Problems with Kansas’ new voting laws


I am currently working on two campaigns which require the registration of new voters in the state of Kansas. One involves a petition to remove the criminal penalties for possession of marijuana in Wichita, and the other is Jennifer Winn’s campaign for governor (these two campaigns are in no way connected and my role in the petition is minimal, at best). Rather than simply having potential first-time voters fill out the standard form and then turning those forms into our local election office, which is how voter registration has worked for decades, we are now required to include a copy of the registrants’ birth certificates.

This presents multiple issues, the foremost being that most people do not carry their birth certificates around in their purses or wallets. This means that we either have to send the registration home with the potential voter, in the hopes that they remember and have time to find their birth certificate, make a copy of that document, and then mail the documents to the Secretary of State’s office or hand deliver them to the county election office.

Many of the people we are registering are low-income citizens who may not have reliable transportation, and who very likely do not have copy machines in their homes. So now, instead of simply filling out a form that we can submit for them, these people have to take their birth certificate and find a ride to a place where they can make a copy, then either find a ride to the election office or mail the document themselves.

Surely, the Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, who initiated these policies which were enacted by the Kansas State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Sam Brownback, could have used a much simpler procedure for determining voter eligibility. Employers use a computer program that allows them to verify potential employees’ social security numbers. Kobach might have considered using this system to determine whether or not a potential first-time voter is a United States citizen.

Furthermore, birth certificates are issued by the state, which means that many of these documents are already on file with the state of Kansas, or at least with the state of the potential voter’s birth. Surely, a system could be set up where computers verify that a valid birth certificate exists, rather than having someone check each certificate by hand. Voters were already signing an affidavit swearing under penalty of perjury to be United States citizens, simply by registering in the first place.

As Jennifer Winn’s campaign manager, I can assure you that we are not out looking for undocumented workers (immigrants) to register as voters. We are seeking American citizens who are fed up with a system that does not represent their interests, people who have never voted because they never felt as if a candidate actually stood for their interests. The Winn campaign is extremely popular with this demographic, the people who, despite being eligible, have never voted.

And now, as we attempt to register these people in large numbers, we have to go through this added hassle of ensuring that their birth certificates are being mailed in along with their voter registration forms.

Winn

I love Kansas teachers, but…


Teachers are underpaid. The teachers that perform well deserve higher pay. However, the public education system does not exist to serve the interests of teachers. Politicians like governor candidate Paul Davis, represent teacher unions, which is not the same thing as representing public education. Public education exists to serve the interests of our state’s school children. Often times, the interests of our students and our teachers coincide, but when these interests do not coincide, the teacher unions and their politicians will side with the teachers over the students.

Last night’s vote in Topeka is a perfect example of how teachers and their unions, along with the Democrats, support teachers, even if it comes at the expense of the students. Teachers from all across the state traveled to the capital to express their opposition to the school finance bill, a bill that adds $129 million to Kansas public schools, as ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court. The teachers were not in opposition to the increased financing itself, which they have of course been lobbying in favor of.

The teachers were instead united in their opposition to a provision in this bill that allows administrators to terminate teachers without first giving that teacher a hearing. In Kansas, private employers can terminate employees at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. Teachers, however, since 1957, have had the right to a hearing before their employment could be terminated. So, essentially, teachers’ employment rights are now closer to being aligned with the employment rights of the rest of the people who work in Kansas.

Administrators rarely fire teachers because doing so has been difficult due to the fact that they were required to give that teacher a hearing. The decision to fire a teacher should be at the discretion of the administrator. According to the Kansas Association of School Boards, only around ten such hearings occur in the state, each year. Surely, we have more than ten teachers in this state who should be fired. Anyone who is a parent with children in Kansas public schools can tell you that we have some wonderful teachers, and then we have some very awful teachers. We only have ten hearings in a year because the administration does not want to go through the hassle of proving that a teacher is negligent, or deserves to be fired.

Advocates for teachers claim that the purpose of these hearings is not to protect bad teachers, but to ensure that good teachers are not fired without a good reason. However, this does not hold water with a lot of people who have dealt with bad teachers who do not lose their jobs. Administrators are not likely to be firing teachers for no reason at all, although even if they did, this would place teachers in the same boat as everyone else who works in Kansas, because state law says we can all be fired without due process.

