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Recent Kansas Editorials

September 3, 2019 GMT

The Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 2

Revenue secretary should wait for Legislature to act

Overall, it makes abundant sense for Kansas to collect sales tax paid on internet purchases. The Supreme Court has paved the way for such a move, and it just makes sense in today’s connected world: If you do most of your shopping online while living in Kansas, you should be paying the same sales tax as someone shopping in a brick-and-mortar store.

But there’s a big dispute brewing over how Kansas has chosen to collect that tax.

Let’s hand it over to the Associated Press for some context: “The state Department of Revenue issued a notice last week saying any ‘remote seller’ doing business with Kansas residents must register with the department, collect state and local sales taxes and forward the revenues to the state, starting Oct. 1. It cites a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year allowing states to collect sales taxes on Internet sales.”

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That’s any remote seller, no matter how small, with no minimum amount of sales. That’s caused critics of Gov. Laura Kelly and her administration to cry foul, and they have called on Attorney General Derek Schmidt to advise on the legality of the move.

Again, according to the AP, Kansas Revenue Secretary Mark Burghart sees the issue in black and white. The department should uphold the law — collecting the tax — and it isn’t allowed to exempt anyone without legislative action.

The House and Senate did pass bills last session that dealt with collecting online sales tax, but those tweaks were folded into a larger package of corporate and individual tax cuts. Kelly vetoed the bills, citing concerns about lost revenue, and her moves were sustained.

It’s unfortunate that lawmakers didn’t choose to handle these issues separately, because their decision seems to have led to the current impasse.

Overall, we believe that those who owe taxes to the state should pay them. Taxes help fund the backbone services that everyone in this state relies upon — Kelly, Schmidt and Senate President Susan Wagle alike. A fair and broad taxation regime makes sense.

But it ultimately doesn’t make sense to include every single small internet seller. It could make lawbreakers of folks who are simply selling a couple of old chairs or some other items online.

We understand that Burghart doesn’t see any alternative now, but perhaps that means he might wait until the Legislature takes appropriate, considered action.

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The Manhattan Mercury, Sept. 1

Bust helps drug problem, but we need to stop demand

Let’s start out with the obvious: The Riley County Police Department deserves our thanks and support. The cops have evidently busted a major drug ring in town, one that’s responsible for supplying heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamine, hydrocodone and marijuana here.

Fifty-four people were indicted, with most of them already under arrest. The vast majority of them were here, with other arrests in Kansas City and Chicago, where the network leads to.

How their court cases play out will determine the success of this “takedown,” which a federal prosecutor called the largest in the history of the state. It’s worth noting that all the people identified thus far — and we ran all of them in the paper Wednesday — are innocent until proven guilty.

But let’s assume for the moment that at least a significant portion of that bunch is in fact involved in drug distribution. Even if their stay in jail is brief, it will nonetheless disrupt their business. That’s good. If they end up convicted, that’s even better.

Drug dealing is, as the cops pointed out in a news conference in Topeka Wednesday, most definitely not a victimless crime. At least one young Manhattan man was killed by an overdose, due to the fact that the drug he thought he was taking was laced with a much more powerful one, fentanyl. Just a tiny bit of that stuff can kill you, and you might not ever know you’re taking it.

The local police had already started an investigation of the network prior to that death, but that kicked the whole thing into high gear. Federal authorities got more heavily involved, and the resources available at that level allowed the operation to “clean out a whole city,” as the authorities said.

Again, we’re grateful for that hard work and focus.

The authorities emphasized that it’s not as if there’s some major drug problem here worse than elsewhere. It’s just that they had a chance to get at it, and take it all down. Still, it’s worth thinking about the fact that there was obviously a market here for all those drugs. There was a demand.

It’s not as if innocent little lambs here in the heartland were unknowingly doped up by smooth operators from Chicago. It’s important to realize that people here wanted those drugs, and were willing to pay a lot of money to get them. Without a doubt, that’s still entirely the case right now, and somebody else will move in to provide the supply.

The authorities will do their best to stop that, and we’re confident they’ll have success from time to time.

This is no different from anywhere else in America, and it points to an obvious fact: The only way to really combat the problem of illegal drug use is to reduce the demand for the stuff. We have to do whatever we can to get people to quit using it.

