- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Topeka Capital-Journal, June 23

It was good news of a sort on Wednesday when President Donald Trump stopped defending the indefensible and signed an executive order that he claimed would stop the separation of immigrant families at the Southern border.

The “zero tolerance” policy of Trump and his administration, which resulted in more than 2,000 children being taken from their parents and confined by the government, created the humanitarian disaster. For a country that likes to think of itself as a world leader in human rights, the sight of young and vulnerable girls and boys behind wire partitions, crying for their parents, was a living nightmare.

The end of that self-declared policy would have been better than Trump’s cobbled-together order, which requests instead that families be detained as a unit. It would have also been good if the order had been vetted - early news reports suggest that agencies across the government aren’t quite sure how to interpret the text.

But the newest and most pressing challenge is reuniting children and their parents.

It’s a challenge that has touched Topeka itself, as news filtered out that The Villages, a group home located here, has taken in separated children. Think about that for a moment: Innocents taken from their parents are here, in northeast Kansas, alone and scared.

We trust that The Villages and those overseeing the program will take exemplary care of the youths. But it’s most important now to bring families back together - and the federal government doesn’t appear to have a plan in place to do so.

A Department of Homeland Security official told NBC news that 500 children have been reunited, but few other specifics were offered besides the suspiciously round number. News outlets have likewise reported that the federal government is working on a centralized program to bring the children and their families back together.

That’s good news, although again it’s good news of a sort. If a president and his administration creates a humanitarian crisis of their own accord, one might hope that same president and administration would have considered the aftermath created by their actions. One might hope that such a centralized program would have been created before the separations began.

Uncertainty lingers. But here is one certainty: As long as children are apart from their families, they are being mentally harmed in the name of the United States. As long as these kids are in a group home - even one offering the very best services — they are suffering profound trauma that will last their entire lives.

Our government did this. Our leaders did this. We owe it to these children to make their families whole again, and as soon as possible.


The Wichita Eagle, June 22

Protecting playgrounds a sad necessity. But go easy on the locks

The 8-foot fence winds 500 feet around the playground at Adams Elementary, the entrances closed off by heavy chains and padlocks.

There is no summer joy on this playground equipment.

The Wichita school district made that decision 18 months ago after installing new equipment to replace the old playground that was destroyed by an intentional fire. Damage was estimated at $20,000. A July 2017 fire at Enders Elementary caused $150,000 in playground damage.

Now, the school board has approved $231,000 to fence and lock 41 more school playgrounds. Details have to be worked out, but the district’s elementary playgrounds will not always be open.

This is a bad look for the community. Vandals and others who take advantage of the playgrounds’ off-hours solitude have forced district leaders to take steps to keep children off playgrounds when school’s not in session.

Whether it’s a bad look for the school district depends on perspective.

To district leaders, fencing off playgrounds is in the name of safety. Vandals damage equipment, others leave dangerous trash such as syringes or drug paraphernalia. It’s also, maybe just as importantly, a long-term decision to protect assets.

But it also tells the community that all of that is more important than a neighborhood’s way of life.

To the parents who see their child’s school as a second home, it’s a shame students can’t gather away from a school day and play in a known environment.

But when their playground is damaged without funds to repair or replace equipment, was access worth it?

To the taxpayer, it’s the wrong move to close off a playground that should be enjoyed by the community away from school hours.

But restricted use reduces wear and tear on playgrounds, saving the district money.

The school district is in a tough spot. Fencing off playgrounds has been a talker on social media this week, and while there’s outrage that playgrounds could be closed, there’s also strong sentiment that equipment shouldn’t be accessible at all hours.

We’ll see fencing starting to go up at schools soon. The next step is for the school board to decide exactly when playground gates will be locked.

At the very least, playgrounds will be locked during school hours and accessible only from the building. That’s an added level of comfort for parents and staff.

Board members could go for extremes - continuously locked to never locked - but likely will end up in the middle. A compromise may involve determining when a school staffer locks gates before and after school, on evenings and weekends.

Past that, the board should seek options that would keep playgrounds open as much as possible. Start slowly and develop plans for staff members or volunteers to sweep the playgrounds for garbage.

If vandalism occurs, the plan can change. But closing them permanently during off hours should be a last resort.


The Manhattan Mercury, June 25

Court ruling brings fairness to internet sales

For many years, local retailers have operated with a disadvantage: They have to collect sales tax from their customers, while online competitors don’t. That means online outlets could basically offer the same thing as a local store with a 9 percent discount, due simply to government policy.

That could change now, and it ought to.

The Supreme Court this past week ruled in a case from South Dakota that states could collect sales taxes on online sales, even if the vendor did not have a physical presence in the state. That reversed a court ruling from 1992 that said the opposite, which of course had paved the way for the explosion of internet sales.

The game has changed since then. No longer tiny little startups, online retailers have used the rules of the game - as well as their own innovation, and the convenience and enormous choice of online shopping - to grow into behemoths. Amazon had $119 billion in sales last year.

That has drained the bank accounts of state and local governments. Locally, Manhattan’s sales tax collections have dipped in recent years to the tune of millions of dollars, and that has meant less money to spend on projects and programs that could benefit the community. At the state level, the story is the same; the numbers are just bigger.

Congress should have fixed this problem years ago, but remained leery of the politics of appearing to raise taxes, or stifle internet growth.

But President Trump praised the court ruling. It cuts across political lines.

Here’s what should happen now: Assuming that Congress won’t act to make the rules uniform across the country, the Kansas Legislature should assure that the state begins collecting taxes from online sales as soon as possible. That will take legislative change and quite a bit of regulatory work, but there are millions of dollars at stake.

And while all of us as consumers certainly benefited by buying tax-free goods online for the past 25 years, we all need to realize that we were really just ducking the existing law. Sales taxes help support the public programs that we all rely on in one way or another, and it’s only fair that they’re applies uniformly.

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