Celia Llopis-Jepsen

Celia comes to the Kansas News Service after five years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. She brings in-depth experience covering schools and education policy in Kansas as well as news at the Statehouse. In the last year she has been diving into data reporting. At the Kansas News Service she will also be producing more radio, a medium she’s been yearning to return to since graduating from Columbia University with a master’s in journalism.  

Celia also has a master’s degree in bilingualism studies from Stockholm University in Sweden. Before she landed in Kansas, Celia worked as a reporter for The American Lawyer in New York, translated Chinese law articles, and was a reporter and copy editor for the Taipei Times.

 

Updated at 12:24 p.m. ET

One of the nation's most vocal promoters of unsubstantiated voter fraud claims hopes to eliminate his own party's sitting governor in Tuesday's primary.

Truth, it’s said, is the first casualty of war. That helps explain why combat metaphors so often get applied to political campaigns.

The battlefield of the Kansas governor’s race bears out the maxim. Even when candidates get their facts right — a surprisingly difficult task for the field — their words tend to twist a broader truth.

Are you registered to vote? CLICK HERE to check online. The deadline is July 17 if you want to vote in the Aug. 7 primaries.

With less than a month until the 2018 primaries, the question of whether Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is in compliance with a federal court order to fix its voter registration practices is still up for debate.

Kansas can no longer ask would-be voters to dig up documents like passports or birth certificates after a court ruled that unconstitutional and in violation of federal election law last month.

There’s a common thread among the campaigns of several men aspiring to replace Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — promises of administrative competence.

So says Emporia State political scientist Michael Smith. It jumped out at him as he perused some of their websites.

“To me,” he said, it “has sort of a subtext, that that has not been Kobach’s focus.”

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

(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.

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.

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.”

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.

Five-year-old Ridley Fitzmorris sits at a picnic table in his backyard in Lawrence, one leg dangling and the other tucked beneath him. His eyes are focused on a row of Hot Wheels that his therapist asked him to count.

“One, two, three,” he says in a whisper, his finger hovering over each toy car until he reaches the last one. Turning to an iPad that he uses to communicate, he clicks an icon. “Eight,” the computerized voice announces.

“Good job!” cooes therapist Ashley Estrada, a specialist in treatment for children with autism. “You did it by yourself."

Physicians, researchers and hospitals broadly agree that cesarean sections have become too common. That’s powered efforts to limit them to ever fewer cases.

Still, it can be hard to gauge the track record of most Kansas hospitals. When a national group came asking for numbers that reveal how regularly C-sections are performed, many hospitals in the state didn’t reply.

A federal judge will now review whether it’s reasonable for an ACLU legal team to charge Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach $52,000 for the time it spent asking a court to hold him in contempt.

The bill for attorneys fees and related expenses came Monday after the ACLU team won that contempt finding last month.

(This story has been updated)  

The ink is barely dry on a deal to increase school spending by more than half a billion dollars, but Kansas is already headed for a fresh round of legal arguments.

School districts suing the state say the plan falls short in part because it will happen gradually over five years. They want the Kansas Supreme Court to make the state pay out $506 million more this fiscal year — on top of the $190 million boost the Legislature had already promised.

A federal judge will now review whether it’s reasonable for an ACLU legal team to charge Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach $52,000 for the time it spent asking a court to hold him in contempt.

The bill for attorneys fees and related expenses came Monday after the ACLU team won that contempt finding last month.

The Kansas House killed a tax cut bill on its way out the door Friday, ending the 2018 session with yet another signal that this isn’t the same conservative-dominated body of just two years ago.

This is the Legislature that voted last year to expand Medicaid and end then-Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature 2012 tax cuts with a two-year, $1.2 billion tax hike.

Kansas senators will return Monday to find a school finance fix waiting on their desks, hammered out in the House over the weekend.

The bill undoes an $80 million error inserted last-minute into this year’s school funding bill.

Kansas lawmakers voted last weekend to increase public school funding over the next half decade — the latest chapter in a long and winding court battle.

Lawmakers may not know for months whether a deal to pump half a billion dollars into schools goes far enough to end seven years of court battles over whether the state shortchanges Kansas children.

