Kansas republican pushes bill to cut funding for state universities

Feb. 29
  • Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson republican, is pushing a bill that would cut funding for the remedial classes that state universities offer. He said taxpayers shouldn’t be required to pay for these classes just because K-12 schools failed to teach basic courses properly.
  • Kansas water officials have proposed measures to protect water levels in the state’s two major aquifers, which showed an average decline of 2.25 feet during 2011. One of these measures is a bill that would eliminate a provision that requires water-right owners to use a certain amount of water each year. Legislature is currently considering this bill.
  • A Kansas House committee is preparing to act on a bill that would prohibit public schools from using materials in human sexuality classes from groups that provide abortion services. The bill would also prevent people from deducting abortion expenses in their income taxes.
  • A man accused of video taping the sexual encounters of a Rutgers University student, which led to the student’s suicide, is currently on trial. He faces a 15-count indictment and up to 10 years in prison if convicted. A proposed law, released less than a month after Tyler Clementi’s suicide, would require universities to create policies prohibiting the harassment of any student.
  • Terrance Anthony Dean was sentenced to 32 months in prison for a 2009 charge of robbery on the University of Kansas campus. Dean robbed a student of marijuana at gunpoint near McCollum Hall on April 29, 2009.

Kansas House passes bill requiring proof of citizenship to vote

Feb. 23

  • The Kansas House passed a bill Thursday that would require Kansans to provide proof of citizenship in order to vote. The bill was spearheaded by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who said it is difficult to remove “alien voters” once they are on the rolls. Residents born in Kansas can apply for a free copy of their birth certificate to comply with the law.
  • Two Lawrence police officers allegedly dismissed speeding tickets in exchange for University of Kansas basketball tickets. The federal authorities that investigated declined to pursue criminal charges. The individual who provided the basketball tickets is now in federal prison for the broader KU ticket scandal.
  • The Kansas House passed a bill to honor soldiers from Frankfort, Kan. It will name part of Kansas Highway 99 “The Frankfort Boys World War II Memorial Highway.” Frankfort had more men killed in WWII than any other town its size.
  • Kansas House members approved a bill that will strengthen the penalty for failure to report cases of child abuse. The bill will also expand the list of individuals required to report allegations of child abuse, and remove the defense that a person believed someone else was going to file the report. This bill was created in response to the allegations of child sex abuse at Penn State University.
  • U.S. Senator Bob Menendez asked the Justice Department to investigate the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslim communities in New Jersey and at Rutgers University. Thirty-four members of Congress have asked the department for a similar investigation.

Agricultural child labor restrictions to limit opportunities of hired help

Click here to listen to an interview with Kerri Ebert, extension assistant at K-State Research and Extension.

By Nikki Wentling

Berryton, Kan. — Every day after school, Lane Deghand drives the 20 miles to Rocking H Ranch farm, where he works as a hired hand for the Wulfkuhle’s livestock operation. He operates machinery, drives motor vehicles and helps in the silos and with livestock exchanges – all of which would be prohibited under the new restrictions proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The DOL introduced additions to the Agricultural Child Labor Hazardous Occupations Orders (H.O.s) in Sept. 2011. The H.O.s, which were established in 1970, now place additional limitations on the activities of non-relative hired help under the age of 16. The additional restrictions and penalties for violations could cause youth like Deghand to lose their jobs, something Brenna Wulfkuhle, who runs the farm with her husband Mike,  said is a detriment to the future of farming.

“I don’t know where our future is going to be,” she said. “If you want to go into farming, you have to have a background in farming.”

Ten years ago, Bryan Fishburn started working for the Wulfkuhles through a Future Farmers of America program as a sophomore in high school. Today, he is still an employee of Rocking H Ranch and owns 150 acres of his own property. If the new restrictions are applied, Deghand may not be allowed a similar experience.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for this kid,” Wulfkuhle said. “He pulled his grades up in order to stay working. He wouldn’t have that opportunity otherwise because he’s not from a family farm.”

Department of Labor reevaluates parental exemption

The DOL has received more than 18,000 letters of complaint since the new rules were proposed five months ago. Kansas Senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts signed a letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, which called for the dismissal of all changes to the H.O.s.

“It received a tremendous amount of pressure from congressional delegations especially in farm belt states,” said Kerri Ebert, extension assistant with K-State Research and Extension.

Kansas’s government entities are also against the restrictions. Gov. Sam Brownback, along with Attorney General Derek Schmidt and the secretaries of agriculture, labor and commerce sent a letter that said the restrictions would have a “negative effect on youth seeking to work in Kansas agriculture – the state’s largest industry.”

“Sec. Rodman has major concerns about the child labor rules. If implemented, the rules would impose overly burdensome restrictions on many common farm activities,” said Chelsea Good, communications director for the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

The DOL issued a statement that said it would take time reviewing comments and repurposing sections of the restrictions that are under scrutiny. It is currently reevaluating the parental exemption portion of the restrictions, which has been the main source of complaints. Ebert said the process of reevaluation would continue into the next calendar year.

