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.

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Keith Ivey / Flickr-CC

Some states fear that a Kansas voter record system could fall prey to hackers, prompting a delay in the annual collection of nearly 100 million people’s records into a database scoured for double-registrations.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach touts the program, called Crosscheck, as a tool in combating voter fraud. Last year, 28 states submitted voters’ names, birth dates, and sometimes partial social security numbers, to Kobach’s office.

file photo / Kansas News Service

Roughly 80 politicians gathered Wednesday for an early morning meeting at the Kansas Statehouse.

The session wasn’t technically mandatory, more encouraged by legislative leaders determined to be seen as doing something in response to the recent wave of sexual harassment allegations.

Several of the women in attendance nodded at what they heard — that four in five women and one in five men have suffered some form of sexual harassment.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

As a push increases to hire a private contractor to build a new Lansing prison and then lease it to the state, some Kansas legislative leaders look warily at the idea.

This week, Gov. Sam Brownback stopped at the Lansing Correctional Facility to make yet another push for his administration’s plan to overhaul it. The visit came just days before a panel of lawmakers could decide the fate of his plan for replacing the deteriorating prison.

file photo / Kansas News Service

Gov. Sam Brownback wants to add hundreds of new school counselors to public schools in Kansas over the next five years, if they can be found.

That would require a dramatic reversal in a state that’s seen a slight decline in school counselors over the past decade and that may be losing its capacity to train more.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

When 18-year-old Columba Herrera walks across the graduation stage this May, she’ll leave Topeka Public Schools with two things — a high school diploma and the beginnings of her college transcript.

Herrera will have a semester’s worth of college credit — courses offered at Topeka West High School in conjunction with Washburn University.

Each freshman-level college class that the aspiring computer science major knocks out of the way while in high school gets her closer to her goal.

file photo / Truman Medical Centers

A push by the Brownback administration to keep turning to private firms to run its Medicaid program for years to come faces resistance from key Republican lawmakers.

Those legislators have signaled they want existing problems repaired with KanCare — particularly application backlogs, delays in provider payments and disputes over services for Kansans with disabilities. Only then should the state go ahead with Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to launch KanCare 2.0 and its new lifetime limits, work requirements and other policy changes.

file photo / Heartland Health Monitor

If nothing else, Sam Brownback has marked his time as governor of Kansas with one bold approach after the next. And few remade the status quo as much as his approach to welfare.

That sprung from his belief that even a well-meaning government that fails to prod the poor toward self-reliance ends up creating more dependency and stubborn poverty.

Like his record on such issues as game-shifting tax cuts, the results are arguably mixed.

file photo / Southeast Kansas Education Service Center

Today, about three of every 20 students in Kansas fail to graduate from high school. Gov. Sam Brownback contends that in five years, only one will fall short.

That would vault Kansas from the middle of the pack to a level no state in the country hits today.

Education experts question if it’s realistic. The governor and the education department, they say, ask for too much too soon. After all, the early years of school weigh heavily. Work with kids learning their alphabet and colors — as much as those studying capitalism and algebra — can determine later who sticks it out.

Scott Canon / Kansas News Service

Campaign reports filed this week show a bunched field breaking from the starting gate in the Kansas race for governor.

Some handicappers’ favorites — notably Secretary of State Kris Kobach — trail at the rear of the pack. Still, only a few of the dozen candidates thought to hold potentially winning pedigrees appear in danger of fading fast.

The Wichita Police Department says the fatal police shooting that killed a man in late December started with a prank phone call, commonly referred to as swatting.

In swatting cases, callers utilize technology to make 911 calls appear local—also known as spoofing—and then report a false emergency at a victim’s home to get a strong police and SWAT team response, which is where the term gets its name. The harassment is often associated with the dark corners of online gaming.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Fellow Republicans on Wednesday characterized Gov. Sam Brownback’s spending plan — more than $6.6 billion a year — as a beeline return to deficits and an abdication of responsibility in a budding crisis.

The governor, poised to leave for a spot in the Trump administration, unveiled a five-year, $600 million increase in school funding Tuesday evening. When lawmakers dug into that proposal Wednesday, they griped about key details.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service


Gov. Sam Brownback, poised to leave Kansas after a generation of dominating its politics, on Tuesday called for steep infusions of money into public schools — spurring fellow Republicans to accuse him of raising hopes with a “fairy tale.”

