September 20, 2018

Noonletter: Sept. 20, 2018


A more fair court system
The killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 triggered weeks of  sometimes-violent protests. It became yet another polarizing incident over force used by law enforcement on young black men. (This week the country is watching a similar case play out in the dashcam-captured fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. A cop charged in that case is on trial now.)
The Ferguson case also shined a light on the way some cities pound people with exorbitant fines for minor offenses, how poor people often struggle to pay those fines, and how those delinquent payments spiral into arrest warrants. Ferguson’s city government relied heavily on the revenue from such fines.
That sparked a bit of a reform movement. On Wednesday, reports Nomin Ujiyediin, an ad hoc committee of judges and others in Kansas issued its report on how Kansas cities handle fines, fees and bail. The panel said it didn’t come across Ferguson-like predatory practices by municipalities in the state. But it suggested some reforms all the same.
First and foremost, the committee said, keep the fees low. Offer alternatives to bail. Understand that the point of bonds isn’t to lock people up or strip them of money, but to get them to show up in court.
Among its suggestions:
  • Look for alternatives to cash bail and bond. (See California.) It tends to only put poor people in jail, without much correlation to actual guilt.
  • Lean more heavily on personal recognizance bonds that don’t require money.
  • Let people pay off fines with community service.
  • Remind people about court dates and due payments through texts, cell phone calls and emails.
On that DCF rape case …
Gina Meier-Hummel, the secretary of the Department for Children and Families, spoke publicly Wednesday for the first time about the alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl while the child was waiting for a foster care placement in the offices of a state contractor.
The DCF boss fielded questions in a Facebook Live session and from reporter Madeline Fox. The contractor overseeing the care of the girl, the 18-year-old charged with raping her and another young person may still face a financial penalty, Meier-Hummel said.
And, perhaps more significantly, the incident and any other problems KVC Kansas has experienced while caring for kids in state custody could play a role in deciding whether the company gets another four-year contract from the state.
Kansas privatized its foster care system in the mid-1990s. KVC Kansas handles foster care for the Kansas City area and the eastern part of the state. Another contractor covers the rest of Kansas.
West Nile in Kansas horses
Cases of West Nile virus have been reported in horses, not people, in Lyon, Seward, Neosho, Marion and Wichita counties in recent weeks.
The Kansas Department of Agriculture said in a news release that all the cases involved horses that had not been vaccinated, or where at least the vaccination history of the horse was unknown. Vaccinations have been proven highly effective in preventing the virus.
The virus can infect humans, horses, birds and other species.
“The virus is carried and transmitted by mosquitoes,” the release said. “It is not directly contagious from horse to horse or from horse to human.”
Sacramento is the new D.C.
Get used to this. What Washington won’t do, California (for better or worse) will do. For instance, it’s taking action on climate change in ways that will matter. With an economy as big as that of a mid-sized country, businesses need to bow their practices to the Golden State’s rules. Even if that means recalculating how they make things for consumers across the country.
Now the California State Legislature has sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill that would begin to regulate the so-called Internet of Things, what geeks call simply IoT.
Think of a fast-evolving world where your stuff is increasingly wired into the internet — a refrigerator that tells your smartphone that you should pick up milk on the drive home from work, the Nest thermostat that watches weather reports and family behavior to heat and cool the house just so, the alarm system that lets you monitor your backyard from the office.
The California legislation would require connected devices to have a “reasonable” security feature “appropriate to the nature and function of the device.” Put another way: manufacturers need to keep hackers out of the gadgets in your home.
Notably, devices will either need to demand users put in passwords, not some default setting.
This will matter to you. Because if a company builds things to meet the standards for in sale in California, it’s unlikely to strip away those features when marketing it in Kansas.
Fresh from the ad machine
Republican Kris Kobach has a new TV commercial up. It’s the sunny, feel-good variety. Tractors, soybean fields, a smiling family. It’s narrated by his wife and talks about how he overcame diabetes to head on to the Ivy League and political success. (As a rule these days, candidates use their campaign money to put out largely positive ads and let third-party outfits do the attack work.)
And here’s Laura Kelly, swinging (softly) at Kobach and tying him to former governor and fellow conservative Sam Brownback. Her message is that she’d fund schools and Kobach would cut them. (He contends school districts spend too much on administrative bloat).
 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post

