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Headlines for Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Kansas Public Radio

Lawrence Juvenile Charged with First-Degree Murder

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) – A Lawrence 17-year-old has been charged with first-degree murder. Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez announced via press release on Monday that the state will seek to prosecute the 17-year-old as an adult for the murder of a 14-year-old Lawrence youth. The teen is currently in custody with a detention hearing in the juvenile division scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.


Suspect in Lawrence Teen's Shooting Death Surrenders to Police

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS/LJW) - A 14-year-old boy was shot and killed over the weekend in Lawrence and a 17-year-old has surrendered himself to authorities in connection with the case. Police say the 14-year-old showed up at an apartment complex in east Lawrence with a bullet wound early Saturday evening and died after being taken to a hospital. On Sunday, the 17-year-old who police had been looking for in connection with the shooting turned himself in and was taken to the Douglas County Juvenile Center. (Read more in the Lawrence Journal-World.)


Riley County Firefighters Beat Back Numerous Wildfires

RILEY COUNTY (WIBW) – The Riley County Fire District has declared a local emergency for parts of the county affected by several large wildfires. Firefighters managed to contain a wildfire in Riley County Monday night that had scorched as much as 400 acres in the southeast corner of the county near the area of Highway 177 and Deep Creek Rd. WIBW reports that members of the Kansas Forest Service assisted with controlling the fire. Fire officials said more than 16 homes were threatened by the fire, but no structures were lost. This fire comes just days after two other large wildfires burned acreage in rural Riley County. The Riley County Fire District says fire danger is extremely high this week and residents are warned to avoid burning pastures and brush piles, and keeping vehicles off dry grasses.


Kansas Senate Approves State Budget Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) – The Kansas Senate on Tuesday approved a $9.3 billion budget plan that rejected several spending recommendations from Democratic Governor Laura Kelly, such as Medicaid expansion and providing a 5 percent salary increase to state employees. The Senate’s plan also would ban state colleges and universities from requiring diversity, equity and inclusion standards in hiring decisions. Critics argued that provision is too broad and should be debated separately from a budget bill. Supporters say the provisions will make sure university employees are hired based on their work experience. The Senate will likely need to negotiate with the House on its budget proposals. The House is crafting its own spending bill.

(–Earlier reporting–)

Kansas Senate Prepares to Vote on Budget Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - The Kansas Senate is set for a vote on a $9.3 billion budget that would restrict state college and university diversity programs. The provision in the budget bill prohibits state schools from requiring diversity, equity and inclusion standards in hiring decisions. Republican state Senator Mike Thompson said that limiting questions about so-called “DEI” issues would stop state universities from creating unfair job requirements. “We’re not looking at who is the best qualified. We are checking boxes, rather than looking at someone’s real qualifications,” Thompson said. Critics of the provision contend it’s too broad and opens universities up to lawsuits for asking basic questions about an applicant’s background. The Senate will likely need to negotiate with the House on its budget proposals. The House is crafting its own spending bill.


Ogallala Aquifer Water Levels Continue Decline

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) - The Ogallala Aquifer declined by an average of nearly two feet across western and central Kansas this past year. That’s roughly twice as much in 2022 as in the previous year. The ongoing drought has pushed farmers to use more water than normal for irrigation. the third largest drop since the 1990s. Brownie Wilson leads the annual measurement for the Kansas Geological Survey. He says getting more farmers to adopt water-saving tools like soil moisture sensors could help slow down these declines. “They kind of realized that maybe they were putting on a little too much water, trying to irrigate like grandpa did,” Wilson said. “And then with the technology that we have in place now that they're realizing that maybe they can get by another day or two without turning that well on.” Wilson says, for much of the region, there’s still time to make changes to extend the aquifer’s life. He says helping more farmers use water-saving irrigation technology or switch to crops that need less water could help slow the depletion while keeping agriculture alive. The Geological Survey says parts of western Kansas with the worst depletion would need to reduce their water use by one-third to one-half to stop the draining of the underground reservoir.


Kansas Lawmakers Hope to "Rein In" Regulation Authority of Local Governments

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - The Kansas House could vote this week on a bill to rein in the authority of cities and counties to regulate businesses. The proposal says if a consumer product isn’t illegal under state law, cities and counties can’t restrict its sale. The measure stems from a short-lived effort by the city of Wichita to ban the sale of dogs and cats. Noting that conflict was resolved locally, opponents of the measure - like Democratic Representative Jason Probst - say it’s an overreaction that would unnecessarily tie the hands of local officials. "I’m telling you, we’re going down a bad path with this and I think we’re going to create problems we haven’t anticipated," he said. The bill, which passed out of committee last week, is backed by the Kansas Chamber, the state’s most influential business organization.


