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Sat December 28, 2013
KCUR's Top Stories Of 2013
Witnesses said the explosion shook their homes and businesses blocks away, and spawned flames more vicious than an ordinary fire. And as they feared, there were people inside JJ's Restaurant when it exploded. Fifteen were injured and one died in the blast and fire that resulted when an excavating contractor broke a gas line. In addition to lawsuits, the fire prompted an ongoing debate on how companies and cities should prepare for and respond to natural gas leaks.
Gun rights advocates won victories in both Missouri and Kansas, overcoming a call for more firearms control following the Newtown, Conn., school shootings. In Kansas, leaders of many communities worried about the loosened restrictions on openly carrying guns. More than 300 Kansas cities and counties asked for temporary exemptions from concealed-carry in public buildings. And the U.S. Attorney General threatened to take the state to court for criminalizing enforcing federal gun control laws. But Gov. Brownback and the legislature “stuck to their guns.”
Democratic Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed an anti-federal enforcement bill. But the state did expand concealed-carry, including in schools and company parking lots.
Conservative-led Kansas got new abortion restrictions and phase two of Gov. Brownback's march toward no income tax. The income tax cuts were offset to some degree by extending what had been passed as a temporary sales tax increase, but there were still predictions of shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Missouri Republicans tried to match the tax cuts, but Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the cuts and GOP leadership admitted that though they had the votes to pass their plan in the first place they did not have enough votes to override a veto.
With both the Missouri and Kansas capitals controlled by Republicans, another ongoing theme in both was rejection of the Affordable Care Act and refusal to expand Medicaid. At year's end neither state had elected to take federal funds to expand their Medicaid programs or created their own health insurance exchange marketplace.
The Kansas City School District was denied provisional accreditation despite improved scores that would qualify. The district and those surrounding it were not happy with a Missouri Supreme Court decision upholding a law that allows students to transfer out of unaccredited districts at that district's expense. Superintendent Stephen Green said it could cost the district up to $150 million. The district has gone to court to try to block the transfers.
Controversy swirled over the 2012 dropped charges in a rape case involving two Maryville, Mo., teenagers. The girls said some popular boys, one of whom was from a politically influential family gave them alcohol and assaulted them when they were too drunk to resist. Neither young man was charged with rape. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker was named to investigate, and said she would act “without fear and without favor.”
Mayor Sly James brought a new era of cooperation at City Hall. The first streetcar rails were laid and lawsuits against its funding ended, several key economic development projects sere approved and the city's process for reviewing requests for tax incentives was overhauled.
The aviation departments proposal to replace the 3-terminal design of KCI Airport with a single terminal met very vocal citizen opposition. Two groups caused a petition drive to submit the proposal to a public vote. At year's end, an airport advisory panel was hearing public comments and proceeding gingerly
Kansas City's red light cameras went dark indefinitely after 3 court decisions calling them illegal. The city council and police department had credited the cameras with reducing accident rates, but the courts said it was unconstitutional to issue a traffic ticket to a person based on a photo of a license plate.
It was a good year for area sports teams and fans. Sporting Kansas City won the Major League Soccer Championship. The Royals had their first winning season in ten years. And under the leadership of new Coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs won their first 9 games and a wild-card berth in the playoffs.
Fourteen former players sued the Chiefs, asserting that the team ignored the serious nature of on-field concussions. Their attorney, Kenneth McClain said the suit is possible because an attempt to make Missouri's work comp laws more restrictive backfired. More players are expected to join the suit.
The economy improved. Housing sales and prices were up. Ford added 900 workers and GM invested another $600 million in Fairfax. And there were big new redevelopment plans for the old Bannister Mall area. Still, the economic border wars with Kansas continued.
Japanese firm Softbank bought 80 percent of Sprint-Nextel for about $28 billion. With the new influx of capital Sprint became 100 percent owner of high-speed network provider Clearwire, and at year's end was negotiating to buy rival T-Mobile USA.
The area lost long-time Congressman Ike Skelton, iconic philanthropy leader Adele Hall and the man with the longest on-air radio career in Kansas City, long-time KCUR talk show host Walt Bodine.