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Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

This story was updated at 4:40 p.m. to include comments from a spokewoman for Frank White and from Scott Burnett, the chairman of the Jackson County Legislature.

Jackson County Executive Frank White says an ordinance transferring control of the COMBAT anti-drug tax to the Jackson County prosecutor has sown chaos among county employees, and White has asked a judge to declare it illegal.

file photo / Kansas News Service

The Republican race for governor remains crowded, but a little less so with Ed O’Malley’s announcement Thursday that he’s ending his campaign.

O’Malley, a former Kansas House member who last fall took a leave of absence from his job as CEO of the Wichita-based Kansas Leadership Center to campaign, said his inability to keep pace on the fundraising front prompted the decision to withdraw.

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Kansas has repeatedly dipped into its highway fund in recent years to balance the budget for all of state government.

Now lawmakers are contemplating a task force to study what that’s meant for the state’s roads and bridges.

Following the borrowing, road projects saw delays across the state. The task force would study the sidelined projects and suggest long-term transportation strategies for Kansas.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Over five years, the bus money that Kansas doled out to schools — that auditors say it shouldn’t have without legislative permission — totaled $45 million.

It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $4 billion a year that the state spends on public schools.

With so much at stake — the state’s single largest budget item — the system is drawing fresh looks.

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:10 p.m. with comments from the school district.

Kansas City Public Schools leaders are open to the possibility of reopening Southwest High in partnership with a community coalition that’s been campaigning for months in the Brookside and Waldo neighborhoods.

“To me, what’s going to get support in that neighborhood is a middle school that could grow into a high school with a signature component,” Superintendent Mark Bedell said Monday in a South Zone School committee meeting of the KCPS Board of Education.

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A merger of Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy deserves approval, regulatory staff say in a new report, if the two utilities sweeten the deal with more money for ratepayers and less for shareholders.

The staff report issued this week is only advisory. Combining the two companies still needs a go-ahead from the Kansas Corporation Commission. But it signals that the companies may be close to a merger that wins regulatory approval.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Proposed changes to KanCare — the taxpayer-funded health care program that more than 400,000 poor, elderly and disabled Kansans depend on — face increasing resistance from key players in the Kansas Capitol.

A week ago, incoming Gov. Jeff Colyer promised to back off a plan that would have imposed a work requirement and benefit caps on some of the Kansans enrolled in the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Yet the administration he’ll inherit, when he takes over for Gov. Sam Brownback this week, hasn’t retreated from its call for tougher eligibility rules.

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A booming stock market last year meant big gains for endowments at Kansas colleges and universities.

But declines in the long-term performance of endowments and changes to the tax code make many financial officers nervous.

City of Kansas City

A surveillance camera set up by the Kansas City Neighborhoods and Housing Services department catches a lot of illegal dumpers. Usually, they are tossing tires, trash bags, beer and water bottles. But at least twice this month, the camera captured what appears to be a U.S. Postal Service employee dumping mail.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

The chief school finance official in Kansas — under fire from top Republican lawmakers, backed by scores of people in state education circles — on Friday avoided a suspension.

Dale Dennis, the state’s deputy education commissioner and a walking encyclopedia of Kansas school finance policy, came under attack over an audit that showed some school districts had long been getting money for buses beyond what lawmakers authorized.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Former Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, once a rising star in the Democratic Party, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in federal court, effectively ending a promising career. 

Sanders, 50, entered his plea in a loud and clear voice before U.S. District Judge Roseann Ketchmark. 

Via Christi Health

A whistleblower suit unsealed Thursday in federal court alleges Wichita-based Via Christi Health engaged in an illegal scheme to maximize Medicare reimbursements.

The lawsuit was filed in November 2016 but only unsealed after the government declined to intervene. It was brought by Mazen Shaheen, a cardiologist who formerly practiced in the Wichita area.

The suit, which seeks triple damages under the federal False Claims Act,  alleges Via Christi defrauded Medicare by performing  unnecessary cardiac tests and procedures, often on the same patient.

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The Kansas Secretary of State’s office took a trove of public records offline Thursday after a technology website discovered that they reveal partial Social Security numbers for potentially thousands of state officials.

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Income that doesn’t come close to the poverty line. Persistent job insecurity. Shifting schedules and irregular hours. Cumbersome barriers to state assistance meant for the neediest Kansans.

A new report from the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities paints a stark picture of the Kansas welfare system.

file photo / Kansas News Service

With help from Vice President Mike Pence, short-handed U.S. Senate Republicans on Wednesday made Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback President Donald Trump’s ambassador for religious freedom.

Pence twice broke ties on nail-biter, party line, votes to ultimately confirm Brownback after months of delay.  With the governor being whisked away from his Statehouse job, soon enough, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer will be ushered into an interim stint as governor.

Ludovic Bertron / Flickr -- CC

In a decision with potentially far-reaching implications for discrimination law in Missouri, the state's high court on Tuesday agreed to hear two LGBT cases. 

One involves a transgender teenager who sued the Blue Springs R-IV School District in 2015 for denying him access to the men's bathroom.