Advocates for public education will claim this is an attack on teachers, but they say this in regards to any criticism of teachers or the public education system. This attitude that we should never criticize teachers or public education is, in part, what has led to this measure to end hearings for terminating teachers. Had the teachers unions been more willing to assist school districts in terminating sub-par teachers, they might still have their hearings.

At the end of the day, supporting teachers and supporting students are two very different things. Politicians like Paul Davis are running on the notion that they are champions of public education, but in reality, they are champions of teacher unions. While Davis might be better than his opponent, Governor Sam Brownback, Kansans deserve more than just “better than the other guy”, and we do have other options. Jennifer Winn is running against Brownback in the Republican Primary. Winn supports funding our schools and increased salaries for teachers based on merit, but also supports increased choice in education, and teacher accountability.

#Winn2014

Homicidal Wichita Police Officer Remains Free Two Years Later


It has now been two years and one day since former Wichita Police officer Randy Williamson shot Troy Lanning II, who was unarmed and running away, in the back. Lanning died of his wounds. Williamson has been placed on “medical retirement” after confessing to making false statements in a separate shooting he was involved in.

The Sedgwick County District Attorney has still not released a ruling in this case. We are still paying Williamson full retirement benefits despite the fact he confessed to a crime and shot an unarmed man in the back. The Lanning family has been offered no explanation by either the Wichita Police Department, nor the Sedgwick County DA’s office.

Former police officer Randy Williamson stands accused of murdering Troy Lanning II over two years ago but has yet to be charged for a crime.

Former police officer Randy Williamson stands accused of murdering Troy Lanning II over two years ago but has yet to be charged for a crime.

Increasing numbers of American citizens are being killed by police officers, and very rarely are these officers brought to account for unjustified shootings. Police officers in America are killing civilians at a far higher rate than civilians kill police officers. In 2013 alone, police officers killed 309 people. In 2012, that number was 587.

Conversely, in 2013, 130 police officers died in the line of duty. However, only 30 were shot by criminals, and only 2 died of stab wounds. 5 died from vehicular assault and one was killed by a bomb. The rest were killed in accidents, or died from heart attacks.

So, in reality, criminals killed 36 police officers in 2013, while police officers killed over 300 in that same year. Technically speaking, while the police may claim that their jobs are very dangerous, it is about ten times more dangerous to be in the presence of a police officer than it is to actually be one.

Looking back at Wichita, in a one year period, the WPD shot and killed five individuals, none of whom were armed with a gun (in shooting, the WPD claims Marquez Smart was armed with a gun, but physical evidence refutes this claim). The Sedgwick County DA’s office has ruled four of these five shootings to be justified, but has yet to release a ruling on Lanning’s death.

Two really good Kansas bills you’ve probably never heard about


With all the attention in Topeka being diverted towards the argument over education funding, two crucial bills are being ignored, bills that, if passed, will greatly increase transparency in Kansas government. One will force the legislature to record and make public all votes, instead of allowing oral votes on amendments. This allows us to see who votes in favor of watering down important legislation.

The other bill being proposed will prohibit legislators from bundling bills together, which will prevent legislators from attaching a bill that funds some form of corporate welfare to the passage of a bill that, for example, forces all votes in the legislature to be recorded. Blake Branson, with Wichita Campaign for Liberty, speaks of the importance of these two bills, known in Topeka as “Rubin’s Rules”:

“Many powerful politicians want to keep the power to bundle their unpopular laws together with popular bills and to hide behind the voice vote.”

Both HR 6037, the “Record all Votes” bill, and HCR 5020, the “Bundle no Bills” resolution, have been proposed and our legislators need to know that the people of Kansas want transparency in the statehouse.

Find contact information for your legislator

Topeka

 

 

The legal petition to remove criminal penalties for marijuana in Wichita


We see petitions on the internet all the time, claiming to support this or that cause, and, 99% of the time, these petitions have no legal bearing. Real petitions that affect change are done with paper and pen, and those who sign them have to be registered voters.