Revenue, Attendance Numbers, Are Up For The 2018 Kansas State Fair

Hutchinson, Kan. - A solid start to the 2018 Kansas State Fair, coupled with new programming and activities and strong concert sales, helped boost overall revenue and attendance over last year’s numbers.

This year’s preliminary attendance was 327,965--a 1.76 percent increase over last year. Preliminary reports also show substantial growth in revenue. Those figures are still being tabulated, but several vendors indicated this year’s fair was one of the best in several years.

“The Kansas State Fair is at a pivotal turning point,” said Interim General Manager Bob Moeder. “This year’s numbers reflect a change in direction. We have a really solid team who stayed focused, helping us grow and expand the Fair during this transitional year.”

Moeder added it is the second year for the Fair to use Etix, an electronic ticketing system that helps the Fair obtain a more accurate count of the number of fairgoers entering each gate.

“We had great crowds, great weather and, based on all of the positive feedback from fairgoers and vendors, a great fair experience,” he said.

Janene Starks, the Fair’s commercial exhibits coordinator, said commercial exhibitors reported higher sales and some said their sales doubled from last year.

Enhanced revenue also means more sales tax generated during the 2018 Fair, which will help with building maintenance across the fairgrounds. Kansas lawmakers during the past session passed legislation enabling the Fair to retain a large portion of the state sales tax revenue generated annually.

The law, which went into effect July 1, is estimated to bring in nearly $400,000 a year, Moeder said.

“The increase in revenue will help us get a jump-start on capital improvements, which will make the Fair even better going forward,” Moeder said.

The 2018 Fair saw other increases, as well. Competitive Exhibits Director Jenn Galloway said livestock entries were up for the 4-H and FFA Grand Drive, plus all open livestock shows.

“This year’s Grand Drive was a great event and another success,” Galloway said. “We had a lot of good competition this year.”

Grand Drive sponsorships were also up from 2017, she said. Fair officials announced during the Grand Drive Gala Sept. 8 a new youth scholarship program that will begin in 2019. The Grand Drive Committee will award 10 $1,000 scholarships to secondary and post-secondary students who have demonstrated excellence, commitment and integrity as ambassadors of the Kansas State Fair junior livestock program.

Overall sponsorship dollars from supporting partners also were up this year, reaching a new record, Moeder said.

Moeder mentioned this year’s popular grandstand lineup helped boost the number of tickets sold to the Fair’s eight concerts. Fairgoers purchased nearly 24,000 concert tickets this year, up from 15,000 the previous year. The popular grandstand lineup included Country Music Association nominees Dan + Shay the first weekend, which sold nearly 5,000 tickets. The Beach Boys was the Fair’s top seller, with about 5,600 tickets purchased.

“We established a number of new events and activities at this year’s Fair,” Moeder said. “These events are the building blocks that will help make next year’s Kansas State Fair even stronger and grow the Fair in the future.”

The 2019 Kansas State Fair is Sept. 6-15. Robin Jennison, the outgoing secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, will take the helm as general manager starting Sept. 24. 

Committee Recommends More Lenient Fees, Bonds in Kansas Municipal Courts

The Kansas Supreme Court
Topeka, Kan.A committee of Kansas judges and attorneys says cities need to reduce the costs of appearing in municipal court.

The Kansas Supreme Court appointed the ad hoc committee last September to assess whether the state’s municipal courts impose an unreasonable financial burden on low-income people. 

A report released Wednesday lists more than a dozen suggestions to reduce or simplify fees, bail and monetary fines that come with being arrested and charged with a crime.

