- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Lawrence Journal-World, March 25

Change the law on seizing assets

Kansas lawmakers were right to overhaul laws regarding the seizure and liquidation of assets by law enforcement.

House bill 2459, approved by the House and Senate, would require law enforcement to provide greater transparency and information regarding seizures and liquidation. The bill is awaiting Gov. Jeff Colyer’s signature to become law.

Under current law, law enforcement agencies can seize cash, vehicles, property and other assets of a criminal suspect if officers believe the assets are proceeds of illegal activity or were used in the commission of a crime. Once property is seized, agencies can petition to have those assets forfeited and turned over to the agency. Generally, law enforcement agencies sell the seized assets for specific law enforcement purposes.

But as a 2016 report by the Legislative Post Audit Division showed, the program’s current structure allows for broad discretion. The report showed some law enforcement agencies were not complying with reporting requirements about their seizure activities or not following restrictions on how the proceeds can be used.

In essence, current law encourages a wild, wild West approach that’s ripe for abuse. There have been a number of high-profile cases in which authorities used the law to seize assets of individuals who were never formally charged or convicted of any crime. And there have been complaints that people whose assets are seized are not adequately notified about forfeiture proceedings so they can have time to challenge the forfeiture.

House Bill 2459 makes the forfeiture process more transparent by tightening reporting requirements. The bill makes the Kansas Bureau of Investigation responsible for maintaining a central record-keeping system to track all seized and forfeited assets, including information about the agency that seized the property, whether or not charges are ever filed in the case and the amount of proceeds received from forfeited assets.

The bill strengthens the requirements for providing notice to people whose assets have been seized, as well as others such as mortgage or lien holders, that a forfeiture proceeding is commencing. It gives property owners or others with a vested interest in the property additional time to file a claim that the property is exempt from forfeiture.

The bill would allow property to be forfeited even if the person is never charged or convicted. But the new law does place a greater burden on authorities to show that the assets were directly tied to criminal activity.

The use of asset seizure and forfeiture laws increased rapidly during the war on drugs. The idea was to reduce trafficking by hitting high-level dealers where it would hurt most: their pocketbooks. It isn’t clear that strategy has been overly successful, but asset seizures have been by funneling millions every year to law enforcement agencies around the country.

Asset seizures and forfeitures should be tightly regulated with strict reporting to ensure laws are being followed and individual rights are protected. House Bill 2459 is a step in the right direction and Colyer should sign it into law.

Wichita Eagle, March 24

Yes, Kansas has efficient schools; will Legislature decide to efficiently fund them?

There is little positive news in the ongoing effort to fund Kansas public education. The state Supreme Court’s deadline for a new funding formula is five weeks away, the study statehouse leaders hoped would tell them spending minimally was an option instead told them to spend much more, and lawmakers said high-end figures are only reachable through hefty tax increases - in an election year.

Oh, and a non-profit group popped up last week with the goal of amending the Kansas Constitution so that school districts would have a more difficult time suing the state for equitable funding.

But back to the small piece of positive news.

Kansas has some of the nation’s most efficient schools. The study presented to the Legislature, by Texas A&M; researcher Lori Taylor, showed that the average efficiency rate of Kansas schools is 96 percent.

That number backs up a 2017 study from the Kansas Association of School Boards that showed Kansas ranks in the top 10 in an average of student outcomes while its per-pupil spending is below the national average.

Kansas school districts should be proud to be rated so highly given the dilemma. Districts around the state are filled with teachers and administrators who are the heart of education and best know how to try to achieve great things in the classroom.

It’s also obvious that this has been a decade where school districts, and their individual schools, have had to learn how to function with fewer resources when funding from the state was cut back because of the failed tax policies of former Gov. Sam Brownback, backed by the Legislature.

So now that we know Kansas schools are efficient, the question becomes how efficiently will the Legislature fund them?

Lawmakers have no appetite to raising individual income taxes. Same with sales taxes, which have been hiked to the point both statewide and in communities that they’re approaching 10 percent in some places.

Along with encouraging revenue estimates - up $270 million eight months into the current fiscal year - property taxes may be a begrudging answer. Add that to continued strong revenue estimates and lawmakers would be in the low range of what Taylor’s study said could bring achievement advances.

Then it, as part of a funding formula, would go the Kansas Supreme Court for approval.

What Republican leaders have to decide is how to tie fiscal numbers to performance numbers by Kansas students.

