- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Wichita Eagle, Feb. 13

Kansas is neglecting its highways. Raiding the transportation budget must change.

Whatever our neighbors in Oklahoma and Missouri once bragged about, Kansans could always think, “Yes, but our roads are so much better.”

That’s no longer the case. Many areas of Kansas have state highways in need of repair or modernization. Anyone who travels the state has a two-lane highway they would rather avoid because it’s too narrow, bumpy or is without a safe place to pull over.

The Kansas Department of Transportation needs $380 million annually for preservation work on state roads, according to the director of the Kansas Contractors Association, but hasn’t received that much in years because the Legislature continually raids KDOT’s budget to fund other government needs labeled more pressing. Former Gov. Sam Brownback’s failed tax-cut policies helped fuel the revenue problem.

But roads are like homes: Let upkeep slide for too long and it creates big problems.

So it’s time for lawmakers to begin a U-turn for state transportation funding. A slow, deliberate U-turn that will require much thought and collaboration.

Taking money from KDOT has become as much of a tradition in state government as the State of the State speech. When critical funding is needed, take from transportation without much guilt and hope for a better outlook next year.

Next year comes and goes often. About $3.3 billion has been taken from KDOT over 20 years, and 23 projects statewide remain delayed at a projected cost of $525 million.

In 2010, the Legislature created T-Works, the Department of Transportation’s 10-year, $8 billion framework. Its “$8 million promise” was that all 105 Kansas counties would receive at last $8 million in improvements before 2020 - only Chautauqua, Greeley and Stanton counties are short, according to the T-Works website.

The Senate took the first step in replacing T-Works last week, passing legislation that creates a transportation task force. Its charge would be to identify needed road projects and determine new KDOT funding priorities. The bill is now in the House.

Gov. Jeff Colyer identified a similar task force in his speech to legislators last week. He should make sure the task force bill reaches his desk for signature.

Lawmakers know replenishing KDOT’s budget can’t come quickly. All sides agree it’s a long-term wish, what with a school-funding formula and other pressing needs also carrying large price tags.

But after years of neglect and putting off critical projects, a transportation task force should find another long-term, T-Works-type plan that emphasizes funding solutions and ways to ensure KDOT is fully funded.

There are options. One is in the form of using bonds, though borrowing to pay for roadwork doesn’t make sense to many. A gas tax - which would send KDOT revenue that can’t be taken away by lawmakers - is another possibility.

Yes, it’s a tax. Not popular among lawmakers or the state’s residents.

Whatever the idea, it has come time for legislators to take their most serious look at fixing a broken way of funding the Department of Transportation. Kansas roads and bridges have been put off long enough. We should be able to take pride again in Kansas highways.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Feb. 16

Compensation for wrongful convictions only fair

Compensation for those wrongfully convicted in the courts of Kansas is only fair in attempting to reverse the loss of freedom, the agony and the despair of those who managed to get such rulings overturned.

With any wrongful convictions, a breakdown occurred within the criminal justice system. The arduous process of gaining exoneration often exhausts a considerable span of life for those behind bars serving time for crimes they did not convict.

Justice cannot be satisfied simply with their release from incarceration. Particularly when they face difficulties, despite their innocence, reentering society and attempting to make up for time lost behind bars. Acquiring the most basic necessities can be an issue for someone who has not been able to earn the kind of living they could have established had they remained free.

A bill introduced in the Kansas Senate seeks to provide compensation for those wrongfully convicted at a rate of $80,000 for each year of imprisonment, though civil judgments from lawsuits can lessen that commitment. In addition, the measure stipulates that records related to such cases involving wrongful conviction be expunged and purged.

Three men exonerated of crimes that caused them to spend a collective 55 years in Kansas prisons shared their devastating accounts of wrongful imprisonment Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Lamonte McIntyre, whose appeal of a double homicide he was convicted of committing in Kansas City, Kan., led to his freedom, provided a sound explanation for why the state should repay those who have been exonerated after paying an unwarranted debt to society.

“The state of Kansas can’t give me back the 23 years it took from me,? McIntyre said. “But it can pass a compensation law so I can start my path to a successful future.?

What level of compensation is fair? It is the $80,000 figure multiplied by each year of wrongful incarceration? More? Less? That is a marker legislators must evaluate.

Not only were these citizens denied an opportunity to build a career, but also the retirement funding one accrues over time. Assistance with the development of a skill is a baseline service to consider, along with compensation that provides for health services, legal services and affordable housing, in addition to basic needs such as food and transportation.

Calculations for those obligations are difficult to establish considering the torment suffered behind bars by those who should not have been there. However, statutes exist that have been established by 32 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government to offer satisfactory guidelines.

Obviously, within those jurisdictions, compassion and compensation for those wrongfully convicted of crimes demanded that action be taken. Kansas should follow suit. Such a statute is the humane thing to do to help a citizen whose life was shattered by an incorrect ruling in court.

The criminal justice system in America, and specifically, in Kansas, is not perfect. Mistakes are made. Yet when errors adversely affect those who are wrongly convicted, the state must step up and be accountable for the harm inflicted by the court.

In turn, such compensation places even greater importance on Kansas courts to produce correct verdicts. Sadly, the exonerated men who spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee were not awarded such rulings, but they should be awarded compensation for the unnecessary hardships they endured behind bars.


The Lawrence Journal-World, Feb. 19

Lawmakers should reject Kris Kobach’s efforts to repeal laws that help young immigrants.

Kansas legislators should reject efforts to repeal a 2004 law that offers in-state tuition to students who meet residency requirements even if they aren’t U.S. citizens.

The law essentially makes people eligible to pay in-state tuition if they have attended an accredited Kansas high school for three or more years, have graduated from a Kansas high school or earned a GED certificate issued in Kansas and, in the case of people without legal immigration status, have filed affidavits stating that either they or their parents are seeking to legalize their immigration status.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is advocating repeal of the law, arguing that it violates a 1996 federal statute that restricts states from giving post-secondary education benefits to a person who is not lawfully present in the country unless it provides that same benefit on equal terms to U.S. citizens.

“It’s been 14 years now that Kansas has been giving in-state tuition to certain illegal aliens in our state,” he told the House Higher Education Budget Committee. “We were one of the first states to make this misstep, and it’s long overdue that we correct this.”

Kobach estimated that the law amounts to a subsidy of $12 million per year for the estimated 600 students.

But Kobach’s estimate, the difference between in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition for the students, makes the faulty assumption that the students would still enroll at the higher nonresident tuition rates.

Kobach previously filed a lawsuit challenging the law, arguing it was unfair to those forced to pay out-of-state tuition. A U.S. District judge dismissed the suit because the plaintiffs could not demonstrate how the law harmed them. The judge’s decision was upheld on appeal.

Kansas, like every other state in the country, counts among its residents immigrant children who had no say in their families’ decision to bring them to this country. When those students succeed in a Kansas high school, it is to the state’s benefit for them to continue their education at a Kansas college or university.

“Every year since I have served in office, I have witnessed the hateful anti-immigration bills that have come forward, especially directed toward the Kansas Dreamers,” said Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita. “I have also seen that there has been no appetite for anti-immigration bills here in the Legislature.”

With an unemployment rate near 3 percent, Kansas’ agriculture-based economy continues to depend upon immigrant labor. Providing an affordable pathway to higher education for children from those immigrant families is sensible legislation. Lawmakers should follow the lead of the courts and reject Kobach’s call to repeal it.

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