- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Wichita Eagle, June 12

Real threat to Kansas Supreme Court, judicial independence:

Ethical canons prevent the justices of the Kansas Supreme Court from responding to name-calling or worse. So others will need to defend them strongly as their rulings, integrity and impartiality are assailed by elected officials and partisans from now through the Nov. 8 general election and beyond.

Legislation is being drafted at the Statehouse to curb the justices’ authority, including by putting a constitutional amendment to voters in November saying the Supreme Court can’t shut down schools in the future.

Some lawmakers would like to further punish the court for the perceived wrongs of being too liberal, too political, too slow to sign off on executions and too resolute in holding the Legislature accountable for the state constitution’s mandate to fund schools suitably.

Payback measures could be considered during the June 23 special session called by Gov. Sam Brownback to answer the court’s May 27 ruling on the inequity of school funding. Anger over the ruling might fuel another attempt to amend the constitution to give the governor free rein to pick justices, for example, or revive the Senate-passed bill making it easier to impeach justices.

The assault won’t stop with a resolution of the latest school crisis, either.

That’s because the Kansas Republican Party recently took the unprecedented step of approving a resolution supporting the defeat of four justices up for retention in November: Lawton Nuss, Marla Luckert, Carol Beier and Dan Biles. It spared a fifth justice, former Brownback administration attorney Caleb Stegall.

“Push polling” has begun as well, with questions aimed at portraying the court as soft on murderers and likely to trigger tax increases. An advertising blitz seems assured again, with no way for the justices to respond directly themselves.

To their credit, though, justices have been appearing around the state to tell groups about the court and the crucial role it plays in Kansas.

On June 1 the same day the justices were being blasted at the Statehouse as “judicial hostage takers” and extortionists whose rulings are “little turds” it was striking to hear Beier and Stegall speak to the Rotary Club of East Wichita about their oath and somber responsibility as justices. Both have recused themselves from the school finance lawsuit, and declined to discuss any cases currently before the court.

As they took turns answering questions about their judicial philosophy and court procedure, there was lots of head nodding and shared sentiment. The respect seemed mutual, too.

Beier spoke of always keeping the federal and state constitutions “in front of us” and trying to set aside feelings. Stegall talked of needing to “come to a decision that is guided by the law and nothing else.”

Listening to them, it was easy to forget the real and dangerous threat to both the state’s highest court and judicial independence generally.


Lawrence Journal-World, June 9

Kansas want to see progress, not posturing, on school finance crisis:

Calling the Kansas Legislature back to Topeka is a good step, but it’s only the first step in addressing a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school finance.

It would be interesting to know whether anyone in Las Vegas is setting odds on how likely it is that the special session called by Gov. Sam Brownback will produce any significant action on school finance - let alone a solution that will cause the court to pull back on its threat to block an unconstitutional funding system for the state’s K-12 public schools.

When the Legislature ended its regular session on June 1, lawmakers were deeply divided about how to respond to the court ruling. At one end of the spectrum were legislators who wanted to revert to the state’s previous school finance formula. At the other end were those who wanted to defy the court ruling and were focusing their efforts on actions that would block the ruling and/or protect officials who refused to implement it.

What, if anything, has changed? Unless there has been a shift in attitudes, it’s difficult to see how the Legislature can make any progress.

In announcing the special session, Brownback made the curious statement that, “I will do everything I can to keep this session focused on education.” What else does the governor think it might focus on? Does he have reason to think that legislators will focus more on politics or on finding ways to punish the court or block its ruling? Or is that just his way of saying that he doesn’t want to see talks about school funding to include any discussion of state tax policy?

One way to make sure the focus remains on education would be for the governor to show some leadership by proposing his own plan for addressing the school finance dispute. Unlike state legislators, the governor isn’t facing a re-election campaign, so he’s in a strong position to come up with a proposal to break the current standoff on education funding. The most expedient way to address the court’s concern about the equity of school funding would be to revert to the previous finance formula. It would be difficult to come up with the estimated $38 million it would take to fund that formula, but does the governor have a better plan? If so, Kansas legislators and Kansas residents would like to hear it.

