- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Topeka Capital-Journal, July 5

JEDO searches for jobs

Board members of the Joint Economic Development Organization for Topeka and Shawnee County have been busy recently approving expenditures on economic incentives designed to keep jobs in the community and attract new employers.

That was the design when voters initially approved a half-cent, countywide sales tax for infrastructure and economic development, and it’s good news when JEDO - created to manage the money generated by the tax - spends some of it to retain jobs and create new ones at existing businesses.

JEDO’s board members voted in June to approve up to $1.2 million in incentives for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Topeka, which, despite its name, is a private entity rather than a government one. FHL Bank works with other banks, credit unions and insurance companies in a four-state area.

The need to keep the bank’s 200 jobs in Topeka and create 17 more jobs was cited by Shawnee County Commissioner Kevin Cook as reason to approve the incentives, which included cash awards for each new job created at the bank, employee training and construction of a new, 80,000-square-foot building and related infrastructure on S.W. Topeka Boulevard.

JEDO and Go Topeka, which handles economic development for the organization, make a big splash when they announce the addition of a major employer to the local business community, but they also have done a lot of work with existing employers to help them grow their businesses and workforces.

Earlier this month, JEDO voted to approve economic incentives for as much as $100,000 to bring a new company and 30 to 50 jobs to the community.

Koch & Co. Inc., a Seneca-based door and cabinet manufacturing firm, plans to open a plant in East Topeka. The economic incentive for each job depends on how much the job pays. That also was the case for the Federal Home Loan Bank’s package.

Not every new business can be a $250-million chocolate manufacturing plant or a major distribution center for a national retailer. Fifty new jobs also are worth pursuing and it appears the price was in the ballpark for the Koch & Co. deal.

JEDO’s voting board members also this month revisited an incentive plan earlier approved for Alorica, a call center that was to receive incentives based on employment of 500 people. The firm hasn’t been meeting the employment target but recently landed a contract that will allow it to hire more workers and reach the 300-employee mark.

JEDO revised downward the employment requirement and the cash incentive for the jobs. It’s unfortunate the higher employment figure wasn’t attainable, but hopefully the restructured deal will benefit the community and Alorica.

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Wichita Eagle, July 2

No excuse on Medicaid expansion

If the uncertain legal future of the Affordable Care Act seemed reason enough to keep stalling on Medicaid expansion in Kansas during the legislative session, that excuse is gone.

The tax credit subsidies in states that use the federally run online exchange prevailed in last week’s 6-3 decision at the U.S. Supreme Court, leaving intact the ACA coverage of nearly 70,000 Kansans among millions of Americans.

With that chaos averted, state leaders are free to judge the proposed expansion of Medicaid on its own merits, which are compelling. Under the ACA, the federal government will pay nearly the entire cost for states to expand eligibility up to 138 percent of the poverty level - individuals with incomes up to $16,105 a year and up to $32,913 for a family of four. About 131,000 uninsured Kansans could be newly covered by KanCare, the state’s privatized, managed-care version of Medicaid.

Yet some are now acting as if the court decision lets them off the hook.

“The relief valve was triggered by the court’s ruling, as unique as it was,” said Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson - ignoring how expansion could help those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid yet too little to afford their own ACA plans even with subsidies.

“Right now, there’s not a whole lot of support,” said House Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita - as if forgetting how proponents packed the room during the two days of emotional hearings before his panel in March.

On Tuesday the Kansas Republican Party even counted defeating Medicaid expansion among the accomplishments of the legislative session. Gov. Sam Brownback remains the biggest holdout, of course, telling the Associated Press through a spokeswoman that he first wants to address the waiting lists for in-home care for the disabled (a fine goal, but one unrelated to Medicaid expansion) and has doubts about the financial sustainability of expansion.

A Kansas Hospital Association study concluded that expansion will pay for itself. And what about the financial sustainability of hospitals in the state if Medicaid is not expanded? Many are facing brutal cuts in federal reimbursements for uncompensated care - reductions always intended to be offset by federal support for states’ Medicaid expansion under the ACA. Kansas’ leaders have been warned over and over that their inaction could cripple hospitals, including many in underserved rural areas.

But rather than join the 29 states that have expanded Medicaid, Kansas’ leaders would rather fight the Obama administration: Last week Attorney General Derek Schmidt and nine red-state counterparts asked Congress to investigate whether the administration is trying to coerce states to expand Medicaid by withholding money.

