The Iola Register, Sept. 27
Partisanship trumps policy for Brownback:
Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger has asked Gov. Sam Brownback to help her set requirements for health insurance coverage to be sold through insurance exchanges dictated by law.
If the state fails to act the federal government will do it for Kansas.
Praeger points out the Affordable Health Care Act requires states to set benchmarks for basic health care coverage by the end of September. If they fail to do so, the Department of Health and Human Services will dictate what Kansas will do.
Gov. Brownback once again said he won't do it.
"My administration will not make any decisions regarding the implementation of Obamacare until after the November election," he said Sept. 25. It was a word-for-word repetition of an earlier statement.
Brownback is willing to forgo an opportunity to establish health care insurance guidelines that will work best for Kansans in order to make a partisan point.
It is a perfect example of throwing out the baby with the bath water.
It is true that a Republican victory in November might result in repeal of the health care law, although Mitt Romney has said that he favors retaining part of the reforms and no one can say at this point whether the health insurance exchanges would stay or go under his administration.
The object of the exchanges is to establish an online marketplace where consumers can buy basic health insurance at competitive prices. Insurance companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield are eager for the state to set up the coverage guidelines so that they can sharpen their pencils and win customers.
To repeat, we're talking free enterprise here. The exchanges would be a medium through which for-profit insurance companies could compete for business. All the state would do is establish coverage guidelines.
In response to this opportunity to help those who don't have coverage through their employer or elsewhere obtain adequate coverage at an affordable price, Gov. Brownback baldly states he is more interested in playing politics. How disappointing.
The Manhattan Mercury, Sept. 28
Price sensitivity and higher education:
A Pew Research Center study has found that 19 percent of U.S. households are now carrying student debt, roughly twice as many as were doing so a little more than two decades ago when the parents of today's students were in school. Just since 2007, the number of families with higher education-related debt has climbed by 15 percent.
The drivers of this debt phenomenon are both diverse and obvious. For starters, a year at a typical state university such as K-State costs more than $4,000 counting just tuition and fees. The median household income in Riley County in 2010 was around $39,000, meaning that about half of all local families who want to avoid college debt would essentially have to tithe to that college, and would have to do so before they paid any local, state or federal taxes.
The pattern of reductions in state commitment to higher education shows no sign of reversing and has prompted universities to shift the financial burden onto students. That combined with the largely stagnant economy only further drives the debt burden.
In recent days, those involved in jobs creation have tried to make the argument that spending on higher education facilitates economic growth. To whatever extent that is true — and we're not taking issue with it — the shift away from state responsibility is substantially a political reality, and is unlikely to be reversed any time soon.
The logical recourse for those facing increasing debt, including student debt, is eventually to pull back from spending.
Indeed, Americans have cut back on several other types of borrowing such as credit card use, with average household indebtedness falling from $105,297 in 2007 to $100,720 in 2010.
That does not appear to be happening with education-related debt, however, presumably because individuals and families have concluded that higher education possesses a value transcending price. The average outstanding college debt increased from $23,349 in 2007 to $26,682 in 2010.
But insensitivity to education costs cannot be presumed. Data released just Thursday by the Kansas Board of Regents raises the question of whether the state's system may have already reached its point of sensitivity. The Regents reported that enrollment was down 152 students at the public universities. Fortunately for Manhattan, K-State was an exception to the trend, reporting the largest increase among the state institutions, up 515 students.
But contrast the movement at the seven universities with a 13.4 percent increase at the state's technical college and it becomes fair to ask whether some families are re-evaluating the usefulness of a four-year college degree if getting that degree forces them into debt.
The Hutchinson News, Sept. 28
Mike O'Neal and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce:
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce seems like a good fit for House Speaker Mike O'Neal's post-Legislature life. His first order of business as president and CEO should be to change the name of the organization.
O'Neal, you see, won't be running a state version of your local chamber of commerce. That's not what the Kansas "chamber" is at all anymore. It is a political activist group, and it isn't one that speaks for all of business.
O'Neal is retiring from 28 years in the Kansas House, the last four as Speaker. That is an outstanding span of service, one that could only be amassed by someone who loves state government. And O'Neal is an admitted policy wonk, so he will be well-suited for a move from Hutchinson to Topeka year-round, where he will be able to stay involved in legislative work.
Based on the state chamber's agenda in recent years, O'Neal will have a visible presence at the Statehouse. The organization has emerged as something much different than an umbrella group or state association for local chambers of commerce.
In fact, the state chamber has lost much support from local chambers of commerce in the past two years because of its narrow policy positions. And the state chamber does not enjoy broad membership of the business community like local chambers do.
Tax reduction has been the obsession of the state chamber, which has been a strong ally for Gov. Sam Brownback in this crusade. While lower taxes are good for business, so is state investment in education and transportation. The chamber's abandonment of those priorities is what got it crosswise with local chambers.
And with the help of six-figure financial support from Koch Industries of Wichita, for one, the state chamber's political action committee has become a high-profile player in state elections - not just to elect Republicans to the Legislature but in this past primary election cycle to promote conservative Republicans over moderates.
Calling itself the Kansas "chamber of commerce" is highly misleading. The organization should change its name to reflect its real mission and activities.
Lawrence Journal-World, Oct. 1
Firearms in public places:
Overland Park is tagging along with Wichita in a decision to permit the open carrying of firearms.
It was announced this week that the Overland Park City Council approved an ordinance to let legal gun owners openly carry their weapons — if they are in holsters with the safety engaged.
Wichita, earlier this year, passed a similar ordinance permitting "open carry," but, according to Wichita newspaper reports, the city council there apparently favors "a re-examination of our options" — a re-examination provoked by public concern.
The two communities indicate their actions were a response to a nonbinding opinion issued by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who said the cities "may not completely prohibit the open carry of a loaded firearm" on any property that's open to the public, unless the property is posted with signs prohibiting weapons. His opinion was based on the contention that cities can't enforce gun laws that are more restrictive than the provisions of state law.
However, cities are allowed to restrict the way firearms are carried, which led Wichita and Overland Park to require guns be in holsters with the safety on. Authorities in each city said they had no interest in challenging the matter in court, so they in effect removed prohibitions on carrying weapons that were tougher than the state's law.
Lawrence does not appear to face a similar challenge because its "carriage" laws seem minimal and relate to carrying handguns near bars. So state law prevails. What will other communities do? Apparently, it's up to the Legislature to address the situation before Kansas begins to resemble the Old West, with residents strolling down the street wearing sidearms. (However, this is the same Legislature that had been unwilling to address provisions of the concealed-carry law that make it possible for the blind to maintain their permits.)
Should residents of Lawrence or any Kansas city be forced to accept openly armed residents at the gasoline pump or in the grocery store or just out walking on the sidewalk? Especially knowing that, unlike those who obtain concealed-carry permits, no permit, no training, no background check is required for someone who decides to strap on a holster and pistol?
Surely, most Kansans would say no.