Kansas News Service | KCUR

Kansas News Service

The Kansas News Service produces essential enterprise reporting, diving deep and connecting the dots regarding the policies, issues and events that affect the health of Kansans and their communities. The team is based at KCUR and collaborates with public media stations and other news outlets across Kansas. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.

The Kansas News Service is made possible by a group of funding organizations, led by the Kansas Health Foundation. Other funders include United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, Sunflower Foundation, REACH Healthcare Foundation and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. Additional support comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Ways to Connect

Amtrak may end passenger rail service through Dodge City, Garden City and destinations to the west.

The agency told a congressional delegation last week that it might shut down parts of the Southwest Chief route that runs across Kansas on its way between Chicago and Los Angeles. That news followed ongoing disputes about track maintenance and upgrades.

Federal prosecutors have revived an effort to target violent crime in Kansas, this time with a focus on Wichita and Garden City, U.S. Attorney for Kansas Stephen McAllister announced Thursday.

The Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative prioritizes federal prosecutions of repeat violent offenders and convicted criminals who carry firearms.

This story has been updated.

More than 2,000 residents in Eureka, Kansas, continued to be without power Wednesday night, a day after an EF-3 tornado hit, damaging more than 25 homes and businesses and injuring eight people.

The tornado struck the town, located about 60 miles east of Wichita, at about 7 p.m. Tuesday. Meteorologists at the National Weather Service estimate winds reached between 136 and 165 mph.

Rebekah Hange / KCUR 89.3

Last September, the ground shifted under the small town of Tonganoxie, Kansas, about 35 miles due west of Kansas City.

When word got out that Tyson Foods, Inc. was ready to announce it would soon break ground just outside town on a $320 million poultry complex — a processing plant, hatchery and feed mill — opponents organized immediately.

Madeline Fox / Kansas News Service

(This story has been updated with comments from the children's attorney.)

Immigrant children taken to Kansas after being separated from their families are on their way to being reunited with loved ones.

A federal judge in San Diego on Tuesday night ordered that kids separated from their families under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy must be reunited with those adults within 30 days. That’s already happened for more than half of the separated kids staying at a shelter in Topeka.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

A deal, hatched in secret, to build a massive chicken processing plant on the outskirts of Tonganoxie, Kansas, caused a huge uproar last September. The Tyson project was promptly canceled. Despite that, all the incumbent city council members on the ballot were voted out of office in November.

The political consequences could continue with upcoming elections for the Kansas House.

Brandi Thorpe

Brandi Thorpe says her 10-year-old son D’Juan Franklin is a loving, intelligent child, who loves playing football and baseball. He's also autistic.

When Thorpe transferred him to the New Beginnings School in the Lansing, Kansas, district — a school dedicated to special education — she was hopeful that her son would get the support he needed. And, he did, up until the morning of January 17, 2017.

On Monday, the Kansas Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively said the state’s public schools could open in the fall. Yet the same decision left local district officials on Tuesday and beyond with continued, long-term uncertainty.

The high court’s decision could lead to continued fighting over school funding and the topic will likely serve as political fodder in state elections.

file photo / Kansas News Service

Registering to vote in the upcoming Kansas primaries? A federal court ruling issued last week means you won’t need your passport, birth certificate or other citizenship papers to do that.

That ruling took immediate effect.

But Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach plans to appeal. So what happens next? Here’s a summary based on interviews with legal experts.

The status check

Tuition at public universities in Kansas is going up. School officials blame the increase on rising costs and years of dwindling state funding alongside flat enrollment.

The hikes all fall below the 3.1 percent average increase for state universities across the nation last year. Still, most Kansas public universities received increases above the nation’s inflation rate of about 2 percent.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

(This story has been updated.)

Kansas continues to underfund its schools, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Monday — a decision that could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars more over the next four years.

But because the Legislature agreed to significant hikes in funding this spring, the justices gave it another year to add to the amount it sends to local school districts.

The high court could have forced lawmakers back to Topeka in coming weeks to fix the problem or face school closures, something the state’s lawyers begged it not to do.

Madeline Fox / Kansas News Service

A team of lawyers has volunteered to make sure immigrant children in Topeka separated from their parents have the legal help they need to reunite with their families.

Former U.S. attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom said Monday he’s assembled team of at least 10 lawyers, paralegals and legal secretaries volunteering help to immigrant children staying at The Villages, a shelter in Topeka that’s been taking in children separated from their parents when they crossed into the United States.

file photo / KHI News Service

A devastating legal blow last week to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s voter fraud platform will, in all likelihood, land in the lap of one of six men vying for his job.

That person could decide whether to press or kill Kobach’s appeal of a federal ruling that blocks the office from making would-be voters dig up birth certificates or other documents that show U.S. citizenship.

The Villages, Inc. on Facebook

A Topeka shelter has been receiving children who were separated from their parents at the border for about two weeks, its executive director confirmed Friday.

The Topeka campus of The Villages, Inc. started accepting children who had entered the country without a parent or other relative last year. It’s been scaling up its capacity for migrant children since then, and can now house up to 50 of those kids.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Kansas received a passing grade for its highways earlier this week when the state’s chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers released its latest “infrastructure report card.” However, the engineers also warned that sweeping cuts to Kansas Department of Transportation funding are still causing roadways to suffer.