“We need to find a balance of how we can keep children safe without burdensome regulations from our government,” she said. “We need to find some way to make everybody happy. Make the regulators happy that they’ve done what they need to do to protect children and make the agricultural community happy that they’re not being overburdened.”

Data supports each side

Ebert also said there is a need for some of these new restrictions. According to National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety 2011 Fact Sheet, agriculture has the second highest fatality rate among youth workers.

“I don’t think anyone would dismiss that farming is dangerous. It’s highly industrialized, highly mechanized and someone needs to be watching out for safety,” she said.

However, the fact sheet also shows that childhood agricultural injuries have declined by 59 percent in the past 11 years, and that 75 percent of injured children were not actively working when the injury occurred.

“There are some things in agriculture that are dangerous, but in everything you do in life there is a risk,” Wulfkuhle said. “We don’t put anybody out there thinking that something’s going to happen, it’s just that sometimes accidents happen.”

Learning experiences continue

For now, Deghand will continue on as an employee for Rocking H Ranch. He will learn how to work a livestock operation and develop the traits Wulfkuhle said are necessary to succeed on a farm and in life.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Wulfkuhle said. “Some of these kids that work for us, they can’t find a job anywhere else. Here, they get practical knowledge, practical skills. There’s so much work ethic that’s learned from farming. I think a lot of those basic traits that we need to be successful are going to be gone.”


Organizations voice concerns about Kansas abortion bill

By Nikki Wentling

Pro-choice and Pro-life organizations unite in their disapproval of house bill 2598, which would impose new restrictions on abortion in Kansas. The bill is sponsored by the House Committee on Federal and State affairs, and would allow physicians to withhold information from patients in order to prevent them from seeking abortions. To hear reactions on this bill, click the link below.

Listen to the story


Nikki Wentling: This is Capital Connections; I’m Nikki Wentling

Both pro-life and pro-choice organizations spoke out against a bill this week that would allow physicians to withhold information from their patients in order to prevent them from seeking abortions.

The Kansas House Committee on Federal and State Affairs is sponsoring the bill, which also prevents women from having an abortion based on gender of the fetus. The committee closed the hearing on the bill Wednesday, but it will reopen at a later date.

Organizations like Planned Parenthood and Kansas NOW are against the bill, and pro-life institutions have also expressed their disapproval. Sarah Campbell, director of Lawrence’s Christian-based Pregnancy Care Center, says the proposed restrictions would take away a women’s right to make an informed decision.

Sarah Campbell, Pregnancy Care Center Director: Our job is to empower women with all of the information we that we can possibly give them to make a right decision.

Nikki Wentling: This is one of three bills currently in the house that would restrict abortion in the state of Kansas. According to politicalfiber.com, the Kansas legislature considered 13 anti-abortion bills in 2011 and passed five of them. The reproductive justice coordinator for the commission on the status of women Amanda Schulze thinks legislators sponsor these bills to wear down pro-choice lobbyists.

Amanda Schulze, Reproductive Justice Coordinator: The way that anti-abortion activists work is they have a lot more money and resources than we do so they will try and push a lot of bills that are kind of silly.

Nikki Wentling: Campbell thinks the issue of abortion has always been important in the state of Kansas. She says the issue has become more pronounced since the election of Governor Sam Brownback in 2010.

Sarah Campbell: Sibelius that left, you know she was very passionate on the other side of the issue and so I think it just fired up the base of the opposition and when that shift happened in 2010 it was really a priority for the people that got in there.

Nikki Wentling: Shulze encourages students to discuss the issue of abortion. She says the bill should be discussed amongst those whom it will affect, and not be in the hands of male politicians.

Amanda Schulze: It’s not affecting a 50-year-old congressman. It’s affecting us girls, in college, at a reproductive age.

Nikki Wentling: Vice President for the commission on the status of women Haley Miller thinks the proposed bill is a scare tactic, and immoral.

Haley Miller, Vice President of the Commission on the Status of Women: It’s when you start telling lies to women who want this procedure that’s when it becomes an issue.

Nikki Wentling: This is Nikki Wentling reporting for Capital Connections, nwentling.wordpress.com.

The University of Kansas may receive extra state funding for quality educators

Feb. 15

  • The House Appropriations Committee approved the higher education budget, which is a 4.4 percent increase from the current year. Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal for a $3 million increase to the University of Kansas to hire internationally known professors will be revisited. The extra funding would help the school retain its membership in the Association of American Universities.
  • Protestors plan to rally in Wichita over the President’s day weekend in opposition to Koch Industries. The group says the Koch brothers exemplify corporate dominance of politics. Participants of the “Occupy Koch Town” event are also against the creation of the Keystone-XL pipeline that would carry oil from Canada to Texas, passing through Kansas, for fear of water contamination.
  • An alliance of Kansas organizations rallied at the Statehouse Wednesday against the Republican legislature and Secretary of State Kris Kobach. This Kansans United in Voice and Spirit rally is in opposition to the state’s changes in school finances, income tax structure and social service programs.
  • The Kansas Delegation, along with Gov. Sam Brownback, released a statement Wednesday contending President Barack Obama’s budget regarding the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility to be built in Manhattan, Kan. The delegation thought the proposed budget was insufficient to complete the construction of the NBAF, and accused Obama of using his budget as a campaign document.
  • The committee closed the hearing and took no action on a house bill that would further restrict abortions in Kansas. The hearing closed after Kari Ann Rinker, state coordinator of the Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women, called the committee process irrelevant, spurring criticism from several committee members. Hear more reactions from pro-choice and pro-life organizations by clicking the link.

