Attorney general speaks at SEK Inc. annual dinner

Saturday, January 24, 2015
Jason E. Silvers/Tribune photo Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt was the keynote speaker for the annual dinner and meeting of the Southeast Kansas, Inc., organization Thursday night at the Liberty Theatre. Schmidt discussed his return to the Southeast Kansas region and addressed topics affecting his office and the state.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt hit on topics such as the operations of his office, school finance and President Barack Obama's recent visit to Lawrence during the annual Southeast Kansas, Inc., meeting and dinner Thursday at the Liberty Theatre.

Schmidt, the state's 44th attorney general, was the keynote speaker for the event. Schmidt was introduced by Yvonne Hull of Coffeyville, a supporter of Schmidt and one of his former classmates at Independence High School. Hull is on the board of directors for the SEK, Inc., organization.

When introducing Schmidt, Hull said during their high school years, he was voted by their class as "most likely to be president." She introduced him as "a future president of the United States of America." Schmidt thanked Hull for the introduction but did not address whether or not he plans to fulfill the class prophecy.

"I'm glad to be back home," the Independence native said. "I had planned to make a day of it."

Schmidt said his time in the area was short as he had been invited to President Obama's talk in Lawrence Thursday.

"Whether you agree with the message or not, it's always good to have the president in Kansas," Schmidt said. "I was glad to be invited there."

In talking about the functions of his office, Schmidt said "we do a lot of public safety work" and provides help in the Southeast Kansas region.

"There's a disproportionate amount of work in this region," he said. "And we're not magic. We're only human and can only do what we can with our resources."

Schmidt said his office "handled more prosecutions in Southeast Kansas than any other region in the state" with several methamphetamine prosecutions.

"The good news is the numbers are down," he said. "That's an increase in willingness of local county attorney's offices to handle" those cases. "And that's the way it should be."

Schmidt said a big issues is the difficulty for growth in the workforce due to the number of people with drug convictions.

"And that's a statement of fact," he said.

Schmidt said there have been a "significant number of prosecutions in federal court." He said drug cartels and the trafficking of meth into the state are becoming issues in Kansas.

"It's real, it's here," he said. "We're trying to do what we can do within our wingspan."

Another topic Schmidt addressed was the poor condition of Kansas Bureau of Investigation laboratories, which he said makes it difficult to draw forensic scientists to Kansas.

Switching gears in his talk, Schmidt moved from talking about the criminal side of his office's job to what he jokingly called a "happier topic" - school finance.

Schmidt briefly touched on three school finance lawsuits that he said would "affect school finance in Kansas." The first lawsuit involves a group of people "who are discontented" with the work of the Kansas State Board of Education. The second involved a group of parents in the Shawnee Mission school district who are challenging the state's school funding system with claims that "schools are underfunded," he said.

Schmidt said that case has been dismissed twice in the past but has come back to the state's forefront.

The third lawsuit, which Schmidt said is pending in Topeka, is the Montoy vs. Kansas case, which Schmidt said has been around "since the 1980s, and maybe longer." Plaintiffs in that suit claim there is "too much control in Topeka and let it be local," he said.

The court has ruled in that case that the $2.7 billion in school funding was inadequate and distributed unfairly. It then recommended the Kansas Legislature increase funding to schools and change the way money was distributed.

Schmidt said that suit "could be back in the news next week" and is likely to end up back in the Kansas Supreme Court.

Schmidt said his office has also been working a "broader category of litigation."

"Quite a bit of time has been spent challenging federal regulations," he said. "We've had a mixed bag of success, but some success."

One example of that success, Schmidt said, is determination of Medicaid expansion is now on a state-by-state basis rather than a federal mandate.

"We try to do our job day in and day out and not pull any punches, either," he said.

Schmidt was elected to the office in 2010 and elected to a second term in 2014. According to his website, www.derekschmidt.com, under his leadership, the attorney general's office has recovered more than $350 million for Kansas consumers and taxpayers, the largest recoveries in state history. The office also has prosecuted a record number of Jessica's Law cases, resulting in life prison terms for sex offenders who prey on children.

In 2013, Schmidt personally argued the state's successful defense of a capital murder conviction before the U.S. Supreme Court. Before being elected attorney general, he served 10 years as a Kansas senator, the last six as majority leader for the Republican caucus. He previously served as an aide to Governor Bill Graves, the website said.

Southeast Kansas, Inc., serves as the regional voice for key issues that members have identified as important to the growth, development and prosperity of the region. It is a member-driven organization representing a wide variety of constituents in a region that includes 12 counties; Allen, Anderson, Bourbon, Cherokee, Coffey, Crawford, Labette, Linn, Montgomery, Neosho, Wilson and Woodson.

The organization's annual meeting focused on the continued growth and improvement in the organization's programs that benefit Southeast Kansas.