Stephen Koranda

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

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Government
7:08 am
Tue December 10, 2013

Kansas Corporation Commission Chairman Submits Resignation

The chairman of the Kansas Corporation Commission, Mark Sievers, has announced he will resign. Sievers has chaired the regulatory board since 2011. The organization has recently been involved in some controversies.

The KCC regulates utilities like electricity and gas, as well as motor carries and oil wells. Last month, a Shawnee County judge fined the organization for violating the state's open meetings act.

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Agriculture
7:58 am
Thu December 5, 2013

Kansas Senator Wants Farm Bill Talks To Resume

Credit Frank Morris / Harvest Public Media

Republican Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts says he isn't satisfied with the pace of negotiations on the farm bill. The legislation is in a conference committee where negotiators will try to work out differences between versions passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

The current farm bill has already expired, which means some programs will end later this month and prices for commodities like milk will go up if there isn't some kind of agreement.

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Agriculture
8:12 am
Tue December 3, 2013

Drought Causes Challenges For Kansas Christmas Tree Farmers

Credit Mangrove Mike / Flickr--CC

  The Thanksgiving weekend marks the start of Christmas tree sales in many places. And here in Kansas, a lot of the trees sold are grown in the state. But Christmas tree farmers have faced challenges in recent years because of drought conditions.

Eldon Clawson, president of the Kansas Christmas Tree Growers Association, says some growers have had to take steps like adding drip irrigation to keep trees healthy.

“It’s an investment, a major investment, but it’s paid off for their trees,” says Clawson.

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Government
7:56 am
Tue December 3, 2013

Kansas Lawmakers To Receive Government IT Security Update

A select group of Kansas lawmakers will receive an update on the state's Internet technology security during a committee meeting Tuesday. The annual audit involves combing through the security protocols of state agencies looking for problems.

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Kansas Statehouse
7:33 am
Tue November 26, 2013

Brownback Hosts Closed-Door Education Meeting

Gov. Sam Brownback met with education officials and some top Republican lawmakers Monday to discuss school finance. The gathering comes as the Kansas Supreme Court considers a lawsuit over education spending and lawmakers prepare for the 2014 legislative session.

Brownback says the closed-door meeting was aimed at bringing together his office, education officials that represent local districts and lawmakers. He says those groups have not always seen eye-to-eye on the issue of education funding, leading to lawsuits.

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Environment
8:18 am
Mon November 25, 2013

Kansas Lawmakers Divided Over Wind Energy Tax Credit

Wind energy tax credits help make wind power more affordable, and have boosted the industry in states like Kansas. But those credits are set to expire at the end of the year, and lawmakers from Kansas disagree on what should be done.

Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo from Wichita said last week that the federal government supporting wind energy with tax credits is an intrusion into the economy. Pompeo says opposition is growing and he's arguing to let the credit expire.

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Government
8:21 am
Wed November 20, 2013

Kansas Statehouse Renovation Drawing To A Close

The Kansas Statehouse has been under construction for more than a decade.
Credit Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A project that has taken more than a decade and cost $300 million is drawing to a close.

The renovation of the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka should be mostly finished next month, and, a state panel heard one of the final updates on the project Tuesday.

STD The project is in the home stretch, but the Statehouse grounds are very much still an active construction site. There's scaffolding on the building, fences block off large sections and construction equipment rumbles around the property.

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Government
8:36 am
Tue November 19, 2013

Brownback Rolls Out Controversial Kansas Reading Program

Credit U.S. Government / Wikimedia --CC

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is rolling out a program aimed at boosting reading proficiency among Kansas students. State reading scores are generally near the top of national rankings, but the administration believes Kansas can do better.

A child advocacy group says it's a laudable goal, but its members aren't happy that the initiative will be funded by taking $9 million from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF).

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Government
8:26 am
Mon November 18, 2013

Customer Advocates Upset As Utility Regulators Look At Changes

The Kansas Corporation Commission and an agency representing utility customers have been butting heads over comments made by a KCC commissioner.

The disagreement is over what the commissioner said about how the KCC decides rate increases for utility customers. In a recent filing, KCC Chair Mark Sievers endorsed a process that uses a formula to decide future rate increases.

The more common process is where advocates for utility customers and the utility make arguments before the KCC and then the KCC decides on the amount of the increase.

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Government
8:53 am
Fri November 15, 2013

Brownback Unveils Grade School Reading Program

Gov. Sam Brownback has unveiled an initiative aimed at improving reading proficiency in Kansas grade school students. The initiative will provide grant money for after-school reading programs. But the funding method is controversial.

The plan is to use $9 million from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), to fund the reading initiative. Gov. Brownback says focusing on reading in children can pay long-term dividends.

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Education
8:01 am
Tue November 12, 2013

Kansas Lawmakers Study Education Spending

Kansas spends more money on education that any other item in the state budget, and education funding will likely be the dominant issue when lawmakers convene the legislative session in January.

A state court has already ordered lawmakers to spend more on education. And soon, the Kansas Supreme Court will issue its own ruling on a lawsuit that claims the state has been shortchanging public schools. All of this led lawmakers to spend two days last week studying up on school funding.

