Good Luck

August 26th, 2019

shannon francis mugGUEST COLUMN, Shannon Francis, 125th District Representative


Dr. Trzaska was in town for the Connections Trail Project at Seward County Community College and Sunflower State Trails Association. SCCC was awarded a $60,890 grant from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism last year for the Connections Trail Project. Johnny Ralston with Seward County Emergency Medical Services also stopped by after his State Board Meeting.

Renee’ Taylor-Harlason and Charlie Delay with American Title & Abstract Specialists were in town for the Kansas Land and Title Association meeting. They discussed proper implementation of electronic notary services.

The Liberal Chamber of Commerce with other Chambers in Southwest Kansas hosted a reception for legislators. My daughter, Kelly, was also able to attend.

At the Southwest Chambers reception, I had a nice visit with this years Pancake Day Board Chair Greg Bird.

Seward County Administrator April Warden and Seward County Commissioner Ada Linenbroker, training me on pancake serving at our Pancakes at the Capitol event. Legislators and Staff were talking about this event all week. It’s a great opportunity for us to network with state leaders.

Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers stopped by for Pancakes at the Capitol. 

While not currently a resident of Seward County, I met former resident Preston Ford, Vice President of Engagement at Azura Credit Union at a meeting of credit union leaders. I spoke to them about legislative issues for this session. The fun part though was talking with Preston about his grandfather Bernard Carlile. I knew Bernard all my life. Bernard was a true entrepreneur and community leader.

Also, this week I had the opportunity to visit with former Liberal Resident Kelly Ralston… probably better known now as Seward County EMS Director Johnny Ralston’s brother. Kelly is a valued member of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. By the way Preston Ford, is Director of Finance at the City of Liberal Chris Ford’s brother.

Kelly Ralston and Preston Ford are examples of what western Kansas can do to successfully lobby our state government. We suffer a great brain drain as our children, friends and classmates move away. But this loss is also an opportunity. Kelly and Preston both know the importance of good highways to Liberal. They both understand the importance of the Ogallala Aquifer and agriculture. We need to leverage our relationships when we lobby the state government. Ask them to also contact their representative and their senator when you have an issue. 


Transportation & Public Safety Budget Committee

This week my committee had informational overviews from the KBI, Kansas Department of Transportation, and Kansas Department of Corrections. The Corrections presentation was the most disturbing of the three but all of them suffer from an inability to attract and retain new entry level employees. Excessive overtime resulting from staff shortages is both hard on morale and causing safety issues at the Department of Corrections. Pictures of damage from riots at our prisons and injured officers were shown. It’s a problem that must be addressed.

I was recently contacted about a backlog for sexual assault kit testing. Kansas is aggressively addressing this issue. Below are excerpts from a letter our committee received from Katie Whisman, Executive Officer, of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation regarding this. Thank you, Ms. Whisman and KBI Director Thompson, for your leadership in this area.

“Since 2014, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has led a statewide multidisciplinary effort to address the sexual assault kit “backlog”. We applied for and received federal funding in 2016 to help support our efforts to identify all previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits throughout the state, facilitate their submission to the forensic laboratory for analysis, and support efforts to investigate and prosecute offenders while ensuring the victims impacted by this situation have adequate access to support services. 

As a result of our collaborative effort, Kansas became the first state in the country to conduct a statewide inventory of previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits with 100% voluntary participation of law enforcement. We identified 2,220 such kits and have facilitated submission of over 2,000 of those kits to the forensic laboratory for testing. That number is nearly 5 times what we had been receiving annual so it is something we had to approach carefully as not to negatively affect turn-around times of incoming current cases. As such, we have been using grant dollars to pay our trained scientists overtime to test the backlogged kits. As of the end of December 2018, we have completed testing on 1,051 previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits; this represents over 51% of the certified statewide inventory. Another 90 are pending DNA analysis. 

Our federal grant funding is authorized through September 2019 and we have sufficient funds within that award to eliminate the backlog by performing testing in-house. However, the limited number of qualified KBI personnel available to process these kits on overtime has prevented us from eliminating the backlog as quickly as we hoped. Nonetheless, we continue our efforts to ensure each kit is tested. 

While the federal grant dollars we received have been instrumental in allowing us to proactively address the backlog, an important component of long term success was increasing our testing capacity. During the 2017 Legislative Session, I provided a briefing to the House Appropriations Committee on this issue and the need for funding to increase our laboratory capacity. The Legislature added funding to our FY 18 budget which allowed us to hire 6 additional scientists and enhance our state's capacity to perform testing on sexual assault kits. Because we were not able to attract already trained DNA scientists to fill these positions, the new hires have been completing an 18 month long training process and have not been able to immediately contribute to reducing the backlog. Some of these newly hired scientists have recently been released from training and others are nearing completion of their training program. As such, we expect the rate at which we are addressing the remaining backlog to increase.

This enhancement funding positioned Kansas to adopt a “submit all, test all” policy, which is critical in preventing another significant backlog from developing in the future. In April 2018, we made an official recommendation to all law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and forensic laboratories that all kits be submitted to and tested by a forensic laboratory. In July 2018, we released model policies for Investigating Sexual Assault, and Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit Submission, Retention, and Disposal.”

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