Recent Kansas editorials

The Topeka Capital-Journal, June 22

Coaches at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University have signed statements declaring Election Day a mandatory day off for athletes, ensuring no practice or competition will interfere with getting student athletes to the polls in November.

The coaches made the move at the encouragement of the NCAA, joining the other Big 12 coaches in signing the agreements.

This move from two major Kansas athletic departments has multiple benefits. Logistically, it frees student-athletes, who often have packed schedules between coursework and practice schedules, to make it to the polls on Election Day. It also sends a valuable message about the importance of voting to a population in need of encouragement.

Young voters, generally defined as those between 18-24, are chronically under-represented at the polls. Even in the 2004 presidential election, the high-water mark of youth participation, only 47% of eligible voters between 18-24 cast a ballot.

Typical participation is closer to a third of eligible voters participating, although young voters did make a strong showing in the 2018 midterms, according to Pew Research Center analysis. Healthy democracy requires a wide range of perspectives and interests. Youth participation in the electoral process can only make our democracy stronger.

The United States is somewhat unique in our choice to have elections on days most people are working or attending school. Israel, South Korea, France, Mexico, India and others have government holidays on election days. A majority of other democratic nations, including 27 of the 37 nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, hold elections on weekends.

Workers are entitled to two hours of paid time off to vote in Kansas, but the logistics of getting away from work on Election Day, particularly for shift workers and people with long commutes, can still make it difficult to cast a ballot.

An Election Day holiday, particularly when combined with same-day voter registration, more polling place accessibility and voter education initiatives, has the potential to be transformative for American democracy.

The idea is long overdue, but while public support for such a measure builds, private employers and institutions can do their part by making the day an employer-recognized holiday. In recent years, large and small employers have made positive headlines by creating Election Day holidays for employees.

Community leaders in a position to recognize Election Day as a holiday would be casting their votes in favor of a stronger democracy.

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The Wichita Eagle, June 17

Garold Minns, Sedgwick County’s public health officer, told county leaders Wednesday that face coverings are one of the few tools we have to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“If this mask keeps a neighbor from getting it . . . if that keeps a couple patients from getting admitted to the ICU, I’m willing to pay that price, personally,” Minns said.

“I’m willing to do that because I don’t have a lot of other tools to offer society.”

The County Commission’s response? It was — with apologies to pop star Ariana Grande: Thank you, next.

“It’s been very educational, very helpful, and thanks for the discussion,” Commission Chairman Pete Meitzner told Minns.

Buh-bye, now. Have a nice day. Moving right along.

Commissioners, acting as the Board of Health, could have bolstered the doctor’s advice by reminding residents that we’re still in the throes of a public health crisis.

They could have emphasized the importance of basic precautions such as washing your hands, keeping your distance, avoiding crowds and covering your face.

They might have underscored their commitment to public health by encouraging — or even requiring — residents to wear face masks when out in public, especially when social distancing is difficult. Numerous jurisdictions have done just that.

But once again, when offered the opportunity, county leaders not only shunned health experts but offered bogus objections to their advice.

Commissioner Jim Howell: “If someone had the choice between social distancing — staying far from other people — and maybe not wearing a mask, or being next to someone else and wearing a mask, which is more dangerous?”

Minns said he wasn’t sure. This virus has been cagey and unpredictable, he said. There’s lots we don’t know and haven’t had time to test.

“Here’s my point,” Howell said. “I’ve seen lots of people who think because they wear a mask, social distancing is not important. . . . If they believe that, we’re essentially embracing, if you will, a false sense of security.”

Masks don’t stop the virus, Howell said. “So if someone really wants to be protected, ignoring social distancing and wearing a mask is frankly not the right strategy here.”

No, it’s not. But that’s a nonsense comparison. Curbing the spread of COVID-19 isn’t an either-or situation — it’s all of the above.

Masks aren’t a cure, but they help. Why not use every measure we have to keep this virus at bay?

Here’s what we know now: The coronavirus is spread largely by respiratory droplets. Face masks — even homemade cloth ones — can block the majority of those droplets. Countries that have mandated masks, including Austria and the Czech Republic, saw noticeable decreases in COVID-19 infections.

Face masks are easy, inexpensive and painless (save the occasional fogged glasses or pinched ears). We should all be wearing them as much as possible in public, particularly in situations where the risk of transmission is high — stores, office buildings, buses, gyms, churches. And yes, even while participating in crowded public protests.

We should listen to public health experts and do everything possible to protect one another, not turn legitimate health measures into political debates.

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The Manhattan Mercury, June 18

It’s been widely reported that Derek Chauvin had more than a dozen misconduct complaints against him before he put his knee on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed black man. It’s also widely known that Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City officer who seized Eric Garner in a deadly chokehold, had eight.

Nobody knew that before Pantaleo and Floyd were killed.

The records of police disciplinary cases are, in many states around the country, kept secret. That’s the case in Kansas, which exempts personnel records of police officers from the state’s law on public records.

But it’s not universally true. Published reports indicate that such records are public information in 12 states, from Florida to Maine, from Washington to Wisconsin and Arizona. Another 15 states make some of the records available. And now there are measures being introduced in Congress to make the records more widely available.

That’s a move in the right direction.

Police are authorized to carry and use deadly weapons on behalf of the public. There are good reasons for that, and nearly all of the officers who serve do so because they feel compelled to help others.

But because they carry those weapons on behalf of all of us, they are appropriately subject to public scrutiny.

In Riley County, there are internal reviews of complaints, and the police department releases an annual report that shows how those cases were resolved. That’s good. There’s no indication of a problem, particularly one along the lines of what happened in Minneapolis.

But we also know nothing about whether those complaints were all against one officer, or a few, or several, and which ones. The only way we really know anything is if the department moves to fire a person -- and he or she demands a public hearing -- and eventually if the officer gets decertified. But still, personnel records are generally kept secret, even then.

We acknowledge that opening all of this to public scrutiny could potentially be abused in other ways. A person with a vendetta against a particular cop could file a bunch of frivolous complaints, making it seem as if that officer has a real problem. But our answer to that is pretty simple -- make that public, too. The facts have a way of winning out. Sunshine is a great disinfectant.

We encourage Kansas representatives at the state and federal level to support measures that move toward more openness. Ultimately, that will help build more trust between the police and the public that the police serve.