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Headlines for Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Storms Knock Out Power for Thousands in Missouri, Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Utility crews are working to restore power in parts of Kansas and Missouri after strong storms swept through, bringing wind gusts that downed lines. A thunderstorm Wednesday morning initially left about 4,000 Westar Energy customers without power in eastern Kansas. By midday, all but a few hundred had power restored. The storm moved into western and southern Missouri and left several hundred without power in parts of the Kansas City area and elsewhere. There were no immediate reports of significant damage or injuries due to the weather. Forecasters say parts of the two states could see several rounds of rain into the weekend.

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Aetna Risks Losing $1 Billion Kansas Medicaid Contract

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -  The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says insurance company Aetna is at risk of losing its $1-billion-a-year contract with the state's Medicaid program. The Kansas City Star reports the agency gave Aetna 10 days to get its act together. The insurance company joined Kansas' privatized Medicaid program this year. But the newspaper reports that medical providers have complained about Aetna for months. The health department sent Aetna a non-compliance letter July 24. The letter cites concerns including claims issues, vague service plans for Medicaid recipients, and delays in credentialing medical providers for billing. Medicaid provides health care coverage for about 400,000 people in Kansas. Most are children, the elderly, people with disabilities and pregnant women.
  
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Kansas Imposes Toughest Online Tax Collections in the Nation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas plans to impose what some tax experts said Wednesday would be the nation's most aggressive policy for collecting state and local taxes on online sales, possibly inviting a legal battle. The state Department of Revenue issued a notice last week saying any "remote seller" doing business with Kansas residents must register with the department, collect state and local sales taxes and forward the revenues to the state, starting Oct. 1. It cites a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year allowing states to collect sales taxes on Internet sales. Most states now have policies to collect such taxes, but almost all set minimum annual sales or transaction thresholds to exempt small businesses, according to groups tracking tax laws. Kansas is the first to attempt to collect the taxes without exempting any businesses, they said. The Republican-controlled Legislature included provisions on taxing Internet sales in two tax-cutting bills this year, but Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed both measures, saying they would destabilize the state's finances. The Department of Revenue is imposing its new policy under an existing tax law that applied to out-of-state businesses but wasn't being enforced because past court decisions prevented it.

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Union: Mulvaney Comments Confirm Agency Moves Intended to Trim Government Workforce

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A federal employees union says recent comments by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney confirm the Trump administration's "grand strategy" to cut the federal workforce by relocating agency offices out of Washington. Mulvaney said last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plan to relocate several hundred jobs from Washington is "a wonderful way to streamline government."  He was speaking to fellow Republicans in South Carolina and said it's "nearly impossible" to fire federal workers but that many would not move to a new location. The USDA said in June it would move most employees of two agricultural research agencies to the Kansas City area, to bring them closer to farmers and agribusinesses. Government workers union president David Verardo says it's a strategy to reduce the government workforce and eliminate checks and balances. 

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GOP Commentator Running for U.S. Senate Seat in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A conservative commentator says he is joining the race of the U.S. Senate in Kansas.  Bryan Pruitt announced that he will return from Washington D.C. for what he acknowledged is a "long shot" bid for the Senate seat held by retiring Senator Pat Roberts. Pruitt, who is a Wichita native, would be the first openly gay senator from Kansas if elected. He plans to base his campaign in Manhattan. Pruitt expressed many typical Republican views in his announcement. He said he supports President Donald Trump's re-election but said the GOP needs to change how it talks about abortion and find ways to make the party more diverse. Pruitt previously worked for RedState. In 2017, he resigned as executive director of Capital Pride after LGBTQ advocate accused him of making transphobic comments.

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Garden City Native Running for Seat in Kansas 1st Congressional District

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - A 34-year-old Garden City native is running for the 1st Congressional District seat in Kansas. Kali Barnett, a Democrat, is a political newcomer who taught school in Kansas and New York City. She is running for the seat currently held by U.S. Representative Roger Marshall. Marshall has not formally announced he will seek a U.S. Senate seat, but he is expected to enter that race. Barnett is the first Democrat to announce her candidacy for the 1st District, which has never sent a woman to Congress. Barnett said she will advocate for federal support of schools, better health care and access to health care for rural areas. She will have campaign operations in Garden City and Manhattan.

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Former KDCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel Appointed as Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas attorney general has appointed the state's first Kansas Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator.  Attorney General Derek Schmidt has appointed Gina Meier-Hummel to the job, which was created after recommendations from a task force.  Meier-Hummel was secretary of the Kansas Department of Children and Families under former Governor Jeff Colyer. Previously, she was executive director of The Shelter, a nonprofit focused on intervention with at-risk youth.  The appointment takes effect immediately. Meier-Hummel will be coordinator on a part-time basis because of her work as executive director of the O'Connell Youth Ranch in Douglas County.  The Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force was created in June 2018 to survey efforts in the state to reduce youth suicide. The Legislature adopted several of the task force's recommendations in May.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Give Landon Lecture at Kansas State 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) _ U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will give a Landon Lecture at Kansas State University next month. Pompeo will speak September 6 at McCain Auditorium. He has been secretary of state since March 2018. Before that, he served a brief time as President Donald Trump's director of the CIA. His speech comes as speculation swirls that Pompeo might run for a political office. He said last month that a campaign for U.S. Senator Pat Roberts' seat in the Senate was ``off the table'' but that has not stopped the conjecture. The Manhattan Mercury reports Fortune magazine CEO Alan Murry will also give a Landon Lecture. He is scheduled to speak September 27.  Murray was previously president of the Pew Research Center and chief content officer for Time, Inc.  

