Noonletter: Sept. 20, 2018 | KCUR

Noonletter: Sept. 20, 2018

Sep 20, 2018

A more fair court system

The killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 triggered weeks of  sometimes-violent protests. It became yet another polarizing incident over force used by law enforcement on young black men. (This week the country is watching a similar case play out in the dashcam-captured fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. A cop charged in that case is on trial now.)

The Ferguson case also shined a light on the way some cities pound people with exorbitant fines for minor offenses, how poor people often struggle to pay those fines, and how those delinquent payments spiral into arrest warrants. Ferguson’s city government relied heavily on the revenue from such fines.

That sparked a bit of a reform movement. On Wednesday, reports Nomin Ujiyediin, an ad hoc committee of judges and others in Kansas issued its report on how Kansas cities handle fines, fees and bail. The panel said it didn’t come across Ferguson-like predatory practices by municipalities in the state. But it suggested some reforms all the same.

First and foremost, the committee said, keep the fees low. Offer alternatives to bail. Understand that the point of bonds isn’t to lock people up or strip them of money, but to get them to show up in court.

Among its suggestions:

  • Look for alternatives to cash bail and bond. (See California.) It tends to only put poor people in jail, without much correlation to actual guilt.
  • Lean more heavily on personal recognizance bonds that don’t require money.
  • Let people pay off fines with community service.
  • Remind people about court dates and due payments through texts, cell phone calls and emails.

On that DCF rape case …

Gina Meier-Hummel, the secretary of the Department for Children and Families, spoke publicly Wednesday for the first time about the alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl while the child was waiting for a foster care placement in the offices of a state contractor.

The DCF boss fielded questions in a Facebook Live session and from reporter Madeline Fox. The contractor overseeing the care of the girl, the 18-year-old charged with raping her and another young person may still face a financial penalty, Meier-Hummel said.

And, perhaps more significantly, the incident and any other problems KVC Kansas has experienced while caring for kids in state custody could play a role in deciding whether the company gets another four-year contract from the state.

Kansas privatized its foster care system in the mid-1990s. KVC Kansas handles foster care for the Kansas City area and the eastern part of the state. Another contractor covers the rest of Kansas.

West Nile in Kansas horses

Cases of West Nile virus have been reported in horses, not people, in Lyon, Seward, Neosho, Marion and Wichita counties in recent weeks.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture said in a news release that all the cases involved horses that had not been vaccinated, or where at least the vaccination history of the horse was unknown. Vaccinations have been proven highly effective in preventing the virus.

The virus can infect humans, horses, birds and other species.

“The virus is carried and transmitted by mosquitoes,” the release said. “It is not directly contagious from horse to horse or from horse to human.”

Sacramento is the new D.C.

Get used to this. What Washington won’t do, California (for better or worse) will do. For instance, it’s taking action on climate change in ways that will matter. With an economy as big as that of a mid-sized country, businesses need to bow their practices to the Golden State’s rules. Even if that means recalculating how they make things for consumers across the country.

Now the California State Legislature has sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill that would begin to regulate the so-called Internet of Things, what geeks call simply IoT.

Think of a fast-evolving world where your stuff is increasingly wired into the internet — a refrigerator that tells your smartphone that you should pick up milk on the drive home from work, the Nest thermostat that watches weather reports and family behavior to heat and cool the house just so, the alarm system that lets you monitor your backyard from the office.

The California legislation would require connected devices to have a “reasonable” security feature “appropriate to the nature and function of the device.” Put another way: manufacturers need to keep hackers out of the gadgets in your home.

Notably, devices will either need to demand users put in passwords, not some default setting.

This will matter to you. Because if a company builds things to meet the standards for in sale in California, it’s unlikely to strip away those features when marketing it in Kansas.

Fresh from the ad machine

Republican Kris Kobach has a new TV commercial up. It’s the sunny, feel-good variety. Tractors, soybean fields, a smiling family. It’s narrated by his wife and talks about how he overcame diabetes to head on to the Ivy League and political success. (As a rule these days, candidates use their campaign money to put out largely positive ads and let third-party outfits do the attack work.)

And here’s Laura Kelly, swinging (softly) at Kobach and tying him to former governor and fellow conservative Sam Brownback. Her message is that she’d fund schools and Kobach would cut them. (He contends school districts spend too much on administrative bloat).

Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @ScottCanon.

 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.