In a press conference, members of the committee said they hadn’t found evidence of widespread abuse of court-imposed costs in Kansas.  But Chief Justice Lawton Nuss of the state Supreme Court said he wants to prevent abuses seen in other states.

“Just because we don’t hear about things,” Nuss said, “doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.”

Erik Sartorius, executive director of the League of Kansas Municipalities, said appearing in court, even for minor charges, can be extremely stressful for many people.

“We want them to feel that not only they experienced, but they also witnessed equal justice under the law, and also consistency in the application of the law,” he said.

Courts impose bail and bond payments to prevent people from skipping future court dates after they are arrested and charged with a crime.  Failure to pay bail or post bond can land a person in jail, sometimes for weeks or months, until their court date arrives.

The committee report recommends alternatives to cash bail and bond for people without the means to pay for their release, arguing that keeping poor people in jail could be interpreted as discriminatory and a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

One suggestion is releasing people on “personal recognizance,” essentially forcing them to promise to return for a future court date.  Other alternatives include individually assessing each person’s flight risk following arrest to determine whether they should be required to post bond, and allowing them to sign a poverty affidavit swearing that they can’t afford the payment.

Other recommendations include:
●       allowing people to pay off fines by performing community service
●       waiving fines and court fees after a period of several years
●       reminding people about court dates and due payments through texts, cell phone calls and emails
●       reducing the use of driver’s license suspensions as a punishment for not paying fines
●       offering payment options online and on the phone
The committee reviewed survey results from 172 of Kansas’s nearly 400 municipal courts, and found that many of them have already implemented these policies.  The report includes a recommendation to teach city and court employees about bail reform and fee and fine reduction measures.
Sartorius said the League of Kansas Municipalities will help the Kansas Office of Judicial Administration train those employees, including through the state’s annual professional conferences for court clerks and judges.
“We want to make sure all of the components of a city have an understanding of what a municipal court does,” Sartorius said, “and what its purpose is.”
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post

Questions Linger About Ramifications Of Rape Case Of Kansas Girl In State Custody

Kansas child welfare chief Gina Meier-Hummel, whose been faced with tough questions about the alleged rape of a girl in state custody.
Topeka, Kan. The alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl while she was waiting for a foster care placement in May has many asking about consequences for the contractor, responsible that day for both the girl and the 18-year-old accused of assaulting her.

On a Facebook Live session Wednesday, Department for Children and Families secretary Gina Meier-Hummel fielded a question about why the contractor hasn’t been dropped.

A day before, lawmakers promised tough questioning of KVC Kansas officials at this month’s meeting of a task force investigating the Kansas child welfare system. 

Kansas privatized its foster care system in the mid-1990s. KVC Kansas handles foster care for the Kansas City area and the eastern part of the state. St. Francis Community Services covers Wichita and western Kansas.

Since privatization, DCF has only penalized a contractor financially once, when Meier-Hummel worked in DCF’s Office of Prevention and Protection Services.

Meier-Hummel said financial repercussions were discussed after the incident at KVC Kansas’ Olathe office, and could still be on the table for a provider failing to meet expectations in child safety. But she said KVC Kansas hasn’t been financially sanctioned for the alleged assault.

That doesn’t mean the contractor couldn’t still stand to lose a lot more money. The current child welfare contracts run out at the end of June. New four-year grants to manage foster care and family preservation will be awarded in December.

Meier-Hummel said past performance comes into play when the agency is weighing who can be trusted with the state’s kids.

She said that when kids get hurt because of “a lapse in judgment,” as KVC described the social worker leaving youth in the office unattended, that’s one factor that could swing a contract over to a different provider.

Because they’re carrying out the state’s responsibilities to foster kids, contractors are bound by no-eject, no-reject policies — meaning they have to serve every child DCF refers to them.

Taking every child has become complicated as larger numbers of kids have flooded into the foster care system over the past several years. More than 7,000 children are currently in state custody, up from 5,500 in 2013. That’s overloaded capacity and contributed to hundreds of kids sleeping in contractor offices over the past year.

