Stephen Koranda

Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse Bureau Chief for Kansas Public Radio.

The governing body that represents all University of Kansas faculty, staff and students will be considering how to respond to claims of racism and discrimination at KU. The University Senate Executive Committee will look at changes to make the campus more inclusive.

Michael Williams is a journalism professor at KU and president of the University Senate. He says they take the concerns over racism and discrimination seriously. At the meeting, they’ll be ready to hear suggestions from student and faculty, and they’re going to be making some suggestions of their own.

A panel of state officials has approved more than $4 million in emergency aid for 25 Kansas school districts that requested the additional funding.The money was mostly provided to districts with enrollment growth or falling property values. 

The panel approved $400,000 for Kansas districts with growing student population and more than $350,000 for Wichita Public Schools to help educate refugee students. That district has nearly 100 new refugees from Africa and Asia.

Diane Gjerstad, with the Wichita district, says some of those students have had little formal education.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has agreed to issue birth certificates for two same-sex couples.

In both cases, the women had children through artificial insemination.

Kansas law says a married couple can both be listed on the birth certificate for a child born through artificial insemination, but the department initially declined to list two women as the parents. 

Attorney David Brown represents a Lawrence couple in a lawsuit over the issue. 

County election officials in Kansas are starting to cancel incomplete voter registrations that are more than 90 days old.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach put the rule in place to clear out thousands of incomplete registrations. There’s a legal challenge against the new rule, but a court last week declined to put it on hold.

Shawnee County Election Commissioner Andrews Howell says it could take weeks to sort through and identify the registrations that will be canceled.

The Kansas Corporation Commission has approved a rate increase of 9 percent for customers of Kansas City Power & Light. The increase was a compromise allowing the electricity company to collect an additional $48 million per year from its 250,000 Kansas electricity customers.

KCP&L says the increase pays for power plant upgrades and means a cleaner, more reliable electric system.

KCC Commissioner Pat Apple voted against the proposal. He says Kansas customers of KCP&L consistently have to pay more for electricity than customers on the Missouri side of the border.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

New test scores released Tuesday show only a quarter of Kansas 10th graders have the math skills needed to be ready for college or a career after graduation. Around a third of 10th graders were shown to have English skills that place them on the college track.

The goal of the new tests is to better judge if students will be ready for college or a job after high school. Board of Education Chairman Jim McNiece says this year's scores may not be as high as some people had hoped, but board members chose to set high goals for the state's students.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

If President Obama closes the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, the suspected terrorists who are housed there might be transferred to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has spoken out against that idea. Thursday, he brought that message to Leavenworth and heard from the people who would be most directly affected: local residents.

Tax collections in Kansas were $30 million below estimates for the month of August. The state’s tax revenues were hurt by large tax refunds given to companies as part of economic development programs. Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan says there were bright spots in other areas of the tax numbers and the report would have looked significantly better without the large refunds.

This week, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office will take comments on a plan to cancel incomplete voter registrations after 90 days. There’s a public hearing on the proposal Wednesday in Topeka.

Kansas regulators will consider a compromise that would allow Westar Energy to increase rates for electricity customers by $78 million. That would mean $5 to $7 more a month for most customers. The Kansas Corporation Commission will consider the compromise during hearings starting Monday. Commissioners will decide whether to adopt it or craft their own plan.

A court recently struck down an Idaho law that barred undercover filming of livestock facilities. Those types of videos are sometimes used by animal rights activists. The ruling could lead to a challenge of a similar Kansas law.

Warren Parker, with the Kansas Farm Bureau, says videos can be edited and twisted to paint a negative picture. He says the law helps prevent people trespassing onto farm property to film the videos, where they could introduce disease. He says livestock producers keeping their farms closed to cameras isn’t about protecting abuse.

The Topeka City Council will consider a proposal that would outlaw public nudity in the city. Currently, there's nothing on the books making it illegal for people in the Kansas capital to bare it all.

At a meeting this week, City Councilman Jeff Coen called the Shunga Trail a gem in Topeka.

“Every time I ride, there’s bunny rabbits running across there. We’ve seen turtles and snakes,” said Coen.

But there are some things he doesn’t want see.

Kansas lawmakers have begun working on a proposal to study the state’s government for efficiency. The state will hire a firm to comb through and evaluate how Kansas spends money.

Kansas lawmakers included $3 million in the budget to pay for the study. Republican Rep. Ron Ryckman is leading a group drawing up the contract documents. The hope is an outside firm could scour state government in a way that lawmakers can’t.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director believes Kansas officials needs to study how they estimate future state tax collections. The comments were made just before new July revenue numbers came in below the mark.

Over the last year, Kansas tax collections have come up short of the estimates 10 times, and beat the estimates twice. Some of the misses were small, but four times over the last year the state’s monthly tax collections were at least $20 million below expectations.

Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, helps create the estimates.

Kansas is wrapping up the first month of the new fiscal year on a sour note. The state’s tax receipts in July came in just shy of expectations.

Over the month, total tax collections in Kansas were short by just about 1 percent, or nearly $4 million. The shortfall was largely driven by sales tax revenue coming in lower than expected.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration on Thursday announced $63 million in changes to the state budget.

Much of that comes from increases in federal aid, cost-cutting measures and some services costing less than initially projected. Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, outlined in a Statehouse news conference.

The biggest single change — $17.6 million — comes from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which provides health coverage to children in low-income families.

