Recent Kansas Editorials

November 18, 2019 GMT

The Kansas City Star, Nov. 18

Why is Catholic Church in Kansas tying overdue Medicaid expansion to abortion battle?

Nothing says “pro-life” like blocking health care for low-income Kansans.

Yet Catholic bishops in the state have announced that they will oppose expanding Medicaid health insurance to 150,000 more low-income adults and children in Kansas unless lawmakers first pass new anti-abortion legislation and a constitutional amendment that says abortion is not a right protected under the state constitution.

Such a constitutional amendment wouldn’t even be on the ballot for another year, so if lawmakers listened to this advice, some Kansans would as a result go without health care for at least that long.

And then they continue to wonder why critics accuse them of being not so much “pro-life” as “pro-birth.”

Kansas, which has one of the most restrictive Medicaid programs in the country, now covers only about 400,000 disabled, elderly, pregnant and poor Kansans. Even the Trump administration has found Kansas too restrictive in trying to impose a three-year lifetime cap.

Under Govs. Sam Brownback, Jeff Colyer and now Laura Kelly, Republican state lawmakers have used a variety of strategies to keep from expanding the program to include those who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to receive the insurance subsidies that would make it affordable.

In 2020, despite GOP promises to the contrary, it still may not happen, though expanding Medicaid will once again be at the top of the agenda for Kelly, who herself is Catholic.

Asked about the highly conditional support of Kansas bishops, Kelly said in an email via her spokeswoman that “bringing Medicaid expansion into the discussion” of anti-abortion laws “is nothing more than an attempt to block 150,000 working Kansans from having access to affordable health care.”

Chuck Weber, of the Kansas Catholic Conference, testified to a joint House and Senate committee last week that bishops in the state will only support expansion in return for new legislation.

First, they are asking for a new law explicitly blocking Medicaid expansion from also expanding access to abortion.

They also want conscience protections for institutions and individuals. We support such protections and are not persuaded by the argument that health care workers, say in an emergency room, might if afforded conscience protections refuse to treat a woman suffering from complications from an abortion or from taking birth control.

But the Catholic Church also wants the Kansas Constitution amended to say that contrary to a recent decision from the Kansas Supreme Court, there is no right to an abortion in the state. Earlier this year, the court’s majority said that, “This right allows a woman to make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation and family life — decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy.”

We supported that decision, but have also argued that it ought to be up to both Kansas and Missouri voters to decide on abortion law directly.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Nov. 16

Editorial: Kelly must step up to fix foster care

What on earth is Gov. Laura Kelly thinking?

The former state senator was elected to the governor’s office last year with a simple message. Allow us to summarize: I will clean up the mess left by former Gov. Sam Brownback. I will bring a no-nonsense, solutions-oriented approach to state government and work with everyone to make Kansas better.

That’s why news last week that Kelly was asking a court to remove her from a class-action lawsuit over the state’s treatment of children in foster care is so dismaying. Her lawyers argue that she doesn’t actually run the system and shouldn’t be sued.

They motion reads, according to Nomin Ujiyediin, of the Kansas News Service: “While Governor Kelly generally oversees her appointees’ administration of the foster care system, she does not enforce the statutes or regulations that control the Kansas foster care system.”

That might be true technically. But Kelly ran on assuming responsibility for the state and cleaning up its problems. To avoid it now, on this one particular highly charged issue, is a letdown.

Everyone understands that Kelly wasn’t governor when our state’s foster care problems developed. Short-timer Jeff Colyer was originally named in the suit, and he was scarcely in office. But as the state’s current chief executive, she needs to step up and work to fix the situation. It’s her job, and Kansas voters will hold her to account if she doesn’t.

What’s more, her administration seems to be ignoring a prime opportunity. The lawsuit itself doesn’t seek punitive revenge — it simply calls for the reform of system that nearly everyone in state government agrees is broken. As the News Service reported last year: “The organizations seek no financial damages. Rather, the suit calls for the agencies to put together a plan to fix the churning and mental health problems, and to see that it’s implemented.”

Indeed, why wouldn’t Gov. Kelly or her staff embrace the lawsuit, work with the litigants and craft a settlement in the best interests of state foster kids? Why wouldn’t a governor dedicated to cleaning up messes seize this chance to clean up one of the biggest messes left her?

In other words, the governor should take responsibility, accept her role and work on solutions. We’re not sure about Kelly’s motivations in this case, but they look more political than practical. And that’s profoundly disappointing.


The Lawrence Journal-World, Nov. 17

It came about a week after Halloween, but a comment from University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod still was the type that could put a scare into local leaders.

“A future KU may be a smaller KU, but a stronger KU,” Girod said earlier this month at a kickoff event for KU’s new strategic planning process.

The fear in local circles should be that KU only delivers on half that statement. It is hard to see how a smaller KU is going to be a good deal for the Lawrence community in very many circumstances.

Lawrence sometimes overthinks its economic development strategy. Yes, the community’s strategy should have several facets to it, but serving students is clearly the foundation of our economic success. The most straightforward way to boost the Lawrence economy is to grow the enrollment at KU’s Lawrence campus. Most students at KU don’t come from Douglas County. As such, they bring new money into our economy from other parts of the state, the country and the world.

It is fair to wonder if local governments ought to spend some of their economic development funds on efforts aimed directly at increasing the enrollment at the Lawrence campus. How that would work is unclear, in part, because there hasn’t been any serious discussion of it.

What is clear is that KU could use some help in growing its Lawrence enrollment. KU’s Lawrence enrollment is turning into a legitimate economic concern for the community. Since 2010, the university’s Lawrence campus enrollment has dropped by about 1,500 students.

Here are some dollar estimates we can attach to that decline. According to university statistics, about 60% of students are residents of Kansas, while 40% are from outside the state. In-state students pay just under $23,000 a year in tuition and other fees. Because of higher tuition rates, out-of-state students pay just under $41,000. Add it all up and the loss of 1,500 students amounts to a loss of about $45 million in direct student spending every year. The true direct number is likely higher because the KU cost figures don’t do much to factor in the true amount of entertainment dollars students spend in the community. Even so, $45 million a year is about a half-billion dollars sucked out of the Lawrence economy over the course of a decade.

If you consider indirect effects, the number would be much higher. It would cause the abacus to smoke too much to do those calculations, but the effects are real. A good portion of that $45 million a year would go to pay salaries of local residents, which they in turn would use to buy their own goods and services. When you wonder why wages aren’t as high as you think they ought to be in Lawrence, remember these numbers. When you think Lawrence isn’t as prosperous as it should be, recall these figures.

So, Chancellor Girod shouldn’t be offended if Lawrence leaders don’t get overly enthused about the idea of a smaller KU.

A stronger KU, certainly, would be welcome. Girod didn’t articulate what he meant by a stronger KU. Presumably, the new strategic plan will chart that course. There is reason to be concerned in Lawrence about what that course will be. Given Girod’s history, it is fair to wonder whether Girod’s vision is to make KU much more Kansas City-centric than it is today. Girod is the former executive vice chancellor of the KU Medical Center. Making KU more KC-centric has some strategic merits. The Medical Center certainly has more positive momentum than the rest of the university. But if Girod is content with building upon that success, Lawrence will suffer.

Hopefully, the chancellor has a broader vision for KU. Many in the university community have been clamoring for it since his tenure began in 2017. Lawrence community leaders also would be wise to not only clamor for it, but become involved in shaping it. The city, the county and the chamber of commerce each should have staff members assigned to participate in KU’s strategic plan.

When cracks start to show up in your foundation, it is never wise to hope they’ll fix themselves.