Maythe month of the alleged rape, was a peak month for KVC Kansas. It kept 49 kids overnight that month. The contractor then drove that number down to zero, not keeping any kids overnight again until the end of August, when three kids spent the night.

KVC Kansas spokeswoman Jenny Kutz said in an email that keeping children out of offices “is a daily challenge because of a lack of placements in communities.”

DCF and its providers have been working to add beds to the system that can help children with a range of ages and needs. Many of the children who stay in an office overnight are hard to place, often because they’re older, have acute mental health needs or have a history of violent or delinquent behavior.

Meier-Hummel said the agency is also working to divert kids away from the foster care system when it’s safely possible by working with families to connect them with resources and build parenting skills that will allow kids to remain with their parents.

The number of kids in care has been decreasing each month for the past five months, which could point to progress. However, the number of children coming into care will often slow in the summertime as teachers, who are legally required to report abuse, don’t have access to kids.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

West Nile Virus Confirmed in Horses in Kansas

Manhattan, Kan. - The Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Animal Health has received notification of multiple confirmed cases of West Nile virus (WNV) in horses across the state over the past few weeks. Confirmed cases have been reported in Lyon, Seward, Neosho, Marion and Wichita counties.

WNV is a preventable disease, with annual vaccinations that have proven highly effective. All of the confirmed cases of WNV in Kansas were in unvaccinated horses or horses with an unknown vaccination history so were assumed to be unvaccinated. All horse owners should consult with their local veterinarians and make a vaccination plan for their horses.

WNV is a virus that can infect humans, horses, birds and other species. Horses infected with WNV can have symptoms that range from depression, loss of appetite and fever to severe neurologic signs such as incoordination, weakness, inability to rise, and hypersensitivity to touch or sound. WNV can be fatal in horses. If you see symptoms of WNV in your horse, contact your veterinarian immediately.

The virus is carried and transmitted by mosquitoes; it is not directly contagious from horse to horse or from horse to human. WNV is a reportable disease in Kansas, which means veterinarians are required by law to report any confirmed cases to the State Veterinarian.

For more information about West Nile virus or other animal disease issues in Kansas, go to the KDA Division of Animal Health website at

Kansas Awarded $200,000 in Grant Funding to Expand Exports

Topeka, Kan. The Kansas Department of Commerce and the Kansas Department of Agriculture have been chosen by the U.S. Small Business Administration as recipients of SBA’s State Trade Expansion Program (STEP), which will be used to provide much-needed export assistance to Kansas small and medium-sized businesses. For the current grant year, SBA has awarded Kansas $200,000 in STEP funding. Kansas Commerce is administering the grant in tandem with the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

The STEP program is funded in part through a grant with U.S. Small Business Administration. Since 2012, more than 100 Kansas small businesses have achieved $23 million in export sales through STEP programs.

The Kansas Department of Commerce is currently accepting applications from small businesses to assist them in starting or growing their exports. The Commerce programs will help businesses to begin exporting for the first time or expanding their existing export business.

“Kansas businesses operate in the global market, not just across the state,” said Interim Kansas Commerce Secretary Robert North. “In 2017, Kansas exports totaled $11.25 billion. Clearly, there is worldwide interest in Kansas products and these STEP grants allow the Department of Commerce to assist small businesses in starting, maintaining and growing their export business.”

“The international market plays a critical role in the Kansas agriculture industry,” said Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey. “The state’s agricultural businesses are always ready to become highly engaged in export markets, and this grant will allow them to explore emerging markets as we grow Kansas agriculture.”

Kansas exported nearly $3.5 billion in agricultural products in 2017.

Programs offered through the STEP Grant include:
• Export seminars and training courses
• Opportunities for participation in foreign trade shows and missions
• Support for entering new markets

Businesses that wish to apply for support or are interested in learning more should visit

Additional Info...