Lawrence-based Older Women’s League seeks to legalize physician-assisted death

April 18

  • The Kaw Valley Older Women’s League is asking Kansas lawmakers to introduce a bill that would make physician-assisted death legal. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Lawrence-based group wants physicians to be able to prescribe medication to those with an expected lifespan of six months or less, if the patient requests it verbally and in writing. Members of the league said they think people should be able to choose when they want to die.
  • Gov. Sam Brownback scheduled a news conference Thursday to discuss the proposed changes to Medicaid. The Wichita Eagle reports that the management of the $2.9 billion-a-year program will be given to three private companies. Brownback began the overhaul in February and the changes will take effect in July.
  • Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said he intends to improve access to state records by making them available online. Business Week reports that former Secretary of Ste Ron Thornburgh began the project of better accessibility. Before becoming available online, someone from the public had to request a copy to be mailed. Kobach said the access to records will keep his office efficient and promote knowledge of democracy in the state.
  • The Lawrence Journal World reports the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet later this week to rework the $14.1 billion state budget. Before the break that ends April 25, a compromise, which legislators were close to taking final action on, was thrown out. The negotiated budget will take effect in the next fiscal year, starting July 1.
  • Gov. Sam Brownback will introduce his plans for expanding the state’s ecotourism at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center in Great Bend, Kan on April 28. The Kansas City Star reports Brownback invited participants to discuss ideas for outdoor activities that would bring tourists to the state.
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Coalition opposes voter ID law, election commissioners adjust to change

By Nikki Wentling

Kansas NAACP President Glenda Overstreet looked on as members of the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and the AARP, along with students and legislators, rallied against the voter identification law at the Capitol on Wednesday, March 28.

The crowd assembled, waved signs and chanted to show their aversion to a law that Secretary of State Kris Kobach said will  “give confidence to voters and candidates alike that the system is fair.”

Overstreet listened as Topeka NAACP President Ben Scott spoke at the rally — a gathering which focused on the recently introduced amendment that would put the law into effect earlier than planned. She heard him summarize a conflict she has dealt with since last spring, a contention for a “free vote.”

“The SAFE law is not safe. It’s dangerous, it oppresses and it smells like a poll tax,” Scott said.

Overstreet testified against the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act (SAFE act) last March. She organized rallies across the state and coordinated each NAACP branch to converge on state bureaus to prevent its approval. Despite her efforts, Senate passed the SAFE act with a vote of 36 to three in March 2011. The law will require people to prove U.S. citizenship when registering to vote and show photographic identification at the polls.

Now, more than a year after the first defeat, she is in opposition to a proposal that would change the enactment date of the citizenship portion of the law from January 2013 to June 2012 — just in time for the 2012 presidential election. For Overstreet, the struggle against what she says is a “miscarriage of justice” is not yet over.

“We will fight like hell to make sure that the amendment doesn’t pass,” she said.

 Implementation of law not a concern

According to the National Council of State Legislature, 34 states introduced voter identification legislation in 2011, and Kansas was one of three that enacted new ID requirements. In January 2012, the portion of the law mandating a photo ID at the polls was introduced. If voting by mail, citizens must now have their signature verified and include a copy of a photo ID.

County election officials are preparing for the new requirements by training staff to recognize who is exempt from the requirement, what is considered a valid ID and what to do if voters do not possess a photo ID.

“My biggest challenge will be to subprogram my poll workers from the way things used to be and what they will now be required to do,” said Janet Rumple, President of the Kansas County Clerks and Election Officials.

Rumple said that the implementation challenges are not something she is worried about.

“We will get through it just like all the other changes that we are confronted with,” she said.

Coalition plans to appeal

In an interview with NPR, Kobach said the law was established to prevent voter fraud, of which there have been 221 cases in the state from 1997 to 2012. Overstreet said this amount of fraud does not constitute a reform to the voting process.

“I think he is being fraudulent to the people of Kansas by saying that,” she said. “We have over two million people in Kansas and you’re talking about 200 cases of fraud requiring a massive issue like this? No.”

Overstreet is not alone in her views. A coalition of a half-dozen groups has formed to appeal the law. The coalition sees it as an unnecessary measure that targets minorities, women and the poor.

According to the Moderate Alliance of Informed Neighbors, a nonpartisan organization out of Shawnee, Kan., 221,910 people — 13 percent of registered voters — do not have photo ID. The coalition is concerned that the cost of the documents required to receive a free ID will be too much for these voters and will lead to decreased turnout at the polls.

However, the first election held using the new requirements produced an above-average turnout.

First use of new requirements deemed a success

Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said she thought the increased numbers were a result of the media attention drawn to the election because of the new law, but she does not anticipate a decrease in participation in future elections.

Lehman was a proponent of the SAFE act, and testified for its approval last spring.

