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AP pool photo

The Senate race in Kansas isn't expected to be competitive and the governor isn't on the ballot this fall. So, the hardest fought statewide campaign might just involve four people you’ve never heard of.

For the first time ever there will be a coordinated effort to oust state Supreme Court justices.

The bad blood between the state Supreme Court and conservatives in Kansas goes back ten years to when the justices ordered the state to pump more than $500 million dollars more into public education.

Courtesy of jocogov.org

Most departments in Johnson County, Kansas, will no longer ask questions about criminal convictions on their job applications. The move is in support of the Fair Chance Hiring initiative, a campaign started by the National Employment Labor Project to give people with criminal records better access to jobs.

Briana O'Higgins / KCUR 89.3

KCUR 89.3's Statehouse Blend podcast returns to the Westport Flea Market for another live special. Host Brian Ellison leads the audience in a discussion with Senators Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, and Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, about the central issues from the 2016 session of the Missouri General Assembly. 

Guests:

  • Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City
  • Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph
Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

As the Missouri and Kansas 2016 legislative sessions come to an end, Statehouse Blend hosts, Sam Zeff and Brian Ellison, discuss the most impactful and surprising events on both sides of the state line with the assistance of guest host, Kyle Palmer.

KC Police

An audit released this week concludes that with tight budgets and unfilled officer positions, the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department should re-evaluate its policies on allowing officers to take police vehicles home with them in their off-duty hours.

The police do not agree.

The audit found that 45 percent of the police fleet is assigned for take-home with no tracking of mileage or how they are used after duty hours.

Conservative Republican Sen. Forrest Knox faces voters in Gridley, Kansas.
Jim McLean / KHI News Service

The 2016 election could be a tough one for some Kansas lawmakers hoping to return to the Statehouse.

Polls, editorials and reader comments on news websites indicate that voters are paying attention to what’s happening in Topeka, and many don’t like what they’re seeing.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

As the Missouri and Kansas 2016 legislative sessions come to an end, Statehouse Blend hosts, Sam Zeff and Brian Ellison, discuss the most impactful and surprising events on both sides of the state line with the assistance of guest host, Kyle Palmer.

Jeffrey Locke, a teacher from Satanta, stands to argue for his motion to add support for the death penalty to the Kansas Republican Party platform.
Andy Marso / KHI News Service

Kansas Republicans voted Saturday to leave support for the death penalty out of their party platform. It was the most contentious of the issues Republicans took up at their state convention in Topeka in anticipation of this year’s elections, which will decide the fate of all 125 House seats and 40 Senate seats in the state legislature.

A boutique hotel is planned for the Pendgergast Building and old Pabst brewery.
aprium.com

The full Kansas City Council on Thursday gave unanimous approval to tax abatement and other incentives for planned hotels in the heart of
downtown in the Crossroads Arts District.

Both involve the renovation of historic buildings: the old Federal Reserve building at 9th and Grand and the Pendergast Building and former Pabst brewery in the Crossroads.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Critics of a proposed rule change regarding birth certificates criticized the policy at a public hearing Thursday. The proposal would make it virtually impossible for transgender people to have the sex changed on their Kansas birth certificate.

Stephanie Mott, who is transgender, says government documents that don’t match a transgender person’s identity make it more likely they’ll face discrimination and harassment. She says this policy would further stigmatize transgender Kansans.

Creative Commons

The building is historic, and the story familiar. 

Developers seeking to renovate the old Federal Reserve Building at 925 Grand told the 95-year-old tower's tale of woe to the City Council Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday.

They described and showed photos of disrepair and water damage in a structure now eight years vacant, lacking a fire sprinkler system and with only one working elevator for which repair parts must be custom-fabricated.

visitkc.com

A Kansas City Council Committee has approved a contract extension of up to five years for California-based company Ticketmaster to continue to ticketing for events at city-owned convention and entertainment facilities.

McGaskey, executive director for the venues, says one factor that set Ticketmaster apart from two competing bidders was a $45,000 annual Ticketmaster allowance for advertising to help promote events. He said the assistance is a “nice incentive” to offer some event sponsors. 

Alex Smith / KCUR

Kansas City Mayor Sly James said Tuesday that low public support has prompted the city to abandon plans to build a new airport.

James said the city would shift its priorities to other issues after polls last week showed just 39 percent of voters supporting a ballot question on issuing airport revenue bonds to construct a new terminal.

“Although I still feel that a new air terminal is inevitable, it's clear that the time is not now,” James said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

The Kansas Legislature approved additional restrictions on people who receive government assistance but removed one proposal that would have required women to return to work shortly after giving birth.

The changes, passed late Sunday as part of Senate Bill 402, reduce the lifetime limit for cash assistance through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families from three years to two years. There is a one-year hardship extension.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

Kansas lawmakers struggled over the weekend working late nights trying to craft a budget solution. Ultimately, they approved a plan in the early hours of Monday morning.

On this week's Statehouse Blend podcast, reporters dissect what we've seen so far and what we can expect as the Kansas Legislative session heads to a close. 

