- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Wichita Eagle, Nov. 18

Cutting welfare hasn’t reduced poverty:

Gov. Sam Brownback’s success in cutting welfare rolls is inarguable. But reducing the numbers of Kansans on public assistance isn’t the same as reducing poverty in Kansas, which means it’s premature for him to declare victory.

A critic of the nation’s 50-year War on Poverty, and especially its programs providing benefits without requiring employment, the Republican governor is sincere in his belief that his approach will be more effective. It looks impressive that only 15,000 Kansans are on the monthly average welfare rolls in 2015, compared with 39,000 in 2011.

“It’s work. It’s education. It’s family. Those are your big three pieces that you need to get moving in the right direction,” he told The Eagle’s Bryan Lowry.

But his policies don’t seem to have moved Kansas’ poverty numbers in the right direction.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 13.6 percent of Kansans were living below the poverty level last year, a slight dip from 2012-13 but the same as when Brownback was elected governor in 2010. Kansas Kids Count data shows 18 percent of Kansas children in poverty in both 2013 and 2010.

Some of the changes made by policy and legislation since 2011 also appear both punitive and prescriptive. Kansas now selectively tests welfare applicants for drug use, limits welfare benefits to 36 months, and requires some recipients of food assistance or welfare to work at least 20 hours a week or participate in job training.

Not surprisingly, 23.7 percent of Kansas families left the welfare program in 2013 for failing to comply with the requirements, compared with 9.6 percent who left because of new employment.

This year Kansas also earned national ridicule by barring welfare benefits from being spent in a colorful array of ways, including on cruises, fortune-tellers, tattoos and lingerie.

And Brownback wants to do more of what might appear to be meddling in the lives of the poor, by stepping up fathering initiatives and launching a mentoring program for them like one that has helped prison inmates after their release.

Of course, Brownback’s stated desire to “embrace the family” as a culture is understood not to include families headed by same-sex couples, who have been treated like second-class citizens by his administration. And even as he’s curbed welfare benefits he’s signed laws eliminating tax credits that had helped low-income Kansans and raising sales tax on everybody.

Maybe 50 years of handouts haven’t worked. But it’s fair to question whether the new strategy - equal parts hand up and slap down - truly will help Kansans either.


Topeka Capital-Journal, Nov. 20

Conservation is serious business:

Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday told Kansans who traveled to Manhattan for a two-day conference on water conservation to expect some disputes as the state pressed forward with implementation of it 50-year plan to reduce water consumption.

“There’s going to be some people not so happy,” the governor said.

“Not so happy” may be putting it mildly. A lot of people are going to have to change longtime habits if the steady depletion of the underground Ogallala Aquifer is to change, and it must.

The aquifer serves irrigation, livestock and industrial users - in addition to providing water to homes and retail businesses - in a vast area of western Kansas. The water source has been treated as though it will be there forever, even though we’ve known for a long time that’s not the case.

Resistance to change has been strong, and that’s understandable because water drawn from the aquifer is the life blood of so many individuals and businesses. But conservation, voluntary or forced, must begin now if there is going to be any water left for future generations.

Brownback appointed a task force to draft a 50-year plan for water usage and conservation. Included in that document’s recommendations were conservation of the Ogallala Aquifer and dredging of Kansas reservoirs that have become silted over past decades and no long hold the amounts of water for which they were designed.

Work on a $25 million dredging project at John Redmond Reservoir has begun. Selling big water users who tap the Ogallala Aquifer on conservation isn’t going to be easy, although one voluntary water conservation area has been created. Brownback prefers the volunteer approach to conservation of the Ogallala, but the state shouldn’t hesitate to push harder if the volunteer approach doesn’t get the required results.

It’s good that the state has a 50-year plan in place, but it can’t settle for the small steps some large users might prefer. The reality is serious conservation measures should have been taken a long time ago. There are no quick fixes available at this point, and intermittent or short-term efforts to control usage just defeat the purpose of a 50-year approach.

