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Kansas Lawmaker Posts Online Meme Insulting Mexicans, Hillary Clinton

By Bryan Lowry, The Wichita Eagle (TNS)

WICHITA, Kan. — A Kansas state lawmaker says he shared a racially tinged Internet meme on his Facebook page by accident this past weekend.

Rep. Les Osterman, R-Wichita, said he hit the wrong button when he posted a “Mexican Word of the Day” meme on his page Saturday. The post depicted a man in a sombrero and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, paired with text that said “Mexican Word of the Day: Bishop” and continued: “Can someone please shut this bishop?!”

Osterman said he hadn’t realized he had shared the image and deleted the post after receiving a phone call.

“That was a pure, honest mistake. I accidentally hit the wrong button,” Osterman said. “I’ve got to live with something I accidentally did. I regret it. Didn’t do it deliberately and everybody that knows my Facebook, has watched my Facebook page, knows that.”

The lawmaker’s page is mostly filled with messages about Native American culture and U.S. military veterans.

The same weekend that he shared the “Mexican Word” meme, Osterman, who has Rosebud Sioux heritage, posted multiple memes decrying historical treatment of Native Americans and poking fun at anti-immigrant furor with the message: “I hate to tell you this but you’re all illegal aliens.”

Another lawmaker, Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, shared a “Mexican Word” meme that featured a derogatory message about President Barack Obama earlier this month. He apologized after Latino leaders called the post racist.

©2016 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Rep. Les Osterman, R-Wichita via kslegislature.org

 

Tax Plan Passes Kansas House After Emotional Overnight Debate

By Bryan Lowry, The Wichita Eagle (TNS)

WICHITA, Kan. — A tax plan crawled to passage in the Kansas House in the early hours Friday morning, after Gov. Sam Brownback warned lawmakers that massive budget cuts would occur Monday if they failed to act on taxes.

The House began debate on a pair of bills at 1:30 a.m. meant to plug the state’s nearly $400 million budget hole. It did not pass until after 4 a.m.

Democrats castigated Republican leaders for holding the debate at such an hour when lawmakers are weary and most of the public are asleep.

But Republican lawmakers stressed the urgency of passing a bill now rather than later with the state staring down massive cuts if lawmakers failed to act.

The first bill scraped by with 63 votes, the bare minimum for passage, and the second initially fell four votes short.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Republican, invoked a rule known as “the call of the House,” which pauses the vote and requires the Kansas Highway Patrol to search for missing representatives. Merrick and other Republican leaders picked up their phones and aggressively pressed colleagues to back the bill.

“I need some movement,” the speaker emphatically said into his phone within earshot of reporters seated nearby.

The call lasted more than two hours before Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Republican, cast the deciding vote after 4 a.m. Carpenter left the House chamber before answering questions.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get 63 votes,” Merrick reflected after the bill passed. “That’s the way the process works. It’s a hard vote for Republicans raising taxes. It’s a real tough vote for me.”

Before the pair of bills can go to the governor’s desk the Senate will have to pass one of the bills, which isn’t guaranteed.

“It moves that last train down the track,” Merrick said about the House vote.

The two bills generate $384 million in revenue, which if added to other legislation passed this year, would fill the state’s shortfall and leave the state with a razor-thin $36 million ending balance in fiscal year 2016, which begins in July. House leaders are also counting on the governor to issue $50 million in unspecified budget cuts of his own to bring the total to $86 million.

(c)2015 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Kansas Secretary of Administration Jim Clark displays a flow chart of what it takes to set up new funds once a budget is passed. Sectretary Clark explained to a joint caucus of Republicans in Topeka, Kan., on Thursday, June 11, 2015, how long once a bill is passed for funds to flow to the recipients as the Kansas House and Senate are trying to fill a $400 million budget hole. (Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/TNS)

Kansas Gov. Brownback Rescinds Protected-Class Status For LGBT State Workers

By Bryan Lowry, The Kansas City Star (TNS)

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed an executive order Tuesday rescinding a protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender state workers put into place eight years ago by then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

Sebelius’ executive order in 2007 said state workers could not be discriminated against, fired or harassed because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Brownback, a Republican, issued an additional executive order affirming that state employees could not be discriminated against because of their race, religion, gender, age or country of national origin.

“This Executive Order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did,” Brownback said in a short statement that did not specifically refer to sexual orientation or gender identity. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the Legislature and not through unilateral action.”

He said the order also reaffirmed commitment to “hiring, mentoring and recognizing veterans and individuals with disabilities.”

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading LGBT rights group, said state workers could now be judged on whom they love at home rather than on their job performance.

