Kansas News Service | KCUR

Kansas News Service

The Kansas News Service produces essential enterprise reporting, diving deep and connecting the dots regarding the policies, issues and events that affect the health of Kansans and their communities. The team is based at KCUR and collaborates with public media stations and other news outlets across Kansas. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter. Bookmark our homepage at ksnewsservice.org

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

The Kansas News Service is made possible by a group of funding organizations, led by the Kansas Health Foundation. Other funders include United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, Sunflower Foundation, REACH Healthcare Foundation and the Health Forward Foundation. Additional support comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas ⁠— Lawmakers are fast-tracking a push to amend the state constitution and undo a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that said women have the right to abortion.

The goal, with voters’ approval in August, is to add a line to the state bill of rights saying abortion isn’t constitutionally protected ⁠— and that legislators can regulate abortions, including when a pregnancy results from rape or incest or threatens a woman’s life.

The proposal already is awaiting floor votes in both chambers, just over a week after the 2020 session began. 

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Medicaid expansion is a done deal, right?

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Jim Denning, the second most powerful Republican in the Kansas Senate, have compromised on a plan. Together, they bring a majority of lawmakers with them. So, game over.

Sure, the deal still needs to clear the Legislature and get the blessing of federal regulators. But the hard part — breaking an almost decade-long stalemate on the issue — looks done.

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.

WICHITA, Kansas — About 150,000 people in Kansas get their drinking water from private wells.

How clean, and safe, is that water? Short answer: It depends.

But new research suggests those wells deliver water tainted with a range of pollutants. Some leaked from dry cleaning operations. Yet far more wells soak up, and deliver to taps, fertilizer that’s been building up in Kansas soil and water over generations of modern farming.

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.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Kansas City, Missouri — Time was, a fledgling tech company called CivicPlus had to explain to prospective customers why it was based in Kansas — and not some tech-heavy coastal city.

“We said, ‘Hey, you get Midwest values, but with Silicon Valley quality,’” recalled Ward Morgan, owner of the government software maker based in the college town of Manhattan. “It did throw people off to think that there was a tech company in Kansas.”

Today CivicPlus, founded in the 1990s, serves 3,500 cities and counties on two continents.

Spirit AeroSystems announced Friday that it will lay off 2,800 employees at its plant in Wichita as the shutdown of the Boeing 737 Max program drags on.

The move comes just weeks after Boeing ordered Spirit to halt all deliveries of 737 Max components. Spirit produces about 70% of the jet at its facility in south Wichita, including the fuselage. The program accounts for half of the company's annual revenue.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and a key Republican lawmaker said Thursday they’ve crafted a deal to make roughly 130,000 more Kansans eligible for Medicaid.

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.

Wyandotte County Sheriff's Office

The Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office amended charges Wednesday against the two men suspected in October's fatal shootings at a bar in Kansas City, Kansas.

Hugo Villanueva-Morales and Javier Alatorre now also face capital murder charges in the shootings at Tequila KC that killed four people and injured five. Under Kansas law, capital murder charges carry a sentence of either life in prison without chance of parole or the death penalty. 

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. 

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The Shawnee Mission School District and four district officials have  agreed to pay $165,000 to resolve a lawsuit alleging school officials failed to take action against a middle school student accused of sexually assaulting another student.

The district and officials agreed to the settlement in September but the amount was not disclosed until Monday, when U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree approved the settlement.

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Chris Costantini lay in a cold sweat, his shoulder dislocated after slipping on a porch in Kansas City, Kansas.

He’d been out alone, knocking on doors and rustling up voters for the upcoming midterms in October 2018. Now he waited for an ambulance, full of anxiety about how the injury could hinder his next performance at the Kansas City Ballet.

Barbara Shelly / KCUR 89.3

Cancer survivors and their loved ones who attend meetings of the Prostate Network in Kansas City have talked for years about a radiation treatment called proton beam therapy.

They know it’s expensive and controversial. Some doctors and healthcare experts say it’s no more effective than standard X-ray radiation, and costs twice as much. But some of the network’s own members have used proton therapy and swear by the results.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — This state capital made national headlines in December when it announced it would pay anyone up to $15,000 to move here and work for local companies in Shawnee County.

With a pilot program called “Choose Topeka,” the city joins a long line of places like Vermont and Tulsa, Oklahoma, that offer cash to new arrivals.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — It typically took Walt Hill more than a year to recruit a psychiatrist to northwest Kansas. Now he doesn’t even bother.

Instead, the executive director of the High Plains Mental Health Center relies on out-of-state doctors willing to work remotely, treating patients through video conference.

For years, the center has used remote appointments with local psychiatrists to reach patients in far-flung corners of its coverage area, which spans 20 largely rural counties.

Dealing With Hospital Closure, Pioneer Kansas Town Asks: What Comes Next?

