Don’t let Kansas lawmaking bullies succeed at censorship in Johnson County


Kansas lawmakers spent a good deal of their last session demanding “freedom” from the federal government’s health care rules. Too bad their concerns don’t extend to freedom of speech and a free press.

Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Republican senator from Shawnee, is known for her disrespect of facts and opinions that clash with her views. On Monday, she led a delegation of 10 lawmakers to a meeting with the Johnson County Commission on Aging.

The legislators’ intent was to bully commission members into abandoning plans to publish an article expressing concerns about a state law approved earlier this year.

Cheers to the volunteer commission members for standing their ground. The Johnson County Commission, which appoints them, should continue to back them up.

The bill, which Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law, would enable Kansas to join other states in creating a “health care compact” within their borders. Pending approval of Congress, the states seek to receive their health care funding in the form of block grants, which they would spend unfettered by federal regulations.

Senior citizens in Kansas and elsewhere have understandably expressed concern about what the compact legislation would mean for Medicare. States would have to set up an entirely new structure to administer the money, and there is concern that funds could be siphoned off to meet other needs.

The Commission on Aging is a volunteer board that advises the Johnson County Area Agency on Aging. One of its functions is to submit content for The Best Times, a newsletter for seniors published by the Johnson County Commission.

Chuck Nigro, chairman of the aging commission’s legislative committee, began researching the health care compact legislation in May. Assisted in his reporting by the panel’s chairwoman, Patti Rule, he presented his findings to the full board. The majority of members agreed on the need to inform citizens about the new law. Nigro’s article is scheduled for publication in October.

Pilcher-Cook got wind of the piece and complained. When invited to discuss the matter with the Commission on Aging, she brought along some colleagues, including Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican.

Based on a report by the Kansas Health Institute News Service and interviews with several participants at the meeting, it’s clear some of the lawmakers hinted at retaliation. The county Area Agency on Aging receives some state funding.

“You really need to think about this because one of your objectives is to have a good working relationship with the Johnson County legislative delegation,” warned Sen. Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park.

Merrick was more blunt. “This is going to set you guys back,” he told Dan Goodman, director of the Johnson County Area Agency on Aging.

Pilcher-Cook reportedly told panel members that if the article was published, “you’d better get a lawyer.”

The legislators said they were concerned that an article published in October could be used against Brownback and GOP legislators who voted for the health care compact.

In fact, the timing is a coincidence. It took commission members some time to research the issue and decide what they wanted to say.

As for alarming seniors, that’s something lawmakers should have considered before passing the bill.

Commission on Aging members, many of whom are senior citizens, calmly withstood the onslaught from the self-important lawmakers. Good for them.

Pilcher-Cook and her entourage should be embarrassed by their behavior. With their clumsy attempt at censorship, they have assured a much wider readership for Nigro’s article than would otherwise be expected.