State officials promised a 95-percent graduation rate by 2030, but some lawmakers now question whether it’s smart to go after a rate that high when a 90- or 92-percent rate would be more attainable with fewer tax dollars.

Same with achievement on standardized tests. Lawmakers may decide to adjust funding based on a sliding scale of standardized testing goals. Getting 90 percent of students to grade level on math and reading tests is high-reaching when that number is around 87 percent now.

It all depends on what lawmakers think they have to do to please the state Supreme Court. That, and giving Kansas schoolchildren their best chances at top-of-the-line educations, unfortunately may not end up being the same thing.

Topeka Capital-Journal, March 22

Kobach cannot run away from inept performance

The move Wednesday by Kris Kobach to announce his running mate for governor was clearly staged to pump some positivity into a campaign sidetracked by a poor performance in the courtroom.

By formally tabbing Wink Hartman, a Wichita businessman who was briefly a gubernatorial candidate himself, Kobach attempted to divert attention from a two-week federal trial on voting rights.

While attempting to defend, as his own attorney, the state’s proof of citizenship requirement, Kobach was frequently admonished by U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson for failing to follow civil procedure and not following previous court orders. The performance by Kobach would have been considered an embarrassment by most attorneys.

Yet for the man presumed to be the frontrunner among Republican gubernatorial hopefuls, the courtroom proceedings provided an opportunity for Kobach to gain even more name recognition. He relished the chance to spread his message about voter identification practices, which prompted his selection as vice chairman for a commission on election fraud created and later disbanded by President Donald Trump.

The courtroom theatrics, however, could actually backfire among voters, even in the Republican primary. Opponents certainly have additional material they can use to discredit Kobach.

However, this is a politician who thrives on controversy. The publicity Kobach has gained with voting irregularities he purports, combined with promises to roll back taxes, as well as his anti-abortion and pro-gun stances, will make the Kansas Secretary of State appealing to legions of conservative Kansas voters. Enough so that Kobach will be a formidable primary opponent for Republican challengers, including Gov. Jeff Colyer, another conservative who spent seven years as Sam Brownback’s lieutenant governor.

The selection of Hartman as a running mate provides a veteran politician for Kobach’s ticket, as well as an oil magnate who can potentially infuse money into the campaign as needed. Wednesday’s announcement, at Topeka’s Great Overland Station, also enabled Kobach to show he was undeterred by any perceived setbacks in court and is determined to forge ahead in his bid to become the state’s next governor.

Over the course of a four-day tour Kobach and Hartman scheduled, more initiatives could be revealed. The need to give Hartman a verifiable role, in exchange for him dropping out of the race and offering a hearty endorsement to his fellow conservative, was unveiled already. Hartman will perform duties much like a state auditor “on steroids,? Kobach said. Agencies will be analyzed and recommendations made for budget cuts needed to reduce state spending.

On the surface, the idea seems sound for a state looking to solve budget shortfalls. Yet the conservative approach Kobach and Hartman want to exert will no doubt strip funding for agencies that do not comply with their conservative agenda.

Kobach was shrewd enough to introduce a poll conducted earlier this month among 500 likely GOP primary voters. The poll reflected Kobach leading with 31 percent of the respondents, though 36 percent were undecided - a clear distinction that the Republican race is too early to call with Colyer (18 percent), former state legislator Jim Barnett (10 percent) and Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer (4 percent) also drawing support and no doubt inclined to release their own polling numbers.

What will be interesting is how those undecided voters respond once the Republican primary race is narrowed, in all likelihood, into a contest between Kobach and Colyer. The “massive mess? Kobach referenced in his campaign remarks Wednesday was, in part, an indirect jab at Colyer and his connection with Brownback. Make no mistake, however, Kobach is every bit as conservative as Brownback on policy and just as industrious on the political front.

A statement issued by the Kansas Democratic Party attempted to convey that ambition by using a quote attributed to Hartman seven months ago regarding a pattern in which Kobach “keeps auditioning for new positions wherever he can find them.?

Now, Kobach and Hartman have formed a coalition determined to advance conservative principles that made Brownback vastly unpopular as governor. Only Kobach has an additional distraction caused by his recent courtroom engagement.

That exhibition, in particular, should give voters - those fortunate enough to gain approval for casting ballots in this state - pause about the direction Kobach would provide on all issues affecting Kansas, especially when the trial gave the candidate no pause in traveling the state to influence perception about himself and his campaign.

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