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Lawmakers arrived in Topeka Monday with monumental money problems facing the state and an executive branch stuck in a confusing transition.

It’s the start of a roughly 90-day session in which they, once again, must juggle the state’s checkbook to meet multiple pressing needs. That includes an ultimatum from the Kansas Supreme Court to find more tax dollars for schools.

It’s a tough job made that much harder by unusual political circumstances.

Wikipedia

A deal to farm out the next new prison in Kansas to a private firm -- one that would replace the outdated facility in Lansing and lease it to the state -- hit a delay Thursday.

The State Finance Council, which would have to sign off lease-to-buy contract, said it needs two weeks to further study the details of a plan to pay CoreCivic Inc. $362 million over 20 years.

Several members of the council said they didn’t want to approve the deal until the state and the company finalized their contract negotiations.

C.J. Janovy / KCUR 89.3

The Kansas City branch of the NAACP on Friday voiced its opposition to the Kansas City Council's approval of a plan to privatize Westport sidewalks on weekends and vowed to fight the ordinance before it takes effect this spring.

The council's 8-5 decision earlier this month allowing privatization "amounts to failure to perform public duty," said Rodney Williams, president of the local NAACP and pastor at Swope Parkway United Christian Church.

File Photo / KCUR 89.3

As the the winter holiday season comes to a close and friends and family fly back home, there may be a three-letter detail that you can't seem to reconcile while checking in for flights at Kansas City International Airport: KCI.

If the name of the airport is Kansas City International, shouldn't the code — which is actually MCI — reflect that? 

File Photo / Kansas News Service

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Dec. 27, the Kansas Department of Revenue announced it would not be launching its new drivers license records system as planned on Jan. 2. To "ensure a successful rollout," the agency anticipated a short delay of days or weeks. 

Kansas auditors remain worried about the quality of a major state information technology project involving about 2 million drivers’ records — with little time left until the project’s go-live date.

FIle Photo / Kansas News Service

Gov. Sam Brownback has more hurdles to clear before potentially leaving Kansas to head the Office of International Religious Freedom at the U.S. State Department.

The governor’s name wasn’t among dozens of nominees approved in the Senate this week, nor was it on a list of nominees to hold over until its next session.

Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate

Updated 7 p.m. Dec. 21 to include additional reaction to the decisions: The Kansas City Council ended the year with two major decisions Thursday, deciding to stick with a Maryland-based developer for the new terminal at Kansas City International Airport and to allow for gun screenings in the Westport entertainment district late on the weekends.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

Updated at 2:30 p.m. to include response from Kansas City councilman Jermaine Reed. 

With the contract for a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport seemingly up for grabs, Los Angeles-based AECOM on Monday added local engineering firm Burns & McDonnell to its KCI Partnership team. 

File Photo / Kansas News Service

A University of Kansas study supports the suspicions of lawmakers and advocates who believe there’s a link between additional restrictions on welfare benefits and an increase in foster care cases.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Updated Friday, 4:30 p.m.

A resolution to end negotiations with Maryland-based Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate on a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport and proceed with competitor AECOM has been assigned to Kansas City’s airport committee for discussion Thursday.

AECOM was the second-choice of the airport selection committee.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

We’ve heard a lot about the soaring number of murders in Kansas City, a big problem to be sure.

But police are also dealing with a huge spike in traffic fatalities.

And as the year comes to an end, police aren’t really sure why there have been so many.

Madeline Fox / Kansas News Service

Descriptions of an underfunded, under-resourced foster care system short on child placement options sounded familiar to Kansas lawmakers and child welfare advocates at a task force meeting this week.

But the events described Tuesday actually played out 30 years earlier, when a 1989 class-action lawsuit — alleging that the state’s foster care system violated the rights of Kansas children — raised issues that eventually led to the current privatized system.

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City council members got more information about violent crimes as they consider a proposal to privatize the sidewalks in Kansas City's historical Westport entertainment district.

"I feel it is very important to broaden this discussion, not about whether we privatize the sidewalk, or whether we support businesses," says Councilwoman Alissia Canady. "This is a public safety issue."

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

Westport has seen a major uptick in gun violence this year. 

According to stats collected by the Westport Regional Business League, there were 16 gun-related weapons offenses in the district in 2016. In 2017, there were 65 — and that's only through Oct. 31.

A Missouri law that took effect in January allows people to carry guns without a permit in nearly every public space, so there’s not much business owners or police can do to keep guns out.

