- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Kansas City Star, July 28

A top-to-bottom overhaul of the Kansas Department for Children and Families should follow a blistering audit that revealed the agency fails to properly oversee private foster care contractors, putting the safety of children at risk.

Gov. Sam Brownback should take seriously some Democratic legislators’ call for the resignation of Secretary Phyllis Gilmore. The governor’s plan to continue to support her could wind up jeopardizing children in the foster care system.

The audit was done at the request of the Legislative Division of Post Audit Committee. It is the initial phase of a thorough examination of foster care in Kansas. Private foster care agencies do most of the work; the state department administers the program. Last year, 6,300 children were in foster care.

The foster system is responsible for providing temporary homes for children needing protection from physical, emotional, mental or sexual abuse or neglect. It is essential that the system itself not jeopardize the safety of the children it is supposed to protect.

“Consequently, it is important for the foster care system to have sufficient controls in place to ensure the best interest of the child is the focus of all decisions made,” the audit said.

That clearly hasn’t been the case in the Department for Children and Families.

The audit found that the agency fails to conduct thorough background checks on foster families. Fingerprint-based background checks were done on foster parents but not on all individuals living in foster homes.

The agency also fails to ensure that monthly in-person visits occur for children’s safety in foster care, in adoptive homes or for children who have been reintegrated with their family.

The audit added that the department fails to determine whether children are placed in foster homes with sufficient living and sleeping space and whether families have the financial means needed to care for the children. In fact, the department grants nearly all requests for exceptions to these rules, which is inexcusable.

The audit revealed problems with training, staff turnover and low morale at the department. In press reports, Gilmore blamed low morale on negative stories in the media about the foster care system. That’s an absurd excuse when the audit clearly shows monumental problems exist in the agency.

They must be fixed to ensure the proper care and safety of Kansas children in the foster care system.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 31

Many municipal governments in the St. Louis area are scrambling to remain viable in the face of mounting evidence that the 1.3 million residents in St. Louis city and county would be better off with a few municipalities, instead of the existing 92 separate entities.

At the same time, many suffer from crumbling tax bases and no signs that more revenue will be forthcoming in the future. There are few reasons for many local governments to keep their doors open, but elected officials and public employees whose incomes rely on them hang on tenaciously.

To make up for the lack of cash, some municipalities relied heavily for years on revenue raised from court fines and fees to keep their operations going.

A new state law took effect last year capping the amount of revenue a county municipality can keep from minor traffic violations to 20 percent of its general operating revenue. The law requires cities to report revenue raised from traffic fines and fees with the state auditor.

The reporting requirement prompted a lawsuit, filed last week by the Municipal League of Metropolitan St. Louis on behalf of several municipalities in the St. Louis area.

As reported by the Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Kohler, the suit filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court claims the reporting rule is overly cumbersome and at odds with state law. Thus we find cities that want motorists to obey the law whining about having to obey the law themselves.

The law gives the municipalities leeway, saying the auditor should give cities a “reasonable opportunity” to show they are complying and not require them to perform “unduly burdensome calculations.”

But that’s not enough for some local governments. Their lawsuit asks the court to find the law invalid and allow cities to demonstrate that total court revenues are below the cap, without requiring them to calculate the percentage of minor offenses.

Municipalities already are supposed to file annual financial reports with the state auditor within six months of the end of their fiscal year. Figuring the portion derived from minor traffic offenses should be easy.

Part of the problem may be that many cities are breaking the financial reporting law. State Auditor Nicole Galloway reported Wednesday that nearly half the 391 municipalities across the state had not filed reports by the June 30 deadline.

The local courts’ traffic procedures were scrutinized after unrest in Ferguson exposed the hardships some were causing, mostly to poor people who got caught up in a system rife with conflicts of interests. Some municipal courts were using illegal tactics to coerce payments, and offered little transparency for offenders to determine what they owed and why.

