Scott Canon | KCUR

Scott Canon

Digital Editor, Kansas News Service

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. Canon came to KCUR from a string of newspaper gigs, mostly reporting, mostly from places you'd never go on vacation.                            

Ways to Connect

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) 

With trees shredded into tinder and homes ripped asunder, scores of families in and around Lawrence and Linwood, Kansas, surveyed lives that forever will be marked by the time before and after Tuesday’s tornado.

NOMIN UJIYEDIIN / KANSAS NEWS SERVICE

Kansas swore a new governor into office on Monday and saw the end of eight years of Republicans in the office.

New Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly told supporters, and the Republican lawmakers she’s sure to clash with, that the state had lost its sense of community. That seemingly was a dig at predecessors Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer.

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.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Read her lips

A month away from becoming the next governor of Kansas, Democrat Laura Kelly says she’s deep into budget preparation.

Although she’s been as steeped in the workings of state government as any Kansas wonk during her 14 years in the state Senate, the Topekan says agencies find themselves in worse repair than she imagined.

“The problems are broad,” she said, “and they’re deep.”

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

Kansas Gov.-elect Laura Kelly insists the state budget she’s preparing can fully fund the state’s schools, expand Medicaid coverage to another 150,000 people and begin to repair a troubled child welfare system — without a tax hike.

The Democrat said Wednesday night she’ll lean on experience and relationships built over 14 years in the Kansas Senate to carve out compromises with lawmakers on those priorities.

Yet she described her job as daunting and state government as broken in several key areas.

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.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Windfall or tax hike?

Last year, Congress and President Donald Trump delivered sweeping federal tax cuts. Because the changes in tax law meant fewer people had to itemize their tax returns, the changes actually upped the (smaller) state tax bill for some filers.

In some corners, that’s seen as a windfall of revenue for state governments, including Kansas. Seen another way, it’s a de facto tax increase in state taxes for a minority of people.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Not gonna hear it

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it would not consider a case involving Planned Parenthood and the state of Kansas.

That means Kansas and Louisiana can still decide which medical providers appear competent enough to take on Medicaid patients.

But more notably, states’ power to exclude a clinic on other grounds — if, for instance, it provides abortion services — are limited.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Musical chairs

After years in the Kansas Legislature, it’s natural that Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly would turn to people she’s known there to start filling out key spots in her administration.

For starters, she picked Will Lawrence as her chief of staff. It’s a powerful, right-hand position to a governor. The chief of staff can control access to the governor and play an important role in setting priorities. Lawrence has been chief of staff to Democratic Senate Leader Anthony Hensley.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Farm filming

Nearly two decades ago, Kansas became the first state to outlaw the unauthorized filming of farms, animal research labs or meatpacking plants.

The law came from a push by ag groups trying to fend off guerilla documentaries by groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals collecting gritty footage of all it takes to make a steer into hamburger.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Waiting for psych beds

The number of residential psychiatric wards in Kansas has dropped to 8 today from 17 in 2011 and now about a third as many beds are available for overnight care.

One factor has been a limit on the number of days the state’s privately managed Medicaid programs will authorize for a stay in one of the treatment centers.

So now some 140 children simply wait to get intense treatment for a range of potentially critical mental health problems.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Leader talk

The newly elected and re-elected folks in the Kansas House got together on Monday to pick their leaders. Republicans, who hold an overwhelming majority, kept Ron Ryckman in the speaker’s chair. But they swapped out moderate Don Hineman for conservative Dan Hawkins.

Democrats replaced the sometimes-combative Jim Ward, who briefly flirted with a run for governor, for the more conciliatory Tom Sawyer.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Leaders of the pack

Republicans in the Kansas House picked a more conservative lawmaker Monday as their No. 2 guy, signaling possible trouble for Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly.

The GOP caucus elevated Dan Hawkins of Wichita to the majority leader spot previously held by Don Hineman of Dighton on a 48-35 tally. That puts a conservative in the slot held by a moderate as chief lieutenant to House Speaker Ron Ryckman of Olathe. He was re-elected by his caucus 84-4.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Falling through the cracks

At best, from 2016 to 2017, states kept the number of children without insurance stable.

Most did worse than that.

Kansas saw 5,000 more kids fall into the uninsured category in that year.

Madeline Fox reports that researchers at Georgetown University say the increases in uninsured rates across the country reflected uncertainty about the Children’s Health Insurance Program (aka CHIP) and the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Fill ’er up

Pavement wears down at the same rate whether the cars and trucks rolling over it rely on internal combustion engines for locomotion or on new-fangled hybrid and electric motors.

