TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A conservative social agenda that rewrote the state's abortion, gun rights and voter ID rules dominated Kansas's top stories of 2013, underscoring the state's persistent move to the right under Governor Sam Brownback.
Reporters and editors for The Associated Press picked the state's changes to abortion laws as Kansas's top story, as legislators enacted a sweeping law that bans sex-selection abortions, blocks tax breaks for providers and prohibits them from furnishing instructors or materials for public schools' sexuality courses. The new restrictions also affect providers' websites and spell out what information patients must receive before their pregnancies are terminated. Most of the law took effect in July, with lawsuits pending in state and federal court, as the state's legal costs mounted.
Government leaders were also busy on other social issues. With a push from the National Rifle Association, Kansas became the first state to attempt to restrict the use of state funds for lobbying or advocacy on gun issues, and it also enacted a law declaring that the federal government has no power to regulate firearms, ammunition or accessories manufactured, sold and kept in Kansas. Lawmakers also passed a measure to ensure that people with valid concealed carry permits can bring their weapons into more public buildings.
The year also saw Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach champion a law that requires new voters to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship when they register, as an anti-fraud measure. The law took effect in January, and the list of voters whose registrations were on hold -- preventing them from legally casting ballots -- grew to more than 18,000. Kobach initiated a federal lawsuit, working with Arizona, in hopes of forcing federal officials to modify their registration form to aid in the law's enforcement, and the American Civil Liberties Union launched its own litigation.
The year's number-2 story came December 13 when the FBI foiled an alleged plot by a Wichita avionics technician to detonate a car bomb inside the city's Mid-Continent Regional Airport. Terry Lee Loewen was charged with plotting with undercover FBI agents to collect explosives, put them in a vehicle and drive them into the airport terminal in an act of "violent jihad."
Prosecutors claimed Loewen became radicalized toward violence against the U.S. after searching for and downloading documents about jihad. Loewen, who had loaded his vehicle with explosives that he didn't know were inert, was arrested on the morning he planned the attack as he tried to enter the airport gate.
The number-3 story was drought, and for a change the news was mostly good. Drought conditions eased significantly across Kansas, bolstering predictions for better crops of corn, sorghum and soybeans. But by the end of summer, dry conditions remained a problem for some growers, especially in the state's northwest corner where heat was again wilting crops.
The rest of the top 10:
No. 4 — HEALTH CARE: Kansas opted out of having its own, state-run online health insurance marketplace, leaving uninsured Kansas to navigate the troubled federal website after its startup in October. Also, legislators blocked any expansion of the state's Medicaid program as contemplated by the federal health care law, complaining about the potential cost. The state turned over the administration of its Medicaid program to three private companies, and Governor Sam Brownback proclaimed that the state was delivering better care at less costs, though by the end of the year, hospitals were complaining that they were seeing long delays in reimbursements.
No. 5 — BRADLEY MANNING: Chelsea Manning, the Army private formerly known as Bradley Manning, was convicted and sentenced in August to serve a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth for sending more than 700,000 secret military and State Department documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. Manning has threatened to go to court over her desire to live as a woman and receive hormone replacement therapy.
No. 6 — SEACAT TRIAL: Former Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy Brett Seacat was convicted in June in the death of his wife after a trial in which prosecutors contend he set fire to the family's home in Kingman to destroy evidence as their two young sons slept down the hall.
No. 7 — KANSAS FARM BODIES: An Ottawa man was charged with killing four people on an eastern Kansas farm in May. Kyle T. Flack, who was 28 at the time, was charged with capital murder, first-degree murder, rape and criminal possession of a firearm. Prosecutors say he killed three adults and an 18-month-old girl in late April and early May. No motive has been publicly alleged.
No. 8 — SCHOOL FUNDING. The Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments in October in the state's appeal of a ruling requiring legislators to increase annual spending on public schools by at least $440 million, after negotiations with lawyers for aggrieved parents and school districts didn't go anywhere.
No. 9 — SOUTHEAST KANSAS FAMILY KILLED. A 22-year-old southeast Kansas man remained jailed on $5 million bond and facing capital murder charges after being arrested for the November killings of a Parsons woman and her three young children.
No. 10 — 'HARD 50' FIX. In June, a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Virginia case raised questions about the constitutionality of the Kansas law that allows people convicted of first-degree murder to be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 50 years. Brownback called a special session for September, and lawmakers passed a fix in two days. But the special session also raised questions about whether the law should be even tougher.
Other stories drawing attention:
— JUDICIAL SELECTION: Brownback and conservative Republicans who want to change how Kansas Court of Appeals and Supreme Court members are selected succeeded in changing the process for the Court of Appeals but not the higher court, so that the Court of Appeals judges are chosen by the governor, with Senate confirmation. Brownback appointed his chief counsel, Caleb Stegall, to a new Court of Appeals position, then touched off protests by refusing to release the names of all applicants. Stegall was confirmed by the Senate during the special session.
— TOPEKA KILLINGS: A 45-year-old woman with a history of past drug offenses was found shot and seriously wounded behind a central Topeka restaurant on December 1. As they were investigating, police went to her home and found the bodies of her 43-year-old brother, 56-year-old ex-husband and a 34-year-old woman, all shot to death. The first woman died, giving Topeka its first quadruple homicide.
— BORDER WAR. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon called for a moratorium on efforts by his state and Kansas to use incentives to lure businesses across their shared line in the Kansas City area. But Nixon, a Democrat, got flak from Republicans in both states. In Missouri, he was accused of trying to grab more power over economic development programs, while in Kansas, GOP lawmakers said their state shouldn't abandon a winning strategy.
— SPORTING KC: The professional soccer team, with its home in Kansas City, Kansas won Major League Soccer's championship in December, making it the first Kansas team to win a professional title.
— KU PROFESSOR'S TWEET: University of Kansas journalism professor David Guth sparked outrage with a tweet after September shootings that killed 13 people in Washington, D.C. It said, "The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you."
— ABORTION CLINIC: In April, an abortion clinic opened up in Wichita in the same building where slain abortion provider George Tiller worked before his 2009 murder.
— ESCAPED INMATES STANDOFF: Two inmates who fled a Kansas prison in May were charged in Missouri where they were accused of trying to ambush the officers pursuing them and of attempting to kidnap the mayor of the small town where they were eventually captured after less than a day on the run.
— HEPATITIS C INFECTIONS: A traveling medical technician who stole painkillers and infected dozens of patients with hepatitis C in multiple states, including Kansas, was sentenced to nearly 40 years in prison in December. Six patients in Hays were among the more than 40 people affected by the infections.