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Recent Kansas Editorials

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 17, 2015 at 3:01 am •  Published: March 17, 2015
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Wichita Eagle, March 14

A Friday deadline came and went without Wichita officials heeding the call of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and two Wichita lawmakers to yank a marijuana question off the April 7 ballot.

But Wichita voters should know that the ordinance, if approved, will be unenforceable at best and lawsuit bait at worst.

They also should know this might have been avoided if the City Council had gone another route proposed in January by the city attorney and endorsed by The Eagle editorial board - file an action in Sedgwick County District Court seeking a swift ruling on whether the proposed ordinance was valid. Instead, a council majority saw fit to schedule the ballot question for the general election.

Now, in a letter to the city, Schmidt has said the "unlawful proposal" conflicts with state law in numerous ways, reminding Wichita that the Legislature has the constitutional power to pass uniform state laws governing marijuana and other matters.

He warned that if it wins voters' approval, his office will file a lawsuit to enforce state law. What a mess.

It's hard to place too much blame on Marijuana Reform Initiative-ICT, which rounded up more than the needed signatures of 3,000 qualified voters in an effort to follow the petition statute. If the filing process was faulty, as Schmidt's letter also said, why was the group's petition declared valid in January?

In an effort to pass legal muster, the activists also changed the wording of their proposed ordinance after an attempt last summer. They'd first hoped to make simple possession of marijuana a minor civil violation with a maximum penalty of $25. As written, the April 7 ballot question would make a first offense a criminal infraction with a $50 fine for those over 21. State law says possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia are criminal offenses with up to a $2,500 fine and one year in jail. Schmidt's office has noted that the lesser category of offense proposed for the ordinance - "infraction" — is not even recognized by state law, which is obviously a problem.

That said, many Wichitans surely share the reformers' view that harsh punishments for pot possession make little sense, in part because of the high costs of enforcement and incarceration of nonviolent offenders.

One fairness question has emerged: Why was the city of Lawrence able to pass an ordinance relaxing its approach to marijuana cases in 2006, if Wichita cannot do so now? When asked the question last week, the Attorney General's Office declined to comment.

Meanwhile, if the attorney general and the lawmakers who objected to the marijuana vote (Reps. Steve Brunk and Mark Kahrs) are unhappy about the City Council ignoring their pleas, they should pursue legislation to prevent more situations in which a group uses the state law for initiative and referendum to push for an ordinance contrary to other state laws.

As Vice Mayor Jeff Blubaugh said, "Kansas has conflicting laws and we're paying the price for it."

Just as the Legislature has crossed a line in recent years in passing bills that clearly violate federal law or the Constitution, Wichita should not be approving ordinances - either by council action or petition-triggered voter ballot - at odds with state law.

In this case, the best outcome for Wichita would be a defeat on April 7.

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Topeka Capital-Journal, March 14

The Capital-Journal

A ruling issued Wednesday by the Kansas Court of Appeals cleared the way for city officials to proceed with the proposed issuance of Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) bonds and purchase of Heartland Park Topeka.

The appellate court ruled a trial court erred on several issues, but upheld the trial court's decision that Chris Imming, who challenged the city's plans, filed an initiative process when he should have filed a protest petition.

City officials plan to discuss during Tuesday's Topeka City Council meeting how to proceed.

That gives Topekans another opportunity to let their elected officials know what they think about the proposed purchase of the racetrack and the STAR bond financing.

Heartland Park Topeka and its fate have been hot issues since the city council last summer made the public aware of its plans, which include issuing STAR bonds to purchase the property from owner Ray Irwin, expand the bond district to increase sales tax revenue and find a racetrack operator.

The city has been making payments with general fund revenue on an earlier STAR bond issue for the property because the track hasn't been generating enough sales tax revenue to retire those bonds.

City officials and Topekans who support the plan see the new STAR bond issue and expanded district as a way to pay off all the bonds without using property tax revenue and keep the racetrack operating.

Opponents, however, view the proposal as a bailout of Irwin and his creditors. Imming is foremost among the opponents and circulated a petition, which garnered about 4,000 signatures, calling for the council to repeal its action or put it to a vote. Two courts have ruled he filed the wrong petition.

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