The U.S. House voted down an immigration bill Thursday that would have addressed one of the biggest concerns of American farmers: updating the agriculture guestworker visa program known as H-2A.

Google

A Topeka shelter is housing children separated from their parents at the U.S. southern border.

The Villages, Inc. has a 50-year history of taking in troubled youth grappling with abuse, drug problems, or involvement in criminal activity, at its seven homes in Lawrence and Topeka.

It’s now taking in children in the custody of the U.S. government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, The Villages president Joseph Wittrock confirmed in a statement.

Madeline Fox / Kansas News Service

So far this month, eastern Kansas foster care contractor KVC Kansas hasn’t had any kids sleep in its offices. St. Francis, the contractor for the rest of the state, has had four kids overnight, according to the latest update from the state child welfare agency.

In recent months, each of those contractors logged dozens of overnight stays per month.

FILE PHOTO / Reno County Fire District No. 6

A legislative audit released Tuesday concluded that while wildfires in Kansas are becoming more frequent, a lack of resources and coordination are hampering the state’s ability to fight them.

Firefighting duties and resources are spread across three separate agencies, which auditors said is complicating wildfire response and communication between state and local officials.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

A massive voter-tracking program run by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — which purports to help states keep voter rolls accurate — has halted operations over concerns about its own accuracy and security.

The Interstate Crosscheck system, which Kobach’s office promised would be working ahead of the 2018 elections, has been sidelined while the U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducts a security assessment following the unintended release of hundreds of voters’ private information.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer on Tuesday denied pardon requests for 21 of the state's inmates.

Colyer made the announcement at a press conference in Wichita. Typically when a governor holds a press conference about pardons, it’s to announce he or she is granting one; Colyer announced only denials, focusing specifically on the clemency petition of Everett Gentry.

Gentry is serving 25 years to life for his role in the 2006 murder of 14-year-old Chelsea Brooks. The Wichita teen was nine months pregnant at the time. 

FILE PHOTO / KCUR 89.3

Kansas will no longer be allowed to block people from registering to vote if they don’t provide documents such as birth certificates or passports to prove their citizenship.

On Monday, a federal judge ruled that doing so violates the U.S. Constitution and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act.

Read the complete ruling

“It's a 100 percent win,” said Mark Johnson, a Kansas City attorney who represented one of the plaintiffs, Parker Bednasek. “We got everything we asked for. Can't say that very often.”

Stephan Bisaha / Kansas News Service

Tat Hidano still gets the usual questions when he’s overseas recruiting international students to Wichita State University. The big one: Where is Wichita?

But lately Hidano has been hearing another question: Will I be safe in the United States?

“The questions about safety in the United States have been dominant,” Hidano said. He says his job has begun to feel less like recruiting and more like diplomacy.

The recent summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jung Un included an agreement to return the remains of American soldiers still missing from the Korean War.

That has caught the interest of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita because one of the missing is Chaplain Emil Kapaun.

Kapaun was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2013 for his bravery in Korea and could become a saint of the Catholic Church. He died in a North Korean prisoner of war camp in 1951.

A blossoming trade war between the United States and China could have a big impact on Kansas farmers and businesses.

President Donald Trump has made good on his threat to slap an additional 25 percent tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. In turn, Chinese officials have committed to retaliatory tariffs in the same amount. But while U.S. tariffs are focused on tech products, Chinese tariffs will likely focus on agricultural goods.

Wyandotte County Sheriff's Department

Updated 12:30 p.m. Saturday, June 16.

Two Wyandotte County Sheriff's deputies died after being shot Friday behind the county courthouse by an inmate who was being transferred, police said. Patrick Rohrer, 35, and Theresa King, 44, both died at the University of Kansas Hospital.

Related: Slain Deputies Honored As Heroes At Ceremony In Kansas City, Kansas

The Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department is investigating the shooting, and said that the deputies were wearing body cameras and there were lots of cameras in the gated area behind the courthouse, where two detainees were being transferred back into a van. 

Joe Gratz / CREATIVE COMMONS-FLICKR

A Kansas law prohibiting lawsuits based on “wrongful birth” claims is constitutional, the Kansas Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

The measure, which Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law in 2013, protects physicians from malpractice suits if they withhold or fail to provide information about fetal abnormalities that might lead the mother to get an abortion.

File photo/Kansas News Service

Kansas teachers have lost their second attempt to get tenure back for thousands of educators through the courts — but say they will continue their battle at the Legislature.

“So this is a disappointment,” teachers union spokesman Marcus Baltzell said of the decision handed down by the Kansas Supreme Court Friday. “But it's just one step."

Friday’s decision from the state’s highest court was unanimous.

file photo / Kansas News Service

The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction of Justin Thurber. Yet the justices delayed a decision on his death sentence and said a lower court must reconsider whether he has a developmental disability.

A jury sentenced Thurber to death for the 2007 killing of 19-year-old Jodi Sanderholm, a college student in Cowley County.

Pew

A new report has some advice for Kansas lawmakers looking at revenue growth that’s beating projections: Don’t count on all of it to last.

The report from the Pew Charitable Trusts outlines strategies states can use to manage growing revenue and maintain balanced budgets.

It recommends that states watch tax collections closely, because some types of tax growth will sag if the economy slows.

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