Shawnee County Emergency Management / Twitter

An amendment to a bill offered by Republican Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder could cost some Kansas counties federal funding. 
Yoder’s proposal would strip existing Federal Emergency Management Agency grants away from local governments that are not fully enforcing national immigration laws.
Under the amendment, Shawnee, Johnson and Sedgwick counties could all lose a substantial amount of federal money. They would still be eligible for disaster aid.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback says his administration will unveil $50 million in state budget cuts this week. The cuts are required as part of a bill passed in the Legislature this year.

When Kansas lawmakers were working to pass a final tax deal, they added a clause requiring the $50 million cut from the budget as a way to help get conservative Republicans on board. When asked last week if Kansas could cut another $50 million without layoffs or hurting state services, Brownback didn’t have much to say.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The Kansas State Board of Education has narrowly approved a plan to loosen some teaching requirements for six school districts, including Kansas City, Kansas.

The 6-4 vote on Tuesday will allow the districts to hire people who have expertise in a subject but who lack a teaching license.

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday declined to hear a case involving voter registration in Kansas and Arizona. The suit requests that the federal voter registration form be changed to require that some people provide documents proving their U.S. citizenship.

Kansas and Arizona already have that requirement on state voter registration forms. A lower court declined to make the change, and the federal registration forms will remain as-is, for now.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A committee in the Kansas House has dismissed a complaint against a Democratic lawmaker who made controversial comments earlier this year.

During a committee hearing in March, Rep. Valdenia Winn, of Kansas City, Kansas, said that “racist bigots” were supporting a bill to take away college tuition breaks for students who are in the country illegally.

During the Friday hearing, Republican Rep. Mark Kahrs moved to dismiss the complaint against Winn and the committee agreed unanimously.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A Shawnee County judge has temporarily blocked a new abortion restriction that was supposed to take effect July 1in Kansas. The legislation prohibits a procedure that the law calls “dismemberment abortion,” where a fetus is removed, in pieces, with tools.

The judge says the Kansas Constitution protects abortion rights, and that justifies putting the law on hold.

Janet Crepps, of the Center for Reproductive Rights, says this will stop women from having to use riskier procedures to end a pregnancy.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

The Kansas House narrowly passed a tax bill around 4 a.m. Friday after an overnight debate. The chamber had previously rejected several tax proposals, but the bill’s passage may pave the way for the end of the 2015 legislative session.

Lawmakers in the Kansas House were sharply divided over a tax bill debated Weednesday night. The measure seemed to be on its way to failure before the vote was paused at midnight by a legislative rule.

Republican Rep. Marvin Kleeb urged lawmakers to pass the bill, saying it was likely their last option to avoid cuts to state services like K-12 education. They’ve already approved a budget, but it needs around $400 million in new revenue to balance.

The Kansas House decided not to take up a tax bill Monday that was sent to them by the state Senate. Lawmakers return for day 110 of the legislative session Tuesday and the only item left on their plate is balancing the budget.

Both chambers in the Kansas Legislature have now approved the budget, but the bill needs around $400 million in tax increases, or budget cuts, to be balanced. The Senate passed a tax plan on Sunday. But senators also added some policy changes, like a limit on property tax increases without a public vote and a proposal to eliminate some tax exemptions.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

With only hours remaining before furloughs started, Kansas lawmakers approved a bill that prevents state workers from being taken off the job. Gov. Sam Brownback signed the bill and said  all state employees should report to work as usual.

While financial pressures still exist in state government, the bill deems all state employees “essential” and exempt from being furloughed. That designation only lasts through the end of the legislative session.

A tax proposal failed Thursday night in the Kansas House by a huge margin. Lawmakers still need to finish work on a budget and a tax plan that covers a shortfall in the budget.

The first tax plan failed on a 3-108 vote.

Some Kansas lawmakers voted against the bill because it didn’t reinstate enough business income taxes or because it canceled future personal income tax cuts. Democratic Rep. Tom Sawyer said the bill raised the sales tax too high.

“Sales taxes are regressive. They affect working families, seniors citizens a lot worse than other taxes,” said Sawyer.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Lawmakers are in the 105th day of the 2015 legislative session, making it the second longest session in Kansas state history. Legislators are looking for more than $400 million to close the state’s budget gap.

There was hope last weekend that the logjam could break when Gov. Sam Brownback introduced his tax plan. It relies mostly on sales taxes and tobacco taxes to generate revenue.

The bill mostly leaves business income tax cuts in place, because Brownback says they’re spurring economic growth.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration says many state workers will be sent home without pay starting June 7 if Kansas lawmakers don’t pass a budget.

Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, told a group of Senators at the Statehouse Sunday that the furloughs would happen unless a Kansas budget is in place by 11:59 p.m. on Saturday.

“We don’t have authority to pay employees past June 6 without a budget giving us authority to do that,” says Sullivan.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A committee in the Kansas House has advanced a new tax plan aimed at filling a budget hole. The panel voted to send the bill to the full chamber for debate. It would raise the sales tax on non-food items and reinstate some business income taxes that were eliminated in 2012.

Republican state Rep. Mark Hutton, himself a business owner, says it’s a philosophical question. Should Kansas business owners continue to pay zero income tax?

“When we’re asking everybody else in the state to step up and pay more in sales tax. I think it’s commensurate,” says Hutton.