Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Wichita Branch 2008 Legislative Agenda

In a 2004 strategic planning retreat, we decided as a branch that we would work to rebuild our legislative advocacy capacity. Legislative advocacy was a historic function and legacy of the NAACP and we recognized, as had our predecessors, that legislative reform was a means to achieve lasting and fundamental change.

We began that year with our work on the campaign to ban the practice of Racial Profiling in the State of Kansas.

In 2005, working in concert with Dr. Walt Chappell of Citizens for Equal Law Enforcement, Representatives Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Melody Miller, and Senator Donald Betts, we drafted what would be known as SB77 'the Racial Profiling Act'. The bill was introduced in the Legislature by Senator Betts in January of that year and survived several attacks and conference committee revisions.

Representatives Miller and Goudeau successfully lobbyied their fellow legislators for support. The Kansas State Conference of the NAACP sent busloads of supporters to the Capitol Building to rally in support of the bill and also to testify before the State Senate. And with broad based community support, the bill was passed. The final version of the bill was signed into law by Governor Katheleen Sebelius and took effect in July 0f 2005 thereby outlawing the practice of Racial Profiling by any Law Enforcement agency in the State of Kansas.

In 2006, we offered support and written testimony for the 'Grandparents as Caregivers Act'. This bill was written and introduced by Representative Oletha Faust Goudeau and it provides eligible grandparents $200 per grandchild per month, not to exceed $600 a month. A grandparent is eligible if he or she is at least 50 years old, has custody of a grandchild through state placement, legal guardianship or other legal means and has an annual income of less than 130% of the federal poverty level. That bill was passed and signed into law by Governor Sebelius at the close of the 2006 session.

Additionally, we offered support for Senate bill 47, 'Reducing Racial Bias Act'. This bill, drafted to address and reduce the disproportionate minority contact (DMC) with the Juvenile Justice System, was written and introduced by Representative Melody McCray Miller. SB47 was also signed into law by Governor Sebelious.

In 2007, we proposed a statewide ban on the sale of Drug Paraphernalia. The push to ban the sale of Drug Paraphernalia was organized around 3 main premises.

(1) The sale of Drug Paraphernalia in the form of Crack and Meth Pipes and digital gram scales invites and concentrates a criminal element into the few standing businesses within our communities. Our corner convenience stores should not double as supply outlets for drug dealers and drug users.

(2) The presence of drug paraphernalia on convenience store counter displays (alongside the candy bars and bubble gum) exposes and desensitizes children to the drug culture. No 9 year old child should ever have to know what a crack or meth pipe looks like.

(3) The presence of these items and elements within our communities lower our property values and adds a destructive element that contributes to
neighborhood blight

That bill (introduced by Representative Oletha Faust Goudeau on our behalf) was signed by Governor Sebelius and took the force of law this past May.

Also in 2007, we proposed a 'Wrongful termination act' that would have changed the state of Kansas from an "At-Will" state to a "Just-Cause" state. That bill (introduced by Representative Melody McCray Miller) on our behalf did not survive committee.

We also offered support and written testimony for a bill intended to cap interest rates charged by Predatory Lenders in the State of Kansas. The 'Predatory Lending' bill (introduced jointly by Representatives Melody McCray Miller and Oletha Faust Goudeau) did not survive committee.

This evening, I will present our Wichita Branch 2008 Legislative agenda to the South Central Kansas Legislative Delegation. Our platform issues for this year are as follows:

Proposed changes to the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) - Every state in the Nation has some sort of law that deals with open Government and the need for certain pieces of information to be made available to the public. Each of those laws also includes specific exemptions for information that shall not be considered public or made readily available. While the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides a means for accessing some information that a State statute might exempt, it is a cumbersome and lengthy process.