Each day of the special legislative session will cost Kansas taxpayers in the neighborhood of $40,000. Voters will have plenty of time between now and November to hear political rhetoric - for free. What they’d like to see now is some concrete action to make sure Kansas schools are able to open in the fall.


The Hutchinson News, June 8

Parenting a good reason to consider early parole:

A new program allowing early release of prison inmates to go home and be parents will be good for children and for those paroled.

The idea is to provide low- and moderate-risk inmates the opportunity, after having taken parenting classes and shown they are ready, to serve out their sentences up to a year in the community taking care of their children. Corrections officials have women mostly in mind, but it would be available to men, too.

Candidates for early “community parenting” release should be fully vetted and supervised by parole officers and of course returned to prison should they violate any terms of the early release.

Anything in the prison system that moves beyond incarceration toward rehabilitation is good. Inmates who do nothing more than serve their time are more likely to wind up re-offending and returning to prison.

Providing education and training for trades and teaching life skills such as financial management are good ways to prepare inmates to return to life in society better equipped to live lives away from crime. Learning good parenting is another important critical component to success on the outside, especially, of course, for inmates with children.

And children living without a parent who is serving prison time are not well served. They, too, benefit by reuniting with a parent who is ready to take responsibility.

Community parenting is merely an extension of community corrections the idea being that part of the rehabilitation process is releasing good-behavior inmates early to work a job and begin to reintegrate into society, hopefully as responsible, productive citizens. Kansas Department of Corrections officials picked up the idea from a similar program in Washington state.

The Kansas DOC deserves credit for recognizing the value in this innovative program and the Legislature for giving the DOC the green light to do it.


The Kansas City Star, June 10

Seniors in Kansas suffer as Brownback cuts budget to save tax cuts:

Shrinking Kansas government continues to come at the expense of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

To preserve his costly and unfair tax cuts, Gov. Sam Brownback recently sliced $2.1 million in funding for the Kansas Senior Care Act. That will lead to a 30 percent reduction of in-home services for senior citizens in the state.

The act has been a lifesaver, enabling older people to live independently, confidently and securely with the help of home-care workers, who assist them a few hours a week with such things as shopping, laundry and cleaning.

The state’s 11 Area Agencies on Aging administer the program, wisely enacted by the Kansas Legislature in 1989. Agency officials are right to worry about the future. Letters this month went to more than 1,300 seniors who might be negatively affected.

Dan Goodman, director of the Johnson County Area Agency on Aging, said new clients will feel the effects first. The Johnson County agency will suffer cuts of $296,114, or 38 percent.

It’s more than expected because the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services wants to protect the $200,000 base for rural area agencies on aging, where older clients have fewer service alternatives.

The decision isn’t equitable and negatively affects older people in Johnson, Wyandotte, Shawnee and Sedgwick counties.

In Johnson County, a waiting list for services has been developed, and already 33 people are on it. The Johnson County Area on Aging serves about 500 senior citizens a year.

The funding loss is the result of the 2012 tax cuts implemented by Brownback and the conservative Republican-controlled Legislature. State residents - from schoolchildren to seniors - are the ones feeling the pain from that reduction in funds for public services.

Seniors share in the cost of the in-home service now under attack, paying on a sliding scale based on their income. The program gives them independence and a quality of life that they otherwise might not be able to afford.

The alternative for many older people is to go into nursing homes funded by Medicaid, the health insurance for the poor and disabled. The average cost per person in a nursing home in Johnson County is about $4,000 to $6,000 compared with the state’s monthly in-home service cost of $200 per person.

Any shift to nursing home care also would be occurring as demand for long-term care in the U.S. is increasing as the nation’s population ages, exceeding the supply of available services.

“It really doesn’t make good fiscal sense,” Goodman said.

He’s right. More meetings are scheduled to determine how much the cuts will affect seniors.

Meanwhile, the state’s older residents can only wait and worry about the uncertain future the governor and Legislature have created.

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