The other involves a gay man, Harold Lampley, who claimed he was harassed by his employer because he didn't conform to stereotypical masculine behavior. 

file photo / Kansas News Service

Plans for KanCare 2.0, the proposal to keep management of the state’s Medicaid program in private hands for years to come while adding new eligibility restrictions, halted Wednesday.

At least that’s what Republican Gov. Sam Brownback indicated in a mid-day news release, which said the plan was being scrapped after lawmakers worried about cost increases nearing $100 million a year.

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Four years ago, Greg Orman made an independent and notable challenge to Republican U.S. Pat Roberts’ run for re-election.

Now the wealthy businessman has his sights set on the governor’s office, contending that voter frustration with the two-party system gives him a path to victory in November.

“What is clear to me is that voters want real alternatives,” Orman said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters.

His bid for the governorship holds the potential to alter the dynamics of the general election.

file photo / Kansas News Service

Over the decades, Republicans and Democrats both made it hard for the public to know what goes on in the Statehouse. But in the wake of a Kansas City Star series highlighting the lack of transparency, some members of both parties are pushing for change.

Recent days have seen a flurry of activity.

Madeline Fox / Kansas News Service

Today, when mentally ill Kansans land in a psychiatric hospital or behind bars, they lose Medicaid coverage. When they’re freed, the daunting chore of signing up for government health coverage starts from scratch.

Now, a push gaining steam among state lawmakers would merely pause that coverage, keeping care and critical medications ready for mental health patients when they get out.

Grian Grimmett / Kansas News Service

A proposed merger between two of Kansas’ biggest electric utilities drew little criticism, or praise, during a public hearing Monday night in Topeka.

Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy, the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light, want to  create a new company worth about $15 billion. It would serve more than 1.5 million customers in Kansas and Missouri. The combined company would also have one of the largest portfolios of renewable energy in the country.

file photo / Kansas State University

A pay gap that left Kansas professors trailing their peers for more than a decade grew wider last year.

A new report from the Kansas Board of Regents confirmed that the state pays its academics less than the public colleges and universities they compete against.

“We’re not surprised because we’ve been at the bottom for so long,” said Brian Lindshield, the faculty senate president at Kansas State University.

Lasse Fuss / Wikimedia Commons

Missouri’s plans for fixing a stretch of Interstate 70 in Kansas City are now public; the only hang-up now is a lack of funding.

A final environmental impact statement released Wednesday by the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Kansas City District spells out plans for I-70 just east of downtown KC. It addresses the stretch of highway between Troost Avenue near the downtown loop and Blue Ridge Cutoff near the Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums.

Major problems include deteriorating roads and bridges, traffic delays and merging issues.

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

One year after the Women's March on Washington swept cities across the world, including Kansas City, Missouri, Randy Fikki's 9-year-old daughter asked him why there wouldn't be a local march this year.

"I didn't have an answer for that," Fikki says.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

The family of a man gunned down a day before his 26th birthday says his killer was a heartless monster, but that they pray for him to “open his heart to God.”

Dairian Stanley, 22, was convicted by a Jackson County jury of first-degree murder and armed criminal action on Wednesday in the shooting death of Torrence “Trimmer” Evans. Stanley was jealous and angry that Evans had been with his ex-girlfriend, Coreal Settle, 26.

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

Missouri families can now use an existing college savings program to get a tax break on private school tuition and other K-12 education expenses, Treasurer Eric Schmitt announced this week.

An amendment added at the last minute to the massive tax overhaul Congress passed in December allows participants in state 529 college savings programs to spend up to $10,000 annually to cover tuition expenses at public, private and religious schools.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Nursing homes in Kansas find themselves in crisis, say the people who run them.

Where to fix blame or how to remedy things remain matters of debate.

A parade of nursing home operators and their lobbyists pleaded with members of a Kansas House health committee Thursday to fully restore cuts in Medicaid reimbursement rates. They also called for pressure on Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration to repair a long-broken Medicaid enrollment system.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City, Missouri, officials will continue to be part of the planning process for a southern streetcar extension, despite a citywide vote prohibiting them from doing so. 

On Aug. 4, 2017, Kansas City residents passed an ordinance, brought to the city through an initiative petition, that prohibits city officials from moving forward with any streetcar extension without first gaining citywide voter approval. That included any planning or preparation for construction. 

The vote complicated a process that was already underway to extend the current streetcar south to UMKC. 

file photo / Kansas News Service

Westar Energy and Kansas City Power & Light say all the money coming from recently passed federal corporate tax cuts will land in their customers’ pockets. On Thursday, the agency that sets utility rates in Kansas insisted on it.

Westar Energy expects its tax bill to shrink by about $65 million a year under the new federal tax plan. Spokesperson Gina Penzig says several politicians asked if the utility would pass those savings along.

“We were glad to offer that confirmation,” she said.

Wikipedia

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback abruptly postponed a meeting Thursday where lawmakers were expected to approve or reject a plan for a private contractor to rebuild the state prison in Lansing. Consideration of the proposal was already pushed off earlier this month. The additional delay raises questions that the project may not have enough support in the State Finance Council to advance.

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