If it falls short, the Kansas Supreme Court could call them back to Topeka this summer with yet another ultimatum to send even more money to local districts.

Arm wrestling over a final deal on Kansas school spending begins in earnest Friday after the Senate settled on a figure that’s much lower than the House’s position.

The bill squeaked through after hours of discussion, winning the last vote necessary only after leaders forced lawmakers who initially abstained to weigh in.

Earlier, with the bill’s fate unclear, Republican leaders in the Senate issued stern direction to members of their party. Some were called into a closed-door meeting with Senate President Susan Wagle.

A push to elbow the judiciary out of school spending by rewording the Kansas Constitution cleared a legislative committee Wednesday.

Yet the effort likely won’t get a full House vote this week and could be doomed on a roll call.

It’ll need two-thirds support in both the House and Senate, something that may prove even harder after Democrats and moderate Republicans swept up more seats in the 2016 elections.

The Kansas House has had its say on school finance — putting the ball in the Senate’s court.

Republicans in the Kansas House couldn’t win enough votes Monday to increase school funding by hundreds of millions of dollars. Conservatives in their own party thought it was too much money, Democrats said it was too little.

House Majority Leader Don Hineman said legislative leaders would keep working toward a compromise and could come back with a fresh proposal on Tuesday.

“Hopefully we have a different outcome tomorrow,” he said late Monday, but added that the bill as written is “all we can afford at this point in time.”

A report commissioned by the Kansas Legislature made clear just how much it might cost to improve student outcomes at public schools.

It’s so expensive, says a new lobbying group, that it threatens the quality of Kansas roads, health care and other government functions.

That fledgling outfit wants to amend the state constitution, freeing lawmakers to dodge steep hikes in school spending. External experts argue that added money would be needed to fulfill promises to graduate high school students better prepared for college or the workplace.

(This story has been updated.)

Getting most Kansas schoolchildren doing well enough in math and reading to stay on track for college could cost an extra $2 billion a year — or roughly half what the state already spends on aid to local schools.

The figure comes from a report released Friday that lawmakers commissioned to help them judge the costs of getting better classroom results and to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court order.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is defending Kansas' strict voter registration laws in federal court in a trial that has now entered its second week.

(Daily developments below. Click here to jump to the most recent day's reporting. Or you can click here to read coverage of the contempt hearing that happened on Tuesday, March 20.)

How far must people go to prove they’re really Americans when they register to vote?

Does simply swearing to the fact — at risk of perjury, prison, fines and deportation — protect democracy from non-Americans subverting an election?

Or are cheaters common enough that only documents — say a birth certificate or a passport — go far enough to protect the integrity of the ballot box?

Even before releasing their results, consultants hired to guide Kansas lawmakers to a school funding plan that meets legal muster endured a grilling on Friday.

How, wondered lawmakers, would the consultants reach their conclusions on how much money school districts need to help students succeed academically? Why do the consultants seem to be excluding the overhead, non-classroom expenses of running schools from their study? And what about criticism of work they’d done in other states?

Kansas sits in a shrinking pool of states with the strictest marijuana and hemp laws, surrounded by a wave of decriminalization and legalization that’s swept most of the U.S.

So it’s no surprise that the topic of cannabis keeps cropping up in the Kansas Statehouse, where some lawmakers and lobbyists want the Free State to jump on the bandwagon.

Kansas lawmakers may once have thought stiffer penalties for marijuana made sense, but in recent years crowded prisons forced them to take another look.

One of the changes, made in 2016, reduced the crime of being caught with marijuana a second time from a felony to a misdemeanor.

But on Tuesday, the Kansas Sentencing Commission said that change overlooked state law that still keeps harsher penalties on the books for getting caught with pot residue than for possession of marijuana.

Last fall’s dramatic public backlash against plans for a massive poultry operation in northeast Kansas could lead to a change in law.

Two lawmakers whose districts include Tonganoxie — a small, rural commuter town between Lawrence and Kansas City — want to give local residents a say on whether they’ll be neighbors to a chicken plant.

Voters in the county of any proposed large-scale facility for caging or slaughtering poultry would be able to force a public vote on the matter by gathering enough signatures on a petition.

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