Kansans can only hope that state legislators come to their senses in the next three weeks and return to Topeka ready to deal with the many key issues they left unresolved when they left the Capitol last Friday.
Perhaps the most egregious piece of business left unfinished was passage of a supplemental budget bill. This is not the budget for the coming fiscal year; it is an appropriation to help address budget shortfalls for the current year. Passage of the bill on Friday should have been routine. A House-Senate conference committee had agreed on the terms, but when it came time to sign the committee report, members of the Kansas House rejected the measure based on how the supplemental funds for K-12 schools should be financed.
There was no disagreement about the amount of the $24.5 million appropriation, but the governor and the Senate wanted the money to come from the state general fund while the House wanted to take the money from state highway funds. Because of that relatively minor issue, legislators failed to pass the appropriations bill and will have to take it up again when they return to Topeka on April 25.
In the meantime, various state entities will have to figure out how to keep operating without the supplemental funds they needed. In addition to school districts, the appropriations bill also included money to offset shortfalls in docket fees to fund state court operations and income to operate state parks. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss has indicated that without the funding, court employees may be furloughed and courts closed for up to five days. The opening of state parks also may be delayed. The supplemental appropriations also would have addressed caseload increases for nursing homes and Medicaid along with other important services — all of which now are on hold for at least three weeks.
In addition, the Legislature’s delay in approving redistricting maps for the Kansas House and Senate and the U.S. House is pushing the state dangerously close to the June 1 filing deadline for legislative and congressional candidates. Those candidates can’t file for office or start their campaigns until they know for sure that they live in the district they hope to represent. One of the Senate’s last acts before leaving Topeka Friday was to vote down a congressional redistricting map that cut Topeka in two in order to keep Manhattan in the 2nd District.
The Kansas Legislature’s spring recess is supposed to come after most of the business of the session is done. The intent is for legislators to return in three weeks mostly to tie up loose ends and consider overriding any vetoes issued by the governor during the break. In recent years, it has become routine for the budget and several other key issues to be left until the “veto session,” but, this year, legislators have been unable to agree on just about anything — even the supplemental funding for the current year’s budget.
During the next three weeks, Kansans may have an opportunity to speak with some of their state representatives. If they do, they should let them know it’s time to step up to the responsibilities that go with the job they were elected to do.
The Lawrence Journal-World
One man, one call
Few issues in recent memory have divided this nation like Obamacare -- a derisive term the White House now is embracing as the nickname for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The Supreme Court heard arguments last week, almost exactly two years since the massive bill was enacted, reforming everything from rules on pre-existing conditions to an expansion of those covered by Medicaid.
Conservatives blast the law as a sharp left turn toward totalitarian/socialist utopian fantasy-land; liberals can’t bear to believe those hard-hearted right-wingers could consider this anything but compassion at its most compassionate.
Cost estimates, implementation, the effects upon the massive private-sector insurance industry all have been questions answered primarily by speculation. It’s no surprise this structural shift in the federal government wound up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
If oral arguments were any indication, Obamacare has an uncertain future. Even Justice Elena Kagan, the Obama administration’s former solicitor general, offered tougher-than-expected lines of questioning to government lawyers charged with defending the bill.
The crux of the issue is the individual mandate. In shorthand, that means the government will require every citizen to be enrolled in a plan -- whether they want one or not. And the price tag, which at last glance was nearing $2 trillion, would be paid for by taxes and penalties against those not joining the insurance pool.
The mandate is a commonsense issue for the left -- it simply is impossible to pay for universal coverage when not everyone participates. For the right, the mandate is the most egregious power-grab the federal government has ever attempted -- the U.S. Constitution certainly does not expressly give the government the power to force the purchase of a commodity as a condition of citizenship.
Another sticky issue? The legalese that is Obamacare does not include a severability clause -- the legislative language that allows illegal provisions to be stricken while allowing acceptable portions to remain in effect.
Maybe then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- who famously declared, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find what’s in it” -- should have thumbed through the 2,700-page document before ramrodding it through her chamber.
The court has hinted severing the mandate from the rest of the bill could occur, although the swing vote on the court, Reagan-appointed Justice Anthony Kennedy, last week appeared to be dubious -- especially when it comes to the idea of legislating from the bench.
“We would be exercising the judicial power if ... one provision was stricken and the others remained to impose a risk on insurance companies that Congress had never intended,” Kennedy said. “By reason of this court, we would have a new regime that Congress did not provide for, did not consider. That, it seems to me, can be argued at least to be a more extreme exercise of judicial power than to strike -- than striking the whole.”
Obamacare is now behind closed doors, as the black robes consider the facts presented last week. And, sadly, even Supreme Court decisions are based upon party lines.
