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Recent Kansas editorials

July 2, 2019

The Kansas City Star, July 1

Kansas’ plan to add meningitis and hepatitis A to the list of required vaccinations for school-age children was met last week with passionate objection from a group of citizens concerned about mandatory immunizations.

But with measles outbreaks occurring across the country, there should be no doubt about the need to expand the state’s list of required vaccines that includes measles, whooping cough, mumps and chickenpox.

About 1,020 cases of measles have been reported in the United States this year through June 6, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of those infected were not vaccinated against the highly contagious and potentially life-threatening disease.

Kansas health officials correctly argue that the time to act is now — before cases of other contagious diseases begin to multiply.

“Part of public health is not waiting on something that is preventable,” said pediatrician Gretchen Homan, chair of the Immunize Kansas Coalition.

Meningitis is a serious disease that can lead to seizures, coma and even death. Hepatitis A is a liver disease that causes fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, fatigue and other symptoms.

While both of these illnesses are dangerous, they are preventable.

The CDC estimates that more than one-fourth of Kansas teens between 13 and 17 years old are not vaccinated against meningitis, ranking the state near the bottom in the country for teen vaccinations.

Tasha Haas, a writing instructor at Kansas City Kansas Community College, spoke against the requirement at a hearing in Topeka last week.

“Vaccine science is tobacco science,” Haas told The Wichita Eagle.

But science is not on Haas’ side. Vaccines are safe and effective. The CDC and other leading health authorities are unequivocal in recommending that children be vaccinated. But increasingly, experts are doing battle against misinformation.

Opponents of expanding immunization requirements say families should have absolute freedom to make their own health care decisions. But their freedom should not come at the expense of public health.

“We listen to citizens and take into account their concerns, and then we weigh the evidence,” said Kristi Pankratz, director of communications for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. “We establish policies that balance health risk, benefit, scientific and clinical evidence, and hope that our citizens’ commitment to their loved ones and others will be enough to choose to be vaccinated.”

The proposal, which would maintain exemptions for medical and religious reasons, would bring Kansas in line with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices.

The new rules could go into effect by the start of the school year, officials say. For the sake of public health, Kansas should not delay.

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Topeka Capital Journal, June 30

Kansas has made smart infrastructure investments in disaster mitigation, saving the state well over a billion dollars, according to a study from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

For every dollar Kansas spent on disaster mitigation between 1993 and 2016, the state saved $6.81 in disaster recovery, the highest return of any state. Kansas and the federal government spent around $220 million on disaster mitigation in Kansas in the 23-year time period studied. The report estimates those investments saved $1.5 billion.

Most funding for disaster mitigation comes from federal grant dollars, typically with some matching money from states and local communities. Disaster mitigation grants can fund a wide range of projects. In Kansas, most projects focus on preventing damage from flooding and high winds, and are administered by the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.

Such efforts included elevating or acquiring flood-prone buildings, retrofitting infrastructure, adding shutters and safe rooms, or reinforcing roofs and garage doors in residential, commercial, and public buildings.

Most disaster mitigation dollars are made available to communities after disasters. A previous report from The Pew Charitable Trusts recommended more dollars be available to pre-disaster mitigation programs, a wise move given the cost savings demonstrated by these programs.

Disaster mitigation saves lives, reduces injury and prevents property loss. Mitigation efforts can not only reduce the damage from natural disasters but can make recovery less time-consuming and costly. The costs of disasters come in the form of property damage, injury, business interruptions and insurance administrative fees.

Governments can save significant dollars otherwise spent on recovery efforts by investing in infrastructure.

Their efforts couldn’t come at a better time. Kansas has had the misfortune of multiple disasters since 1993. The state has suffered half a dozen significant floods in that time period and averaged nearly 100 annual tornadoes. A 2007 tornado outbreak included the tornado that destroyed about 95 percent of Greensburg.

With experts predicting more severe storms on the way, it’s a good time to invest more in disaster mitigation.

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The Wichita Eagle, June 25

A new hotel at Eisenhower Airport may boost development near a crucial gateway to Wichita. It could make economic and political sense.

Why, then, have city leaders been so sneaky about a proposed agreement that would lease six acres of prime land to a developer for the next 50 years?

The Wichita City Council on Tuesday was expected to sign a lease deal with a company called Wichita Eisenhower Hotel LLC without a public airing. The development, worth at least $7 million, is proposed for land north of the existing airport Hampton Inn.

Items like this 77-page lease agreement don’t belong on the council’s consent agenda, where routine business items usually are approved without discussion and with a single vote.

Nor should major items go to a vote if, as in this case, key elements are being rewritten — at least in part because of questions raised by The Eagle — and a final version of the proposed agreement isn’t available to council members until hours before the vote.

On Tuesday, the City Council wisely decided to postpone the vote at least a week, after Mayor Jeff Longwell voiced frustration with city staff for putting the item on the consent agenda.

“We really don’t like, in this case, last-second changes that are brought to us,” Longwell said Tuesday.

He’s right: That’s not the way city business should be conducted. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time recently that transparency has taken a back seat to supposed efficiency.

This spring, city officials moved forward with a downtown baseball stadium project at lightning speed, approving the sale of prime riverfront property to a mostly undisclosed group of developers.

Initially, the ballpark development agreement was released to the public just days before the planned council vote. But reporting by The Eagle raised key questions and prompted city leaders to postpone the vote and solicit public comment.

Leasing airport acreage to a private developer for 50 years deserves more than a cursory vote, and Wichita taxpayers deserve more than a few hours’ notice.

Unlike the new ballpark, which is on a fast track to be completed before opening day of the 2020 baseball season, there’s no hurry to build another airport hotel.

If city leaders want public support for any development, they need to be deliberate, transparent and upfront about their plans, and they should discuss them in an open forum.

Enough with the 11th-hour changes and burying big deals in the consent agenda.

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