“I believe that it’s long overdue for people to have to show ID,” she said. “We had a gap in the law. We couldn’t prove that there had been any voter fraud, but there could have been.”

Most people, Lehman said, did not have a problem with producing a photo ID.

“We’ve seen people coming in for years asking, ‘Why don’t I have to show an ID?,'” Lehman said. “So, those people were very happy, but of course the people who felt that the law was wrong were not.”

There were setbacks in the Wichita election; seventeen voters did not bring a photo ID. Lehman said those people filled out provisional ballots, which were set aside. After the election, poll workers searched for those voters in their records and found that 16 were registered.

“We only had one we really felt did not possess an ID,” Lehman said.

During canvassing, when the board reviews and certifies the vote totals, the canvassers voted on whether or not to count the ballots of those 16 people who did not present a photo ID.

“Their ballots did not count,” Lehman said.

This, Overstreet said, is exactly what she fears.

“This harms all Kansans, although all Kansans don’t know that,” Overstreet said of the SAFE act. “It harms everyone because when you have a law like this, it has a tendency to stop a few people from voting. You have a miscarriage of justice, a society where people have a higher or larger voice than others. Everybody loses. It is not just the people without the vote.”

Debate about amendment not yet over

The House Committee’s amendment to put the law into effect this June will be debated beginning April 25. Overstreet said she and the NAACP plan to educate the community, make efforts to appeal the law, and bring forth legal representation to argue against the amendment.

“It is not for the people of Kansas that Kobach has made this law,” she said. “He has a political agenda, and it’s too bad, because he is supposed to represent all people of the state of Kansas.”

During her time spent in legislative sessions across the nation, Overstreet said lobbyists, legislators and fellow NAACP members chided her for being from a state that passed a voter identification law. The effect of the voter ID law on Kansas’ reputation motivates Overstreet to continue her resistance of the SAFE act.

“It is really embarrassing to know that people see Kansas in that light,” Overstreet said. “That is what we are fighting against.”

Click the map for a closer look at the requirements of the five states with strict voter identification laws. 

“Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” passes House, moves to Senate

April 10
  • The Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, which would prohibit the government from creating a law that would infringe on someone’s religious beliefs, passed the Kansas House with a vote of 89-27. The act would nullify the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity on the Lawrence anti-discrimination ordinance. The Kansas City Star reports that the bill will be sent to Senate and discussed in a committee today.
  • A bill presented to protect women from breast cancer is being stalled in the House after it was passed with unanimous support in the Senate in February. Midwest Democracy reports that the bill would require health professionals to inform women that cancer can go undetected during a mammogram; the aim is to lessen the risk of a missed cancer diagnosis.
  • Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed a bill that would require ex-barbers to take a licensing exam upon re-entering the profession after a two-year gap. The current law allows a three-year gap before an examination. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the bill was sent forth by the Board of Barbering as an intended safety measure, but Brownback said the measure was placing a government burden into economic activity.
  • U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that Western Plains, an ethanol plant in Oakley, Kan., would receive a $5 million grant from the USDA Rural Development’s Repowering Assistance Program. The funds will go toward improving the process of converting ethanol into fuel. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the project will create 15 permanent jobs and 100 construction jobs.
  • University of Kansas Student Senate candidates will discuss their platforms and answer questions today in the Alderson room of the Kansas Union. The University Daily Kansan reported that no formal debates between KUnited and SPQR have been held for this election cycle. Elections will be held tomorrow and Thursday; polls are open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Kansas Legislature to overhaul KPERS

By Nikki Wentling

Kansas courts close to make up for budget shortfall

April 4
  • Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss signed an order to close the Kansas courts for five days because legislature did not approve a budget that would help fund the court system’s $1.4 million shortfall. The Lawrence Journal-World reported the courts will close to make up for part of this shortfall. More than 1,500 employees without pay for those five days.
  • University of Kansas Student Senate voted on a bill that would require coalitions for presidential elections to register before chalking or distributing materials.  In accordance with this bill, senate also set deadlines for the candidates to pay fines for campaign violations. The University Daily Kansan reported that the senate also made changes to its budget code at the meeting Tuesday.
  • The Kansas House began debating a bill that would allow pharmacists to stop offering drugs that they think could cause abortion. The law intends to provide legal protections for those in the health care field who do not want to be associated with abortion. The Kansas City Star reported that under this bill, pharmacists could refuse to provide the “morning-after” pill.
  • The Food and Drug Administration is investigating to identify the source of salmonella. The Wichita Eagle reports that members of the FDA called the spread of the illness “rapid”; there have been more than 90 cases throughout the nation. Symptoms of salmonella are diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever.
  • The governor’s staff and legislators will be interviewed in the district attorney’s investigation into meetings at Cedar Crest, Gov. Sam Brownback’s residence. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Brownback invited more than 90 legislators to dinner gatherings in January. Only one democrat was invited to these meetings, and she did not attend.

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.

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.

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.