Kennedy, considered the wild hair of the court, now is the most powerful man in the nation, at least until a verdict is rendered.
It’s curious the cornerstone social issue of the left and the most critical constitutional issue of the right -- and the function of government for years to come -- will be decided by one single solitary man.
Even if Kennedy decides to scrap the entire law, don’t expect either Obamacare or the issue of health insurance to disappear. A Mitt Romney White House likely will begin the process of repealing the reform sometime in January. It’s hard to believe a second-term Obama administration would not adjust, adapt and begin the reform process anew.
But the fact such a divisive issue is being handled exactly the way the U.S. Constitution intended is reaffirming -- regardless of outcome. One thing is for sure: Half the country is bound to be outraged.
The Hays Daily News
Consider the raw facts
More than 200 local plant workers are paying the price for a burning controversy over what they produced.
Beef Products Inc. closed its Holcomb plant due to backlash over production of lean, finely textured beef used in hamburger, sausage, ground beef and other foods.
Critics who dubbed the product “pink slime” waged a campaign of misinformation powered by television shows and social media.
The unfortunate developments stemmed from controversy over BPI’s use of ammonium hydroxide to kill harmful bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella.
The process was wrongly depicted, leaving consumers understandably confused and concerned.
Such unfounded fears aren’t new. Years ago, for example, people fretted over the pasteurization of milk.
And now we have an explosion of misinformation that has stoked more fear and hysteria, this time over a beef product consumed safely for many years.
As a result, fast-food chains and grocers dropped food items with LFTB. Plus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave school districts an out regarding the purchase of beef with LFTB for school lunches, instead of defending the safety of a product that received a governmental stamp of approval.
Proactive public education from BPI on the process and its part in food safety when the controversy first erupted would have helped, and perhaps even warded off the plant closings.
After all, the same media tools used to spread misinformation also could be used to bombard consumers with the facts.
Instead, the public relations nightmare cost BPI, as well as workers and their families caught in the middle.
The lost business that led BPI to suspend operations in Holcomb put 236 employees out of work. Plants in Amarillo, Texas, and Waterloo, Iowa, also closed.
The prospect of higher beef prices as plants seek alternative production methods, and consumers passing on beef entirely, also must be considered in the troubling fallout.
Stepped-up efforts to help consumers better understand a process in place to keep them safe should help undo enough damage, hopefully, to allow the Holcomb facility and BPI as a whole to resume putting out a beef product long considered safe to eat.
The Garden City Telegram
Just fund schools
If the Kansas Legislature would do its constitutional duty and suitably fund K-12 education, it wouldn’t need to worry about the courts holding it accountable.
But some lawmakers, particularly House leaders, seem more interested in punishing public schools than in properly funding them.
The House tried to advance a constitutional amendment declaring that courts or the executive branch couldn’t direct the Legislature to appropriate money. It was in response to a 2005 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the state wasn’t equitably and adequately funding schools. And it was in anticipation of the pending trial of a lawsuit filed after the Legislature reneged on its funding agreement and cut per-pupil base funding back to 1999 levels.
The measure received the necessary majority on the first vote Tuesday. But on the final vote Wednesday, it fell just short of the two-thirds requirement.
Perhaps lawmakers realized that instead of trying to amend the Kansas Constitution, they should focus on trying to restore education funding.
That’s what a Senate bill attempts to do. It would increase funding by $74 per pupil each of the next two years. It passed 31-9, reflecting bipartisan support and both moderate and conservative GOP backing.
The House has yet to pass a school-finance plan. What has made it to the floor so far has been legislation aimed at making life even tougher for school districts.
One plan pushed by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, would have withheld $29 million from schools for the current year. It reflected the misguided notion of House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, that school districts should be forced to spend down their cash reserves.
To their credit, House lawmakers voted 116-1 to restore the funding.
On Monday the House also voted down a plan backed by House Education Committee Chairman Clay Aurand, R-Belleville, that would have created a new tax break to attract students to private or parochial schools. Though more education opportunities can be good, many lawmakers questioned how the state could afford to create a voucher program for private schools when it isn’t suitably funding public schools.
“Is it our duty to use tax dollars and tax policy to send Kansas money to private schools?” asked Rep. Bob Brookens, R-Marion. “Kansas was built on, and Kansas will live or die on, its public education.”
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, tried Monday to replace the House voucher bill with the Senate funding plan.
“I have a scholarship program for every child that enters public schools,” Ward said. “I’m going to call it ‘state aid.’”
His amendment failed 50-70.
Yet lawmakers whine when the state gets sued.
The Wichita Eagle