Brownback said the state can add $600 million over the next five years — without a tax hike.

Madeline Fox / Kansas News Service

 


A task force formed to fix Kansas’ troubled foster care system relied largely on the ideas of a lone member to meet a deadline for preliminary suggestions, reflecting the daunting nature of its job and some troubles within the panel.

Scott Canon / Kansas News Service

A Kansas Supreme Court ruling saying the state must spend more on schools could require lawmakers to find hundreds of millions of dollars. With some lawmakers saying a tax hike for education remains off the table, that financial hunt won’t be easy.

 

Legislators rolled back Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature income tax cuts just last year. It was a monumental task, which ultimately required lawmakers to override a veto from the governor. The fight stretched the session to a tie with the longest in state history.

 

Dry cleaning can leave a really big mess behind.

One of the largest plumes of toxic dry cleaning waste ever discovered in Kansas is just south of Wichita, and state environmental officials are working to make sure people in the plume’s path have clean drinking water.

Madeline Fox / Kansas News Service

 

Kansas’ troubled child welfare agency asked lawmakers Monday for money to solve mounting problems -- foster kids sleeping in offices, children lost in the system, and a skyrocketing caseload.

Legislators and advocates expressed outrage earlier at news that children slept in foster care contractors’ offices because foster homes had no room. Department for Children and Families secretary Gina Meier-Hummel said some of the requested money would go toward holding beds open for hard-to-place kids.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Update: On Tuesday, Rep. Steve Alford gave up his chairmanship on a Kansas House committee and stepped aside from a child welfare task force.

 

After a western Kansas lawmaker suggested black people respond to the use of marijuana differently than others, the Republican leader of his own party condemned the remarks.

On Saturday in Garden City, Rep. Steve Alford of Ulysses said the drug was made illegal because of the way he contended it affects African-American users.

KCUR

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.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Kansas set lofty goals for its public schools in the next dozen years – but the Trump administration and independent experts suggest the state’s plan is as vague as it is ambitious.

The state’s plan lacks concrete details on closing academic gaps in its public schools, so much so that federal officials and outside reviewers question the state’s compliance with civil rights law that demands all children get fair learning opportunities.

File Photo / Kansas Public Radio

The White House may have scrapped the controversial national election integrity commission that he was helping to lead, but Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is still rooting out alleged voter fraud in his home state.

Armed with powers not usually assigned to a secretary of state, Kobach filed a pair of criminal complaints Thursday against two people he said voted when, and more, than they had the right to.

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.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

The fight over whether Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach violated the constitution in his quest to demand proof of citizenship from voters goes to trial, with a ruling Wednesday that could complicate his case, in March.

Johnson County Community College / YouTube

Kansas Democrats have filed two gun control bills for the upcoming legislative session. With some key lawmakers signaling resistance, the proposals could be a tough sell.

Still, legislators from both parties expect discussion of the state’s role in regulating firearms.

KDHE

A lawyer who spearheaded Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s efforts to block Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood will take charge of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment next week. 

Darian Dernovish will become interim head of the agency on Jan. 8, Brownback’s office said Wednesday. He will replace Susan Mosier, who has held the job since December 2014. 

File Photo / Kansas Public Radio

As long as Sam Brownback waits for Congress to approve his at-large ambassadorship for religious freedom for the Trump administration, he’ll continue to meet his responsibilities as governor.

That, his office said Tuesday, includes giving the annual State of the State address next week and submitting a budget to lawmakers.

A Missouri nonprofit has released a list of recommendations it says will help combat and prevent sexual harassment at the Kansas Statehouse.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

When Kansans on Medicaid are incarcerated or treated at residential mental health facilities, their Medicaid benefits are terminated. Mental health advocates hope to change that during the upcoming legislative session by pushing for a bill that would instead suspend those benefits.

After patients or inmates are dropped from Medicaid, it can take weeks or months to reinstate health coverage — a risk for people who need continuous care for mental health conditions.

Stephen Koranda-File Photo / Kansas Public Radio

After pushing for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, President Donald Trump earlier this year kicked off negotiations among the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Any major changes to the agreement could have a big impact on Kansas.

Kansas Republican Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran have said they’re open to updates but emphasize that the agreement needs to preserve or expand export opportunities.

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.

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