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Noonletter, Dec. 12, 2018

Crysta Henthorne
Kansas News Service

Powers of McGruff

If a police officer in Kansas thinks they smell weed — even an unlit bud in a plastic bag six paces away — the state’s high court says that’s reason enough to launch a search.

The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled recently that an officer’s belief she smelled marijuana from 30 feet away was probable cause to sweep an apartment in Douglas County and ask for a search warrant.

That could mean more officers will search more homes, cars, backpacks based on whether they sense a whiff of the skunky herb. Such cases continue to be tested by defense lawyers across the country who are skeptical of the olfactory powers of police on patrol.

Lauren Bonds, the legal director of American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, told Stephen Koranda the decision gives “police the impression that it’s constitutional for them to do these broad sweeps and searches of homes based on what they believe they smell.”

In the case that went to the state’s court, it turned out the officer was right. Weed was found. Lawrence Hubbard’s attorney argued, however, officers couldn’t have sniffed it out from across the home.

Somewhat harder targets

The Kansas State Board of Education now has specific safety standards on the books for schools. The guidelines — they’re only guidelines and schools are free to adopt them, ignore them or draw from them for their own preparation — come amid growing worries about mass shootings.

Last spring, the Kansas Legislature earmarked $5 million so schools could begin incorporating the standards. Stephan Bisaha reports that the Kansas State Department of Education said it got requests for almost three times that and dispersed what money it was given in July based on enrollment numbers and using temporary guidelines.

“The reason for the speed was we did not want to be the cause that somebody didn’t do something that might improve the safety of children,” said deputy education commissioner Dale Dennis.

The nine safety standards aim to gird schools against a variety of crises, from tornadoes to a kid loose with an Uzi. They include drills, annual training for all school staff and quick ways to pass details during an emergency between the school, first responders and parents.

Not so fast

Adam T. Thomas, an Olathe Republican, won election to the Kansas House in November. But 11 voters in his district have sued to challenge whether he’s legally eligible to serve.

Dan Margolies reports that the voters contend Thomas wasn’t a resident of the 26th District seat either when he declared himself a candidate or during the campaign.

In August, the Johnson County District Attorney’s office filed a criminal complaint against Thomas for election-related perjury. That case is pending.

From red(ish) to blue

She endorsed a Democrat for Congress and for governor. She bucked her own Republican leadership on key issues such as Medicaid expansion and gun control. And the party punished her.

So now state Sen. Barbara Bollier is a Republican no more. On Wednesday, the Mission Hills moderate declared herself a Democrat.

The departure of a high-profile lawmaker from the state’s dominant party begins to reveal a shift in state politics. Clearly, Republican voters abandoned their party’s nominee in helping elect the next governor, enough of them casting ballots for Democrat Laura Kelly over Republican Kris Kobach to turn the race.

Bollier’s exodus from the state GOP also hints at how many of its Republican-on-paper lawmakers straddle the middle. It helps to be Republican on the ballot, even if they tend to side more with Democrats on key issues — tax cuts, say, or school funding — and have a willingness to hit up taxpayers for state services.

What is water, anyway?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to count fewer waterways — particularly those that run dry at times — as waterways that are protected by the Clean Water Act.

Harvest Public Media reports that farmers and environmentalists are split on the issue. Farmers and land developers often see the clean water rules as a threat to their property rights and their ability to conduct business efficiently. The green guys say even intermittent water sources need protection from pollution, because it all flows downhill.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration appears determined to reverse Obama-era rules, particularly when it comes to those sometimes-dry areas. They would no longer fall under federal protection.

Because you already pay taxes

Starting Jan. 1, permit fees along some Kansas trails will disappear.

Looking to tempt more people to the Prairie Spirit Trail State Park and Flint Hills Trail State Park, the Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission has done away with the need for the trails’ permit fees.

That could boost tourism along the paths.

Prairie Spirit Trail State Park is a skinny park that stretches across 50 miles and three counties from Ottawa to Iola.

Flint Hills Trail State Park is longer, 117 miles, and ranks as the seventh-longest trail in the country on former railroad right-of-way. It goes from Osawatomie to Herington, following, roughly, the Santa Fe National Historic Trail.

Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @ScottCanon.

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

As the editor of a statewide news outlet, I aspire to work with our reporters to give Kansans a clear-eyed view of the place they call home. That means delivering hard-hitting stories that expose those things that keep Kansas from being the most vibrant, healthy place it can be. You can reach me at scott@kcur.org or 816-235-8023.
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