- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Wichita Eagle, Feb. 4

Brownback rewriting history of state tax cuts:

Gov. Sam Brownback has been trying to rewrite the history of the state’s budget problems, recently blaming the Legislature for not approving the tax cut plan he wanted. But former Kansas Senate President Steve Morris has a different version of how the reckless tax cuts became law.

Morris said that Brownback called him immediately after the Senate blocked the tax cuts during the 2012 legislative session. Brownback pleaded with him to reconsider the bill.

“I want to paraphrase what I remember from this conversation,” Morris told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “Something to the effect of, I know this bill would wreck the state. We can’t do it. It’s bad policy.’ Those are probably not his exact words, but that’s the gist of what he was telling me.”

Out of deference to the governor, Morris and some other moderate Republicans switched their votes and advanced the tax bill, so that the legislative process and debate could continue. But the House ended up voting to accept the Senate bill and Brownback signed it into law.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, backs Morris’ account. He said that Morris told him at the time that Brownback said neither House Republicans nor the governor would take advantage of the opening to enact excessive tax reductions.

“And you believe him?” Hensley remembers asking Morris.

Brownback denied ever providing such assurance. Then after signing the bill, Brownback helped lead a successful campaign effort to oust Morris and several other GOP moderates.

“I took him at his word that he thought it (the tax bill) was bad,” Morris said. Looking back, Morris calls that a “big mistake on my part.”

The state is still paying for it.


Hutchinson News, Feb. 6

Conditional speech:

Members of the Kansas Legislature sure love our constitutionally guaranteed rights during election season and until someone starts using those rights in a way they don’t appreciate.

A bill in the Kansas Legislature aims to silence the voices of a group of political scientists in the state who have used their collective expertise and knowledge of Kansas’ political history to level clear, reasoned criticism at the Brownback administration and the Kansas Legislature.

The group, called Insight Kansas, is largely college professors, and the bill would prohibit them and any employee of a college or university from attaching an official title to a newspaper opinion column - it makes no mention of other media - about elected officials and legislation.

This bill is nothing short of a modern-day sedition act, designed to silence and punish any criticism of the government. Instead of respecting the time-honored rights of the U.S. Constitution and recognizing everyone’s absolute right to speak, Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro - the bill’s sponsor - has moved to quiet the voices that criticize him and his colleagues.

Peck, however, has good reason to wish for silence. Few lawmakers have put their proverbial foot in their mouths more often than Peck, who is perhaps best known for his suggestion that the immigrant population could be controlled in the same way we control feral pigs — with a rifle and a helicopter.

To work properly, freedom of speech must be universal. In this case, the Insight Kansas columnists are free to criticize the government, and in turn, the government’s defenders are free to respond. Besides, the government one day might change, and there would be reason to criticize the new powers in Topeka, but a law passed by a previous group could serve to prohibit such worthwhile dialogue.

We cannot pick and choose the free speech we like if it is to work as the nation’s founders intended. It must remain universal, undiluted and free from manipulation. That’s the same argument lawmakers like Peck extol when talking about the marketplace, firearms and religion. Lawmakers can’t selectively decide which parts of the Constitution suit them, and then alter the rest.

This bill and its underlying motivation fall into the realm of the obscene, because any attempt to bastardize or alter any part of an honored right set out in the U.S. Constitution should be met with repulsion and disgust.

Peck and his conservative lawmakers would proudly echo those thoughts if such an attempt arose to alter politically popular elements like the right to bear arms or the right to practice religion. But because not everyone uses their free speech in the way Peck would like, he apparently is eager to alter the parts of the Constitution in a way that suits him better.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Feb. 8

Trust the Kansas Highway Patrol:

At first blush, proposed legislation that would allow motorists to speed while passing - up to 10 mph faster than the posted limit - on the state’s two-lane highways without fear of getting a speeding ticket sounds like a good idea.

Most motorists have been there - behind a slow moving vehicle in a no-passing zone or heavy traffic that makes the passing maneuver impossible. Once it appears safe to pass, the instinct is to pull out, speed up and get around the slower vehicle as rapidly as possible. A glance at the speedometer often comes only after the pass is completed.

Yes, traveling Kansas’ two-lane highways can be frustrating at times.

But many motorists also know there is no shortage of drivers anxious to pass even when the vehicle, or vehicles, ahead of them are driving at the posted speed, or perhaps even a mile or two faster.

The Kansas Highway Patrol opposes the proposed legislation for safety reasons. And our second thought is legislators might want to listen to the KHP troopers who are called upon all too frequently to examine the carnage on our highways. They know well the danger of legalizing higher speeds.

Under current law, a motorist who speeds while passing on highways can be ticketed, but the ticket isn’t considered a moving violation if the vehicle was within 10 mph of the posted limit. Insurance companies can’t use the ticket as reason to increase vehicle owner’s insurance premium.

Two legislators who support the proposed legislation say constituents have complained about getting tickets for speeding during the passing maneuver. However, no one has offered statistics on how many such tickets are issued or how fast the motorists were going. Those who frequently drive two-lane highways know not everyone who speeds while passing is getting is getting a ticket.

It wasn’t that long ago that a study showed fatal traffic accidents increased on four-lane highways where the state had raised the speed limit to 75 mph from 70 mph. Some officials said the higher speed limit hadn’t been in effect long enough to provide accurate data, but common sense says higher speeds result in more serious crashes. And raising the limit to 75 mph encouraged some drivers to go even faster.

Allowing motorists free rein to go 75 mph while passing on a two-lane highway posted at 65 mph likely would encourage some drivers to attempt passing where conditions - approaching a no-passing zone or oncoming traffic - indicate they shouldn’t. If something goes bad, the higher speed will result in a more serious accident.

Perhaps we should trust the Kansas Highway Patrol on this one.


Lawrence Journal-World, Feb. 6:

Controlled risk:

An outbreak of measles that is spreading across the United States has put the spotlight on a disease that many people don’t think much about any more.

It’s also called attention to the decision some parents make not to have their children vaccinated against this highly contagious disease. Either because they have read about a now-debunked theory that immunizations were connected to autism or because they consider vaccinations too invasive or unnatural, they chose to forgo the MMR vaccine, which covers measles, mumps and rubella.

The fact that these diseases are almost nonexistent in the United States has allowed parents to become complacent about the vaccines. Most of these parents would never consider bypassing the immunizations if the disease were more prevalent. Indeed, the fact that the vast majority of parents choose to have their children immunized is the only reason that the diseases have been reduced to the extent that some parents feel safe forgoing the vaccine.

But the world is getting smaller, and measles and other diseases are far less rare in other parts of the world. It’s probably no coincidence that the latest outbreak started in Disneyland, which attracts large numbers of visitors from other countries. Once the disease takes hold, it’s hard to stop its spread among the unvaccinated population - including among infants because the first MMR immunizations aren’t recommended until children are a year old.

Statistics gathered by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for the 2012-13 school year indicated that 88 percent of kindergartners in Douglas County had received the MMR vaccine. The survey shows a surprising number of counties that have an MMR vaccination rate under 90 percent. When measles cases are reported in Kansas, as health officials are almost certain they will be, many parents may be rethinking their decision to forgo the immunizations.

Health officials say the science is clear that the MMR vaccine is safe and about 95 percent effective. There may be solid reasons for a few children to skip the vaccinations, but for the vast majority of children, the benefit of the vaccine far outweighs any risks. It’s a benefit not only for the individual children but for everyone around them. Keeping a lid on measles and other contagious diseases depends on the vaccines that parents should embrace as the life-saving miracles they are.

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