As a Watchdog/Advocacy group, access to information is necessary so as to hold organizations and agencies accountable. The Kansas Open Records Act specifically exempts any 'personnel' information from public release or scrutiny. While there is a logical argument for withholding personal information, we recognize and are prepared to argue that there is a difference between Personnel information and Personal information. We believe that there is a happy medium wherein information relating to Public Safety, the commission of a crime, or situations wherein a police report is filed, could be released to the public without sacrificing an individual's right to privacy. The withholding of such information shields Police Departments, School Districts, and other institutions from the light of public scrutiny and accountability. Here are some examples:

(1) Earlier this year, a young lady riding home on her school bus reported that at one point, the bus driver stopped the bus, pulled out a camera, and began taking pictures of her. The mother, quite naturally, was outraged and wanted information on the driver and the actions that would be taken. The mother was told that while the bus company took her complaint seriously, they would not release the driver's name nor would they discuss what actions were taken because that was 'personnel information'.

(2) A lady by the name of Rowanna Riggs was punched in the face and tasered by an Officer with the WPD [her case is pending with the DOJ]. When we attempted to find out information about the Officer in question; namely, have there been similar complaints filed against this officer in the past and what types of disciplinary actions (if any) had been taken, we were told that that information could not be released because it was 'personnel information'

(3) A Doctor in Haysville Kansas was just convicted and sentenced for medical malpractice. In that process it was revealed that 54 people died of overdoses under his care. This begs the obvious question, 'why wasn't that information available to the public?' After his 3rd, or 12th, or 19th, or 22nd, or 30th victim, why couldn't the public have been alerted? Had that information been available, how many of those 54 lives could have been spared?

We are currently in the process of researching statutes and exemptions from around the country to develop new language for a bill we hope to have introduced this session. We are also working currently to build a coalition of organizations with similar missions and interests [other civil rights/watchdog groups, media outlets, patient and community advocates etc..] to help carry this issue to the Legislature and to offer testimony as needed.

Proposal to increase the Kansas Minimum Wage - The Wichita Branch NAACP stands with the Kansas Action Network in supporting an increase in the Kansas minimum wage of $2.65 an hour. According to the Department of Labor, there are now at least 27,000 Kansas workers who are covered by the absurdly low Kansas minimum wage rather than by the federal minimum. We believe that the Kansas Minimum wage should be raised to match the Federal Minimum wage.

A job should keep you out of poverty, not in poverty. A minimum wage of $2.65 an hour is nowhere near enough for workers to afford basic necessities for themselves and their families. This figure amounts to less than $6,000 per year for someone working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks per year. This is a stark contrast with the federal poverty line of $17,170 for a family of three. Raising the wage is an important step in helping workers support their families. Raising the wage is essential to healthy communities and businesses, and enduring economic growth.

Proposed changes to Kansas employment & anti-discrimination law - Last session, Representative Melody McCray-Miller introduced a "Wrongful Termination" bill on our behalf. The bill would have changed the State of Kansas from an "At-Will" state to a "Just Cause" state. The bill was killed late in the session, but we remain committed to significant legislative change that would provide additional protections for Kansas workers.

This session, we will scale back the effort and work to achieve the same protection through different means. Our goal for this session will be to include a new provision that would guarantee any person terminated from a job in the State of Kansas the right to know why they were terminated and to have that reason presented to them in writing. This would protect and preserve individuals ability to file a wrongful termination claim by preventing companies from later changing their termination rationale to meet the requisites for a summary judgement by the courts.

We will also offer support and testimony for renewed efforts to modify and strengthen the law prohibiting Racial Profiling, and to provide a cap on interest rates charged by predatory lenders...

What are YOUR thoughts or suggestions? Leave us a comment and share your opinion...

2 Click HERE to POST or READ the latest comments!!!:

Anonymous,  January 4, 2008 at 9:01 AM  

The info about the Haysville doctor is not accurate. Med malpractice is a civil matter so someone cannot be convicted. There
has been no final legal conclusion to the civil or criminal aspects of that case. As usual, the news media is trying the case and has made it seem the defendants are guilty until proven innocent.

km January 4, 2008 at 11:10 AM  

Point taken... so let me offer a slight clarification:

Dr. Schneider (and his wife) are currently facing indictment for 4 deaths from their clinic. While Federal Prosecutors have now linked them to the deaths of 56 former patients.

My point was not to try them in the Court of Public opinion, but rather to point out that some of these tragedies COULD have, SHOULD have, and WOULD have been avoided had our system been more transparent. There is simply no excuse for the public to learn at the time of indictment that 56 patients are believed to have died from overdoses prescribed by Schnieder.

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