Stephen Koranda

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

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration has released a plan to fix a budget deficit in the current fiscal year. Cuts to highway funding and the state’s public retirement system will be key to balancing the Kansas budget.

Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, says the administration started by trying to find ways to reduce spending while minimizing the effect the cost-cutting would have on services.

The ACLU wants all state agencies in Kansas to recognize same sex marriages. The group is now asking a federal court to make it happen.

The court filing specifically names several state officials, including the secretary of revenue. It says people in same sex relationships have been denied state benefits, like joining their spouse’s health insurance or filing joint taxes.

Thomas Witt, with the group Equality Kansas, says the courts have let same sex marriages go forward in Kansas, and that means they should also be recognized by state agencies.

New members of the Kansas House of Representatives have been taking orientation classes this week preparing for their first legislative session. They're learning about their legislative email accounts and getting their official photos, but looming budget issues are already on their minds. 

Kansas lawmakers will have to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years to balance the budget. Republican Linda Gallagher, from Lenexa, believes they need to look at raising revenue. She says lawmakers have already made the easiest budget cuts.

Gov. Sam Brownback is staying tight-lipped about his plans to fix a hole in the state budget. But he says he's looking at all the options. 

Following a meeting at the Statehouse, Brownback gave few details to the media about what he'll propose. He says all options are on the table, including tax increases or slowing future scheduled decreases.

Brownback also won't say whether he'll make budget cuts, known as allotments before lawmakers return to the Statehouse in January. Right now, he says he's conferring with state agencies and studying the numbers.

Kansas lawmakers may dip into highway funding to help balance the state’s budget.

The state Senate’s top budget officials say transportation money could help fill the gap. Andover, Kan., Republican Senator Ty Masterson chairs the Ways and Means Committee. He says transportation is a big expense to the state and Kansas has already built a healthy system.

"Pulling back to a point of preservation, and not this aggressive expansion, wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing," Masterson said. "And it wouldn’t be prolonged."

A survey of school districts in Kansas by an efficiency commission has raised some questions about benefits paid to school district employees. The survey from the K12 Performance and Efficiency Commission showed differences in retirement and other benefits offered to employees.

Dave Trabert is a commission member and he also heads the Kansas Policy Institute, a think tank advocating for what they call a "low-tax, pro-growth environment."

He questions the higher benefits packages offered by some districts.

Same-sex marriages will be allowed to go forward in Kansas.

That comes after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Wednesday not to block the marriages while a lawsuit over the issue waits before an appeals court.

Kerry Wilks, from Wichita, and her partner Donna are parties in the lawsuit. She says she was thrilled to hear the news.

A group meeting Monday will update estimates for Kansas tax collections. The revenue predictions let lawmakers know how much money they have to spend as they write the state budget.

The Kansas Consensus Revenue Estimating Group is made up of members of the governor's administration, non-partisan legislative researchers and economists from universities in Kansas. They meet twice per year. This time, they'll revise the estimate for the current fiscal year and craft a prediction for tax collections next fiscal year.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Following the strong Republican wins in Kansas elections this week, some people are trying to determine what drove the wave of victories for Republicans. Sen. Pat Roberts and Gov. Sam Brownback both won their races, but many polls before the election showed them neck-and-neck with their challengers or losing.

The U.S. attorney for Kansas, Barry Grissom, says his staff will be available Tuesday to respond to any reports of election fraud or voting rights violations. Grissom isn't expecting problems, but he says with close races on the ballot they need to be prepared for any issues. 

Gov. Sam Brownback and Democratic challenger Paul Davis disagree on the role of politicians in a battle over same sex marriage in Kansas. The comments came during a debate this week in Wichita.

Davis says he originally opposed the state's same sex marriage ban because it creates an unwelcoming image for Kansas. He says the issue will be handled by the courts.

"The fact of the matter is this issue is out of the hands of politicians. There's nothing that I can do, there's nothing that Governor Brownback can do to change this issue. The courts will decide it," says Davis.

Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and his Democratic challenger, Paul Davis, tangled over judicial selection in their final scheduled debate Tuesday.

Brownback criticized the current makeup of the state Supreme Court and referenced the recent overturning of death sentences for the Carr brothers, two convicted murderers.

Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran is pushing for a travel ban to stop people coming from west Africa into the United States. While visiting the University of Kansas Hospital, Moran said he hopes a travel ban could help stop the spread of Ebola from Africa.

Moran says there aren't currently any direct commercial flights from west Africa to the U.S. He says a travel ban would need to be a cooperative effort between the U.S. and countries that may send people from west Africa to America.

There have been reports that President Obama may take steps to try to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. It houses people detained in connection to the U.S. war on terrorism.

Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts is opposing any plan that would bring detainees on U.S. soil. During a stop in Topeka, he said he'll take to the floor of the Senate and filibuster any efforts to close Guantanamo Bay. 

"And if he tries it, I will shut down the Senate," said Roberts.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas appears to be close to filing a lawsuit aimed at overturning the Kansas ban on same sex marriage. The suit could come as soon as next week.

Johnson County, Kansas, has attracted a lot of attention after a judge there ordered workers to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. But Doug Bonney, with the ACLU of Kansas, says it doesn't look like other counties are following suit.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place appeals court decisions that overturned same sex marriage bans in five states. Some people believe that means all the states in those legal jurisdictions should now start allowing same sex marriages, including Kansas.

