The Wichita Eagle, Sept. 8
Inspect underground natural gas storage facilities
Laws are best assessed on their own, and passed on their own merits. But public safety justifies the procedural gambit sought by Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran to ensure that inspections of Kansas' underground natural gas storage facilities finally resume - attaching the measure to a must-pass bill.
It's been 14 1/2 years since natural gas that had leaked from an underground storage field at Yaggy migrated and caused a series of explosions, destroying half a block of downtown Hutchinson, killing an elderly couple in a mobile home and necessitating a mass evacuation. It took more than a month to burn off the remaining gas.
Such a tragedy should have guaranteed frequent safety checks and other oversight for the long term. To its credit, the Legislature passed tough, updated regulations in response, taking responsibility for the safety of Kansans.
But a federal court struck down the law in 2010, saying state agencies lacked the authority to regulate underground storage of hazardous gases and liquids.
Enter the federal regulators, right? Except that didn't happen either, and the sites have gone without inspections for five years. Talk about playing with fire.
If the feds won't do it, the least Congress can do is give Kansas the undisputed authority to be the watchdog over these facilities.
Kansas Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts tried in 2011 and 2013 to get Congress to act. The senators now plan another effort this month, by tying the legislation to the reauthorization of the Pipeline Safety Act (set to expire Sept. 30) or another must-pass bill.
As Republicans, Roberts and Moran aren't known as champions of regulation. Neither is Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, who also has called for federal action. They all understand the necessity and the urgency when it comes to safety checks of Kansas' 18 underground storage reservoirs, which have a capacity of 284 billion cubic feet of gas.
"We need strong oversight in the storage of natural gas reserves, and in the absence of federal leadership, the state must be allowed to step up and protect its people," Roberts said.
"That bill is important, noncontroversial and it just needs to get done," Moran said. "We need to redouble our efforts to get it accomplished."
It's worth noting that a state agency intern had inspected the Yaggy field six months before the Hutchinson explosions. If inspections aren't infallible, though, there is no doubt that further delaying their resumption will put Kansans further at risk.
Then, once Kansas is empowered to oversee the safety of these underground natural gas storage facilities, state leaders will need to make sure the system has the inspectors, funding and other resources to do the job.
The Lawrence Journal-World, Sept. 14
Kansas University has set what seems like a reasonable procedure for enforcing the Kansas Board of Regents' social media policy.
A social media policy enacted by the Kansas Board of Regents last year raised considerable concern among Kansas University employees who feared the policy would infringe on academic freedom and perhaps be unevenly and unfairly enforced.
It was up to each state university to formulate specific procedures to enforce the policy that would allow the schools to discipline or fire employees who post several types of social media messages, including those that incite "imminent violence" or "are contrary to the best interests of the employer."
The language of the regents policy struck many employees as overly broad. Hopefully, the enforcement process that has been put in place at KU will ease some employee concerns while also satisfying the regents' goals.
The first step in the process is a review by a three-member panel to determine whether there are "reasonable grounds" to believe an employee has violated the policy. That panel will be made up of one person designated by the provost and two designated by the University Senate Executive Committee, one at the same classification level as the employee being investigated.
If the complaint moves forward, it will be considered by a five-member review board — two members appointed by the provost and three by University Senate, one of whom must be a law school faculty member. That board will determine whether any disciplinary action is justified.
The procedures adopted by KU seem to ensure that only the most egregious misuses of social media would result in disciplinary action. It's also good that KU faculty/employees make up a majority of both groups that will review potential employee violations.
Many employees probably still are concerned about and insulted by this policy, but it seems that KU has done what it could to satisfy the regents policy while also protecting employees from arbitrary actions related to social media.
Hopefully the procedure will be used fairly and rarely.
The Hutchinson News, Sept. 13
Although tests for students are different, results show trouble
State education officials released a report last week that shows a majority of Kansas public school students aren't prepared academically for college according to their scores on standardized English and math tests given in the spring.
Overall, the report shows only 42 percent of the 260,000 students did well enough in English to be ready for college. In math, only 34 percent are ready. It's worse for 10th-graders, with only 31 percent proficient enough in English and 25 percent in math to be college-ready.
Officials had warned ahead of time that scores under a new testing format would look worse than those produced through the previously used assessment tests based on the federal government's No Child Left Behind.
The new Common Core-based tests are considered much tougher, emphasizing critical thinking and using far fewer multiple choice questions. In essence, they claim, the Common Core tests are aimed at raising the bar on gauging academic achievement. It worked.
Under No Child Left Behind, the gauge was how many students are performing at or above their grade level. With Common Core, the focus is on how many are on track to be college- or career-ready. With that in mind, testing was much kinder to the state's students.
The report released last week showed that 80 percent of all students scored at or above their grade level in English and 78 percent attained that level in math. While that sounds better, state officials cautioned not to compare the numbers to previous testing because the two formats are different.
Instead, Education Commissioner Randy Watson said this year's numbers showing college preparedness, which he admitted weren't good, should be used as a "baseline" for measuring progress in the future.
"This is given as a snapshot of where we don't want to be in five years," Watson said.
That says as much as anything about this year's results, regardless of difference in testing and the new emphasis. There's obviously room for much improvement.
Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 13
Calmer heads need to prevail over K-State band scandal
The Kansas State University Marching Band, known as "The Pride of Wildcat Land," was honored in December with a trophy designating the best college band in the nation as selected by the John Phillip Sousa Foundation.
The late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart had his own test to determine what is obscene and what isn't. "I know it when I see it," Stewart famously wrote in a decision.
It is impossible to say what the centrist jurist might have seen had he been in the stands last Saturday at halftime of the Kansas State University-University of South Dakota football game when the Pride of Wildcat Land marching band was on the field presenting a "space"-themed routine that included scenes from "Star Wars" and "Star Trek."
One from the latter featured the starship Enterprise encountering, according to the stadium announcer, "a horrible space creature," which resembled the University of Kansas Jayhawk mascot. However, some people didn't see the Enterprise, although no less an expert on the craft than the original Captain Kirk, William Shatner, said in a tweet that those who didn't "should get their eyes checked."
What some saw instead of the Enterprise blasting to pieces the Jayhawk was a male genitalia having a close encounter of the wrong kind with the rival mascot's beak.
K-State band director Frank Tracz certainly didn't see things that way. In a statement, Tracz said: "There was absolutely no intent to display anything other than the Enterprise and the Jayhawk in battle."
Whether or not he saw the Enterprise, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby saw the Jayhawk and publicly reprimanded Tracz for the inappropriate use of the KU logo.
"The actions of the marching band depicting the disintegration of a member institution's mascot was inconsistent with the principles and expectations of the Big 12 Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct Policy," wrote Bowlsby, who thanked K-State President Kirk Schulz and athletics director John Currie for self-imposing a $5,000 fine, requiring approval of future halftime shows and suspending Tracz from the Nov. 28 game against KU.
Perceptions aside, response to Tracz has been too extreme. On Thursday, Tracz told ESPN.com he has received enough threats that he is considering whether the K-State band should march inside Jayhawk Stadium for the big game, from which he already is suspended.
"It's not a good idea to show my face in that stadium and I won't do that and I'm not sure I'm going to send my band," Tracz told ESPN.com. "Obviously, I don't want to send anybody into harm's way. There are very stupid people in this world and I don't want anything to happen to anybody."
Let's hope things calm down by game day.