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Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

A few minutes of your time and about $100 gets you certified for Missouri’s medical marijuana program. A clinic near St. Louis even offered a “Pot of Gold Legalization” discount for St. Patrick’s Day. Don’t want to leave your house? Try an online appointment, no medical records needed.

Missouri’s fledgling program, approved by voters in 2018, is under an intense amount of scrutiny — and not just by lawmakers. Physicians themselves are concerned about loopholes like telemedicine and a lack of oversight when it comes to certifying patients for pot. 

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

The coronavirus continues to spread in Kansas. The result of emergency orders is that many people are staying in their homes.

The shutdown of businesses across the state has triggered a record wave of people seeking unemployment benefits. The public health emergency has also forced politicians off the campaign trail.

On this week’s Statehouse Blend Kansas, Jim McLean talks with the manager of one U.S. Senate campaign to find out how that candidate is adapting.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Kansas lawmakers approved a basic budget this week before heading home to await whatever the coronavirus has in store for the state and their communities.

They’re hoping to reconvene in late April to wrap up their work for the year. But they left knowing they might not have an opportunity to resolve their differences on several big issues, including Medicaid expansion and a constitutional amendment on abortion.

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — The week started with a Kansas House Democrat making an unusual request to not just his fellow lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, but to the Lord: “Please nudge our counterparts in the Senate. Please help them to work with a little more urgency.”

With the threat of the new coronavirus growing by the day — businesses were shutting down, universities moving fully online — legislators knew time was running out to pass the state’s budget for the next fiscal year. The action was pretty much restricted to the Statehouse’s document room and the chambers. No visitors or school groups in the halls of the Capitol, the hearing rooms empty, the whole place a reminder of how quickly things changed.

C.J. Janovy / KCUR 89.3

As federal and state courts cancel in-person proceedings amid concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, one court remains open for business, albeit not entirely as usual.

The immigration court in Kansas City, the only such court in Missouri, is continuing to hold hearings for detained immigrants, although it’s no longer conducting hearings for people not in custody.

But the confined space of its three courtrooms, located in an office building in Crown Center, don’t realistically allow for the “social distancing” recommended by public health officials.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

LAWRENCE, Kansas — Kansas’ prisons and many of its county jails have suspended in-person visits indefinitely to keep down the risk of coronavirus spreading among inmates. The only exception is lawyers, who will be allowed to visit their clients.

Correctional facilities’ close quarters and lower health care quality means there’s a higher likelihood of COVID-19 virus spreading, though state and county facilities say they are doing what they can to keep things clean — asking for frequent hand washing, wiping down transport vehicles and phones and frequently scrubbing prison dining halls and gathering spaces.

Screenshot - Kansas City, Missouri

A Kansas City Council committee on Wednesday advanced a $1.7 billion city budget in a chaotic, difficult-to-follow meeting in which most of the committee was not physically present.

“Obviously this is unusual times, so we’re trying to continue the business of the people, but yet do it in a way that’s safe for all of us,” councilwoman Katheryn Shields said to begin the meeting.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

Kansas lawmakers are making contingency plans in case the spread of the coronavirus forces an early end to the 2020 legislative session. A shortened session would lessen the chances of lawmakers resolving their differences on abortion and Medicaid expansion before heading home.

Susan Wagle, the Republican president of the Kansas Senate, is blocking consideration of a bipartisan expansion bill until the House approves a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution. Attempts by legislative leaders to end the stalemate appear to be making little progress.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

Renters in Kansas City, Missouri, are giving Mayor Quinton Lucas a Friday deadline to find money to fund an office that would enforce tenants’ rights.

Members of the tenant’s rights organization KC Tenants also accused Lucas of “gaslighting” them for characterizing them as “crazy” or “entitled” for demanding the money.

The tenants’ bill of rights, which was drafted by KC Tenants alongside the mayor’s office, passed overwhelmingly in December. Among other things, the package codifies protections for renters and requires landlords to disclose information about utilities.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Gov. Laura Kelly appointed lawyer Keynen “KJ” Wall to the Kansas Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Wall will fill the seat of former Justice Lawton Nuss, who retired in December after more than nine years leading the court as chief justice. It’s Kelly’s second appointment to the state’s highest court since she took office.

Chris Neal / Shooter Imaging

TOPEKA, Kansas — The state lost 13% of its public defenders over the past year.

That’s actually an improvement. Nearly a fourth of the state’s public defenders quit the year before.

But the turnover of those attorneys still represents a chronic problem for the State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services, the agency that provides lawyers to criminal defendants who can’t afford their own.

Maban Wright makes $66,000 as one of those public defenders, up from the $43,000 she earned at the agency 10 years ago.

Courtesy Transportation and Security Administration

A federal judge in Washington state issued a temporary injunction on Friday blocking Trump administration rule changes that could allow people to share plans for 3D-printed firearms in person, by mail or email.

The rules would shift oversight for some commercial arms exports from the State Department to the Department of Commerce, which said plans for 3D-printed guns posted online would still require an export license, but plans distributed by mail or in person would not.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Kansas health officials say the state is ready to deal with the new coronavirus now that Kansans are starting to get sick.

Lawmakers still aren’t ready to move past a dispute on abortion and Medicaid expansion that is blocking progress on both issues.

Host Jim McLean talks with a legislator at the center of that dispute about why he cast a decisive vote against the anti-abortion amendment. 

Also featured on this week’s episode: an interview with the state’s chief health officer on preparations for the coronavirus.

Democrats in the Missouri House are fighting to undo a state requirement for abortion providers to perform pelvic exams prior to abortions.

