Stephen Koranda

Contributing Reporter

Stephen Koranda reports on the Kansas Legislature, state government and everything else for Kansas Public Radio. He previously worked in Mississippi and Iowa, where he covered stories ranging from hurricanes to state executions. 

Wikipedia

A Democratic lawmaker from Lawrence is hoping a medicinal hemp oil bill can win approval during the tail end of the legislative session. The bill would allow the use of hemp oil in Kansas to treat seizures.

Rep. John Wilson says the legislation has passed the House and he’s pushing for approval in the Senate before the session ends.

“I’m hopeful, and I’m getting a sense from other lawmakers that there is really strong interest in the issue, it’s just a matter of getting the right people on board with the idea,” Wilson says.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The Kansas Supreme Court will hear arguments next month in a school funding lawsuit. At issue is whether Kansas lawmakers have complied with a previous ruling that says funding disparities need to be reduced.

Republican House Speaker Ray Merrick says he isn’t planning on waiting for the ruling before ending the session. He believes legislators helped reduce disparities when they redistributed school funding.

“I think we’ve done our job. I think it’s a good bill. Is equity ever going to be solved? I don’t think you can ever solve equity,” Merrick says.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Gov. Sam Brownback has signed into law legislation that overhauls the juvenile justice system in Kansas. The changes will allow more low-risk juvenile offenders to stay out of detention centers and instead take part in community-based rehabilitation programs.

Brownback says this promotes the rehabilitation of youth instead of focusing on incarceration.

“Senate Bill 367 offers practical, sensible reform. This bill is about being smart on crime. It’s about making sure our communities are safe while juveniles are held accountable for their actions,” Brownback said.

J. Stephen Conn, flickr Creative Commons

The Kansas Supreme Court has set a hearing for May 10 on a school funding plan aimed at reducing disparities between school districts.

Justices have threatened to close schools if the issue isn’t resolved by this summer. The date of the hearing might mean it isn’t fully settled by the time lawmakers want to end the session.

The so-called veto session starts the last week of April and traditionally lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says a decision following the hearing could come quickly because justices seem to be working fast.

http://www.kdads.ks.gov

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration is moving mental health inmates between state facilities as a way to alleviate staffing shortages. The plan includes moving dozens of inmates with mental health issues from Larned State Hospital units to another facility run by the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Brownback says the inmates will still receive psychiatric services once they’re moved.

“You want to make sure that you’ve got people in the right place so you can maximize your space and your utilization of it. Those are management things,” Brownback says.

Kansas Public Radio

Kansas law enforcement officials have partnered with the trucking industry to better train truck drivers to identify and report suspected human trafficking.

Truckers can now call a national hotline to report evidence of human trafficking. That information will then be relayed to local authorities. 

“We’re making the reporting more timely, hopefully, so drivers as they’re seeing crimes happening can report it, giving law enforcement a better response time,” says Esther Goetsch of the group Truckers Against Trafficking.

Michael B. / flickr Creative Commons

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a school aid bill Wednesday that Kansas lawmakers hope will satisfy the state Supreme Court's ruling to fix equity issues in education financing.

Nadya Faulx / KMUW

Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo, from Wichita, is not ruling out a run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by fellow Republican Jerry Moran.

Pompeo blasted the Kansas senator after Moran called for hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, then changed his mind. As KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports, the harsh words fueled talk that Pompeo might challenge Moran.

Moran changed his position on holding hearings after facing criticism. Pompeo called it a “tardy conversion.”

Phil Moyer, flickr Creative Commons

Officials from northeast Kansas met on Tuesday to review response plans for a possible outbreak of the Ebola virus.

More than 50 people from local governments, health agencies and law enforcement gathered for the exercise. Shawnee County Emergency Management Director Dusty Nichols says they have plans in place, and these types of agency reviews help them determine if the plans will work.

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

The month of March was short on moisture, and now drought is creeping across much of Kansas.

Assistant State Climatologist Mary Knapp says March is normally a wet month, so last month's dry conditions had a big impact.

“Because it's the start of our wetter pattern, things go down very, very quickly when we don't get what we should be seeing,” Knapp says. “If we are dry in April and May, then we are going to be increasingly in bad shape.”

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