After studying the Ferguson municipal court, the U.S. Department of Justice last year issued a blistering report warning courts in St. Louis County to change their ways.

The law requiring that courts report traffic fine revenue was part of an effort to reform the municipal court system. The Municipal League lawsuit represents a step backward. A city that can’t obey a state law perhaps should think about going out of business.

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Joplin Globe, July 31

The folks who work in Missouri sheltered workshops face plenty of challenges.

They cope with their developmental disabilities. They struggle to live as independently as possible. Sheltered workshops have helped in many ways to provide that independence by offering employment.

A downturn in manufacturing has had its effect on workshops, which operate in Missouri as small businesses that rely on contracts. For example, the 90 employees of Joplin Workshop Inc. perform bench-work manufacturing and assembly jobs as well as commercial laundry. Those contracts come from regional manufacturers and hospitals. So when the economy tightens, it also affects the work at the sheltered workshops.

Add to this one more challenge, which in our view seems like an unnecessary piece of bureaucracy for Missouri workshops.

A story on today’s Page 1 outlines the provisions of new federal legislation - the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act - which has just gone into effect. The new rules have a significant impact on Missouri workshops, an impact that local workshop directors think is going to slow down the process of finding jobs for those with disabilities.

Here’s why Missouri doesn’t fit the mold. Our state doesn’t take federal dollars to operate the workshops. County and state dollars help support the budgets, but largely, it’s those local contracts that keep the 6,600 employees with disabilities employed through the workshops.

This new law now requires that all those 25 and younger who would like a job in a sheltered workshop be assessed and certified by Missouri’s Vocational Rehabilitation office, which works to find employment for those with disabilities.

Up until now, high school special education teachers could refer a student to the workshops as early as the student’s junior or senior year. Then, as soon as the student graduated, he or she could be certified and start work. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education gives each workshop $19 a day per worker to help pay for support staff that will aid the workers.

The big fear now is the gap between high school graduation and getting certified. That is estimated to be 50 days per client rather than the seamless system Missouri already had in place. That is time that these young people lose skills they have worked so hard to learn.

Efforts should be made by both our state and federal legislators to exempt Missouri from this bureaucratic morass as it does not benefit anyone. Why must these young people face one more hurdle? Let’s be their champions. Ask your legislator what can be done to cut through this red tape.

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St. Joseph News-Press, July 30

For too long, users of Kansas City International Airport have been subjected to a drumbeat of discontent: Our airport is too old . It is too expensive to operate and maintain . It is falling behind others . Nothing short of a brand-new terminal will do.

But two developments recently have served to change that message.

The first was the decision in May by Kansas City Mayor Sly James to “press pause” and not pursue a new terminal this year. Reportedly only 40 percent of city residents polled said they would vote for the project.

The second was last week’s announcement from Aviation Director Pat Klein that upgrades are planned soon to improve the passenger experience. These improvements will come at the expense of a few million dollars, rather than the $1.2 billion proposed for a new terminal.

We are not suggesting these upgrades are the big fix many want to see - more efficient security processes, new restaurants and other amenities, a big modernization of facilities infrastructure. But consider what the changes will bring:

- Much-improved LED lighting in the terminals.

- Addition of 700 seats with electrical power in the public areas in Terminals B and C.

- Faster Wi-Fi and improved coverage.

- New and more technologically advanced information kiosks to enable travelers to secure hotels and transportation. Also, improved signage to direct travelers to rental car shuttles.

- An enlarged nine-gate space in Terminal C to enhance waiting areas for four airlines and an improved international gate area in Terminal C.

- A new cellphone waiting lot for drivers near the airport control tower.

The public has been told repeatedly that, without massive modernization or a complete replacement, the 44-year-old airport will fall behind others and lose out on future expansion of business from major airlines. And still, passenger counts are on the rise and may reach 10.9 million passengers this year, up 400,000 from 2015.

The news here is incremental improvements are possible while bigger plans are made and debated. The changes will improve the passenger experience in multiple and noticeable ways.

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