the reading ability of all students at an early age. Increasing the number of students who read at grade level and reducing the achievement gap between low- and higher-income students would be a notable achievement.

But everyone must realize total success is beyond reach. Those who think one day all students will read at grade level and there will be no proficiency gap are fooling themselves. Society and home life play roles in K-12 education that, so far, no one has figured out how to completely overcome.

Some young people living in poverty do very well in school, generally because their parents or someone else in the household respects education, passes that respect along to the child and shows an interest in his or her achievement.

Students who don’t have that support at home generally don’t do as well in school regardless of economic status, although some in all socioeconomic groups do exhibit the self-determination to succeed on their own.

Constantly throwing more money at the schools isn’t the answer to proficiency, neither is removing the least effective 5 percent of teachers working in public schools, as one legislator suggests.

School funding doesn’t follow a student out on the streets.

Granted, ineffective teachers should be weeded out as soon as they are recognized. That may be possible when there is a surplus of good teachers looking for employment, but not so easy when school districts are struggling to fill available teaching positions. And there’s always going to be a bottom 5 percent, regardless of how good a district’s staff may be.

The readiness of the children society sends to schools has a great bearing on the success of our educators. Anyone who doesn’t believe that should visit an elementary school.

That doesn’t mean we should accept the status quo. Teachers must strive to get the best from all students.

In the end, there will be students who aren’t proficient and an achievement gap. Keeping those numbers as low as possible will be success.

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