Reading between the lines could lead one to the conclusion that although the number of children in the state's care is at a record high, the number should be much higher still.
On the other hand, families have complained to this newspaper in the past that the state is too quick to remove children from their homes and, once taken into state custody, it is a long and arduous task to get them back. It's difficult to write about those incidents because, due to the reluctance of state officials to discuss specific cases, the newspaper hears only one side of the story.
But according to a recent story published in The Topeka Capital-Journal and at CJOnline, prosecutors who get a child-in-need-of-care case sometimes are surprised that the child's case had been investigated numerous times and someone each time had found the complaint of abuse or neglect to be unsubstantiated.
Such was the case of a 14-year-old girl who finally was removed from her home after nine reports of neglect and abuse, eight of which were determined unsubstantiated. The girl weighed 66 pounds when she was removed from the home.
Records show 94.8 percent of child-in-need-of-care investigations in 2009 resulted in a finding of "unsubstantiated." For 2013, 93.5 percent of such cases resulted in a finding of "unsubstantiated." That really isn't much change, although a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families says in child-in-need-of-care cases a substantiated claim isn't necessary to temporarily remove a child from a dangerous situation.
It's important to remember that behind the numbers — the children in state custody and the percent of unsubstantiated investigations — are children, many of whom need help through no fault of their own. Those who should be in their home should be there. Those who need help should get it.
Does the state sometimes act too quickly, as some parents have told this newspaper? Does the state sometimes act too slowly? Knowing that no system is perfect, common sense tells us the answer to both questions is yes.
The real question is how to improve the system so it gets better results. We're not suggesting that isn't the goal of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, but we will suggest that more eyes on a case that involves more than one complaint might be helpful. Regardless of how many different people have investigated a child's case, a lot of smoke usually indicates a fire somewhere.
The Hutchinson News, July 25
The 1st District congressional race isn't about which Republican is more conservative. There is a difference between being conservative — even a tea party conservative — and just being an obstructionist.
There is a difference between fighting for one's values and just being combative for the sake of it. And there most definitely is a difference between being a problem-solver and just making noise about the problems.
This is the difference between GOP contender Alan LaPolice and incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp. LaPolice is an Army veteran, former actor, educator and farmer who lives in Clyde, north of Salina. Running on the Democratic side are Jim Sherow, a former mayor of Manhattan, and Bryan Whitney of Wichita, who isn't really an option given Wichita isn't even in the district.
LaPolice understands the difference. It's that attitude, not the issues on the platforms, that separates him from Huelskamp. It's why LaPolice offers an opportunity for a fresh start, to send someone to Congress to represent rural Kansas effectively and contribute constructively to the debate in the U.S. Capitol.
A person can be as passionate as he wants about his principles — and as conservative as he thinks his constituency wants — but he is useless if he is powerless and so shrill and uncompromising that no one listens to him anymore.
Such is the predicament of Huelskamp, so much so that he is completely ineffective for his district. He may as well stay home in Hutchinson or Fowler and just dispatch his rants and do his occasional cable TV news sideshow appearance from there.
Over his past four years in Congress, Huelskamp has rendered himself useless for his constituents. He has so alienated his colleagues in the House that he was kicked off two plum committees, including the House Agriculture Committee, on which Kansas has had a representative for more than a century. Another member of Congress was quoted as saying that the removal was for Huelskamp's abrasive style, calling it the "a-hole factor."
Meanwhile, in further defense of his principles and just out of general ignorance, Huelskamp consistently has voted against his district's interests. For example, he has opposed an important production tax credit that has been integral to the expansion of the wind energy industry and associated job creation in Kansas. He has voted against spending bills that included the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan. And against a farm bill, losing the support of the Kansas Farm Bureau.
Huelskamp could do more to cut federal spending — and better serve Kansas and the nation — by shuttering his offices and staying home.
LaPolice has the conservative credentials, but in contrast to Huelskamp he is a solutions guy. He's passionate enough about Kansas and service to take on an incumbent and, fortunately for the 1st District, provide an opportunity for a change that would serve us well.
