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Recent Kansas editorials

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News,Science and Technology

The Wichita Eagle, June 16

Failure to deliver at DMV

Renewing a driver's license shouldn't take multiple attempts and a wait of three, four or five hours. That it does for many people in the Wichita area these days is a failure to deliver one of the most basic of government services.

And the time- and productivity-wasting lines don't bode well for "Phase Two" implementation of the state's new $40 million motor-vehicle computer system, to incorporate driver's licensing.

Continuing to withhold $2 million of the state's $25 million contract with 3M because of the computer woes is a good step, to hold 3M accountable, but there has to be more the state can do.

The delays aren't getting the media attention that accompanied Phase One of the Division of Vehicles' computer system upgrade, which has been in the works since 2006. Last summer people newly encountered daylong waits for tags and titles in several populous counties. Lines for driver's licenses seemed long then, too - something the state blamed on the antiquated computer system.

A year later, with Phase Two still pending, "the system is running within normal parameters, and any issues we're seeing now are localized," Jeannine Koranda, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenue, told the Topeka Capital-Journal. "You aren't seeing the lines we had this time last year."

That may be true in Topeka, where waits ranged from 12 to 44 minutes Friday at the driver's license office.

But at various times Friday at the Wichita and Andover offices, people were looking at three- to five-hour waits. Trying to use the QLess line management system that day - a great idea intended to allow people to reserve a spot in line via cellphone or computer - often meant being told it was unavailable. And on a recent visit to the Andover office, an estimated 90-minute wait stretched to three hours as computers repeatedly went down.

As one Wichita reader recently commented to Opinion Line, "Waiting six hours (after the text message told me my wait would be two hours) to spend three minutes at the counter was ridiculous."

During a May legislative hearing, Kevin Cronister, chief information officer for the Department of Revenue, assured wary lawmakers that the department had worked with 3M to resolve nearly all problems, that Phase One was running smoothly, and that "stress testing" would prevent trouble in Phase Two.

But getting a driver's license is a stress test itself at the two offices expected to serve Sedgwick County, home to half a million people. Whether the problem stems from lousy software, inadequate resources or incompetent management, it needs to be fixed.

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The Topeka Capital-Journal, June 16

KCC's performance not acceptable

The vacancy in the executive director's position at the Kansas Corporation Commission may be one positive step toward fixing what ails that agency, but there is much more work to be done before it regains the public's trust.

Patti Petersen-Klein's departure last week from the executive director's post, however that was accomplished, certainly appeared to be necessary to smooth a serious rift that had developed between upper management and staff employees.

Equally damaging to the KCC's credibility, and perhaps even more so, is the news that the agency's three commissioners have a habit of ruling on issues that come before them without benefit of public hearings, which is a clear violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

How that transgression will handled in unknown at this point, but it's clear that Gov. Sam Brownback will have to pay closer attention to what's going on in the KCC's corner of the world. The governor appoints the commissioners, and the group's chairman appoints the executive director.

The recent failings, up and down the line, of those in charge at the KCC reflect badly on Brownback and the job of restoring trust in the agency falls to him.

Brownback has appointed two of the current commissioners, including chairman Mark Sievers, who hired Petersen-Klein. The third member, Tom Wright, was appointed by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and re-appointed by former Gov. Mark Parkinson.

The commissioners and Petersen-Klein had approved a rate increase of more than 100 percent for a small Salina utility whose customers include residents of a subdivision north of that city. Rather than conduct a public hearing on the utility's request for an increase in rates, commissioners and Petersen-Klein met individually with a KCC attorney to give their positions on the proposed rate hike.

The Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board subsequently sent letters to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Shawnee Country District Attorney Chad Taylor noting the individual meetings represented binding action on the part of the KCC without first approving the rate hike during a public meeting.

Topeka lawyer Mike Merriam said the practice used to approve the rate increase constituted a serial meeting, which is illegal under the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

The process used was known within the KCC as "pink sheeting" and apparently was an accepted way of doing business there.

