US Supreme Court hears arguments on health care law

March 27

  • The Supreme Court began hearing arguments about the health care law Monday. The Detroit News reports that the law would require almost all Americans to have health insurance. Now, more than 30 million Americans have none. Those against the bill say the Constitution does not give Congress the authority to force people into buying insurance. The hearing will last three days and a decision is expected in June.
  • A proposal to overhaul the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System passed the Kansas House last Tuesday. The Kansas City Star reports that Gov. Sam Brownback endorses the measure, which would use revenues from state-owned casinos to fund the pensions of teachers and government workers. The profits from casinos in Dodge City, Wichita and Kansas City would help cover the $8.3 billion unfunded obligation to more than 260,000 Kansans through 2033.
  • The Topeka Capital Journal reports that the local NAACP coalition rallied Wednesday at the Statehouse against the proposal to enact the voter identification law at an earlier date than originally planned. The measure was pushed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach and passed by the House last year. The law requires a photo ID and proof of citizenship to register to vote. Those against the proposal said this makes voting confusing and will disenfranchise voters.
  • The Kansas government ranks in the top 10 in a study of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption. The Dodge City Globe reported that Kansas received a grade of “C” in the State Integrity Investigation conduced by the Center for Public Integrity.  New Jersey had the highest grade, a “B-“, and eight states received failing grades.
  • The Wichita Business Journal reported Tuesday that Kansas was one of 20 states to add government jobs between January 2008 and January 2012. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kansas created more than 600 federal, state and local government jobs in this four-year period.
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Women under-represented in elected government positions on state, national level

By Nikki Wentling

For a closer look at the daily responsibilities of an assistant city administrator, watch the video below. 

 

Cynthia Wagner made her career choice during Easter dinner when she was 19 years old. Wagner was a journalism student at the University of Kansas, but after an hour spent with the city manager of her hometown during the holiday meal, her focus changed. She went back to campus to begin her path to a career in local government.

Wagner is now the Lawrence assistant city manager. She and her fellow assistant city manager Diane Stoddard have each been involved in local government for more than 20 years. However, women are traditionally under-represented in government on the local, state and national level.

When Wagner graduated from the Master’s in Public Administration program in the early 1990s, there were two other women in her class.

“It was predominantly men,” she said. “But this year’s class is mostly women.”

Although the number of women in local government increased in the past decade, female participation in U.S. Congress and state legislatures has plateaued. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, the proportion of women in state legislatures is 23.6 percent, down from a peak of 24.5 percent in 2010, and U.S. Congress has maintained a rate of 16.8 percent female since 2009.

“We’ve been stagnant now for a number of election cycles, and very stagnant in the House in terms of elected women. That percentage has almost flat lined,” said Mary Banwart, an associate professor of leadership studies at the University of Kansas.

 Why under-representation exists

Banwart researches the influence of gender in political campaigns and received a Carrie Chapman Catt Prize in 2000 for her research on women in politics. She said that less women hold elected positions because women do not run, and if they do run, it takes them longer to reach higher positions.

“Maybe they will start out at a mayoral level, but it may take them a while to run for a higher office,” Banwart said. “Men have a tendency to be much more confident and just jump right in and run.”

The Kansas chapter National Organization for Women (NOW) was established to lobby for equal rights and responsibility for women in society. Linda Joslin, president of the Wichita NOW, believes women who run for office have a lower chance of getting elected than their male counterparts.

“Women have to work very, very hard to be taken seriously,” Joslin said.

Banwart said women thinking about running for office one day should be involved in leadership positions while in school. She teaches a political communications class, which she said gives students a look at what a career in public service would be.  The class is divided up into five teams — four campaign teams and a media team — and one member from each group “runs” for governor of Kansas.

“This year we have a female candidate, and she is the frontrunner,” Banwart said. “I’m excited about that.”

However, Banwart also said that a political science degree is not the only route to a career in government. She has found that many women shy away from public service because they did not take political science classes. Banwart believes that no matter a person’s field of study, there is a place for anyone in government.

“You’ve got to find your passion and work on making a contribution to your community in terms of where your passion is because that’s going to be the most authentic place to come from,” she said.

Through her research, Banwart has found that women are less likely to admit they are informed about politics than men are. She said it is important to be interested in current events.

“Keep yourself knowledgeable about what’s happening in the world around you and do what it takes to develop a level of confidence that you can make a contribution,” she said.

 Recent controversy highlights absence of women

NOW encourages women to be active members of their communities, including running for public office. Joslin said progress has been stilted by the current state and national administrations, which “have us going full speed backwards.” After recent controversy over contraception on Capitol Hill, several female congress members echoed the same sentiments.

A hearing was held on Feb. 16 to discuss whether President Obama hurt religious freedoms by mandating health insurance companies to cover contraception. After the hearing, a photo of the all-male panel of witnesses circulated the web, and the under-representation of women in government became visible.

The Washington Post reported thatMinority Rep. Carolyn Maloney accused the Republican committee chairman of attempting to “roll back the fundamental rights of women.”

Joslin said women should make the decisions regarding female health.

“Women need to be able to make decisions about their own lives and their bodies without other politicians telling everybody what they can and can’t do. I see that most of the things that are done are efforts to control women, and put women back where they were,” Joslin said. “But our society has evolved, and that’s just not going to happen.”

Banwart said that it could happen. Fewer women will become prominent in elected positions, she said, until the nation changes their perceptions on what females are able to contribute to society.

“Until we shift the mindset of our young women in high school and our young women in college and even our young women in junior high and talk to them about their level of contribution and the role they can play, I don’t see that we’re going to have huge increases in women serving in elected positions,” Banwart said.

