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Posted: Saturday, February 14, 2009 1:06 am

The Manhattan Mercury, on Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ future:

We don’t know whether President Barack Obama will nominate Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, but whatever he decides, we hope he acts soon.

Yes, we hope he takes long enough to check potential nominees’ tax records, but we also presume by now that potential nominees have such information ready for inspection.

Among the effects of the latest Cabinet go-round is uncertainty in the state Capitol. There, unlike Washington, D.C., budget negotiations don’t extend into the hundreds of billions of dollars, and there, unlike Washington, D.C., lawmakers are required to balance the budget.

That’s a difficult enough task without the inevitable partisan sniping. Hardly needed was the latest tit for tat associated with the possibility that Gov. Sebelius will take the Cabinet post and how that turn of events might affect budget deliberations in Kansas.

Recently, Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt made a comment in jest about the governor, saying he’d considered writing an anonymous letter of reference to President Obama on her behalf.

Not a big deal. Not even when Sen. Schmidt, one of the Senate’s moderates, also said that the governor’s departure to Washington “might actually be helpful” in the Legislature’s effort to resolve the state’s budget problems.

Although the absence of the state’s top Democrat would benefit Republican causes beyond GOP budget proposals, Sen. Schmidt could have left the issue alone.

Then again, so could Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley. He is well regarded, but perhaps because legislative Democrats lose more battles than they win, he also is sometimes more sensitive than is either necessary or useful. And he accused Sen. Schmidt of launching “partisan potshots” and faulted Sen. Schmidt for a lack of leadership in budget deliberations.

Such exchanges are hardly extraordinary, either between legislative leaders or between rank-and-file members of the two parties. That doesn’t make them productive. It would be nice once in a while if the combativeness would ease, if legislators would acquire the ability to shrug off comments from time to time.

Sen. Hensley’s kneejerk response gave Sen. Schmidt’s mildly critical comments of the governor more statewide publicity than they would have received otherwise. If that was his intent, it’s hard to see how it serves his cause.

The Hutchinson News, on the death penalty:

As the Kansas Legislature works to find ways to cut expenses in the face of a budget shortfall, Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, has proposed an interesting solution — suspending the state’s death penalty.

Whether one supports or opposes the idea of capital punishment, no doubt capital murder cases cost Kansans considerably more than other murder cases.

According to a 2003 legislative post audit report, death penalty cases cost, on average, 70 percent more than cases in which the death penalty wasn’t sought.

Since 1994, when Kansas reinstated the death penalty, the state has spent $4.7 million on fewer than 20 cases. Three of the cases cost the state $2 million.

And it is important to note that not one of the people charged and convicted of capital murder has been put to death. The last execution in Kansas took place in 1965.

Furthermore, the median cost of death penalty cases was $1.2 million, compared to $740,000 for non-death penalty murder cases. Additional costs also are borne throughout the process — from local investigative costs to higher-than-usual appeals costs.

Doing away with the death penalty seems like a sensible way to cut costs without cutting programs that could actually benefit Kansans. The Legislature should suspend, if not eliminate, Kansas’ death penalty.

The Garden City Telegram, on salmonella and other recalls:

An extraordinary number of food recalls, hundreds of people sickened by salmonella and several more dead.

That’s the tragic fallout of a lack of proper oversight of a peanut plant in Blakely, Ga., where a strain of salmonella in peanut products sparked a nationwide food scare.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Peanut Corporation of America is accused of finding salmonella in products at the plant at least a dozen times since 2007.

Rather than dumping the tainted product and accepting the financial loss of such a move, the company found a testing firm that produced the results it wanted — and sent the product to companies across the nation for use in such products as crackers, cookies and even institutional peanut butter used in schools.

Americans who must wonder how such reprehensible acts can occur should look to a trend in Washington, D.C., that’s seen government’s role in the food inspection process diminish.

Food safety hasn’t been a high priority in years. The Food and Drug Administration, responsible for most monitoring of the nation’s food supply, has seen its budget dwindle. That’s left the FDA without sufficient staffing, including inspectors to check out food producers.

But that’s no problem, some have said. Minimize government and its wasteful ways. Let businesses police themselves, they argue.

Too bad such thinking doesn’t account for the greed that apparently compelled operators of the peanut plant in Georgia to look the other way as a product known to be laced with salmonella left their plant.

While a criminal investigation is under way, it’s clear that the odds of the peanut and other recent food scares would have been diminished if the FDA was allowed to do its job.

No one wants government to meddle in all areas of our lives. When it comes to food safety, however, government oversight is not only preferable, it can be a lifesaver.

The latest food debacle is more proof that it’s time to stop shortchanging that effort.

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