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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.” 

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

The Kansas House of Representatives has stopped — at least temporarily — an all-out push by anti-abortion groups for a constitutional amendment that they say is needed to maintain the state’s ability to regulate the procedure.

Supporters fell four votes short Friday of putting an amendment on the August primary ballot to overturn a recent Kansas Supreme Court decision that declared abortion a "fundamental" right under the state's Bill of Rights.

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — The Kansas House narrowly rejected a constitutional amendment Friday that would have said there’s no right to abortion in the state constitution.

After the defeat, Republican leaders promised this “was just the beginning.”

“Don’t be surprised when it comes up again because it will come up again this session,” House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins said after the vote.

The final count was 80-43, just short of the 84 votes needed to put the issue on a statewide ballot vote where Kansans could reject it or add it to the state constitution.

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

Kansas lawmakers are nearing decisions on two big issues — Medicaid expansion and a constitutional amendment on abortion.

They’re also talking about how to raise more money without increasing taxes. One idea is to legalize wagering on sporting events.

We talk about all that and with Republican state Rep. Adam Smith, chair of the House Committee on Rural Revitalization, on this edition of Statehouse Blend Kansas.

Kansas City, Missouri, has finally agreed to hold up its end of the so-called economic border war truce with Kansas.

The move on Thursday came more than five months after Missouri and Kansas agreed to stop poaching companies from one side of the state line to the other.

Firearm Deaths Hold Steady After Record-Setting 2017

Jan 30, 2020
James Gathany / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A near-record number of Americans died by gunshot in 2018 according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to a CDC spokesperson, nearly 40,000 people died by firearm in America, including suicide, homicide and accidents. The rate of firearm deaths dipped slightly between 2017 and 2018, going from 12 to 11.9 per 100,000 people.

Rich Hoffarth / St. Louis Public Radio

A federal judge has refused to sign off on a deal that would cap the number of cases Missouri’s public defenders are allowed to handle.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey on Monday found that the proposed consent judgment between the ACLU of Missouri and the state’s public defender system was essentially unworkable.

The agreement, reached in May, set maximum caseloads for the state’s public defenders, limiting their hours to no more than 173.3 per month.

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

In this episode of Statehouse Blend Kansas, host Jim McLean looks at the legislative session. Lawmakers are already at odds on the hot-button issues of abortion and Medicaid expansion. Republican leaders are pushing for quick passage of an anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution. Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning are joining forces to break a nearly decade-long stalemate on expansion.

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

The legislative session in Kansas is just getting underway, but lawmakers are already at odds on the hot-button issues of abortion and Medicaid expansion. Republican leaders are pushing for quick passage of an anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution. Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning are joining forces to break a nearly decade-long stalemate on expansion.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

A 73-year-old Kansas prison dental instructor accused of sexually abusing inmates goes on trial Monday.

Tomas Co, 73, taught inmates at the Topeka Correctional Facility, the state’s only women’s prison. He faces six felony counts in Shawnee County of unlawful sexual relations for allegedly kissing students, touching them inappropriately and commenting on their appearances. He was removed from his job in 2018.

Nomin Ujiyediin of the Kansas News Service interviewed the Topeka Capital-Journal’s Sherman Smith, who broke the story in 2019 and will be following the trial. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City voters will decide in April whether to increase the city sales tax to help maintain buildings and buy new vehicles for the fire department.

The City Council voted 10-2 on Thursday to place the issue on the ballot in April. Councilmembers Melissa Robinson and Eric Bunch voted against the measure. Mayor Quinton Lucas was absent.

Kansas News Service file photo

TOPEKA, Kansas — The same kids who end up in trouble with the law often come from families in disarray.

Those families, in turn, regularly turn to the state for food assistance, foster care or mental health care.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

While we’re glued to the news gushing daily out of Washington — impeachment, immigration, health care — the truth is we should be paying just as close attention to what local governments are up to.

Stephen Koranda / 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.

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — The 2020 Kansas Legislature is underway. And while Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly laid out some of her top priorities during the State of the State address on Wednesday, Republican leaders of the House and Senate (and Kelly's fellow Democrats) have some different goals. 

Here are five issues that will be top of mind for the governor and lawmakers as the session heats up.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

The Kansas City Council this week will discuss an ambitious proposal to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2030.

The measure, dubbed Vision Zero, was introduced following the death of a well-known Kansas City cyclist late last year.

The strategy, first implemented in Sweden in the 1990s, has seen success in Europe, but American cities that have followed suit have struggled to lower traffic fatalities.

Pressure Mounts To Fix The Chronically Troubled Foster Care System In Kansas

Jan 9, 2020
The Newton Kansan

TOPEKA, Kansas — Natalie Zarate entered state custody when she was 11 years old, removed from a physically abusive mother and placed in a group home for foster children.

Now 23, she trembles when she thinks about her time at EmberHope Youthville in Newton.

The Kansas Governor Wants To Create A One-Stop Agency For Social Welfare Programs

Jan 8, 2020
Evert Nelson / The Topeka Capital-Journal

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. 

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City Councilwoman Teresa Loar has come under fire for comments she made about a bike infrastructure plan in the wake of a well-known bicyclist’s death.

Pablo Sanders died last month after being struck by a car while crossing Southwest Trafficway on his bike on Christmas Eve.

Gun control, Medicaid and redistricting are expected to be the most contentious issues Missouri lawmakers will take up this legislative session. 

House and Senate members return to the state Capitol on Wednesday, and the governor is to deliver his State of the State address a week later on Jan. 15. 

Democrats in both chambers say gun control and urban violence will be at the top of their list of priorities. 

Eric Schmitt was the first person in his immediate family to go to college — let alone get a law degree. 

So it’s not surprising that Schmitt said he recognizes the civic weight of serving as Missouri’s attorney general.

And roughly a year after Gov. Mike Parson appointed him to that post, the Republican is reflecting on his office’s crime-fighting efforts — and looking to the 2020 legislative session to enact policy initiatives to enhance public safety.

Editor's note: This story is part of a collaborative-reporting initiative supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. All stories can be found here

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that police had to abide by the Bill of Rights when they seize property from people, Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Baldwin, thought he finally had the momentum to reform civil asset forfeiture and end what he calls “policing for profit.”

He thought he would be able to stop Missouri police from pulling over motorists, seizing cash without a crime and keeping the money for departmental expenditures.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

As construction continues on a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport, aviation officials are considering different ways to make the trip from the parking lot to the terminal more efficient.

As part of an agreement with the rental car companies, the department is considering an automated people mover, or APM, that would run on a fixed schedule.

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