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Nuclear Regulatory Commission, flickr Creative Commons

A Kansas laboratory responsible for testing for contamination in the event of an accident at the state's only nuclear power plant hasn't been staffed for several weeks after its final two employees left in September.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says an Iowa lab is testing routine samples from the Wolf Creek nuclear plant, and that Kansas has several other agencies that would respond if there were an emergency.

mcdarius, flickr Creative Commons

Kansas officials are considering tougher penalties for people who chronically exceed water supply consumption limits or don't report how much water is pumped from wells.

Susan Metzger is assistant secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, she talked about changing penalties Thursday before an interim legislative committee. She said the $250 fine for not reporting water use isn't much of a deterrent. She said overdrawing water for a year gets a written notice.

Metzger said the department hasn't determined how much penalties would rise, or when it would take effect.

Carla Eckels / KMUW

Lower energy prices that are benefiting consumers at gasoline pumps have hit oil- and natural gas-producing counties in western Kansas hard.

It's forcing counties to cut spending or increase property tax levies just as the state is ending an aid program meant to insulate them.

The state Department of Revenue said oil and gas property values declined an average of 52 percent this year. Sixteen western Kansas counties saw their total property values decrease more than 20 percent, hurting their ability to raise local tax revenues.

Carla Eckels

The top election official in Kansas was dismissed as a defendant from the lawsuit filed by a Wichita mathematician seeking voting machine tapes after finding statistical anomalies in election counts.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said in a statement Thursday he was pleased but not surprised. The move leaves Sedgwick County Elections Commissioner Tabitha Lehman, whose office actually has the tapes, as the only defendant in the case.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr / Creative Commons

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will be on the ballot for the Kansas GOP caucus in March.

The real estate magnate has paid the $15,000 filing fee to be on the party's caucus March 5. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are already on the ballot.

Trump has led the GOP presidential race in most national polls for several weeks.

His closest challenger is Ben Carson, who was visiting Topeka and Overland Park on Friday. Carson has not yet filed for the caucus.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is scheduled to open a new $55 million crime laboratory, replacing a crowded, outdated facility.

KBI Director Kirk Thompson said the previous Topeka space didn't meet accreditation standards.

"It had no space for our scientists to work individually," Thompson said. "They had to wait for instruments; they had to wait for space. What this facility will do is let us be much more efficient in how we move, how we do our work, how we store evidence and how we process all of our evidence."

Kansas and two other states are suing the federal government over fees imposed on insurance companies as part of the Affordable Care Act.

In a news release issued Thursday, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said the state is seeking a $32.8 million refund from the federal government. The lawsuit, which was filed with Texas and Louisiana, also seeks to stop the collection of fees from insurance companies that manage the states' Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance programs.

States are required to reimburse the private insurance companies for the costs of the fee.

The Associated Press

Kansas congressman Tim Huelskamp is resisting Paul Ryan's appeals for GOP lawmakers to rally behind him as House speaker and questions the Wisconsin Republican's interest in the job.

Huelskamp said Wednesday that conditions Ryan has outlined for taking the job leaves the impression with him that Ryan doesn't really want to be speaker.

Huelskamp is a tea party favorite who represents the 1st District of western and central Kansas.

Flickr Creative Commons

A Kansas agency says its workers are locked out of a computer program, delaying them from processing veterans' claims through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs uses a computer program that allows them to process hundreds of claims each month and send them to the VA's regional office in Wichita.

But commission workers have been locked out of the program lately. Without the program, the claims have to be faxed or mailed, which can take weeks.

Some Kansas officials question the value of data collected in annual reports meant to identify state buildings using excessive amounts of energy.

The Department of Administration presented such a report Tuesday to a joint legislative committee that oversees state construction projects. The report said 120 of the 328 buildings surveyed, or nearly 37 percent, had excessive energy use over the past five years.