The formula

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Government
3:34 pm
Mon November 4, 2013

Democrat May Enter Kansas Race For U.S. Senate

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor has officially formed an exploratory committee to gauge a possible run for the U.S. Senate.

Taylor, a 40-year-old Democrat, says he's planning a statewide listening tour to find out the issues most important to Kansans.

“The reason that I want to do this with individuals across the state is that I don’t want some D.C. think tank consultants telling me what the people of Kansas think," said Taylor. "I want to hear it from them.”

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Environment
7:28 am
Mon November 4, 2013

EPA To Hold Public Forum On Carbon Emission In Kansas

The Environmental Protection Agency is looking for input on how to cut carbon emissions from the nation's power plants, but they're doing it in a different way this time around. They're looking for ideas from the public during 11 hearings nationwide, including a hearing Monday in Lenexa, Kan.  

Normally, the EPA would research the issue, develop some proposed rules and then take public comments on the proposals. But this time, they’re first looking for ideas from the public, the industry and stakeholders for ways to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

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Education
8:08 am
Mon October 21, 2013

Kansas Lawmakers To Tour University Campuses

A group of Kansas lawmakers will begin visiting college and university campuses this week to talk budget issues. The visits come in the wake of nearly $50 million in budget cuts over two years passed by legislators.

Lawmakers have said they want to talk to university officials about efficiency and how they spend money. Gov. Sam Brownback, who opposed the funding cuts, says he wants lawmakers to learn more about the role of higher education in Kansas and the impact of the cuts.

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Government
9:40 am
Wed October 16, 2013

Kansas Board Of Education Reviews Snack Rules

The Kansas Board of Education Tuesday reviewed new federal rules on food sales in schools slated to take effect next year. The healthy snack requirements govern the kinds of food items that can be sold to students during the school day.

Kansas already has requirements in place that in many cases meet or exceed the new federal rules. Cheryl Johnson, director of child nutrition and wellness at the Kansas Department of Education,  told the board that much of the work in Kansas will be creating exemptions for certain activities, such as fundraising bake sales in schools.

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Government
7:33 am
Mon October 7, 2013

Kan. Court Efficiency Group Looks At How To Fill Budget Gap

The Kansas court system is facing a multi-million dollar deficit next fiscal year. An advisory group formed to help bridge that gap is meeting for the first time Monday in Topeka.

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Government
9:18 am
Fri September 20, 2013

Kansas Regents Request $30 Million More

The Kansas Board of Regents has approved a budget request that asks for restoration of millions of dollars in cuts. Lawmakers cut more than $30 million from the higher education budget last legislative session.

The cuts to higher education were made to across-the-board spending, and funding for salaries.

Lawmakers passed a two-year budget last session, but members of the Board or Regents said they have a responsibility to advocate for increased investment in higher ed. The regents backed off a proposal that would have promised flat tuition if the cuts were reversed.

Education
9:34 am
Tue September 17, 2013

Regents Consider Funding Plan For Kansas Universities

The Kansas Board of Regents will be talking about budget issues this week. This comes in the wake of funding cuts to higher education made earlier this year.

Writing a budget proposal for something as large and complex as the university system takes multiple steps. Mary Jane Stankiewicz with the Board of Regents says university officials have made their proposals to the board. Now the regents will work on distilling that into one plan.

“This will be a discussion and a determination of what items should be forwarded to the governor for consideration,” says Stankiewicz.

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Government
9:25 am
Mon September 16, 2013

Brownback Looks At Changing Economic Development Program

A recent audit says Kansas has mishandled an economic development program, and in response, Gov. Sam Brownback says his administration will look at possible change.

The Kansas Department of Commerce administers the PEAK program, short for Promoting Employment Across Kansas. It provides tax incentives for companies creating jobs in the state.

The audit says the PEAK program overspent its $6 million budget for incentives last fiscal year by $1.5 million.

Gov. Brownback says his office is studying the report.

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Government
8:44 am
Fri September 6, 2013

Kansas Citians Tell Cleaver To Reject Striking Syria

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver hosted a forum to hear constituents views on Syria.
Dan Verbeck KCUR

At a town hall meeting, most Kansas Citians urged Congressman Emanuel Cleaver to vote 'no' on a military intervention in Syria. Cleaver and much of the local Missouri Congressional delegation has not taken a position on Syria, but in Kansas most will be voting against authorizing military strikes.

Most tell Cleaver to vote 'no'

More than 200 people crowded into a room at Metropolitan Community College and nearly all stayed on topic about Syria.

Steven Platt was worried the United States cannot afford more military action.

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Government
8:01 am
Thu September 5, 2013

Stegall Headed For Seat On Kan. Court Of Appeals

Gov. Sam Brownback's nominee for a seat on the Kansas Court of Appeals is headed for the job. The state Senate confirmed Caleb Stegall Wednesday in a party-line 32-8 vote.

Brownback chose Stegall, his administration's top attorney, for the job on the state's second-highest court. It's the first selection under a new process where the governor chooses nominees for the Court of Appeals, who then must be confirmed by the Senate.