Yet Kansas, like most other states, relies on gasoline taxes for much of the cost of building its roads and keeping them in reasonable shape.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Paging all adjuncts

Some five dozen University of Kansas professors and librarians decided to take up the school on its buyout offer. KU is looking to cut its faculty ranks, particularly instructors who weigh down the school’s payroll most heavily.

Stephen Koranda reports that about a fourth of the faculty eligible for the voluntary early retirement offer took the deal.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

A change is gonna come

A new governor. Some fresh faces in the Legislature. A long-awaited task force report. An expanded stable of private contractors. The coming fallout from a class-action lawsuit.

The Kansas foster care system is getting a makeover. The people running the troubled Department for Children and Families hope that by shaking up the system, they can spare added grief for children already in crisis.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

It’s a family thing

An order issued by Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer now offers paid parental leave to about 17,000 state workers to cover their time off with a newborn or newly adopted child.

Colyer, a lame duck Republican, said in a statement issued on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday that he made the change to recognize the importance of children and families in the state.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

This time, it was in public

Triveece Penelton has endured any number of racist remarks in her 16 years as a city planner. It was the one delivered in a public meeting — a white man making a crack about the “master race” — that tossed her into the spotlight.

On Tuesday, that Leavenworth County commissioner, Louis Klemp, resigned amid growing criticism.

Penelton talked to KCUR’s Andrea Tudhope about the incident and the discomfort of being part of an ugly news story that drew national attention.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Reduced to dollars

Jayla Haag was just an 18-month-old girl when she died from abuse while living in a meth house in El Dorado.

On Monday, a panel of Kansas officials OK’d a $75,000 payment to settle a lawsuit blaming the state for doing too little to save her. Stephen Koranda reports that the Department for Children and Families was accused in the suit of not following up on abuse reports before her death from blunt force injuries to the head.

The girl had tested positive for methamphetamine at birth.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Moved how many times?

One boy. In the care of the state since 2012. Shifted from one foster placement to the next. One hundred thirty times.

A lawsuit filed Friday argues cases like that — 130 was an extreme case, but more than 100 moves in Kansas foster care is not wildly unusual — show the system is operating so poorly it violates the constitutional rights of children.

In particular, it contends so many moves heap more trauma onto children already in crisis and that too many kids don’t get the mental health screening they should.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Sticker shock

Kansas turned to the nonprofit group Teach For America earlier this year and cut a deal: Find a dozen teachers willing to work in the state in areas where we’re having recruitment problems, including western Kansas, and we’ll pay you $500,000-plus.

In the end, reports Nomin Ujiyediin, the group routed just three teachers, all to Kansas City, Kansas.

Lawmakers are not happy.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

More beds or more services

Legislators heard Wednesday that Kansas either needs to improve a range of services for the mentally ill or to be prepared to more than double the number of psychiatric beds available. Or both.

Today, the state offers 258 slots in mental health hospitals. Madeline Fox reports that’s down from more than 1,000 beds in 1990. A report from January says the state needs 300 more.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Regulate us, please

In 2013, a coalition of school districts formed. They’d be laboratories for new ideas. If they could show the state they were serious enough about making classrooms work in new and better ways, they’d be freed from some state rules — notably, who they could hire as teachers and how much testing they had to run their students through.

The state law outlining the special status was limited to a small number of school districts. Ultimately, Blue Valley, Kansas City, Fredonia, Concordia, Hugoton, Marysville and McPherson schools signed up.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Aging out into problems

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation looking at what happens to older children in foster care shows Kansas roughly follows national trends — and paints a bleak picture for their entry into adulthood.

Some things stand out in Kansas:

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Revving up revenues

Remember the tax cuts engineered by then-Gov. Sam Brownback? And recall how those tax cuts were followed, month after month and year after year by state tax revenue shortfalls?

Turns out their impact was underestimated all the time. And so the reversal of those tax cuts means more money than lawmakers had bargained on.

Stephen Koranda tells us that a new report raises the state’s projected tax collections for the current budget year by $300 million, about 4.5 percent.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Worse in Kansas

The foster care load in Kansas is growing faster than the rest of the country. Madeline Fox analyzed fresh national numbers on trends in children put into state custody and found that things are getting worse faster here than elsewhere.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Goodbye, Jeff. Hello, Kris?

I hated that he ran, because I would have loved to have brought him into my administration. In fact, if he loses, I’ll bring him into my administration in two seconds. — President Donald Trump stumping for Kris Kobach last month.

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