Kansas Lawmakers to Discuss Accommodations for Trans Students on School Trips

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas lawmakers will hold hearings this week on a bill that would require school districts to use a transgender student’s biological gender when deciding how to house them during overnight trips. The hearing on the “overnight accommodations” bill is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in the House Education Committee. The bill would require school districts to provide separate overnight accommodations for students based on their biological sex. That means, for instance, that transgender females would be forced to share accommodations with cisgender males. Under the bill, students who face retaliation for reporting violations of the policy could sue school districts. The hearing on the measure comes in the wake of Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill banning transgender female athletes from competing against biological women or girls in interscholastic sports. Lawmakers appear to have the votes to override the Governor in the Kansas Senate. The House is more closely divided.


Kansas Governor Vetoes Bill that Bans Biological Males from Female School Sports

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has vetoed a bill banning biological men from competing in girls' and women's sports in public schools. The veto now sets up a showdown with the Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature. Kelly says she rejected the bill because it would harm the mental health of Kansas students. Republican lawmakers had argued athletes assigned male at birth have a biological advantage when they play on girls’ and women’s teams. The Legislature will now need to garner a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate to override the governor's veto. If lawmakers are successful in overriding the veto, Kansas would join 18 other states with similar laws, including Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas.


Incident at Fort Riley Trooper Gate Reported

FORT RILEY, Kan. (KPR) – Fort Riley Military Police are investigating an incident that took place early Monday morning at Trooper Gate. Initial reports indicate that a suspect drove through the gate and was stopped by the automatic vehicle barrier. The situation escalated when the suspect exited the vehicle and was shot by a guard. The driver of the vehicle is receiving medical treatment for non-life-threatening injuries. No further information was released. The Army Criminal Investigation Division is also investigating the incident.


Kansas City Area Father and Son Still Missing in Arkansas

BENTON COUNTY, Ark. (Fort Smith Times Record) - A search continues in Arkansas for a Kansas City father and son who went missing last week while kayaking on spring break. Authorities say 47-year-old Chuck Morris and his 20-year-old son, Charley, went kayaking on Beaver Lake last Thursday. Chuck's wife Jennifer and their 12-year-old daughter Amelia went to town the same day. The family planned to have a game night at their Airbnb when everyone got back, but the two men never returned. As a thunderstorm approached the lake, Jennifer and her daughter got worried and started driving around the area searching for the men. Later, they called authorities. The Fort Smith Times Record reports via Yahoo! News that multiple agencies are now helping the Benton County Sheriff's Office in the search. Police dog units have been brought in from Oklahoma, Illinois and Louisiana. Authorities have since located both kayaks and a jacket, but as of Monday afternoon, the two men had still not been found.


K-State Beats Kentucky 75-69, Heads to Sweet 16 in NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

GREENSBORO, N.C. (KPR) – K-State guard Markquis Nowell scored 27 points and had nine assists to lead the Wildcats from Kansas over the Wildcats from Kentucky. Last spring, Nowell was just one of two returning players under the newly-hired coach, Jerome Tang. But Nowell said he believed he could be part of a winning tournament team this year. “I had faith that if get at least five players, I don’t care who it is, we were going to make it to March and we going to do something special," he said. The K-State Wildcats are in the East Regional, so they move on to play in New York City. The Midwest Regional will be played in Kansas City, but without any teams from the area. KU and Missouri lost in their respective regionals over the weekend.


Jerome Tang Has Rising K-State Basketball Team Feeling Sweet Again

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — In less than a year, Jerome Tang has taken a Kansas State program that was down to two scholarship players and built a team headed to the Sweet 16. The longtime Baylor assistant has changed the culture of the Wildcats' program. Tang and his team are headed to Madison Square Garden in New York on Thursday night to play Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament. With two more wins, Kansas State would be headed to its first Final Four in nearly 50 years.

In women’s college basketball...

Kansas Women Win Border Rivalry Crushing Mizzou

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - The renewal of the border rivalry between Kansas and Missouri in women’s basketball Monday night turned into a 75-47 blowout. It was the first time the interstate rivals played each other in women’s basketball since 2012. That was Missouri’s last year in the Big 12. But Monday night’s second-round W-N-I-T contest meant the season’s end for the losing team. KU’s Chandler Prater, from North Kansas City High School, says she knows how meaningful the rivalry is: “Being from Missouri, and coming to Kansas, a lot of people don’t understand how deep the history goes,” Prater said. “Everybody really knows: Are you KU or are you MU? It definitely was fun.” Prater scored 12 points in the wire-to-wire victory. KU advances to play against Nebraska at Allen Fieldhouse on Thursday night. The Huskers handed KU its first loss of the season in a late-December triple overtime game.


