- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Hutchinson News, May 23

Eye on the prize:

To say that renewable energy proponents, specifically wind manufacturers, are blowing away their opponents might be hyperbole.

But the wind industry definitely is holding its own in Kansas and across the U.S. It took on Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers group that targets Democrats and moderate Republican politicians. Wind won.

It took down anti-tax heavyweight Grover Norquist.

In Kansas the wind industry managed to successfully battle the powerful Kansas Chamber of Commerce while gaining the support of Gov. Sam Brownback. All of this is good for a community such as Hutchinson, which is home to Siemens, a multinational company that produces wind turbines in Hutch. This is good for Kansas, too.

But the naysayers, who decry any kind of tax credit for renewable energy, continue the battle.

“I can’t think of an industry that is better connected politically in getting favors from the state and federal government than wind energy, ethanol and all the green energies,” Christine Harbin Hanson, national issues manager for the heavy-hitting conservative group Americans for Prosperity told The Kansas City Star.

Instead of working side by side with the renewable energy industry, oil and gas proponents believe their financial futures are at stake. But more than that, they simply can’t accept that renewable energy has to play a significant role in the future of the U.S. Oil is a diminishing energy source, and renewable energy is clean and limitless.

So when wind energy supporters battle the big guys and win, it’s a big deal. But renewable energy proponents need to remain vigilant because it’s evident in Kansas and several other of the 29 states with “green” mandates that oil and gas heavyweights won’t give up the fight.

According to the Star, Kansas lawmakers the past three years refused to eliminate the mandate, but opponents continue to work for repeal. Green supporters, though, still have Brownback touting the benefits of wind energy.

Yet Hanson believes the wind is about to shift.

“Talk to me in two years,” she said. “I think the playing field will look really different.”

Such talk is why renewable energy proponents always need to be looking over their shoulders. You never know if a green monster of another ilk is on the pitcher’s mound.


Lawrence Journal-World, May 22

Good investment:

Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to veto plans to transfer $5 million earmarked for early childhood programs into the Kansas Bioscience Authority’s budget has drawn praise from children’s advocates across the state.

As it turns out, the veto not only was good news for childhood programs but also not-so-bad news for the KBA.

According to news reports, KBA still will get its $5 million, but that money will come from state reserves rather than from the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund, which was created with revenue from the state’s tobacco settlement. The even better news is that the $5 million is just a portion of the $34 million in state funding approved this year for the KBA.

That’s about what KBA was receiving from the state for a number of years after its founding in 2004. However, funding for the agency created to promote the bioscience industry in Kansas had declined dramatically in recent years. KBA received only about $4 million in state funding for the current fiscal year.

The increased funding approved for the next fiscal year appears to be a vote of confidence in the new leadership and new direction of the KBA. Duane Cantrell took over as KBA’s chief executive officer in November 2012 and recently was rewarded with $150,000 in bonuses by the group’s board of directors. The bonuses were justified, the board said, by Cantrell’s success in meeting goals related to repositioning the agency in response to state budget cuts. Cantrell examined KBA investments and de-committed $59 million to companies that weren’t hitting their development goals. The plan was to move the KBA toward a more market-based and self-sustaining future as a venture capital organization.

Those efforts may have impressed state legislators. Taking more money from the state’s already strained reserves may not be desirable, but the additional $5 million is a good investment in the state’s bioscience efforts.

The additional state funding approved for next year will shore up KBA operations and help it make more investments that hopefully will assure its continued operation and success after state tax support sunsets in 2019.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, May 23

Ignorance of KOMA is no excuse:

It’s often said that ignorance of the law is no excuse, and it isn’t. But pleading ignorance of the law sometimes leads to incredible stories.

Such is the case in the Jackson County city of Denison, where voters on Aug. 5 will be asked to decide whether Mayor Audrey Oliverius should be recalled.

A recall petition on the mayor was initiated and subsequently validated after she called an executive session near the end of a March 10 meeting and the Denison City Council, during the executive session, voted on a motion concerning the appointment of a person to fill a vacant council position.