How woman can contribute

Banwart said when a woman holds a statistically significant position, people are more likely to collaborate and work through disagreements. Through research, she has also discovered that when women are present, there tends to be a greater development of commonality and the environment is more inclusive.

“Until we decide as a society that we’re able to fully value that,” she said, “then I don’t think we’re going to make dramatic gains in seeing women elected at higher levels of office.”

Local involvement not out-of-reach

Wagner gained inspiration for public service through her mother, who was involved in local government throughout Wagner’s childhood. She said it was the women in the 1970s who were the trailblazers and opened the door for the women now to take part.  Stoddard believes that women should feel no hesitation in running for public office.

“I think the scene is changing in regard to women,” she said. “I think there is really no reason why women should feel any kind of impediment to local government.”

Students ask congress to keep federal subsidized loan interest rates low

March 14
  • Congress members received more than 130,000 letters from college students on Tuesday pleading for interest rates on federally subsidized student loans to remain the same. The Kansas City Star reports that the interest rates will increase from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent in July. Keeping the interest rates low could cost the government billions more annually.
  • Kansas Legislature refused to hear a bill that would have made the cairn terrier, best known for playing Toto in “The Wizard of Oz”, the official state dog.  The Lawrence Journal World reports that the South Central Kansas Kennel Club advocates the naming of the state dog and plans on conducting a statewide campaign this summer.
  • The Topeka Capital Journal reports that the Kansas House approved changes to the new concealed carry bill on Monday. The bill would allow concealed carry in public places that do not have adequate security. However, hospitals, colleges and nursing homes could be exempt for four years if they contact the attorney general’s office with valid reasoning.
  • According to the state Department of Labor, Kansas’ unemployment fell from 6.8 in December to 6.1 in January. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that private employers added about 22,000 jobs in 2011.
  • The University Daily Kansan reports that Student Senate approved a bill Tuesday stating students can’t be academically punished for views posted on electronic media, unless it is disruptive to the operations of the University. Student leaders expect the bill to pass at the full Senate meeting next Wednesday.

Kansans oppose proposed “Preservation of Religious Freedom” act

By Nikki Wentling

The Kansas House will debate bill 2260, the “Preservation of Religious Freedom” act. The measure says that the government cannot burden someone by compelling him or her to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs. Members of the Kansas Equality Coalition said the bill is a ploy to nullify the Lawrence ordinance that prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

Last week, a Kansas legislative committee passed house bill 2260, the “Preservation of Religious Freedoms” act, which  prevents the government from compelling anyone to do something against his or her religious beliefs. Advocates of the bill have used a recent dispute about the U.S. government requiring religious institutions to include contraceptives in their employees’ health care plans to gain support for the act.

Although the bill has been in process since Sept. 2009 and was not created in response to this national controversy, Representatives Jan Pauls (D-Hutchinson) and Lance Kinzer (R-Olathe) have used the contraceptive conflict as an example of what the act could prevent. However, critics say this bill will allow people to use religion as a defense to discriminate and will strip Kansans of their basic rights.

“The whole thing is convincing people into believing that this is something that promotes religious freedom, when it is something that takes away human dignity and civil rights,” said Stephanie Mott, Director of the Kansas Equality Coalition.

If this bill were to be implemented, individuals could discriminate against others in employment, access to public accommodations and in housing unless specifically prohibited in the Kansas Act Against Discrimination. This act prevents discrimination pertaining to race, religion, color, sex, disability and ancestry. However, it does not prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — something Lawrence has chosen to protect. Members of the KEC say this bill directly attacks the Lawrence ordinance.

“Lawrence is the only place within Kansas that actually has protections for the LGTB community and that this bill is targeting specifically Lawrence,” said Scott Criqui, Vice Chair of the KEC of Lawrence.

The Kansas Catholic Conference supports the bill, as do Gov. Sam Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer. In his testimony, Colyer said it was needed because President Barack Obama was “attacking religious rights“. However, some think the bill is not representative of what Kansans believe. Sandra Vu, a Catholic student from Wichita, says she thinks no one should be able to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“It’s like telling them that you can’t hire them because they’re black or something,” she said. “I mean, I don’t think being gay would really affect a person and their job.”

The bill has been delayed by the House, and will be debated at an unknown date.

Proposed bill would cause KU med program to lose accreditation

March 7

  • The Lawrence Journal World reports that abortion opponents are supporting a bill that would make the University of Kansas Medical Center Obsterics/Gynecology program lose accreditation. One provision of the bill states that no health care services provided by a state agency should include abortion. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education requires residency education to include access to experience with induced abortion.
  • Kansas Democratic leaders created a plan for job growth that would provide tax incentives for job training and fully fund job initiatives in the state that were put on hold during the recession. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the plan also prohibits employers from discriminating against unemployed applicants, and requires contractors to hire 70 percent of their work force from in state.
  • The Associated Press reports that Kansas House members approved a bill that would reinstate happy hour at bars, restaurants and clubs. The ban on happy hour was established in 1985 with the intent to decrease alcohol abuse.
  •  Kansas House bill 2260, dubbed “The Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” was passed by the legislative committee and will be debated by the House. The measure says that the government cannot burden someone by compelling him or her to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs. To see how the Kansas Equality Coalition and others feel about this bill, click here.
  • A bill that would give the Kansas Corporation Commission the authority to oversee hydraulic fracturing of natural gas in Kansas had a hearing Tuesday before the Senate. The Lawrence Journal World reports that environmentalist groups opposed to “fracking” support the bill, because passing a law is the only way to regulate it.