What does that mean? That’s very tough to answer, because it’s a matter of the heart and the mind. Tougher laws don’t seem to do much. Important factors — pop culture, peer pressure, the stupidity of youth — aren’t controllable. Education is an easy answer, and it’s a part. Motivational speakers, such as the one brought to Manhattan High by the local Rotary clubs, can help.

We don’t have a single answer. And we don’t mean to diminish in any way the hard work by the police and prosecutors. They deserve our deep gratitude — busting up the supply chain will certainly help.

But to really make a long-term difference, it’s all about the demand.

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The Kansas City Star, Sept. 3

Vaping is causing breathing illnesses in Kansas students. Time to raise the legal age?

Joe Camel died over 20 years ago, but the tobacco mascot’s child-enticing spirit has hauntingly returned in the form of vaping — the growing use of e-cigarettes.

The stunning fact is, vaping is more prevalent among teens than tobacco use: While less than a quarter of Kansas and Missouri high school students use tobacco, about a third acknowledges having vaped, though estimates say it’s closer to half.

Every parent needs to be alerted to this rising epidemic and to vaping’s seductiveness, addictiveness and cryptic dangers, which are showing up in the heartland in alarming ways. Eerie cases of unspecified vaping-related breathing disorders have recently been identified in at least three Kansas young adults, to go with some 200 similar cases nationwide, according to the state’s Department of Health and Environment.

“No lie, it really is the majority of teens nowadays,” Tryston Zohfeld told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram after an extended hospitalization for lung failure that doctors attributed to vaping. “If you’re going to do it, you need to know what you’re getting into. We have no idea what we’re getting into.”

These are just the acute cases we know about. How many are going unreported? And how much long-term damage might vaping be doing to youths? Besides the ill effects that are known, including those of nicotine, Johns Hopkins Medicine clinical researcher Dr. Michael Blaha warns, “You’re exposing yourself to all kinds of chemicals that we don’t yet understand and that are probably not safe.”

It may be a legal, albeit uncharted, adult pursuit often marketed as a way to quit tobacco. But vaping is not a government-approved smoking cessation method, and, in fact, Johns Hopkins says most who try to use it for that end up smoking both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes anyway.

What’s far worse is the wrenching grip that vaping is getting on kids, which is happening faster than schools and school districts can respond with code-of-conduct changes, health services and information for parents and students.

“It is an epidemic,” Shelby Rebeck, director of health services for the Shawnee Mission School District, told KCTV-5. “We’re so behind in responding to this. I think our kids are already physically addicted by the time we’re trying to address it.”

That’s because vaping is easier to cloak than smoking and because vaping is being picked up as early as middle and grade school.

The best that can be said for vaping is that it exposes users to fewer toxic chemicals. Faint praise, certainly. But any mistaken notion that it’s just water vapor is as harmful as the toxins that accompany it. Even the innocent-sounding e-cigarette flavorings that appeal particularly to the young — cinnamon, vanilla, buttered popcorn and such — can themselves be toxic when inhaled, and impair lungs, blood vessels and more. And researchers still don’t even know all the possible ill effects of vaping.

Schools and school districts must be more vigilant and proactive than ever this year in policing the grounds and helping students caught up in this destructive trap while preventing others from falling into it.

The Kansas State Board of Education has formed a public-private, multi-agency task force to promote and track anti-vaping efforts in schools and in their health curricula. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment, a member of the task force, has a “Vape-Free Schools Toolkit” online — something that schools and parents should both make use of.

Yet, doesn’t the state need more laws? While nearly 25 cities and counties in Kansas have bumped up the legal age for nicotine products to 21 — including Kansas City, Kansas, Johnson County and Douglas County — the Legislature needs to do the same and more statewide to curtail this epidemic.

A lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association is absolutely right that educators and administrators need rapt attention and support from parents and policymakers on this crisis.

Educating our young has always started with parents, and there has rarely been a more urgent need for them to engage and inform their kids than now.

An epidemic of e-cigarette vaping by youths has sickened at least three youths in Kansas and imperils thousands more. NAM Y. HUH ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO