Kansas City Star. January 29, 2021.

Editorial: Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall: Only obstacle to vaccine is government interference. Huh?

Have you noticed that Republican Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall tends to worry about all the wrong things?

In the first piece of legislation he’s introduced in the U.S. Senate, Marshall is sponsoring a law that would keep COVID-19 relief dollars from funding abortions.

What, you didn’t know that any such dollars were funding abortions? They aren’t. And can’t, because the Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976 and reenacted every year since, has kept federal funds from paying for abortions since 1980, when the amendment first went into effect after the Supreme Court ruled that such a ban was constitutional. Kansas also has multiple laws that prevent state funds from paying for abortions.

In other words, this is pure legislative theater from the OB-GYN from Great Bend.

Yet when it comes to the all-too-real problem of the fatally slow vaccine rollout — and with no federal plan until recently, no wonder — Marshall isn’t too concerned.

In fact, in a radio interview Thursday with Greg Agaki on WIBW in Topeka, he said that while he’s “optimistic” that everyone who wants to be vaccinated soon can be, the main obstacle is this: “I think it’s getting government out of the way. … If we quit trying to micromanage those community pharmacists and the health departments and the doctor’s offices, they’ll make the right choices.”

Government has been so “out of the way,” it’s almost like it only recently noticed that the pandemic is out of control. And of course pharmacists and health departments and doctors would choose to get vaccines in arms, if technical challenges weren’t so daunting and the vaccine weren’t in such short supply.

Marshall also hopes that President Joe Biden doesn’t mess up a process that had been going so well: “I pray that President Biden doesn’t stop everything and try to start over here.”

Maybe the senator has already forgotten, but states across the land had been begging Congress for months to support the vaccination efforts of underfunded, overwhelmed state agencies. Lawmakers didn’t approve that funding until late December. “Over to you and good luck” was the response of the last White House until the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Asked whether it’s really going to take months to get young people vaccinated, Marshall said that such a delay would be unacceptable. But then he also said this: “If you’re young and healthy, you should talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of taking the vaccine.”

Especially coming from a doctor, that’s just shocking nonsense, since the available vaccines are perfectly safe.

PAT ROBERTS’ REPLACEMENT A CULTURE WARRIOR

In response to Marshall’s proposed legislation on keeping coronavirus relief funds from paying for abortions, Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said in a statement to The Star Editorial Board that the state’s new junior senator should instead focus on reality: “The elections are over. It’s time for public officials to put politics aside and do what’s best for the people we represent — and right now, that means getting more vaccines and federal stimulus funds right away.”

You’d think that Dr. Marshall would feel that way, too, but this is a doctor who put his whole family on hydroxychloroquine after Trump said he’d started taking it to ward off COVID-19.

This is a doctor who often did not wear a mask while campaigning during a pandemic.

Though the real-world effect of his proposed law would be nil, it does serve one purpose. It confirms that Marshall intends to be a far-right culture warrior, and far to the right of a more traditional heartland Republican like his predecessor, Pat Roberts.

“Being pro-life is just part of who I am and there is no other alternative,” he said in a statement Thursday. “As an obstetrician, it’s been a thrill of my life to get to bring thousands of babies into the world and now it’s a thrill of my life to be in the U.S. Senate and continue the fight for pro-life policies.”

Many of his constituents might be more thrilled by legislation that helped them and their children in some concrete way.

But those conservatives who feared that Roger Marshall was any more moderate than his 2020 GOP primary rival Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, ought to be relieved.

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Lawrence Journal-World. January 30, 2021.

Editorial: More transparency on our tax dollars is needed

Taxes are a necessity because government is a necessity. In today’s toxic political environment, there are some who refuse to concede either point, but they are clear nonetheless.

But it also is clear that the power to tax can be used too easily, at times. The inner workings of government are not designed to be a spectator sport, and, as such, many Americans simply don’t pay much attention. There are countless budget hearings across this state alone that never draw a single member of the public to comment on millions upon millions of dollars of taxpayer funds.

Some of that fault certainly rests with a public that has become too apathetic, but it is incumbent upon government to do all it feasibly can to encourage the public’s participation. That’s why a so-called taxpayer transparency bill that is working its way through the Kansas Legislature is worth a try.

Senate Bill 13 essentially will require local governments of all types — all the way from the county commission to the smallest of township boards — to send a written notice to every taxpayer if that government intends to raise more money via property taxes than it did the year before. In other words, if a city raised $1 million with property taxes in 2020 and it proposes raising $1.1 million in property taxes in 2021, it needs to send a letter or email to each taxpayer notifying them that it wants to use property taxes to raise more money. Importantly, it also would require that city commission to hold a special hearing that forces the commissioners to take a specific vote acknowledging that they are increasing the property taxes they collect.