Proposed Kansas abortion bill allows doctors to withhold information

Feb. 8

  • The Kansas House committee reviewed a bill Wednesday that would exempt doctors from malpractice suits if they withheld medical information about potential birth defects to prevent women from having abortions. Women would also be unable to sue if they suffered health problems during pregnancy because of the withheld information. Rep. Lance Kinzer (R-Olathe) is advocating this legislation.
  •  The Kansas House committee endorsed a proposal by Secretary of State Kris Kobach to require some Kansas voters to prove U.S. citizenship before this year’s presidential election. This endorsement allows a debate in the House. The state approved and enacted the proof-of-citizenship requirement last year, but it wasn’t scheduled to take effect until 2013.
  • According to a survey conducted by the Partnership for Public Service, just six percent of college students say they want to work for government, at any level. This number has decreased from 2009, when 10.2 percent of students had government career aspirations. Most of the 35,000 students polled are interested in graduate school, non-profit work or employment in the private sector.
  •  Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty endorsed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney during his speech Tuesday night at the Dole Institute of Politics on the University of Kansas campus. Pawlenty said Romney’s business experience would help during the country’s tough economic climate, and that he would be able to unite the Republican party.


Environmentalists, citizens concerned about Brownback’s plan to increase “fracking”

Gov. Sam Brownback drew negative reactions last month when he requested more than $500,000 be given to the Kansas Corporation Commission to inspect oil and gas drilling sites that involve horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

The Kansas House Committee examined a bill Wednesday that would also give the KCC the authority to regulate the expansion of fracking. The Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association is in favor of this bill, but other groups like the Sierra Club, a nationwide environmental organization, think fracking could have a negative effect on the water supply and should be downsized.

“The idea of having more energy produced here in this country is something that I think we’re all in favor of,” said Dave Kirkbride, Sierra Club regional chair. “But we’re not in favor of ruining the environment in order to accomplish that.”

The governor has also established a task force to prepare for the increasing amount of fracking along the Mississippian Lime region in south central and western Kansas.

Kirkbride, whose family ranch is located southwest of Medicine Lodge, said there are 129 new drill sites between his property and Alva, Okla., a distance of approximately 40 miles.

“It looks like southern Kansas from Medicine Lodge over east to Winfield is going to be the hotbed of this fracking activity,” Kirkbride said.

The KCC said fracking is now taking place as far north as McPherson County in north central Kansas. McPherson resident Steven Whitlock owns six acres two miles west of town, directly on top of the Equus Beds aquifer. An oil company seeking to drill on his territory approached Whitlock last spring.

“I said ‘no,’ because I’m directly on top of the aquifer that supplies water to the whole middle part of Kansas,” he said. “You don’t contaminate the aquifer. This whole idea that oil and gas is worth more than water is insane.”

Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey, said there has never been a reported issue of groundwater contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing in Kansas, which has been taking place since 1947.

“That’s not to say that it’s not possible for some of those drilling fluids to get to the surface, but it would take either a series of natural fractures or something pretty unusual,” he said.

However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, communities in Wyoming and Pennsylvania have experienced contamination of local water wells due to fracking. Kirkbride is concerned that without safeguards in place, contamination could happen in Kansas, endangering animals and people.

“We don’t know what kinds of harmful substances are there, but we do know that in some places, wells became so contaminated with these chemicals that they could actually be lit on fire,” he said.

The Kansas Water Office, which is a part of Brownback’s task force, will host a water issues forum to discuss horizontal wells, fracking and water permitting later this month. Although steps are being made to regulate and control fracking in Kansas, Whitlock believes the increasing amount of drilling will lead to an irreversible catastrophe.

“My recommendation to any sane person in this state is to move. Because you’re not going to change it, and they’re going to screw it up,” he said. “They’re going to screw it up big time. So you might as well move while your property is still worth something.”

Brownback proposes to invest in horizontal hydraulic fracturing

Feb. 1
  • In his budget proposal, Gov. Sam Brownback recommended an additional $519,977 be allocated to the KCC to inspect the increasing number of hydraulic fracturing sites. Brownback appointed a committee to prepare for more fracturing, and thinks it will spur economic development. However, citizens are concerned about groundwater contamination and the amount of water that fracturing requires.
  • A woman whose grandson was killed in a traffic accident on Kansas Highway 10 asked legislators to approve a bill that would allow KDOT to double the amount of fines on busy highways. KDOT proposed designating these fines to K-10 and U.S. Highway 54 through Wichita.
  • Concealed carry permit holders could bring firearms onto public places, including university campuses, under a new bill in the Kansas House of Federal and State Affairs Committee. Only public places with security guards and metal detectors at all public entrances would be allowed to prohibit firearms.