The governor and other state leaders fail to understand that they aren’t merely sticking with the status quo by refusing to expand Medicaid. They are neglecting a crisis in the making.

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Lawrence Journal-World, July 6

Street strategy

Reducing motor vehicle traffic lanes to promote good health is a questionable strategy.

Local advocates of healthy lifestyles and streets that encourage pedestrian and bicycle usage and safety have come to the defense of new traffic strategies such as the one being considered for Kasold Drive between Seventh and 14th streets.

Planners are looking at reducing this stretch of the four-lane Kasold to two lanes and adding new bike lanes and an expanded multi-use path. Advocates assign many attributes to the plan. Reducing the lanes would actually ease traffic flow, they say, and adding a roundabout at Kasold and Harvard Road would slow traffic, making it safe for bicycles and motor vehicles to share the single lane of traffic around the circle. The overall goal is to encourage more people to travel to various destinations on foot or on a bicycle rather than in a car or truck - a step that would increase their physical health and well-being.

It’s an interesting theory, but it’s also a significant financial gamble for the city. What happens if the city pursues the new idea of narrower streets on Kasold and at other locations and then finds that pedestrian, bicycle and motor traffic doesn’t evolve in the way some advocates are hoping for?

Creating incentives for more people to walk and bike to their destinations is laudable, but perhaps not all that practical. For better or worse, our community hasn’t been designed in a way that encourages that trend. Where are the people who live on or near that stretch of Kasold going to walk or bike to? Some smaller commercial centers are located at Sixth Street and Bob Billings Parkway, but it’s some distance to the nearest grocery store.

Advocates harken back to a time when more children walked or biked to school, but that was when schools served smaller neighborhoods. Other factors, such as personal safety concerns or after-school activities, also enter into a parent’s decision whether to let a child walk or bike to school.

Then there’s Kansas weather, which isn’t always conducive to cycling and walking. Bike lanes and additional sidewalks might increase recreational uses of that stretch of Kasold but they seem unlikely to trigger significant reductions in motor vehicle traffic because more people are biking and walking to school, shopping and other everyday destinations.

Many motorists also continue to have safety concerns about roundabouts. Motorists are trainable, but they aren’t used to yielding the only traffic lane around a roundabout to a bicyclist, and many people still question whether pedestrians are safer crossing a street at a roundabout where traffic doesn’t routinely stop or at an intersection controlled by traffic signals or stop signs.

Increasing physical activity and decreasing our dependence on motor vehicles are great ideas, but narrowing city streets may not be the best way to promote that goal.

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Salina Journal, July 3

It’s time to reconsider the death penalty

Having issued landmark rulings on gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act this past week, the Supreme Court on Monday tackled another complex legal and social question: the death penalty.

This time, however, the majority’s 5-4 decision didn’t prompt the wild celebrations and anguished condemnations sparked by its rulings last week.

The court turned away concerns by Oklahoma death-row inmates who contended the use of the sedative midazolam will leave them at risk of severe pain during executions, in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

In Glossip v. Gross, the justices affirmed lower court rulings that said the prisoners hadn’t gone far enough to prove the risk of severe pain. The majority also took the disappointing step of making inmates’ lawyers responsible for identifying available, less risky alternative methods.

“Because it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority, “(i)t necessarily follows that there must be a (constitutional) means of carrying it out.”

But Justice Stephen Breyer, in a long, impassioned dissent, raised the question growing numbers of Americans are asking: Given the mounting evidence of its many flaws, is it time for America to abandon the death penalty?

If we can’t exercise this most profound form of government power fairly, accurately and without torturing the accused on their deathbeds, how can we still call it constitutionally valid? There is mounting evidence to suggest the system is failing.

Breyer, in his dissent, noted that the number of exonerations in capital cases has now risen to 115, with six inmates exonerated in 2014 alone based on actual innocence. Among them: the North Carolina case of Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown, two mentally disabled half-brothers who have been pardoned in the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl.

Justice Antonin Scalia once used that crime’s horrors as justification for the death penalty. Now, Breyer’s dissent cites McCollum’s innocence in arguing the unreliability of capital punishment, and the long, unsuccessful efforts by states to weed out problems.

“We now have plausible evidence of unreliability that (perhaps due to DNA evidence) is stronger than the evidence we had before,” Breyer wrote. “I believe it is highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. At the very least, the Court should call for full briefing on the basic question.”

Indeed. The late Justice Harry Blackmun said two decades ago that he would no longer “tinker with the machinery of death.”

It’s becoming clear that we can’t fix it, so neither should we.


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