Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s budget wish list is long: boosting spending on higher education, public safety and human services. She'd aim to cut some taxes, but look to add new ones for streaming video and music services.

Not surprisingly, the $7.8 billion plan is getting a mixed response from the Republicans who control the Legislature.

Kansas City, Missouri — Time was, a fledgling tech company called CivicPlus had to explain to prospective customers why it was based in Kansas — and not some tech-heavy coastal city.

“We said, ‘Hey, you get Midwest values, but with Silicon Valley quality,’” recalled Ward Morgan, owner of the government software maker based in the college town of Manhattan. “It did throw people off to think that there was a tech company in Kansas.”

Today CivicPlus, founded in the 1990s, serves 3,500 cities and counties on two continents.

An independent review of Kansas’ rising electricity prices shows the current system for setting rates could use some improvements.

In a lengthy report requested by state legislators and submitted by London Economics, analysts concluded three main things: The current ratemaking process has been slightly balanced in favor of utilities, regulators are limited in their ability to protect consumers from paying for underused investments (such as aging coal plants), and additional bill surcharges and have been a key driver of rising rates.

Spirit AeroSystems announced Friday that it will lay off 2,800 employees at its plant in Wichita as the shutdown of the Boeing 737 Max program drags on.

The move comes just weeks after Boeing ordered Spirit to halt all deliveries of 737 Max components. Spirit produces about 70% of the jet at its facility in south Wichita, including the fuselage. The program accounts for half of the company's annual revenue.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and a key Republican lawmaker said Thursday they’ve crafted a deal to make roughly 130,000 more Kansans eligible for Medicaid.

Corinne Boyer / Kansas News Service

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — Rural Kansas communities hope to see roads, internet and taxes addressed in the upcoming 2020 legislative session. But some voters in the state’s southwest corner are worried that these decade-old issues will again take a back seat. 

Gov. Laura Kelly announced Wednesday a plan to form a singular agency — the Kansas Department of Human Services — that would absorb social welfare programs currently handled by three agencies.

The new agency would have a massive statewide presence, employing 6,000 workers, and oversee foster care, mental health services, four state hospitals and the juvenile justice complex. 

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Chris Costantini lay in a cold sweat, his shoulder dislocated after slipping on a porch in Kansas City, Kansas.

He’d been out alone, knocking on doors and rustling up voters for the upcoming midterms in October 2018. Now he waited for an ambulance, full of anxiety about how the injury could hinder his next performance at the Kansas City Ballet.

TOPEKA, Kansas — This state capital made national headlines in December when it announced it would pay anyone up to $15,000 to move here and work for local companies in Shawnee County.

With a pilot program called “Choose Topeka,” the city joins a long line of places like Vermont and Tulsa, Oklahoma, that offer cash to new arrivals.

Corinne Boyer / Kansas News Service

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — Federal rules signed into law in November promised strict bans on animal cruelty. They made it illegal to burn, crush, impale, drown or otherwise inflict “serious bodily harm” on an animal.

The new law didn’t deal with neglect or cover every act of abuse, but it drew accolades from a range of animal welfare groups.

But the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, or PACT, applies only on federal land or to animals transported from abroad or across state lines. 

TOPEKA, Kansas — It typically took Walt Hill more than a year to recruit a psychiatrist to northwest Kansas. Now he doesn’t even bother.

Instead, the executive director of the High Plains Mental Health Center relies on out-of-state doctors willing to work remotely, treating patients through video conference.

For years, the center has used remote appointments with local psychiatrists to reach patients in far-flung corners of its coverage area, which spans 20 largely rural counties.

WICHITA, Kansas — As global carbon dioxide emissions break records, Kansas is headed in the opposite direction — reducing emissions for 10 straight years.

Kansas’ decline is largely due to the rapid adoption of wind energy and a slow move away from coal powered electricity. That is to say: Kansas produces less carbon dioxide, or CO2, the powerful greenhouse gas that’s released into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels and is a major driver of climate change.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas and federal election officials say they know the 2020 election could come under attack from foreign governments or rogue hackers. They also insist they’re braced to guard against efforts to tamper with voting.

A Wichita teacher accused the district’s school board of moving slowly on passing protections for LGBTQ students at the start of its December meeting.

Later in the meeting, after the district did pass such a statement, one of the board’s longest serving members announced his resignation.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Personal income growth in Kansas is below the national average, due in large part to troubles in the agriculture industry, which makes up about 40% percent of the state’s economy.

Kansas farmers face an expanding drought and low commodity prices, though a break in the ongoing tariff dispute may bring those up.

“Farmers have bills to pay,” Kansas Wheat Commission CEO Justin Gilpin said. “Ultimately, what we need to do is hopefully see commodity prices somewhat bottom out here and get trade going.”

The blow also has been softened by a total of $732 million in federal trade-bailout money in 2019 alone, which Gilpin calls a “lifeline” for some Kansas farmers.

Corinne Boyer / Kansas News Service

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — Wearing sweaters, small kids (of the goat variety) went springing over hay-lined pens in the Good Karma Micro-Dairy barn in Russell County. Here, Erin and Doug Renard milk goats and cows and make raw cheese, Greek yogurt, butter and gelato.

