Rep. Alford’s resignation from leadership slots forces shake-up of key committees

In this file photo from Sept. 19, 2017, Rep. Steve Alford, R-Ulysses, sits in on a task force meeting at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

Rep. Steve Alford’s abrupt resignation from leadership positions on two key committees has forced a shake-up in the Kansas Statehouse that could have an impact on legislative efforts to reform the state’s child welfare program.

Alford, R-Ulysses, stepped down from his chairmanship of the House Committee on Children and Seniors and from his vice chairmanship of the Child Welfare System Task Force, a panel of lawmakers and outside experts formed last year to make recommendations on reforming the state’s foster care system and other child welfare services.

He stepped down from those positions amid furor over remarks he made over the weekend suggesting marijuana should remain illegal because African Americans lack the character and genetic makeup needed to handle its effects.

In response, House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, appointed Rep. Erin Davis, another Olathe Republican, to fill both slots. Davis is an attorney who also served on the 2016 Special Committee on Foster Care Adequacy.
Alford’s comments were quoted in a Garden City Telegram story on Monday, the first day of the legislative session, and they immediately prompted a strong rebuke from Ryckman, who said Alford’s comments do not in any way reflect the views of Kansans or the policies that will come out of the 2018 session.

The Telegram story also came out on the same day that the Child Welfare Task Force issued its preliminary report based on its first six months of work. Among other things, the report said the Department for Children and Families is plagued by “High turnover levels of social workers due to stress, excessive caseloads, and low pay.”

The panel will continue working throughout 2018 and is not expected to issue its final report and recommendations until January 2019, after a new administration is sworn into office.
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel on Monday called for adding $16.5 million in new funding for DCF to address that and many other issues in the child welfare system.
Ryckman on Monday said he hadn’t decided what, if any, disciplinary actions he would take in response to the comments, and it wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday whether Alford’s resignations from the committee leadership posts were voluntary or forced.

In addition to his role on the task force and the Children and Seniors, Alford serves on the Judiciary Committee; Transportation Committee; Energy Utilities and Telecommunications; and the Joint Committee on State Building Construction.