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Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Set apart from its fast-food neighbors by a vintage neon sign that speaks of another era, the Hanover Pancake House sits a few short blocks from the Kansas Statehouse. It’s been a Capital mainstay for more than 50 years.

But today, like most dine-in restaurants across the state, it’s closed because of the coronavirus.

Those closures have thrown tens of thousands of Kansans out of work and deprived hundreds of thousands more the comfort of friends in familiar places.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Dr. Joe Meier’s hospital in Wilson County has 15 beds, no intensive care unit and one ventilator. Two of his neighboring counties in southeast Kansas have no hospital at all, and another two have no ICU either.

So Meier has a plea to the residents of his region: Stay home.

"It's not a matter of 'if' (COVID-19) is going to hit here,' he said. "It’s a matter of when."

Scott Canon / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — A Democrat hasn’t won a U.S. Senate race in Kansas since the early days of the Great Depression.

It took that economic crisis to propel George McGill, riding on Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coattails, to a win. And he served but a single term.

This year, the country finds itself on the cusp of another economic calamity. The COVID-19 epidemic sent the stock market into convulsions, forced all range of business and campaigning into hibernation and put life in limbo.

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.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

LAWRENCE, Kansas — With public and private school buildings closed until August, education officials want students to limit their screen time and spend less than three hours a day learning.

A report released Thursday directs districts to spend five days assessing students’ technology needs, building lesson plans and telling parents what to expect. Districts are required to submit a plan to the state for doing so by early April.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — A man in his 70s who lived in a long-term care facility in Wyandotte County is the first known death from the new coronavirus in Kansas, state officials said Thursday night. The man was not among the state’s official count of cases, which had risen to four earlier in the day. 

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly also has declared a state of emergency, which gives the government more power to marshal resources and triggers the state's response plan.

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.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Republican legislative leaders blocking a push to give Medicaid coverage to about 130,000 more Kansans say they fear the expansion’s impact on publicly funded abortions. Other Republicans and Democrats reject that argument as a red herring.

The Kansas News Service has learned that Medicaid has paid for a total of four abortions in the state between Jan. 1, 2013, and this month.

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.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — A proposal to ban all fruity and sweet vaping flavors in Kansas has upset both pro-vaping and anti-tobacco groups.

Hundreds of popular flavors would disappear. Menthol would remain. The flavor restrictions wouldn’t apply to traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes.

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

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.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansans will likely vote this August on whether to become the fourth state to enshrine in their constitution that abortion isn't a right.

Anti-abortion activists say Kansas needs the change to protect its current abortion laws against potential court challenges.  

Their abortion rights counterparts warn many of those laws already go too far, and the constitutional amendment would pave the way for making abortion illegal.

Where does Kansas law stand on abortion today?

Erica Hunzinger / Kansas News Service

OLATHE, Kansas — Candidates determined to keep Kansas’ U.S. Senate seats in Republican hands quarreled Saturday over immigration, health care and federal spending, but no topic was more debated than who is the most friendly and in step with President Donald Trump.

In front of a standing-room only crowd at the 2020 Kansas Republican Party convention, U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, former Secretary of State Kris Kobach and state Senate President Susan Wagle argued over which of them was the most conservative and would be Trump’s most loyal foot soldier in the U.S. Senate.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — The new Medicaid expansion bill, the product of a compromise between Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and some Republican leaders, would change how state prisons and county jails fund health care for prisoners.

Chiefs.com

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansans thinking about wagering a few bucks on the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl appearance this weekend would have to go to one of 14 states to do it legally.

But by later this year, sports betting could be legal in Kansas. This year’s bill is a compromise — allowing people over 21 to gamble on sports through the companies that run the state-owned casinos and via online apps. And it has some critical support.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

NEODESHA, Kansas — Three hundred middle and high schoolers filed into their school auditorium last week in the small, southeast Kansas town of Neodesha, uncertain why they’d been called there.

They left cheering and hugging. Some of the older students were teary-eyed.

College tuition and fees need no longer hold back graduates of this manufacturing community, about halfway between Wichita, Kansas, and Joplin, Missouri. A wealthy donor hoping to turn around the fortunes of his dwindling hometown — population 2,300 — will foot those costs for the next 25 years, and possibly decades beyond that.

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

Go here to subscribe to the My Fellow Kansans podcast. This season, we look at the prospects of rural places.

DODGE CITY, Kansas — The history of this small city built on the cattle trade sets it apart from most towns in rural Kansas. The mere name of the place evokes recollections of the Wild West and the subsequent romancing of that age.

Yet Dodge City also stands apart from the region that surrounds it. This place is growing.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

When Dan Hoyt started graduate school at the University of Kansas in 2016, he knew he had anxiety and depression. He worried about being able to find a job after graduation. And, sometimes, he couldn’t get through his assigned reading.

“When you have anxieties, that gets impossible,” he said. “I'll think about the same things over and over and over again.”

But when he reached out to KU’s counseling services, he was told he had to wait five months before he could get an appointment with a therapist at the Lawrence campus. And getting there from KU’s Overland Park campus, where he took classes, complicated things.

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