“As you noticed when you came here, there's no signs,” Erin Renard said. “One of the reasons there's no signs is expense. But the other reason was we couldn't even put 'raw milk' on the sign. Now we can.” 

TOPEKA, Kansas — A Shawnee County district judge was named Monday to one of the vacancies on the Kansas Supreme Court.

Though the state’s most prominent anti-abortion group opposed Shawnee County District Court Judge Evelyn Wilson, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly Chose Wilson from among the three candidates recommended by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. It’s a choice that could fuel efforts to change how Kansas’ Supreme Court justices get their seats.

WICHITA, Kansas — An environmental watchdog group says most states aren’t stepping up to fill the gap left by budget and staff cuts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which could put Kansans at greater risk of exposure to harmful pollutants.

Corinne Boyer / Kansas News Service

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — It’s been more than a year since 19-year-old Braeden Bradforth died from exertional heat stroke after his first football practice at Garden City Community College.  

A 48-page independent investigation found systemic failures within the athletic department and placed blame on multiple employees as well as medical professionals who treated Bradforth on Aug. 1, 2018.

Bradforth’s parents sent the college letters demanding $50 million dollars, the first step required by Kansas law before they can sue the college. On Tuesday, Garden City Community College’s Board of Trustees unanimously denied the claim amounts, saying the parties were interested in moving forward with mediation.

ST. JOHN, Kansas — Water — who gets to use it, when and how — sparks fights all over the world.

The latest battleground is in south-central Kansas, near the federally operated Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

In its simplest form, it’s a clash between the refuge, which isn’t getting its legal share of water, and the local farmers who may be forced to cut back on how much water they use on their crops.

TOPEKA, Kansas — One solution to Kansas prisons’ woes could come with a $35 million price tag for three new specialty prisons.

The state’s corrections system only treats half of its inmates who struggle with substance abuse. And as some people serve decades-long sentences, the system finds itself home to more elderly prisoners who need special care as they age.

TOPEKA, Kansas — What if researchers could go to a single hub for vast deposits of information on a range of issues from water quality to court rulings to the medicinal powers of marijuana?

Armed with all that existing research, they might begin to draw conclusions that apply across the country. They might also avoid repeating the work of other researchers.

Courtesy of Mike Everhart

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — Paleontologist Mike Everhart had found a rib from a plesiosaur — an ancient ocean reptile — on the Ringneck Ranch in north-central Kansas in 2009. He returned in early spring 2010 searching for more bones. 

Everhart brought a friend, Gail Pearson, and Pearson’s friend Fred Smith. Both men had experience hunting fossils.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism stands to lose millions of dollars after record spring rains led to park closures, property damage and washed-out roads.

NEODESHA, Kansas — Three hundred middle and high schoolers filed into their school auditorium last week in the small, southeast Kansas town of Neodesha, uncertain why they’d been called there.

They left cheering and hugging. Some of the older students were teary-eyed.

College tuition and fees need no longer hold back graduates of this manufacturing community, about halfway between Wichita, Kansas, and Joplin, Missouri. A wealthy donor hoping to turn around the fortunes of his dwindling hometown — population 2,300 — will foot those costs for the next 25 years, and possibly decades beyond that.

Go here to subscribe to the My Fellow Kansans podcast. This season, we look at the prospects of rural places.

DODGE CITY, Kansas — The history of this small city built on the cattle trade sets it apart from most towns in rural Kansas. The mere name of the place evokes recollections of the Wild West and the subsequent romancing of that age.

Yet Dodge City also stands apart from the region that surrounds it. This place is growing.

When Dan Hoyt started graduate school at the University of Kansas in 2016, he knew he had anxiety and depression. He worried about being able to find a job after graduation. And, sometimes, he couldn’t get through his assigned reading.

“When you have anxieties, that gets impossible,” he said. “I'll think about the same things over and over and over again.”

But when he reached out to KU’s counseling services, he was told he had to wait five months before he could get an appointment with a therapist at the Lawrence campus. And getting there from KU’s Overland Park campus, where he took classes, complicated things.

TOPEKA, Kansas — For much of 2019, the conventional wisdom among political operatives held that the 2020 U.S. Senate race in Kansas was Mike Pompeo’s for the taking.

The secretary of state and former CIA director could, many insiders believed, launch even a last-minute campaign and assume the inside track for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Sen. Pat Roberts. After all, he used to be a Republican congressman from Wichita.

Though its Medicaid contract is still at stake, Aetna Better Health is making progress, Kansas lawmakers and state regulators said this week. 

“There has been a good response from them,” Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment Lee Norman told a panel of lawmakers Tuesday.

Holes punched in walls. Car headlights smashed. Windows broken. Weapons, threats, sexual comments. Children who can’t live with other children. Children whom foster parents won’t take in. Children who aren’t able to get the mental health care they desperately need.

Kansas foster care contractors and parents say all of these situations have become more common — and more risky — since 2017, when the state made sweeping changes to the juvenile justice system. The changes, they say, removed options for dealing with foster children who have high needs and violent behaviors.

Pages