- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Topeka Capital-Journal, May 23

Legislature fiddles:

Before leaving Topeka on Thursday for a four-day weekend break, legislators passed a resolution that prevented them from being paid for the off days.

If they think they are going to generate any goodwill by forgoing a few days’ salary - beyond the time they should have completed their work - while they’re at home for a holiday, they are mistaken.

Some legislators have forsaken their daily pay for time worked beyond the regular 90-day session this year. All legislators should do the same, and they should give up the per-diem, too. It would be even better if legislators would draft and pass a law that eliminates forever any opportunity for pay or per-diem for time in session beyond 90 days.

Our legislators know what they have to do this session; they just don’t want to do it. At least not yet.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said, after senators had canceled a Thursday debate on a $495 million tax package, it was always good for lawmakers to visit with their constituents.

For some reason, we don’t think a lot of legislators have been listening to their constituents for the past several months. Are they really going to start now?

As it stands, legislators will return to Topeka on Tuesday and the Senate might debate its pending tax bill on Wednesday. There just doesn’t seem to be a rush to settle the one issue that needs to be settled before a final adjournment - passing a bill that fills the remaining $400 million hole in the state budget for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1.

As members of the leadership team duck, fiddle and wring their hands about how to accomplish that, their colleagues debate and pass things that could have waited until next year, or longer.

A raft of proposed liquor law reforms were on the table earlier in the week, a bill to move school district and municipal elections to the fall in odd-numbered years was passed, as was a bill that gives the secretary of state authority to prosecute voter fraud cases.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach said the bill pertaining to his office passed “not a moment too soon.” But if it wasn’t important enough to pass in the regular session, it wasn’t important enough to pass now.

Legislators must find more revenue to fund the 2016 budget. They should do it via a combination of tax hikes that ensure everyone pays something and no one gets a free pass. Just get it done.

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The Wichita Eagle, May 21

Coercing the courts:

Legislative forces formally lined up for an assault on the Kansas courts this week, when a House-Senate conference committee agreed to use the power of the purse to try to force the judiciary into deciding a case in the Legislature’s favor.

The egregious power play works like this: If the courts stay, invalidate or strike down as unconstitutional any part of the 2014 law that curbed the Kansas Supreme Court’s power, the state’s entire judicial budget for the next two years will evaporate. Poof.

A similar provision was included in the 2014 law, which is being challenged in a lawsuit filed in February by Chief Judge Larry T. Solomon of the 30th Judicial District (Kingman, Barber, Harper, Sumner and Pratt counties). The lawsuit, pending in Shawnee County District Court, says that the 2014 law violates the state constitution by taking away the chief justice’s power to appoint the chief judge in each district court.

The latest bill, which contains the courts’ funding through fiscal 2017, still must be considered by both the House and Senate, which will be limited to up-or-down votes. The bill’s message is clear, as Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said in a Wall Street Journal article: “It says, You do what we want you to do or we’re going to shut you down.’”

At least what had been an under-the-radar element of the budgeting debate has started to draw more deserved attention, in and outside of Kansas. The Journal article suggested the legislation may be the first to make court funding contingent on the outcome of an individual case and is being viewed by public-interest groups “as the most pointed challenge to judicial independence in recent memory.”

The Republican architects of the latest punitive bill characterize it as no big deal, just as they did the 2014 policy reforms that weakened the Supreme Court’s budget authority and otherwise.

Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, said: “Having funding decisions decided at the level of government closest to the people is something I personally believe in.”

But whether King and other lawmakers prefer locally controlled district courts is irrelevant. What counts is what the state constitution says, and since 1972 it has said the Supreme Court has “general administrative authority over all courts in this state.”

The legislative decision to punish the courts in this and other ways is all about politics, and particularly recent Supreme Court decisions about school funding, the death penalty and other matters that have proved unpopular at the Statehouse. Lawmakers no doubt hope the intimidation factor will work to their benefit on other cases, too, including the ongoing school funding fight.

Because judges aren’t free to scream bloody murder about this latest bill, other Kansans must speak up on behalf of adequately funded, independent courts.

___

Salina Journal, May 26

It’s always best to walk away:

However distasteful it might be to see someone be disrespectful to the American flag, that’s no reason to take matters into your own hands.

Because as remote as the possibility is, you never know when someone might have a gun, the gun might go off, someone could get hurt, and then everyone would be in serious trouble.

Unfortunately, what we’ve described here isn’t a hypothetical case.

On May 17 on the Niles Road bridge over Interstate Highway 70, a group of American Legion Riders gathered to wave flags and salute the motorcycle riders who were traveling east along I-70 on their annual Run for the Wall ride to the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.

This year, another person arrived on the bridge, Salinan Neil Jednoralski, 68, who has a bit of history with flags and the government.

During the 2014 election, Jednoralski was asked to leave a polling place after he displayed upside down American flag. Jednoralski said at the time that the upside-down flag “represents danger to life and property -that’s where I think we are in this country.”

In 2011, Jednoralski made known his plans to head to Osawatomie and arrest President Obama during his visit there. This promoted a visit by the Secret Service, which informed him that, no, he was not going to arrest the president.

On the Niles Road bridge, when Jednoralski displayed his upside down American flag, several of the others there asked him to turn it upright. When he refused, they tried to take it from him. That’s when Jednoralski allegedly pulled out a 9 mm handgun. He was wrestled him to the ground and his gun taken.

Whether anyone gets charged is up to the Saline County attorney, but that’s not our concern here.

As distasteful and provocative as what Jednoralski did might be, that’s certainly his right, as Saline County Sheriff Glen Kochanowski noted. That right to protest is something that all veterans, including Jednoralski, have fought to protect.

Taking matters into your own hands rarely works out for the best. This time, the gun didn’t go off. If it had, imagine how different the lives of everyone on that bridge would be.

It’s always best to walk away.

___

Lawrence Journal-World, May 22

Public business and private emails:

Public officials’ use of private email has been making the headlines at both the state and national levels recently, lending support to the Kansas attorney general’s effort to close an important loophole in the Kansas Open Records Act.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been dealing for months with the fallout of her decision to use her private email account for both personal and government communication. This week, Gov. Sam Brownback acknowledged that he has routinely used his private email to communicate with his staff and others about government matters when he served in the U.S. Senate as well as in the governor’s office.

The state issue was raised after a Wichita newspaper learned that Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, had used a private email account to send a draft of the proposed state budget to a group that included a registered lobbyist weeks before that budget was revealed to state legislators. The newspaper requested the release of those emails, but the request was denied and Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued an opinion confirming that private emails from public officials - even if they discuss government business - aren’t covered by the Kansas Open Records Act.

Clearly, using private email accounts to conduct government business outside the public eye isn’t in keeping with the spirit of the Open Records Act. To his credit, Schmidt recommended legislation to close the email loophole, and two identical bills have been introduced to resolve the problem. The bills would make government-related email sent by government officials on any account subject to the open records law. Private email on private accounts would be exempt. Time is growing short, but it’s not too late for legislators to advance this legislation before the end of the current session - unless legislators would prefer to preserve a loophole that undermines government transparency.

Various forms of electronic communication have vastly expanded the opportunities for public officials to skirt the provisions of the Kansas Open Meetings Act and the Kansas Open Records Act. The public may never know about many of these communications, but closing the private email loophole will at least give the public access to those communications when concerns over secret communications are raised.

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