The Manhattan Mercury, July 23
When push comes to shove on gun laws:
As political statements go, the Second Amendment Protection Act, which the Kansas Legislature approved in 2013, doesn't bother with subtlety.
It was an act of defiance of the Obama administration's efforts to strengthen gun laws in response to more mass murders than most Americans can keep track of.
Whether the law will ever be enforced is another matter. As for the Second Amendment, it is not in any peril.
The Kansas law declares that the federal government has no jurisdiction over firearms made and sold in Kansas. Further, the law makes it a felony for any U.S. government employee to attempt to enforce federal regulations on Kansas-only firearms, ammunition or accessories. For good measure, the law also prohibits state and local officials from attempting to enforce federal gun regulations involving Kansas-only firearms.
The legislation was a lawsuit waiting to happen the moment Gov. Sam Brownback signed it. And a lawsuit — or lawsuits — won't be cheap. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has estimated costs to defend the law at $625,000.
The first lawsuit came in early July from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. (The campaign is named for Jim Brady, who as President Ronald Reagan's press secretary was seriously wounded in the March 1981 assassination attempt on the president.) The issue also has drawn the attention of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who told Gov. Brownback in a letter that, "... a state certainly may not criminalize the exercise of federal responsibilities."
As Kansas lawmakers well knew when they lined up to support the measure, U.S. courts on multiple occasions have ruled that states cannot set aside or override federal laws. A federal appeals court last year struck down a Montana law that, like the Kansas law, applies to a small number of firearms that supporters think don't fall under the federal government's authority to regulate interstate commerce. Like the Second Amendment itself, that authority is in the U.S. Constitution, which asserts the document itself and federal laws are "the supreme law of the Land."
We're not aware of any arrests by Kansas officials of federal employees for trying to uphold the supremacy of federal law over Kansas law on this matter. Perhaps that's because there hasn't been a confrontation. And perhaps that's because the governor and the Legislature fear that an expensive and embarrassing defeat will spoil the fun of thumbing their noses at Washington.
Lawrence Journal-World, July 23
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve needs some TLC:
The harsh environment of the Kansas prairie has taken a toll on the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City.
Hopefully, like the pioneers that settled this area, the preserve will persevere and survive.
In the last year, the preserve has been struck by a series of problems that have limited visitor access to the historical sites as well as the adjacent Flint Hills prairie. Fixing some of those problems will be expensive, and it's unclear when or if that money will be available. In the meantime, visitors still are welcome at the preserve, but their experience will be far different than it was in the past.
Last summer, heavy rains washed out parts of the historic ranch road making it unsafe for use by buses carrying tourists through the property. That road remains closed, according to the preserve's website. The road was never designed to carry large tour buses, it says, and the park service is looking at how it might be rerouted or shored up for future use.
If you come to the park, you also won't be able to visit the iconic ranch house. Last summer's rains triggered a mold problem in the house, and, when repairs were being made, electrical problems and termites were discovered. Some boards on the house's trim were so rotted contractors could stick their fingers through them. The house was deemed unsafe for visitors and the website says it may not reopen for several years. A park official told a Wichita newspaper that needed work, which includes lifting the house's foundation, could cost "a couple million or more dollars."
Planned construction on floor boards and joists also is restricting access to the three-story stone barn and other structures at the ranch this summer.
The trails at the preserve are still open to hikers, but not without a cautionary note. No one has been injured, but because some younger male buffalo have been charging at visitors, the preserve has issued a warning to hikers to stay on designated trails and keep their distance from the creatures.
In fact, the preserve's website includes a whole page of alerts and "current conditions" at the site that may affect visitors' plans. It's not a very welcoming display even though visitors still can access the preserve's visitors center, hike to the historic schoolhouse or participate in nature and history programs.
This is a sad situation for a site that should be one of the state's tourist gems. It preserves a unique ecosystem and shares an important story about people who settled in this area as well as those who passed through on their way further west. We hope federal and state officials are giving this preserve and its current problems the attention they deserve and will quickly recommend solutions to restore public access to this historic and beautiful site.