Dec 26, 2019
Christopher Smith / Kaiser Health News

FORT SCOTT, Kan. — A slight drizzle had begun in the gray December sky outside Community Christian Church as Reta Baker, president of the local hospital, stepped through the doors to join a weekly morning coffee organized by Fort Scott’s chamber of commerce.

The town manager was there, along with the franchisee of the local McDonald’s, an insurance agency owner and the receptionist from the big auto sales lot. Baker, who grew up on a farm south of town, knew them all.

WICHITA, Kansas — As global carbon dioxide emissions break records, Kansas is headed in the opposite direction — reducing emissions for 10 straight years.

Kansas’ decline is largely due to the rapid adoption of wind energy and a slow move away from coal powered electricity. That is to say: Kansas produces less carbon dioxide, or CO2, the powerful greenhouse gas that’s released into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels and is a major driver of climate change.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas and federal election officials say they know the 2020 election could come under attack from foreign governments or rogue hackers. They also insist they’re braced to guard against efforts to tamper with voting.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / The Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Personal income growth in Kansas is below the national average, due in large part to troubles in the agriculture industry, which makes up about 40% percent of the state’s economy.

Kansas farmers face an expanding drought and low commodity prices, though a break in the ongoing tariff dispute may bring those up.

“Farmers have bills to pay,” Kansas Wheat Commission CEO Justin Gilpin said. “Ultimately, what we need to do is hopefully see commodity prices somewhat bottom out here and get trade going.”

The blow also has been softened by a total of $732 million in federal trade-bailout money in 2019 alone, which Gilpin calls a “lifeline” for some Kansas farmers.

Spirit AeroSystems said Friday it will suspend production of the 737 Max beginning Jan. 1.

The company says Boeing ordered Spirit to halt all 737 deliveries. The 737 Max was grounded in March following two fatal crashes overseas.

Spirit did not say how the production suspension would affect its workforce of more than 13,000 people. The company is Wichita's largest private employer.

Spirit makes more than 70 percent of the 737 at its south Wichita plant.

Chris Haxel / KCUR 89.3

Ahead of a presidential impeachment vote in the U.S. House, and with a trial looming in the Senate, hundreds of protesters gathered Tuesday evening outside the Overland Park, Kansas, office of U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts in an effort to convince him to break with his Republican colleagues.

The House vote is expected to fall largely along party lines.

Roberts, who plans to retire when his fourth term expires next year, has not publicly stated how he intends to vote.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — A Shawnee County district judge was named Monday to one of the vacancies on the Kansas Supreme Court.

Though the state’s most prominent anti-abortion group opposed Shawnee County District Court Judge Evelyn Wilson, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly Chose Wilson from among the three candidates recommended by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. It’s a choice that could fuel efforts to change how Kansas’ Supreme Court justices get their seats.

Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department

Updated at 6 a.m. Dec. 15 with suspect in Wyandotte County jail — Two months after a fatal shooting left four dead at a Kansas City, Kansas, bar, the second suspect has been arrested. 

Hugo Villanueva-Morales, 29, was taken into custody Wednesday by Michoacan State Police in Mexico, about 1,700 miles from Tequila KC. He and Javier Alatorre, 23, allegedly opened fire in the bar around 1:30 a.m. on October 6, killing Martin Rodriguez-Gonzalez, Alfredo Calderon, Ebar Meza-Aguirre and Francisco Anaya-Garcia.

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A church whose request to operate a temporary homeless shelter was opposed by the city of Lenexa will be able to do so after all.

Under a settlement reached on Friday, Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church will be allowed to use its building, a former elementary school, to house up to 30 homeless adults overnight from Dec. 13 through April 1 and for the next three years.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

The Interstate Crosscheck system, a controversial voter registration tracking program championed by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was labeled effectively “dead” after a legal agreement was announced Tuesday.  

As part of the settlement in a lawsuit brought last year by the ACLU of Kansas, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab agreed to complete a series of information safeguards and issue an “acknowledgement of error.”

File photo

Eighty-two veterans who were sexually abused by a former physician assistant at the VA hospital in Leavenworth have settled their lawsuits against the government for nearly $7 million.

The physician assistant, Mark Wisner, was convicted in 2017 of aggravated sexual battery and aggravated criminal sodomy and sentenced to 15 years and seven months in prison.

Evert Nelson / The Capital-Journal

Nathan Ross on Friday told the leaders of Kansas child advocacy groups the story of watching his mother kill two brothers, then urged the groups to work together to avoid subjecting more kids to deadly conditions.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — One solution to Kansas prisons’ woes could come with a $35 million price tag for three new specialty prisons.

The state’s corrections system only treats half of its inmates who struggle with substance abuse. And as some people serve decades-long sentences, the system finds itself home to more elderly prisoners who need special care as they age.

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