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Recent Kansas Editorials

August 6, 2019

The Topeka Capital-Journal, Aug. 2

Dems make right move in election changes

Democrats in deep-red Kansas face lofty challenges at the polls but remain determined to make inroads.

They were re-energized by the recent elections of Gov. Laura Kelly and Congresswoman Sharice Davids, among other victories. And now, with an important presidential primary ahead, the Democratic Party in Kansas intends to take a solid step forward in encouraging more like-minded voters to participate.

On May 2, 2020, the party will use ranked-choice voting in Kansas as a way to make it easier to vote, and in turn increase Democratic voter turnout.

The move also is certain to motivate more party members who’ve felt left out in the past.

Ranked-choice voting lets voters rank candidates in order of preference when they fill in their ballots. The number of choices is determined by the overall number of candidates.

Voters will be asked to rank the entire list of Democratic presidential candidates. From there, candidates with totals at the bottom will be eliminated, and the list will be culled until all remaining candidates are above the 15 percent vote threshold needed to win delegates.

Democrats also will allow same-day registration for 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the time of the general election in November. That’s a good way to encourage voter participation in the future, as people who cast their first ballots early in life tend to be lifelong voters.

Kansans who register at the Democratic primary also will receive a federal voter registration form that doesn’t include the onerous proof of citizenship required to complete a state registration form — a politically motivated requirement that only serves as a barrier to voting.

Our democracy is best served with engagement from as many citizens as possible.

Another notable improvement in the 2020 Democratic Party plan: The primary will take place on a Saturday at voting centers statewide. That’s a surefire way to encourage voters to go to the polls on what’s a day off from work for many.

The shift to ranked-choice voting also serves as a timely change with more than 20 Democratic candidates now seeking support. In a race that’s already a full-out brawl, there’s otherwise no guarantee of one Democratic hopeful rising to the top and becoming the clear choice for voters.

While crowded fields of candidates always are welcome, they also can produce winners with low percentages of the vote. Ranked-choice voting enables greater voter choice while lessening the likelihood of wasted votes.

Kansans now must wait until May to see how the new approach goes, and who rises to the top when votes are cast. Also to be determined is whether excitement over ranked-choice voting does indeed draw more people to the polls.

For now, one thing’s certain: the 2020 Kansas Democratic presidential primary is sizing up to be more interesting, engaging and meaningful for voters than in previous years.

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The Manhattan Mercury, Aug. 5

NBAF should learn from USDA move to Kansas City

Manhattan should take heed of what happened recently when the USDA decided to relocate some of its offices to the Kansas City region.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided announced recently that it would move its Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City — to the delight of leaders in Kansas and Missouri, and to the horror of some employees, who didn’t want to leave the nation’s capital.

Part of the problem in this situation was that the move was pretty sudden, leaving workers without much time to decide whether to go. But it’s important that the USDA not lose skilled scientists, who may be harder to attract in the Midwest. If the department can’t replace those people, it would lose clout and diminish its effectiveness.

The parallel, of course, is that USDA is building the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility at the north end of the K-State campus. It’s replacing the aging Plum Island lab in New York.

When NBAF takes over Plum Island’s work, some of its employees may decide to come here, as officials seem to have hoped. But the reality is that most probably won’t. In fact, when The Mercury visited Plum Island in 2015, officials there laughed at the prospect.

People become deeply rooted in their communities, and we have to be realistic about the fact that it’s often hard to convince people who live in big East Coast cities to come to Kansas, which is different in so many ways. And especially for people later in their careers, a move might not be an option.

That said, the NBAF hiring situation is certainly not the same as the USDA’s Kansas City move. It’s been in the works for years now, and the Department of Agriculture, as well as the Department of Homeland Security before it, have developed strategies to ensure NBAF will be properly staffed.

Chief among these are the training and education programs they have implemented in partnership with K-State. If you can’t attract scientists, make them yourself, right?

We also believe that the Kansas City and Manhattan areas are gaining a reputation for animal health and biodefense. We hope that will continue to grow and make this region a natural fit for people interested in those fields.

NBAF officials have said that they expect to have 80% of its workforce in place by December 2020. We hope they’ll achieve that goal and continue to meet the staffing needs of this very important national lab.

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The Kansas City Star, Aug. 2

It struck me as funny’: Wyandotte County didn’t take battery against employee seriously

Violence in the workplace is no laughing matter.

Apparently, officials in the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas didn’t get the memo from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that defines workplace violence as violent acts, including physical assaults and threats of assault, directed toward people at work or on duty.

It took a battery conviction to compel the Unified Government to take seriously a troubling incident that the guilty employee deemed “funny.” Only after a jury convicted the longtime supervisor of misdemeanor battery against a female employee did he tender his resignation.

At that point, Unified Government officials shifted into damage control mode, saying that he would have been fired if he hadn’t resigned. But an internal investigation launched last year into the actions of General Services Director Dennis Laughlin resulted in little more than a slap on the wrist.

And until the case — and the guilty verdict — began to generate headlines, the Unified Government showed no inclination to do the right thing.

Laughlin was charged in June 2018 with misdemeanor battery. He was accused of pushing a female colleague against a wall. Even though there were witnesses who saw the incident, he somehow kept his job.

This week, a Wyandotte County jury found Laughlin guilty of misdemeanor battery. He could spend up to six months in jail and be assessed a $1,000 fine. Sentencing is set for August.

The same female employee documented repeated instances of abuse and harassment from Laughlin over a two-year period, but nothing was done.

Laughlin testified in court about the incident, according to KCUR. “At the time, it struck me as funny,” he said.

Mike Taylor, a spokesman for the Unified Government, initially said in a statement Tuesday that officials were surprised by the guilty verdict. Taylor told KCUR that Laughlin “was well-liked in the organization, so I think there’s some surprise and disappointment that an incident like this happened, and that it came to the end that it did.”

But the next day, Taylor and Unified Government officials suddenly were singing a different tune.

“The Unified Government thoroughly invested the incident when it was reported,” Taylor wrote in a statement to The Star. “That investigation came to a different conclusion than the jury. But a jury has spoken following a trial.

“Mr. Laughlin tendered his resignation late Tuesday afternoon following the jury finding him guilty. It is effective immediately. He is no longer a UG employee. Had he not resigned, he would have been terminated.”

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, workplace violence overwhelmingly targets women.

Unified Government employees are required to take training on workplace violence and sexual harassment. The classes for new hires must be repeated every three years.

Obviously, the training — and the Unified Government’s response to battery against an employee — fell short in this case.

Steps should be taken to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated in the future. The Unified Government should start by enacting a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence that helps ensure all employees feel safe on the job.

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