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Noonletter, Dec. 17, 2018

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Crysta Henthorne
/
Kansas News Service

When a ban might not be a ban

Legislators set out this year to make telemedicine more practical in Kansas. They drafted a law that would force insurance companies to pay for some services offered over video hook-ups the same way as in-person visits.

But that bill became controversial when anti-abortion forces added language that seemed to stop a physician from administering drugs, over telemedicince links, intended to trigger a medical abortion.

Now, at a recent hearing, a Topeka judge expressed skepticism over whether the law actually bans clinics from performing specific abortion services over video links, reports Celia Llopis-Jepsen.

This fall, the Trust Women Wichita clinic began telemedicine services for patients who want to induce abortion by taking medication. And it’s suing the state over the new law passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Jeff Colyer.

But Shawnee County District Judge Franklin Theis said Friday he’s not convinced it actually achieves a ban, and the clinic hopes he will put that into a court order.

Kansas also outlawed telemedicine abortion in 2011, but a separate court order blocked that. The judge is also weighing whether that order is still in effect.

Lighter light bill

Action formalized by the Kansas Corporation Commission last week, in the wake of it approving a Westar Energy/Kansas City Power & Light merger, locks in lower rates.

The average KCP&L customer will save about 40 cents per month, Madeline Fox reports.

Regulators mandated one-time credits of roughly $100 dollars per customer.

Electricity bills could still go up if the utility shows a significant jump in costs, such as fuel rates.

Where you vote could determine if you vote

Voting rules, insists the ACLU of Kansas, should be the same across the state. The group says a patchwork of policies means it’s harder to cast a ballot in some areas than others.

Election officials have wide authority to set the number of polling places and early voting hours. Stephen Koranda reports that a fresh look from the ACLU found that longer early voting and fewer residents per polling place equals higher turnout.

The group wants county officials to extend early voting hours and state lawmakers to require early voting times outside normal business hours.

Not-so-special funding

A new audit says Kansas lawmakers punted on a legal requirement to spend enough on special education, making it hard for school districts to hire specialized teachers.

The audit says that last year, districts got almost $5,000 less per special ed teacher than the funding level set in state law, Stephen Koranda reports.

Wall whiff

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder concedes he’s failed — barring some 11th-hour-government-shutdown-threat-miracle — to secure $5 billion for the border wall President Donald Trump wants so badly.

In his final floor speech last week, Yoder said he did score some other wins on security, Sam Zeff reports.

“On homeland security, I’ve secured the necessary funding to finally provide operational control for our southern border,” said the Republican congressman who lost re-election to Democratic newcomer Sharice Davids in eastern Kansas. “(That’s) something politicians have promised to do for decades but have failed to deliver.”

Making Kansas more California-like

Kansas has seen fewer earthquakes in the last couple years, the result of Kansas regulators restricting the volume of wastewater injected in south-central Kansas and a decline in oil prices that cut demand for crude — and subsequent drilling.

But The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that new oil industry-disputed research suggests wastewater injection triggered a flurry of earthquakes in 2017 felt hundreds of miles away. A separate study predicts a massive, magnitude 5.0 or larger, earthquake before 2021 if the industry doesn’t change how it hunts for oil beneath Kansas and Oklahoma.

And the newspaper’s work suggests that if the state doesn’t continue to spend on regulation, more quakes will come.

Hydraulic fracturing, sometimes known derisively as fracking, in Oklahoma and Kansas comes with the need to dispose of large quantities of leftover saltwater. When it’s injected into underground rock formations it places pressure on faults and is a chief suspect in an increase in earthquakes.

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.