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Health Advisory Cancelled for Most Waterways After Sewage Releases

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The state of Kansas has lifted health warnings it issued last week after heavy rain caused sewage to be released into several Lawrence-area waterways. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Tuesday lifted health advisories for the Kansas River, Wakarusa River, Brush Creek and Burroughs Creek. Lawrence officials said in a news release the Hallmark Tributary, which passes under the Kansas Turnpike to the west of the Kansas River's northward bend, was still under an advisory Tuesday. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the advisories were issued Friday after heavy rain caused equipment to fail at the Lawrence sewage treatment plant, prompting the city to release wastewater into local streams. The equipment was repaired and the releases stopped by early Saturday.

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Wichita Mayor, State Representative Win Mayoral Primary

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita voters apparently will decide in November whether to re-elect Mayor Jeff Longwell or replace him with state Rep. Brandon Whipple. Longwell received the most votes in Tuesday's nine-candidate mayoral primary, followed by Whipple. The Wichita Eagle reports retired banker Lyndy Wells received 160 fewer votes than Whipple. Wells said he is hopeful the results could change after provisional ballots and late absentee ballots are counted. The election office estimated more than 400 votes remain to be counted. Longwell said he will focus on progress made during his first term, while Whipple said his focus will be on improving public safety and reducing the city's crime rate. Longwell finished with 7,136 votes, 32.3% of the votes. Whipple had 5,729 votes, 25.9%; to Wells' 5,569 votes, for 25.2%.

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Report: Kansas Farm Real Estate Values up 6% from Last Year

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A government report shows farm real estate values went up 6% in Kansas from last year. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Tuesday that the value of all land and buildings on Kansas farms averaged $1,960 per acre for 2019. That is $110 per acre higher than last year. The report is a bright spot as Kansas farmers struggle with mounting debt, lower crop prices and trade challenges. Cropland values in the state went up 5% from last year to $2,160 per acre. Dryland cropland averaged $2,050 per acre, about $90 higher than a year ago. Irrigated cropland averaged $3,320 per acre, up $340 an acre. Pastureland averaged $1,390 per acre, up $70 higher than a year ago.

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Lawrence Developer Loses Motion for Acquittal

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A judge has denied Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel's motion for acquittal after he was convicted of illegally disposing of roofing material containing asbestos.  Fritzel was convicted July 30 of three federal charges related to the failure to properly handle the debris while remodeling the Alvamar Country Club in 2016.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports Fritzel's attorney argued in his motion the government didn't provide sufficient evidence that the material removed from the demolition site contained the kind of asbestos that becomes airborne, or that Fritzel knowingly removed and disposed of the asbestos improperly.  U.S. District Judge Holly Teeter rejected the motion saying that a state health department investigation provided sufficient evidence to conclude Fritzel was guilty. Fritzel will be sentenced November 13. He remains free on $50,000 bond.

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KC Police Identify 2 Men Fatally Stabbed Near a Church

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police have identified the victims found stabbed to death earlier this week as two men in their 50s. The Kansas City Star reports that the victims were identified Wednesday as 56-year-old Michael McLin and 52-year-old Kevin Waters. Both were found dead about 6 a.m. Tuesday in the parking lot behind the Sheffield Life Center in northeastern Kansas City. Police are investigating the deaths as a double homicide. No arrests have been made. The deaths bring Kansas City's homicide total this year to 87.

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Coroner Rules Wichita Toddler's Death a Homicide

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An autopsy report says a Kansas toddler found bound in pajamas died of dehydration and starvation. The Wichita Eagle reports that the local coroner ruled 2-year-old Zaiden Javonovich's death a homicide.  The toddler's mother, Brandi Marchant, 22, and his father, Patrick Javonovich, 28, are charged with felony murder and child abuse in his death.  His body was found April 11 when police went to the family's Wichita home after receiving a call about a domestic disturbance. Zaiden's 4-month-old brother, who is Marchant's son, was found injured and hospitalized in critical condition.  Police found Zaiden face down in a crib and bound tightly around the chest with knotted pajamas. The autopsy says that might have led to asphyxia and could have contributed to his death.  Zaiden's brain tested positive for methamphetamine.

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Wichita Ballpark to Get Plenty of Use Beyond Baseball

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The owner and president of the Triple-A baseball team that will start play in Wichita next year says the new $75 million stadium will be the site of a lot more than just baseball. The Wichita Eagle reports that the final structural beam on the stadium was hoisted into place Wednesday. The minor league team is moving from New Orleans to Wichita starting next season. Owner Lou Schwechheimer says the team will play 70 regular season games and up to seven playoff games. But he says the goal is to use the stadium for up to 200 events each year. Other events will include concerts, festivals, football games and even an outdoor skating rink in the winter. The stadium will have seating for 10,000 and include 14 private luxury suites.

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Old Riverton Store Gets Route 66 Preservation Grant

RIVERTON, Kan. (AP) — A Route 66 destination in southeast Kansas is receiving a cost-share grant from a federal preservation program that is expected to end this fall.  The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program awarded Nelson's Old Riverton Store a $2,500 matching grant to upgrade its exterior.  The Riverton store opened in 1925, one year before U.S. 66 was designated.  Originally intended to last 10 years, the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program was extended for another decade in 2009. It is set to expire in October.  Bill Thomas, chairman of the Road Ahead board of directors, said supporters are working to ensure the passage of federal legislation to designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail, and to ensure the National Park Service oversees the trail.
 

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