A state agency is defending its blacking out of much of a report commissioned with tax dollars. It says it was accommodating a contractor that argued the redactions were needed to protect trade secrets.

The report is an audit of prescription drug spending for state employees, their families and retirees. When the Kansas News Service asked for a copy, the state provided a heavily redacted version.

That decision came under fire on Monday. Some members of the seven-person board that oversees the state health insurance plan questioned why details of the audit should be kept from public view.

“That seems crazy to me,” Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt said. “It doesn’t seem right.”

Another member of the panel noted that tax dollars paid for the audit.

“So going forward,” state employee Rebekah Gaston said, “are there ways that we can make this more transparent?”

Law professors who reviewed the redactions for the Kansas News Service struggled to understand why the state would consider it legal to shield the information. The state said it was protecting trade secrets.

But many of the blacked-out details — such as the number of prescriptions the plan covered in 2019 — are available in other public documents, including on the state’s own website. (The Kansas News Service was able to view some of the obscured content because the redactions were done incorrectly and the text beneath the black boxes remained accessible.)

Officials at the Kansas Department of Administration said they had followed standard procedures.

Feds seize property of Kansas City companies accused of COVID relief fraud
Kansas Reflector, Jason HancockOctober 18, 2021

The federal government has seized two vehicles, and is threatening to seize a lake house, allegedly purchased illegally with COVID-19 relief money by a Kansas City-area businessman.

The property was seized from several real estate companies incorporated in Kansas by Joseph Campbell, with most operating under a version of the name Titan Fish.

According to a complaint filed by the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas, in early 2020 Campbell submitted 20 applications to the Small Business Administration for federal disaster loans made available under the CARES Act.

Most were deemed duplicates of other applications, the complaint says, and five were granted.

Campbell’s companies received nearly $1 million in aid that was supposed to be used to pay debts, payroll and other bills that could have been paid had the COVID-19 pandemic not occurred.

According to an affidavit filed by Richard Littrell, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service, Campbell’s applications contained false information and he used the money he received to purchase two vehicles and a lake house in Morgan County, Missouri.

TOPEKA — The Kansas Department of Labor is engaging with the federal government to aid in identifying and developing a framework for the modernization of the beleaguered state unemployment system.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the agency has been inundated with unemployment claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, resulting in a reinvigorated push for system modernization. Department leaders are optimistic that assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor could primarily aid in ID verification and address other areas of need.

Kansas labor deputy secretary Peter Brady told legislators earlier this month on the Unemployment Compensation, Modernization and Improvement Council that the USDOL would be opening a new office to oversee state modernization plans and administer $2 billion worth of funding allocated to them by the American Rescue Plan. Kansas was selected as one of the first six states to be a part of the initiative.

“They have not made grant funds available to states at this time,” Brady said. “However, USDOL has indicated that they will potentially make grant funds available to address some of the issues identified through the engagement which was one of the reasons that we wanted to engage them early is any issues that are identified. We want to be able to fix it sooner rather than later.”

TOPEKA — The Kansas Attorney General’s Office has agreed to pay the American Civil Liberties Union and other attorneys $1.9 million in fees and expenses for a five-year legal battle over an unconstitutional restriction on voter registrations.

The high-profile lawsuit was filed 2016 in response to former Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s signature law, which required residents to prove their citizenship before registering to vote. The law blocked more than 35,000 eligible voters from participating in elections.

U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson held Kobach in contempt of court following his embarrassing performance in a 2018 trial. The judge determined there was no evidence to support Kobach’s claims of widespread voter fraud and ruled the law unconstitutional.

“The fees in this case are a reflection of the incompetence and intransigence of former Kansas Secretary of State Kobach, who unnecessarily prolonged this litigation, and was sanctioned repeatedly for bad behavior,” the ACLU said in a statement. “That the state of Kansas is on the hook for the costs of this litigation is an unfortunate consequence of Kobach’s desire to fight for his unconstitutional law.”

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The violence and neglect suffered by inmates at a pre-trial detention facility in Leavenworth has become so severe the facility should be shut down, a group of civil rights leaders and public defenders wrote in a letter to officials in Kansas and Washington, D.C.

The letter, dated Thursday, said leaders at CoreCivic Leavenworth have shown “deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of the incarcerated.”

“CoreCivic Leavenworth is dangerously understaffed, poorly managed and incapable of safely housing its detainee population,” the letter says. “Stabbings, suicides and even homicide have occurred with alarming frequency in the last year with weapons, drugs and other contraband now a common occurrence.”

The group — which includes ACLU chapters and public defender offices in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa — also wrote that inmates’ “basic human needs are not being met.” Food, medical care and showers are limited, and contact with legal counsel and family members has been denied.

U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann, who served as Jeff Colyer’s lieutenant governor, became the second member of the Kansas congressional delegation to endorse Colyer’s campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2022.

Mann, who represents the largely rural 1st District covering the western half of the state, said Wednesday that Colyer had demonstrated an appreciation of the state’s conservative agricultural roots.

“During Governor Colyer’s leadership, Kansas increased advocacy for international trade, addressed multi-state water conflicts and elevated agriculture issues in the statehouse,” Mann said. “Governor Colyer has always had the Kansas agricultural community’s back. He understands what it takes to lead with conservative action.”

A group of business leaders from across Kansas met Tuesday with Gov. Laura Kelly, pushing the Democratic governor to change her stance on supplemental unemployment insurance offered during the pandemic.

As businesses across the state look to return to pre-pandemic routines and fill vacancies, many are hoping Kelly will end Kansas’ participation in the American Rescue Plan Act’s unemployment boost. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce has argued the $300 boost per week to state payments was hindering businesses ’ ability to fill job openings.

On the final day of the legislative session last week, the Legislature also sent Kelly a message by passing a resolution calling on her to cut off federal unemployment aid immediately. The resolution noted several other states have taken similar action.