While it is a shame governments will have to go to the time and expense of mailing thousands of letters, it will be worth it if they provide greater understanding of how our tax system works. In places like Lawrence, it can be difficult for the ordinary taxpayer to understand, at times. It is not uncommon in a place like Lawrence for the amount of property taxes the government collects to increase significantly, even if the property tax rate has not increased at all. If property values, for instance, rise 3% on average, the local government will collect 3% more in property taxes, even if the tax rate doesn’t increase.

That is not to say such an increase is inappropriate. Governments have rising costs of doing business just like households do. But what about when property values rise 8% by average and the cost of doing business has increased by only 3%? That would be good information for taxpayers to know, and there are plenty of governments that don’t do a good job of calling attention to that scenario currently.

So, Senate Bill 13 won’t be perfect, but it is worth a try. It looks like it has a good chance of becoming law. The conversation shouldn’t stop there, though. The real issue with property taxes in Kansas is that the system has a major flaw. Property taxes are an unfair tax because they are the only major tax that forces you to pay before you have received the value of what you are being taxed upon.

Consider this: I buy $100 worth of groceries, and I pay my 10% sales tax on them when I have the groceries in hand. I have the value of the food right away. I get $100 in wages, and I have the income tax withheld from my check at the time I get the check. I have the benefit of the wages right away.

It doesn’t quite work that way with property taxes. I have a $100,000 home in 2020, but the county appraiser says it is worth $110,000 in 2021. I’m now paying taxes on the $110,000 value. But, unless I want to sell my home right away, I don’t get any immediate value in the supposed $10,000 increase of my real estate holdings. Nonetheless, I have to pay the tax on my supposed increase in wealth right away.

It is a major flaw in Kansas’ tax system. It could be fixed. We could still tax property wealth but simply change the formula. Maybe a special tax should be due when you sell a property. There are any number of possible ways to change the formula and make it more fair.

But that would be an extraordinary task for Kansas lawmakers. It would take exceptional bipartisan leadership to accomplish. That is something we don’t have today. Senate Bill 13 won’t give us that, but at least it will give us a clearer picture of what we do have.

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The Wichita Eagle. February 2, 2021.

Editorial: It’s time, Kansas Legislature: Legalize medical marijuana

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly says she wants to pay for expanding Medicaid by legalizing and taxing medical marijuana.

While details of the plan are unclear, the concept makes sense, and Kansas lawmakers should get behind it.

Kansas is one of only three states in the country that has not legalized medical marijuana, despite a recent poll showing more than two-thirds of Kansans support going even further.

According to last fall’s Kansas Speaks survey, a statewide public opinion poll conducted by Fort Hays State University, about 67% of respondents supported legalizing and taxing recreational — not just medicinal — marijuana for people 21 and older.

The same survey showed that more than 63% of respondents supported expanding Medicaid in Kansas.

A majority of our state’s residents believe more low-income Kansans should have access to the Medicaid safety net.

They also agree it’s time that Kansans suffering from chronic pain, cancer-related nausea, glaucoma, arthritis and other conditions should have legal access to medical marijuana, the way they do in 47 other states.

Predictably, Republican legislators are rejecting the idea. More troubling, though, is their downright insulting image of how this could go:

“Governor Kelly envisions a Kansas where you can choose not to work and the taxpayers will foot the bill for you to stay home and smoke supposedly medical marijuana,” House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins said Monday.

Really, Rep. Hawkins? You think hardworking Kansans are just counting the days until medical marijuana is legalized so they can quit their jobs and get high all day? Do you truly think so little of your constituents?

For years now, Republican legislators have balked at the idea of expanding Medicare, which is permitted under the Affordable Care Act, because they say it costs too much. Last year’s proposal went nowhere because of a showdown over abortion.

If Kansas expands eligibility to an estimated 165,000 low-income residents, the federal government would pay 90% of the costs; the state would pick up the remainder.

Kelly’s proposal would pay for Medicaid expansion — and more. That is reason enough to support it.

Finally legalizing medical marijuana is an added bonus.

Missouri voters approved medical marijuana with a constitutional amendment in 2018, and marijuana sales began in the Kansas City area last fall. Oklahoma also regulates medical marijuana, and our neighbor to the west was the first in the nation to experiment with legal weed.

Kansas can and should learn from their experience, which hasn’t been the nightmarish descent opponents fear.

Advocates of medical marijuana, including a Garden City woman at the center of the debate five years ago, say it’s absurd to stigmatize medical marijuana when legal alcohol kills and injures far more people.

It’s also absurd to deny medical marijuana to the sick and dying while prescription pain relievers continue to take a deadly toll.

The governor’s plan makes sense on both fronts — expanding health care to needy Kansans, and allowing medical marijuana to those who need it.

Lawmakers shouldn’t resort to just saying no. They should work out details and get it done.

END