“This action by the governor is an outrage,” he said. “Gay, lesbian, and transgender state employees across Kansas have trusted they would be safe from discrimination and harassment in their workplace but Sam Brownback has, by erasing their job protections, declared ‘open season’ on every one of them.”

Democrats called the move regressive and discriminatory. Republicans were mixed in their reactions.

Democratic state Rep. John Wilson accused the governor of trying to “divert attention from his irresponsible management of the state and focus on divisive and discriminatory social issues.”

House Democratic Leader Tom Burroughs said in a statement that “Brownback is playing to his base and attempting to distract from the serious budget crisis facing our state. The bottom line is this: All Kansans deserve to be treated fairly and with respect and no Kansan should be denied equal protection under the law.”

GOP state Rep. J.R. Claeys called the notion that a state worker could be fired for being gay unfortunate.

“No one,” he said, “should be made to feel ashamed of who they are and I don’t think anyone should ever lose their job for being gay.”

GOP state Rep. John Rubin, a former federal judge, defended the governor’s decision from a legal standpoint, saying that if sexual orientation isn’t a protected class at the federal level, then the issue should be up to the Legislature to decide.

“Until sexual orientation is either added in Kansas as a protected class under our law or added federally, which it isn’t now … I think that’s the Legislature’s prerogative,” Rubin said. “Whether they should be a protected class is a separate question. … But it isn’t a protected class until we say it is.”

Dave DePue, director of the Capitol Commission, a Christian organization, said that if Democrats want to include sexual orientation as a protected class, they should do it through a bill rather than an executive order. DePue often advises Brownback on social issues, but he said Tuesday’s executive order came as a surprise.

Brownback also rescinded eight other orders put into place by Sebelius and Mark Parkinson when the two Democrats were governors of Kansas. He officially ended several councils and task forces set up by the two, including the Kansas Broadband Advisory Task Force and the Interagency Working Group for Wind Energy, which had been inactive.

Photo: J. Stephen Conn via Flickr

Kansas Governor Signs School-Finance Bill

By Bryan Lowry, The Wichita Eagle

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed a school finance bill Monday that will send millions of dollars to schools but also end mandatory due-process hearings before experienced teachers can be fired.

“This is a win for Kansas students. This is a win for parents. … And it’s a win for property taxpayers,” Brownback said before signing the bill. “This is some of the most significant reforms we’ve seen for several years in the state.”

The bill is the Legislature’s response to a state Supreme Court order to fix inequities in funding between school districts before July 1. It allocates $129 million to close gaps in the capital-outlay fund and the local-option budget fund, which is based on local property taxes.

The bill narrowly passed the Legislature April 6 after two days of debate. It ties the court-ordered funding to a several policy changes.

The most hotly contested section of the new law will end mandatory due-process hearings before teachers with three or more years of experience can be fired by school districts.

Republican supporters say that will improve teacher quality. Opponents say it will enable administrators to unfairly target teachers for a variety of reasons.

The bill will also relax licensing requirements to allow districts to hire people without teacher training to serve as teachers in the math, engineering, science, technology, finance and accounting. Districts could hire any applicant who has a bachelor’s degree and at least five years’ work experience in one of those fields.

“What if you can bring a retired heart doctor into the classroom to teach biology now, which you couldn’t before? And what can that teacher do and inspire and instruct that you couldn’t do before?” Brownback said.

The bill also creates a tax break for corporations that donate to private school scholarship funds for low-income and special-needs students. That could cost the state up to $10 million a year. Brownback said the provision will enable poor children to chase their dreams. Opponents have criticized the prospect of public money going to for-profit corporations to pay for tuition at private schools.

The bill was strongly opposed by the Kansas National Education Association for tying the funding to what some say are unvetted policy changes. The union contends that due-process hearings do not protect bad teachers, but instead protect good teachers from being fired if they clash with administrators while advocating for students.

“He’s going to cause some serious problems for teachers who advocate for their students. He’s going to take $10 million and throw it unaccredited private schools,” said Mark Desetti, the union’s legislative director. “The policy pieces in this bill are poisonous to Kansas public schools and if he signs it he takes ownership of it, I guess is all I have to say.”

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, Brownback’s main challenger in the November election, denounced the governor’s role in the legislation.

Davis, a Democrat, wanted the governor to veto the bill and ask his legislative allies to write a “clean” finance bill without policy changes inserted by conservative Republicans.

“Gov. Brownback had a simple job to do: fund our schools,” Davis said in an email. “I proposed a solution within a week of the Kansas Supreme Court ruling to do just that and Sam Brownback rejected it. And while the governor was nowhere to be found during the education debate, his allies tied unpopular, partisan policies to the essential dollars for our classrooms.”

Photo of Department of Education via Wikimedia Commons