Oliverius contends that she received no formal training for the job from the city or Jackson County and was unaware the March 10 action violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

There is some evidence Oliverius really was ignorant of KOMA and its provisions. She later sent an email to the then city clerk to make an addition to the minutes for the March 10 meeting. According to the recall petition, “This record shows that a motion was made and a vote was taken in executive session.”

It’s difficult to believe someone familiar with the open meetings act would so willingly provide the evidence of a clear violation.

But it’s equally difficult to believe a city official, even in a small town (only 12 valid signatures were required to force a recall vote), wasn’t aware of KOMA. And it’s nearly impossible to believe that no one at that executive session knew that what they were doing was illegal.

Oliverius’ name was the only one on the recall petition, but everyone at that meeting was in violation of the law and is equally responsible for what happened. One reasoned, informed voice should have been enough to stop the executive session before it veered into dangerous territory.

The fact no such voice was heard shows the mayor and council members were comfortable taking such an issue behind closed doors. That mindset has no place in government.

That Oliverius’ name is the only one on the recall position and the fact the city clerk, treasurer and utility supervisor have resigned indicates there may be more going on in the community. Whatever it is, the voters likely know and will use that knowledge at the polls at the proper time.

The incident is reminiscent of a song county music singer Miranda Lambert recorded several years ago, “Famous in a Small Town.” The song’s message was that “everybody dies famous in a small town” because regardless of what they do, good or bad, “word’s gonna get around.”

Hopefully, word about KOMA has gotten around in Denison.

There is no excuse for ignorance of the law.


The Wichita Eagle, May 25

VA is falling short:

The U.S. military shouldn’t give someone a uniform and a job to do unless the Department of Veterans Affairs, in return, is prepared to do its job of delivering health care and other promised benefits.

That the VA is falling far short of its responsibility at least at some facilities is a shame that transcends party politics but falls hardest on President Obama, who campaigned in 2008 on a commitment to cut backlogs and upgrade care. The president’s tardy remarks last week must lead to decisive action.

The lengthy wait for VA services has “been true for decades and it’s been compounded by a decade of war,” as Obama said. And the VA system has been taxed by the volume of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, many of them survivors of severe and complicated injuries.

But the allegations being investigated by the VA inspector general’s office are serious - whether veterans were put on a secret waiting list and died while awaiting VA care in Phoenix, and whether wait times were falsified at two dozen other facilities to appear better than they were.

Members of the Kansas congressional delegation, past and present, have had a lot to say on the issue, and no wonder.

“I think it’s a disaster right now,” Bob Dole, World War II veteran and former Kansas senator, told USA Today. He called for a shake-up, though stopped short of demanding the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki at least until the results of the White House inquiry are in.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the first senator to call for Shinseki’s exit, told MSNBC on Friday: “Many veterans have lost faith, hope, in the department that was created to serve their needs. … The only way you can change the outcome of that bureaucracy is to have someone in charge who sees the problem and takes a lead.”

Moran also recommended expanding an existing program that seems like common sense: letting veterans who live far from VA facilities see local physicians and be admitted to local hospitals.

Among the fixes proposed in a National Journal report last week: that veterans be spared the burden of filling out and submitting claims forms in favor of having VA doctors handle that, and that the VA mimic private insurers in investigating only a sampling of claims. The records sharing between the Pentagon and the VA also leaves a lot to be desired, as does the VA’s transparency and self-scrutiny.

The Memorial Day weekend, devoted to reflecting on the ultimate sacrifice made by some servicemen and women, should bolster efforts to help veterans in other ways, including by doing more to address their joblessness and homelessness.

In any case, as Dole said, “You shouldn’t keep a veteran waiting three months to see a doctor.” The appalling failures of VA facilities to serve veterans - whether localized or systemic, whether due to incompetence or misconduct - must prompt big and lasting changes.

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