Legislation filed late last month would prohibit health care providers from requiring such examinations unless they are medically necessary.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — A pressure campaign led by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly aims to force Republican Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle to drop her blockade of a vote to expand Medicaid.

A majority of state senators back the plan, virtually assuring its passage if Wagle allowed a vote.

But Wagle, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, insists that the Legislature first put an anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution up for a statewide vote.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service file photo

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas has one of the highest rates of suspended drivers in the country, and the majority of those more than 215,000 licenses are suspended for unpaid fines or court fees — sometimes unrelated to driving. 

Both the Kansas House and Senate approved separate bills last month aimed at getting drivers back on the road. While some advocates say the state could do more, others are concerned any changes will lead to hundreds of thousands less for the court system. 

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas is rethinking some of his proposed budget cuts.

The budget Lucas announced earlier this month included major cuts to arts, tourism and entrepreneurship programs. 

But in a letter to the city council late Friday afternoon, Lucas said he will restore funding to the Kansas City Film Commission and Children’s Mercy Hospital.

At the city’s first budget hearing in February, dozens of filmmakers, artists and arts supporters testified against the reductions.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Kansas lawmakers sped through dozens of bills this past week to keep them alive past a “turn around” deadline marking the midpoint of the session.

Measures to legalize sports betting and to give citizens more control over property taxes were among bills that made the cut. 

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — From 2000 to 2019, the women’s prison population in Kansas rose by 60%. Over the same time period, the men’s population rose by only 14%.

That outpaces national trends over the past two decades, according to a new report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Conservative Republicans at the Kansas Statehouse are attempting to block passage of Medicaid expansion until lawmakers send a constitutional amendment on abortion to voters.

The amendment, which would overturn a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling that declared abortion a right protected by the state’s Bill of Rights, has passed the Senate but remains a handful of votes short in the House.

Shannon Lockwood / Courtesy of Emily Brown

Emily Brown runs a nonprofit in the Kansas City area. She is a black woman who wears her hair naturally. In 2016, she was invited to speak at a national conference, but one of the board members pulled her aside.

"'You know, I think you’re smart,'" Brown told the story recently on KCUR's Central Standard. "'But I’m concerned, you know, that people in the room may not fully hear you because of your hair. You should consider straightening your hair, you know, before you take this trip.'"

File photo by Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Taxpayers in Kansas City, Missouri, have a chance between now and March 3 to influence how the city spends their money.

Mayor Quinton Lucas released his proposed budget last week. The budget prioritizes fighting violent crime, increasing the city’s stock of affordable housing and fixing potholes, but it falls roughly $3 million short of another of the mayor's priorities: eliminating bus fares.

KCUR 89.3 file photo

As city and state governments across the country legalize marijuana, Kansas City’s mayor wants to make it easier to clean the slate for people convicted of some cannabis-related offenses.

Mayor Quinton Lucas introduced an online system Tuesday afternoon that lets people convicted on municipal marijuana possession charges in Kansas City ask for pardons — free of charge.

“What I want to be able to do for these folks is to say, ‘You might’ve made a mistake at some point, but that we’re going to be fair in how we apply the law in Kansas City and in Missouri,’” Lucas said.

Screenshot from the Kansas Bureau of Investigations' website

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas is unmatched in its tracking of ex-convicts, resulting in more than 21,000 people convicted of sex, drug or violent crimes being registered on a public database.

One of them is Marc Schultz, who was convicted of manslaughter for hitting and killing a cyclist while driving drunk in 2010.

“I will forever live with the burden of taking a man’s life for a decision that I made,” Schultz said Monday. “But I didn’t intend for this to happen.”

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — When it comes to cybersecurity, most Kansas counties are behind. Overall, only eight county websites end in .gov, a domain extension that’s only given to governments.

Most of Kansas’ 105 counties have websites ending in .org or .com. And 60 counties don’t use a basic security protocol called SSL; their website URLs start with “http” rather than the more secure “https.” Both make it easier for hackers to impersonate websites in an effort to install malware, trick citizens into giving out personal data or sway elections.

Scott Canon / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s transportation plan isn’t as bold as those that came before it.

Since the 1990s, Kansas has spent tens of billions of dollars on three successive 10-year programs. Each required a tax increase and launched with a commitment to complete a long list of new building projects.

But Kelly, a Democrat who won election on a promise to restore the state’s finances, isn’t proposing a bunch of new projects. And she isn’t seeking a tax increase to help pay for her plan.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Kansas is slipping to the back of the pack on some critical economic measures. In this episode of Statehouse Blend Kansas, host Jim McLean talks with Kansas Department of Commerce Secretary David Toland about what the agency is doing to try to reverse those trends.

McLean also hears from Kansas News Service reporters about a proposal to ban the sale of vaping flavors, and he asks why Republicans resist Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s proposal to create an independent office on energy policy.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says that without focusing on basic city services in 2020, any goodwill that’s been built up means nothing.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas is set to release his proposed budget Thursday, and it’s roughly $3 million short of what transportation officials say they need to get rid of bus fares.

Kansas City, Missouri, got national attention last year when the city council pledged to find the money to go fare-free. Officials at the time estimated that it would cost $8 million to pull off.

Courtesy of Loevy & Loevy law firm

TOPEKA, Kansas — Wendy Couser, a former juvenile intake officer at the Newton Police Department, has always believed in the importance of consequences. 

But Couser feels that she’s yet to see consequences for the law enforcement officials who beat, shot and killed her son, William “Matthew” Holmes, during an arrest in August 2017. That’s because, she said, police only conducted one investigation, the full details of which were not made public. 

“I couldn’t have gotten information on my own if I didn’t have attorneys,” Couser said. “I’m sure nobody would have told me anything.” 

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