That being said, a real, legally binding petition is being formed in Wichita, Kansas, that would allow the public to vote on a ballot initiative to make possession of under one ounce of marijuana a $25.00 fine, and nothing more. No jail time, no probation and no drug rehabilitation classes. It would be a lot like getting a speeding ticket, but cheaper.

This would also include paraphernalia items, such as pipes and bongs.

In order for this to happen, 4,300 signatures have to be collected from registered voters who live inside the Wichita city limits. Once those signatures are collected, they will be turned in to the Sedgwick County Elections Office. In November, when the voters go to the polls, they will have the option to vote for or against this proposed city ordinance, along with voting for political candidates.

This petition is being put together by JENI, a group that advocates against mass incarceration, and Kansas for Change, Inc., which is a social welfare organization that advocates for sensible marijuana reform laws in the state of Kansas.

Having professionals make this petition gives us the advantage of having the legal wording to actually make this ordinance possible and properly exercise our right to organize for a ballot initiative, at the municipal level, a right which we do not retain at the state level. Similar efforts are being undertaken in Lawrence, Tulsa and multiple other cities in states that have so far refused to legalize marijuana.

If successful, this ordinance will conflict with Kansas state law in much the same fashion that Colorado and Washington state laws conflict with federal law. State law currently carries a $2,500 fine and up to one year in jail for misdemeanor possession violations.

According to the ACLU, Kansas taxpayers spend $20 million in marijuana-related costs associated with policing, court/judicial activities, and corrections.

You can download a copy of the petition here: http://www.kansasforchange.com/

Please note the very important rules regarding who can sign this petition, what information is needed from those who do sign, and the rules on notarization.

Wichita

Kansas Transparency Bill Shot Down?


A bill that would have required Kansas state legislative committee meetings to be filmed and broadcast live over the internet appears to be dead in the water after a hearing in the Committee on Federal and State Affairs. Unfortunately, we cannot discern what happened in that hearing which took place March 13, 2014, aside from noting that the bill did not advance to the Senate, because these committee meetings are not being filmed, as this bill, SB 413, would require.

Knowing what happens in these committee meetings is vital to open government. Before a bill can be voted on by the Kansas House or Senate, the bill has to be approved by a committee, so the legislature cannot pass any law unless a committee first advances the bill. If we cannot see the debates that take place in these committee meetings, we have no way of knowing why certain bills are advanced while others are not, or who is standing in the way of or supporting specific bills.

Topeka

 

New Bill Would Prevent Sedgwick County From Voting on Casino for 18 Years


In yet another anonymously introduced bill, someone in the Kansas state legislature has proposed a bill that would prevent Sedgwick County voters from being able to vote on the issue of allowing casinos in the county for 18 more years. HB 2125 was introduced by the Committee on Central Government Budget, a committee that is chaired by Rep. Pete DeGraaf. DeGraaf represents Mulvane, Kansas, the county located directly south of the Sedgwick County line, which also happens to be the location of the Kansas Star Casino, located in Sumner County, again, located directly south of Sedgwick County.

By all appearances, this is a bill that would prevent Sedgwick County from opening a casino to compete with the one located directly south of the county line, for 18 years. This bill, at face value, is an affront to the free market in that it blatantly suppresses competition in the gaming industry. This has the potential to dramatically affect the residents of Sedgwick County and the citizens of Wichita, the largest city in the state of Kansas.

Casinos bring tax revenue, jobs and money for schools. The money being generated by the casino in Sumner County is largely coming from residents of Sedgwick County, and there is no legitimate reason to propose a bill to prevent Sedgwick County from opening casinos to compete with the Kansas Star Casino, unless the owners of the Kansas Star Casino is lining someone’s pockets with money, money that actually came from Sedgwick County.

DeGraaf, despite having a large casino located in his district, is staunchly anti-gambling and opposes all casinos in our state. DeGraaf himself has not received campaign contributions directly from Kansas Star Casino.

Rep. Pete DeGraaf wants to prevent Sedgwick County from having casinos for 18 years. DeGraaf does not represent Sedgwick County, but instead represents Sumner County, where the Kansas Star Casino is located.

Rep. Pete DeGraaf wants to prevent Sedgwick County from having casinos for 18 years. DeGraaf does not represent Sedgwick County, but instead represents Sumner County, where the Kansas Star Casino is located.