Guests:

KHI News Service file photo

The Kansas House shot down a plan to return some 330,000 Kansas businesses back to the income tax rolls Friday, voting 45-74 on the measure.

A tax conference committee made up of House and Senate negotiators agreed to push the measure forward for a floor vote as the Legislature tries to close a budget gap, adjourn the session and head back to the campaign trail.

Jim Hansen
Marshall Griffin / St. Louis Public Radio

Since Wednesday, when Missouri Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, cast one of the deciding votes against the “religious shield” proposal, he’s been called a hero by some and a traitor by others.

On the whole, though, he said reaction has been positive.

“I had a lot of colleagues come up and congratulate me and say it took real courage,” Hansen told host Brian Ellison Friday on the Statehouse Blend podcast. “Different people have come up, and one told me it’s the most courage he’s seen in the building in the last 20 years. So I felt real good about it.”

File photo

An effort to roll back a controversial business tax exemption is among the budget-balancing proposals that lawmakers will take up in the final weeks of the 2016 legislative session.

Several key Republicans, including many self-described conservatives who voted for Gov. Sam Brownback’s income tax cuts in 2012, are openly supporting bills to either reduce or eliminate the exemption as legislators return Wednesday to the Statehouse to wrap up the session.

Missouri's use of deadly force law would become more in line with federal standards under a bill being weighed by a House committee.

Current state law does not specify that a police officer has to believe a fleeing suspect is dangerous to use deadly force. Senate Bill 661, sponsored by Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, would change the standard to more closely align with the national standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

A leader of the Missouri House Democrats says a controversial constitutional amendment to protect "religious freedom" may not have the votes to get out of committee.

Last week, the House Emerging Issues Committee delayed a vote on the "religious shield" measure, SJR 39. Supporters say the proposal, if approved by the General Assembly and the voters, would protect business owners and clergy from penalties if they decline to participate in same-sex weddings on religious grounds. 

The fate of a tax to build a new Johnson County courthouse and coroner’s building will be determined by voters, following a vote by county leaders on Thursday.

The Johnson County Commission approved a November ballot measure that would increase the  sales tax by a quarter of a cent to fund construction of the buildings.

The tax would generate $201 million total, $182 million of which would fund the courthouse and $19 million the coroner’s building. The tax would sunset after 10 years. 

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

Kansas officials got the bad news they were expecting Wednesday.

After reading the economic tea leaves and noting that state tax collections have been short of expectations in 11 of the past 12 months, the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group reduced its revenue projections for this budget year and the next by $228.6 million.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

Estimates for Kansas tax collections were ratcheted down sharply Wednesday. The state’s projected revenues dropped by a quarter billion dollars over the next year-and-a-half. That leaves Kansas with a budget deficit, and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is proposing plans for erasing the shortfall.

Kansas will need to find $140 million in the current fiscal year to get out of the red. Next fiscal year, which starts in July, will need another $151 million in cuts or new revenue. Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, laid out three options for filling the hole.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

A handful of university economists and state officials will meet Wednesday behind closed doors in Topeka to revise their estimate of how much tax revenue Kansas will collect over the next year. 

It’s a process the state has used since the late 1970s for budgeting purposes. But a string of missed estimates in recent years has made it controversial.

Neerav Bhatt / Flickr--CC

Google got permission from the Kansas City Council Thursday to venture into high-speed wireless, building on the success of its Kansas City, Missouri, fiber optic network.

The Internet giant asked council members for permission to mount antennas on city-owned light poles to see if it could bounce connectivity off of them.

Though the ordinance ultimately passed, there was heated discussion about whether Google has kept its promises so far in Kansas City.

Councilman Dan Fowler doesn’t think so.

Matthew Long-Middleton / KCUR 89.3

Rep. Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) joined KCUR's Statehouse Blend podcast to discuss how the legislature could reconcile the differences between the House and Senate budgets. 

This is an excerpt from Statehouse Blend. You can listen to the full episode here, or by subscribing on iTunes.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

A Democratic leader in the Missouri House is praising the version of the state budget approved by the Senate last week, especially its restoration of most of the $8.7 million cut from the University of Missouri system in the House version.

Rep. Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) joined KCUR's Statehosue Blend podcast and told host Brian Ellison that she thinks the Senate's version of the $27.2 billion budget is more fair than the one passed by her House colleagues weeks before

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

The unfolding lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, has put tap water in the spotlight.

Unlike Flint, Kansas City has few lead pipes. But it has its share of aging infrastructure.

“Well, our first sewer dates back to the Civil War,” says Terry Leeds, director of KC Water Services. “Our oldest water mains that we think we have in service date back to 1874 in the City Market.”

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City voters have again renewed the 1 percent earnings tax.

Unofficial results had the earnings tax passing with 77 percent of the vote. All precincts in Clay, Jackson and Platte counties were reporting as of 10 p.m. Tuesday.

“By the vote tonight, the business community and the citizens have said the quality of life in this city is what we want it to be, and we want to keep making it stronger,” said Mayor Sly James at a watch party in the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Board Room at Union Station.

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