Brownback told those who attended the Manhattan conference that water is a fundamental resource: “If you don’t have it, you don’t have a future.”

It is time for Kansans to get serious about water conservation, and ensuring a future for those who will follow us.


Salina Journal, Nov. 18

Bibles in the schools:

The Junction City School District is being threatened with a lawsuit over an issue that easily should be resolved.

At issue is whether the Gideons should be allowed to place Bibles in a district school for distribution to students. According to a Topeka Capital-Journal story, The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to the district threatening to sue if it doesn’t stop allowing the distribution of the Bibles.

The letter from the humanist group says that a fourth-grade student who is an atheist felt pressure to take a Bible when they were offered to students. The Bibles were on a table in a hall outside the classroom.

A statement issued by the district stated that it’s Superintendent Corbin Witt’s decision on whether to allow in outside materials, as long as they don’t cause “substantial interference with normal school activity.”

“The Gideons have conducted themselves in a manner that adheres to the district policy for over 15 years,” the district statement said.

The district also noted that students can’t be handed a Bible or asked if they want one. Distribution happens only in hallways and only for one day.

We’re not sure what the distribution of Bibles has to do with a public school’s mission of educating students. More than likely, it’s just a holdover from another era.

But should that be the case? We don’t think so, and for several reasons. The first is that promoting a religious belief is something best left to a child’s parents, pastor, or a teacher in a private school.

Secondly, if you believe that a public school should be allowed to make Bibles available to students, then you’d have to open it up to other religions. We don’t even have to wonder how a school table loaded with Korans or publications from other non-Christian religions would go over with most Kansans.

So, the Junction City School District is faced with the prospect of going to court to defend an indefensible, antiquated position, or it can stop letting the Gideons distribute Bibles.

It would seem to be an easy decision.


Lawrence Journal-World, Nov. 23

ID concerns:

Proper identification, verified identification, is of growing importance in the United States, whether it applies to refugees coming into this country or those who want to vote in state and national elections.

The current debate relative to admitting thousands of refugees from Syria into our country is serious and a matter of great concern for millions of Americans, including a large number of those serving in Congress.

The director of the FBI acknowledges there is no way to properly investigate the backgrounds of those that would be admitted into our country, no way to trace backgrounds and activities that are necessary to verify and build a record on each individual.

Other federal officers make it clear they believe the terrorist threat in the U.S. is greater today than at any time since the deadly Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Currently, great concern is focused on refugees from the Middle East, particularly Syria, and whether there are potential terrorists among these groups. It wasn’t long ago tens of thousands of “refugees” from Central and South America were crossing our border without vetting and background checks to verify they were legitimately fleeing a “humanitarian” threat and deserved an open door into the U.S.

Is there justification to think there might be terrorists being slipped into our country through the Syrian pipeline but no reason to worry or believe our enemies would try the same method of getting terrorists into the U.S. through Central and South America?

Our borders are porous, and it is impossible for federal or state officials to know for certain who may be decent, hard-working, honest individuals seeking a new future or who may be imposters waiting to take action against “hated Americans.”

This issue of proper identification and verification raises an associated matter: the ongoing efforts to discredit Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s work to require proper identification and proof of citizenship for those who wish to vote in state elections.

Individuals are required to have proper identification to get a hunting license, buy a gun, board a commercial airliner, drive a car or cash a check, but, for some reason, many think it is wrong to require proper ID to vote.

Kobach’s manner infuriates some, and others don’t like him because he is a conservative Republican. Others think he is trying to disenfranchise certain segments of our society or that he is overplaying his role as secretary of state and engaging in political showboating.

That impression may be a correct or a slanted appraisal, but proper identification is going to become a matter of increasing importance and concern in this country. Already, identity theft is a growing danger, making Americans much more aware of the importance of protecting their identities.

Proper identification is not unreasonable, whether it applies to those entering our country or those wishing to vote in local, state and national elections.

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