But, state officials aren't giving up on the same sex marriage ban. At some local courthouses in Kansas, workers have blocked same sex couples from applying for a marriage license. Some other courthouses have let couples apply, but those applications haven't yet been approved.

Democrats aren't fielding a candidate for a U.S. Senate race in Kansas after Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out, but with no one in that race, it's not clear what role, if any, the state Democratic Party will take in the campaign.

There's no love lost between Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and the leaders in the Kansas Democratic party. But that doesn't mean top-ranking Democrats are throwing their support behind independent candidate Greg Orman.

A dispute over the ballot for a U.S. Senate race in Kansas is creating a time crunch for election officials. At issue is whether Democrats will be required to place a new candidate on the ballot for the Senate seat after Chad Taylor dropped out of the race.

A Shawnee County Court is expected to issue a decision this week. Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew says that normally by this time of year, ballots for people voting early would be printed and prepared for mailing.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

Concerns about the way the University of Kansas handles sexual assault cases have been boiling over in recent weeks.

Reports of alleged sexual assaults garnering minor punishments have prompted protests and even a video produced by students telling others not to attend KU. Thursday night, university officials held a panel discussion where they answered questions, took suggestions and explained university policies surrounding sexual assault.

More than 100 people gathered for the discussion. Those who spoke expressed concerns about the process and suggested improvements.

The Kansas Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday on whether Democrat Chad Taylor should be removed from the ballot for a U.S. Senate seat.

Taylor dropped out of the Senate race recently and he's trying to get his name removed. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says Taylor's name should stay on the ballot. University of Kansas Political Science Professor Burdett Loomis calls the situation "extraordinarily unusual." He can't remember a legal battle with a high-profile candidate trying to be removed from the ballot in Kansas.

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor says he is filing a capital murder charge and will seek the death penalty for a man accused of killing a Topeka Police officer. Taylor says Ross Preston Lane is charged with shooting Topeka Police Corporal Jason Harwood during a traffic stop Sunday. Taylor says under state law, the premeditated killing of a police officer is one of the scenarios justifying a capital murder charge.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Democratic challenger Paul Davis traded blows at the Kansas State Fair over the weekend as they met for their first formal debate.

It was a packed house in Hutchinson, Kan., in the arena where the debate was held. Before it even started, an energized crowd chanted and cheered. When Davis and Brownback took the stage they hit on some common themes they’ve been repeating on the election trail.

Paul Davis, the Democratic candidate for Kansas governor, continues to push public schools as the cornerstone of his campaign.

At a stop in Topeka, Davis claimed a second term for Republican Gov. Sam Brownback could mean cuts to public schools.

Davis, speaking at an elementary school, pointed to a report from the non-partisan Kansas Legislative Research Department. It shows the state facing a more than $200 million budget deficit in 2016. Davis says the tax cuts pushed by Brownback will lead to the deficit, which will in turn, lead to funding cuts for education.

The Democrat running against Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach has released her tax records to the media, and she says Kobach should do the same.

Kobach is occasionally in national headlines for his legal work on immigration. At issue is how much time he spends on that work outside his job as secretary of state.

Former state Senator Jean Schodorf from Wichita, has questioned if Kobach spends too much time working on immigration issues. She wants Kobach to provide his tax documents because she says that would prove how he spends his time.

Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has unveiled some education goals he'll push for if he's reelected to a second term in office. Brownback says he'll aim for 60 percent of Kansas adults to have a college degree or technical certificate.

At events in Topeka and the Kansas City area Brownback also hinted at a clash over education funding between himself and his Democratic challenger in the gubernatorial race, Rep. Paul Davis.

Brownback touted funding increases during his time in office, specifically money targeted at technical education programs.

Gov. Sam Brownback says he'll propose a plan to attract people to some urban areas of Kansas that are in decline.

The governor released few details on the so-called Urban Opportunity Zones, but he says they will likely include parts of Sedgwick, Wyandotte and Shawnee Counties. Brownback says the plan may include tax incentives to attract professionals from out-of-state to the areas.

"So it's getting individuals with — a lot of times — with some education, educated individuals, moving into an area and we hope creating growth," says Brownback.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

High-ranking Republicans in Kansas will be working to eliminate divisions between some GOP voters. That comes after this week's primary election, which featured some contentious races among Republicans.

There were Republican primaries in Kansas for offices including the U.S. Senate, the U.S House and the state Legislature. Some of them were tough fights, but the state Republican Party's executive director, Clay Barker, says they're going to be sending a simple message now to Kansas Republicans.

An Olathe businessman says he has collected enough signatures to appear on the Kansas ballot as an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Greg Orman says his campaign has collected more than 10,000 signatures, including people from all 105 Kansas counties. He says that number shows many Kansans are looking for something different in a candidate.

A commission will be working over the coming months to look for possible ways Kansas schools could more efficiently use tax dollars.

The group is made up of former lawmakers, education officials and members of advocacy groups like the Kansas Policy Institute. Those factions don't always see eye-to-eye on education issues.

The group elected former advertising executive and Wichita Chamber of Commerce Chairman Sam Williams to head the commission. He says he'll be working to get everyone on the same page.

A Kansas school efficiency commission created by the Legislature met for the first time Friday. It was formed to find ways for schools to more efficiently use taxpayer money while improving the quality of education.

The group chose retired advertising executive and former Wichita Chamber of Commerce Chairman Sam Williams to head the commission.

"I think my opportunity is to help us get to the position where the entire state of Kansas can be comfortable with the recommendations we're going to make," says Williams.