File Photo / Kansas Public Radio

The new secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families has come in promising a thorough review of the agency, staffing changes and more accountability following allegations and outrage about problems in the state’s foster care system.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

A discrimination complaint filed earlier this year by a Tennessee woman who claims a former Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services official sexually harassed her is still pending before the Kansas Human Rights Commission.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Kansas lawmakers studying economic development policies say the Legislature should consider changes to a major incentives program next year.

During a meeting Wednesday at the Statehouse, a special committee recommended more study of the STAR bonds program, and members of both parties said they want more oversight.

Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican, said there hasn’t been enough accountability in the program. She wants the state to use formulas that determine whether proposed projects will create enough economic development to outweigh their costs.

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

Updated Wednesday, 3:45 p.m.

A Kansas City Council committee voted not to support an ordinance by council members Katheryn Shields, Teresa Loar and Heather Hall that would have frozen city financial commitments for the Loews Kansas City Convention Center Hotel project.

Since the ordinance was drafted last week, more documents have been made available to council members. But concerns still remain over the city’s financial risk.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Kansas lawmakers began groundwork Monday for their response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s order to fix school finance by this spring. The same day, a Hiawatha senator announced he will seek to curb the court’s powers through a constitutional amendment.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Several Jackson County legislators called for new leadership at the troubled downtown jail on Tuesday. It only took until Friday to get their wish.

Jackson County Corrections Director Joe Piccinini resigned, County Executive Frank White said at a news conference Friday. And pressure from the county legislature was not a factor, White said. 

File Photo / Kansas Public Radio

The well-being of children in her care is Gina Meier-Hummel’s highest priority.

That is the consensus on the new secretary for the Kansas Department for Children and Families among people who have worked with her. And it’s why stakeholders in the state’s child welfare system are hopeful that her appointment by Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer signals a change of direction for the embattled agency.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder is offering a vigorous defense of the Republican tax cut bill as the U.S. Senate prepares to vote on its version of the controversial measure.

In a lengthy news release posted Thursday that Yoder touted as separating myth from fact, the 3rd District representative said the bill does not favor wealthy taxpayers over middle-class families, as Democrats and other critics claim.

Johnson County, Kansas

The longtime manager of the biggest county in Kansas was ousted Thursday by a 4-3 vote of the Johnson County Commission. Hannes Zacharias has been county manager since 2009 and had been in county management since 2001.

“As I stated prior to and following the vote, I do not agree with the decision and believe it is not the correct action for our county commission to take," Commission Chair Ed Eilert said in a statement. "This vote does not reflect in any negative way on the moral, ethical or professional character of Mr. Zacharias, as I and others stated as the vote was taken."

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Local governments and school boards are worried about the possible effects on infrastructure and other projects if Congress passes a tax bill that eliminates exemptions for certain refinancing of bonds.

The Kansas Association of School Boards, which includes most of the state’s 286 boards of education, is urging its members to contact Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts — both Kansas Republicans — about voting against the bill.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The Jackson County Legislature had a full agenda Tuesday morning but, once again, problems at the downtown jail dominated the session. After an hour of grilling County Executive Frank White, legislators decided to punt on other work before them.

The focus of several legislators was on the task force recently named by White. The Legislature once again said another task force is a waste of time. The time to act, a majority said, is now.

Jackson County Jail
Jackson County Prosecutor

In a curt and strongly-worded letter, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced Monday that she refused her seat on a new jail task force established by County Executive Frank White.

The recent brutal assault of a corrections officer made her change her mind about serving on the task force, Baker wrote, and it’s “clear that action is required immediately” on the embattled jail.

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

A guard at the Jackson County jail is in critical condition after he was allegedly attacked while on duty, according to court documents.

The unidentified guard was allegedly attacked by 20-year-old Johnny R. Dunlap. Dunlap was charged with first degree assault and armed criminal action and faces up to life in prison if convicted, according to Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback revealed Tuesday that in anticipation of his confirmation to a post in the U.S. State Department he has begun transferring major responsibilities to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer.

Brownback said Colyer is developing the budget that the governor is required to propose at the outset of the legislative session, which will convene Jan. 8, 2018.

“He’s doing those and getting ready for the legislative session,” Brownback told reporters after taking delivery of a Christmas tree at the governor’s mansion.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Officials with the Kansas Department for Children and Families responded Tuesday to concerns about destroyed evidence in child abuse cases during a legislative task force meeting.

After a Kansas City Star investigation suggested DCF employees had shredded documents regarding children in state care, an agency official told lawmakers that the claims by former DCF deputy director Dianne Keech were inaccurate.

The Department of Homeland Security is now taking public comment on a plan to release biological and chemical materials at the former Chilocco Indian School near Arkansas City.

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