Salina Journal, June 7
Let's do the time warp again:
As GOP legislators in Topeka this past week scurried about trying to find the least repugnant way to fill a $400 million budget hole, we think it would have been instructive for them to go waaaaay back in time and to look at how Kansas got to this point.
A 2013 headline in the Journal is instructive: "GOP praises finalized tax legislation." The picture accompanying The Associated Press story showed a smiling House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and Senate President Susan Wagel, R-Wichita, flanking Gov. Sam Brownback.
What the conservative GOP-dominated Legislature was excited about was passage of the second leg of Brownback's disastrous income tax cuts, the first being in 2012. The story says the architects of the cuts saw them as an "engine for growth," but what they knew even back then was that they would have to deal with an enormous budget shortfall that was coming as a result of those cuts.
From that same AP story: "Brownback and other supporters of the plan quickly noted that the new dollars raised ($777 million) still are dwarfed by the last year's tax cuts, worth $4.6 billion over the same (five-year) period."
Brownback, Merrick, Wagle and others were warned at the time that voodoo economics never had worked and wouldn't work now, but they couldn't say no to big-money backers and Brownback's presidential aspirations.
Late this past week, as this year's session approached a record for length, a lot of cranky legislators were so focused on the details of trying to find a way out of Brownback's money pit that we think they might have lost sight of the big picture.
A look back at 2012 and 2013 provides the perspective that if the state's financial troubles started with the tax cuts, then maybe reversing them is the easiest and best answer. Because given what we're going through now, maybe Kansas wasn't such a bad place to work and live before Brownback returned from Washington and brought with him its cutthroat politics.
Looking back, 2013 seems like the good old days.
Maybe Legislature should be forced to seek approval for own tax hike plans:
After a session that raises concerns about the ability of Kansas legislators to do their own job, lawmakers now are trying to tell local units of government how to do theirs.
Included in the latest tax plan approved by the Kansas Senate is a policy provision that would require city and county governments to hold elections to seek voter approval whenever they want to raise property taxes by more than the rate of inflation.
The ironies of this move are obvious. After approving numerous measures in recent years that shift former state responsibilities to local governments, legislators now think it's a good idea to limit how much those governments can raise their primary tax source to help pay for those services. At the same time, state legislators plan to cover their own budget shortfall by raising the sales tax and other "consumption" taxes — something they are allowed to do with NO election. It apparently is fine for state officials, but not local governments, to raise taxes without voter approval.
The Wichita city government and the United Government of Kansas City and Wyandotte County have come out in opposition of the provision, arguing that the plan is based on faulty math and saying that mandatory deadlines for budgeting and tax notifications make it impractical for local governments to hold the required elections.
On top of the practical considerations, this move is another example of a legislative power grab. Local officials are elected by local voters to make exactly the kind of local decisions that state legislators hope to restrict. Rather than make their own tough decisions to hold the line on taxes, legislators are trying to pass the buck to local governments to do the dirty work.
It's not certain the local property tax cap will be part of the state's final tax legislation, but even if it doesn't pass this year, it could easily be back in the future. Local officials and taxpayers should be outraged at the Legislature's blatant attempt to usurp local government powers.
Topeka Capital-Journal, June 6
Police body camera video useless if not reviewed:
Body cameras worn by law enforcement officers are touted as important tools that serve law enforcement and the public.
So why isn't the Topeka Police Department paying closer attention to the video recorded by body cameras worn by its officers?
Video recorded by a body camera on Sept. 27, 2014, would have prevented the convictions — since set aside by Topeka Municipal Court Judge Vic Miller — of two Topeka residents on multiple charges, including assault on a law enforcement officer and interfering with law enforcement.
Had it not been for the diligence of assistant city attorney Luther L. Ganieany Jr., it is unlikely the convictions would have been reversed.
Granted, the police department doesn't have the manpower to review all the video recorded on the officers' cameras. But when such charges as assault on a law enforcement officer are pending, someone should be reviewing all the pertinent video.
The case in question began with a 911 hang-up call. When dispatchers called the number back, a woman answered and said the call was a mistake and no assistance was needed. Nevertheless, three officers responded. Subsequent activity resulted in multiple charges being levied against the man and woman at the residence.
A body camera worn by one of the officers recorded the interaction between police and the two citizens but for some reason the police department didn't submit it until about an hour before the case went to trial and it wasn't viewed in court. The man and woman appeared without an attorney and were convicted based on the testimony of the law enforcement officers, one of whom has since been accused of assault and lying in court. He resigned from the department on May 15 without notice.
Ganieany, however, watched the video the day after the trial and immediately alerted Topeka Police Chief James Brown and others at the city attorney's office that he thought it contained evidence that would have changed the outcome.
The confrontation occurred Sept. 27 and the case didn't go to trial until Nov. 3. Why hadn't someone at the police department or prosecutor's office reviewed the video before the trial date? As it was, Miller didn't see the video until Nov. 5.
Anytime an officer uses force or alleges force was used upon him or her, the video should be checked for verification as soon as possible.
That will protect citizens and those officers — the vast majority — who are doing their jobs properly.
The Hutchinson News, June 4
Punishment should fit the crime, but justice always should prevail:
Recent cases contrast the value of prisoner remorse in the judicial system. Take LaVeta Miller, the Barton County woman convicted of embezzling from the Honor Flight Program. Or Danny Pickerill, who has spent the last 30 years in prison for murder and kidnapping convictions in Nickerson.
Miller was convicted March 9 by a Barton County jury on two counts of theft by deception after more than $100,000 was found missing from the account for Honor Flight, the program that takes military veterans, especially those of the World War II era, to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials to those brave men. Because of the missing money, the organization Miller worked for, Central Kansas Honor Flights, folded, unable to provide financing for the flights.
District Court Judge Ron Svaty agreed with Barton County Attorney Douglas Matthews to go against the presumptive sentence of probation for Miller and instead sentenced her to serve two years in prison. The judge bought into the attorney's argument that Miller was not amenable — in other words, she continues to claim she's innocent despite the testimony of numerous witnesses that resulted in her conviction and that her actions were a breach of her fiduciary duty.
Miller could have thrown herself at the mercy of the court, admitted her guilt, and she'd likely have walked away with probation. It's just as likely that she'd still be paying restitution to the tune of $130,000, but she wouldn't be headed to the big house. It can make sense only to her why she didn't.
On the other hand, there's Pickerill. Although he began his prison days with a bad attitude, spent time in solitary confinement and, pure and simple, was not a model prisoner, something changed in the 1990s. He found religion and also came to grips with what he'd done.
"There is no defense, only remorse and sorrow for the pain I caused so many," Pickerill wrote to The News after a 30-year anniversary story ran on the crimes. "I dare not ask for forgiveness. Although I hope and pray for it . but I do wish to express how sorry I am for my actions that have hurt and wounded so many."
There's remorse. There's taking ownership of wrongdoing. Experts agree that's the first sign of change in criminals, that rehabilitation behind bars that's sought but not always found. If that gets Pickerill paroled in his first attempt, so be it. If not, maybe next time. He will have paid his debt to society.
Although Miller didn't commit murder, veterans died before they could go on an Honor Flight because of her actions. She would be wise to take a page from what Pickerill learned and has done.