KU Hospital System Plans to Use Artificial Intelligence

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KNS) - The University of Kansas Health System will use artificial intelligence to address doctor burnout and improve patient health outcomes. The hospital is adding AI technology into patient visits. KU Health System is partnering with AI technology company Abridge to record conversations that provide medical transcripts for providers and summarize the visits for health records. Dr. Gregory Ator is the chief medical informatics officer at KU Health. He says after hours clerical work is a major contributing factor to burnout among medical staff. “We do have some providers that are spending as many as two hours, basically after hours, working on those," he said.

KU Health System hopes to reduce the health provider workload and help patients understand medical jargon. AI will record and transcribe conversations from visits and create summaries to help providers fill out paperwork. The co-founder of the system, Dr. Shiv Rao, says patients can also access appointment notes for reminders on what was discussed and any follow-up care. “When we serve that note to the patient, we actually serve it in a very specific way that helps improve health literacy," he said. But research has shown racial disparities when it comes to who AI technology can understand. Rao says the company is working to reduce any disparities in its software.


Report: Half of Kansas Rural Hospitals At Risk of Closing

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - A new report finds more than half of rural hospitals in Kansas are at risk of closing. That could force residents to travel farther during medical emergencies. Kansas has seen nine rural hospitals close since 2005. But the report, from the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform, found that another 53 are at risk of closing, with nearly half of those at immediate risk. When rural hospitals close, residents have to travel farther to get emergency and even medical care. Researchers cited financial woes, including insurance plans not fully covering the cost of providing essential services. Hospitals in states like Kansas, that have not expanded Medicaid, are more likely to be at risk of closure because hospitals take a financial hit when caring for uninsured people.


Kansas Lawmakers Explore New Way to Boost Legislative Pay

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas House members have voted to set themselves on a path to a pay hike in a few years. Legislators have not received a base pay raise in nearly 20 years. The bill passed by the House would establish an independent commission to set the compensation rates for Kansas legislators starting in 2025. It would then meet every four years to reconsider the pay level. Lawmakers currently earn roughly $22,000 a year plus a generous pension. Supporters contend raising wages would make it easier for everyday Kansans to run for a seat in the Legislature. But Republican Representative Pat Proctor says it would make state lawmakers professional politicians and lead to dysfunction. “Turning this from a public service to a job is a bad move for Kansas and a bad move for Kansans," he said. The bill now heads to the Senate.


USDA Proposes New Labels for Meat Products

MANHATTAN, Kan. (HPM) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing a new rule for “Made in the USA” labels on meat, poultry and eggs. The proposed rule would only allow that label if the animals are born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the U.S. The current rule allows labels to be voluntarily used on any meat products from an animal that was processed in the U.S. even if it was raised and imported from another country. The new label proposal says the “Made in USA” label could be used only if animals are raised and processed in the U.S. The Consumer Federation of America says the current rule misleads consumers and hurts American producers. The federation says some consumers are willing to pay more for a product that's labeled “Product of the USA,” and that claim should be meaningful. But Kansas State University agriculture economics professor Glynn Tonsor says he supports transparency in labeling but says the average consumer doesn’t really care where their meat was raised. “Origin and traceability is regularly the second lowest ranking factor of the typical person when they're making a protein purchasing decision,” Tonsor said The USDA will accept public comments on the new label proposal until May 12th.


Kansas Corn Farmers Worry About Spread of “Tar Spot” Disease

UNDATED (HPM) - Farmers in the Midwest and Great Plains will have to worry this year about a corn disease known as tar spot. The fungal disease has spread from Mexico to several Midwestern states - including Kansas. Tar spot spreads through spores that are carried by the wind and farm equipment. The disease first appeared in the U.S. in Indiana and Illinois in 2015. It attacks leaf tissue and can rapidly cause the plant to die. Rodrigo Onofre, a professor at the department of plant pathology at Kansas State University, says it has the potential to be really destructive. “At this point it's more being aware," he said. "And, as I mentioned, gearing up for tar spot in Kansas, because as soon as we find it, there are ways to manage (it).” Farmers can keep an eye out for tar spot, report any sightings to the local extension agent and manage the disease using fungicides.


This summary of area news is curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Tom Parkinson and Kaye McIntyre. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays and updated throughout the day. These ad-free headlines are made possible by KPR members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.