Regardless of how prevalent "pink sheeting" was, it is illegal and not an acceptable way of doing the public's business.

Before Sievers hires the KCC's next executive director, someone needs to inform commissioners their performance is falling short of what is required from people placed in charge of such an important agency and demand better.

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The Manhattan Mercury, June 12

Standards should serve students well

It's refreshing to learn that the debate over evolution and intelligent design didn't dominate the discussion leading to the Kansas Board of Education's approval Tuesday of new science standards for public school students.

Not that the topic has completely gone away. It hasn't. But there was little support for creationism on a board controlled by moderate Republicans and Democrats; their vote on the standards was 8-2, according to the Associated Press and other accounts of the board's meeting.

That vote also affirmed the last board vote on science standards, which was in 2007. In both instances the standards treat evolution as an established scientific concept. That is as it should be. The board took up science standards again because the law requires that the standards be updated every seven years.

Also appropriate was the plan to regard climate change as a significant enough concept to be included in science lessons in all grades, not just as a separate scientific topic in high school.

Not surprisingly, Ken Willard, a conservative BOE member from Hutchinson, wasn't happy with the standards' handling of evolution or climate change. He said the subjects are "presented dogmatically." In voting against the standards, he said, "This nonobjective, unscientific approach to education standards amounts to little more than indoctrination in political correctness."

Also speaking out against the new standards was Rex Powell, a member of Citizens for Objective Public Education, which was formed to challenge the new standards. He went so far as to say that the new standards promote "an atheistic world view." He also described the standards as "standards for religious indoctrination rather than objective science education."

If the standards promote a world view, it's a secular world view, which is the proper approach in public school environments. Moreover, they reflect mainstream science regarding both evolution and climate change.

The latter is essential for the simple reason that our climate is changing and because evidence is overwhelming that humans have contributed to it and continue to do so. Our students deserve reliable information on a phenomenon whose impact is almost certain to increase in their lifetimes.

Also, despite the misconceptions over Common Core education standards for reading and math, a topic that drew plenty of attention again Tuesday, Kansas students stand to benefit from this state's early involvement in their development and their implementation in districts across the state.

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The Salina Journal, June 13

We need a new state motto

The state of Kansas needs a new motto. "Ad astra per aspera" just doesn't represent the state anymore.

Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, president of the Kansas Senate, sent out a letter last week, which the Journal published Saturday, crowing about what a wonderful thing the Legislature had done drastically cutting income taxes and setting up the state to totally eliminate them in the future.

"We live in a mobile society," Wagle wrote. "Jobs grow and people locate where they can keep in their own pocket the maximum amount of their hard-earned money."

We're insulted.

The only reason to move to this beautiful state is because of money? Quantity of cash trumps quality of life?

We suspect a lot of real estate agents would say that one of the most frequently asked questions when they show a family a house is, "How are the schools?"

Inconsequential, in Kansas. Once again, parents are suing the state to increase funding for public schools (Gannon v. State of Kansas). The state Supreme Court could order by the end of the year the state to pay as much as $450 million more to finance public schools.

Wagle and Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, aren't worried. "I think there's enough votes now in the Senate and House that if the courts rule for Gannon, we might just say to the court that deciding expenditures is not your responsibility, thank you, and we'll take it from here," Brunk said. "I say this politely, but there's a mood to give the courts the finger, so to speak."

Education could go the way of the arts in Kansas.

Wagle's Fair Tax model "targets the taxation of consumption (sales) rather than productivity (income)." Which is fine, if you have the income to cover the consumption you need, such as food and housing. If you don't have enough "productivity," you may find your taxes on "consumption" going up more than you expected. We don't think that's very fair; in fact, it's downright regressive.

There's a lot to love about this state. It used to be a great place to live, before our focus became all about money.

But Ad Astra per Aspera, sometimes translated as "a rough road leads to the stars"? You can't get there from here anymore.

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