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Government
8:06 am
Wed September 4, 2013

Kan. House Unanimously Passes Hard 50 Bill

The Kansas House has unanimously passed a proposed fix for the state's Hard 50 sentencing law. The law allows judges to sentence certain convicted murderers to at least 50 years in prison before the possibility for parole.

The House's proposed revision would change the process so that juries also play a part in doling out Hard 50 sentences. Rep. Lance Kinzer, a Republican from Olathe, said the fix will help preserve the intent of legislators who originally passed the bill.

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Government
8:09 am
Tue September 3, 2013

Hearing on Kan. Court Of Appeals Nominee To Begin

Kansas Senate hearings begin Tuesday on Gov. Sam Brownback's nominee for the state Court of Appeals.

Brownback chose his office's top attorney, Caleb Stegall, to fill the seat on the second-highest court in Kansas. This is a the first appointment under a new system in which the governor chooses nominees for the Kansas Court of Appeals, who then must be confirmed by the state Senate.

Republican Jeff King of Independence, Kan. chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said last month that the proceedings will begin with a quick refresher on the new selection process.

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Business
8:26 am
Wed August 28, 2013

Kan. Increasing Awareness Of State Roofing Law

The state wants to crack down on fly-by-night roofers or scam artists, especially those that might visit an area after a storm.

There's a Kansas law on the books that took effect in July, requiring roofers to get a state license. But it looks like many companies may not be aware of the requirement, and state office is trying to get the word out.

The AG's office says they have not levied any fines against roofers for failure to comply with the new law, which the Kansas Attorney General’s Office administers.

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Government
9:50 am
Tue August 27, 2013

Lawmakers Recommend Fix For Kansas Hard 50 Law

A Kansas legislative committee is recommending a bill to amend the state's so-called Hard 50 sentencing law. The changes would allow juries to decide if convicted murderers deserve 50 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

Under the old system, judges would decide if a crime warranted the harsher sentence of 50 years without parole. But the U.S. Supreme Court recently said judges can't make those decisions.

The bill would also apply some changes retroactively to past crimes. Some attorneys told the committee that it would be unconstitutional to do that.

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Government
8:07 am
Mon August 26, 2013

Kansas Lawmakers To Work On Hard 50 Fix

A special legislative committee will convene at the Statehouse Monday to start work on a fix for the so-called Hard 50 sentencing law, which allows judges to give harsher sentences to convicted murderers in certain cases.  A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling raised questions about the law.

Under certain circumstances, judges can sentence convicted murderers to life in prison, without the possibility of parole for 50 years. But the Supreme Court recently said juries — not judges — must weigh in when it comes to increased sentences like that.

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Environment
8:15 am
Mon August 19, 2013

Drought Conditions Persist In Western Kansas, Ease in East

Farmers in western Kansas are still experiencing severe drought, while drought conditions have eased in other parts of the state.
Credit Harvest Public Media

Severe drought has been gripping much of Kansas, but in some parts of the state that grip has been easing; much of central and eastern Kansas is back to normal. As recently as three months ago, around 97 percent of the state was experiencing drought.

Mary Knapp with Kansas State University calls the turnaround “exceptional.”

“In central and southeastern Kansas we’ve actually gone from drought to deluge," she says. "We’ve got a number of locations that have seen incredible amounts of rain in the last three weeks.”

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Government
10:11 am
Thu August 15, 2013

Immigration Debate Heats Up at Topeka Town Hall Meeting

Congresswoman Jenkins speaking during the town hall meeting.
Stephen Koranda Kansas Public Radio

Republican Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins held a town hall meeting in Topeka Wednesday to hear opinions from voters in eastern Kansas, and many of them had immigration on their minds. Jenkins fielded several questions and comments about immigration and the discussion became quite heated.

Renee Slinkard from Parker said the U.S. should close the borders and increase immigration enforcement.

“Our immigration system is not broke,” said Slinkard. “Our immigration system is fine.  What is broken is the enforcement of that immigration system.”

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Government
3:43 pm
Tue August 13, 2013

ACLU Ready to File Lawsuit Over Kan. Voter Registration Law

The American Civil Liberties Union says in a letter that it's ready to go to court over a voter registration law in Kansas.

The law requires people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas to prove their citizenship with a document such as a birth certificate. More than 12,000 voter registration applications have been put on hold because of that requirement.

Doug Bonney is with the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri. He says the law, which was strongly championed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, puts unnecessary hurdles in front of voters.

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Economy
7:54 am
Tue August 13, 2013

Topeka To Host 2015 Horseshoe World Tournament

Topeka narrowly beat out Charleston, S.C. to host the 2015 tournament.
Credit Proudfood / WikiCommons

Topeka narrowly beat out Charleston, West Virginia to be named as the home for the 2015 World Horseshoe Pitching Championship. The event will be held in July 2015 at the Kansas Expocentre.

Jeffrey Alderman, with the organization Visit Topeka, says the event is a big economic opportunity. He says the competition could draw more than 1,500 participants, known as horseshoe pitchers.

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