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Headlines for Wednesday, March 22, 2023

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Kansas Legislators Consider Vaccine Exemptions Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas legislators are considering a bill that would expand vaccine exemptions for children and adults. Kansas state employees already can refuse the COVID-19 vaccine if it’s against their religious beliefs. The bill would extend that to all vaccines and religious exemptions would not require individuals to provide proof to be approved. For children, those vaccines would include measles, mumps, tetanus and more. Supporters of the bill say all Kansans should have access to child care and schools without vaccinations they oppose. Opponents say the vaccine requirements are in place to protect all individuals at schools and workplaces and, they say, it threatens to put medically fragile students at greater risk in schools.


Kansas House Passes "Born Alive" Abortion Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — The Kansas House has passed legislation requiring doctors to care for infants born alive after an attempted abortion. But, the bill would have limited practical impact because such births are extremely rare and are usually limited to abortions prompted by fetal abnormalities and performed after viability. Abortions that late in a pregnancy are illegal in Kansas. But supporters say it’s important to give all unborn children legal protections. Critics say it could prevent doctors from giving comfort care to infants with no chance of survival. The bill now heads to the Senate.

(–Additional Reporting–)

Kansas Could Soon Approve "Born Alive" Abortion Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas proposal based on the disputed claim that providers leave infants to die after they're born during certain types of abortions is nearing legislative approval, as Republicans pursue limited anti-abortion measures following a decisive statewide vote last year protecting abortion rights.

The Kansas House voted 88-34 on Wednesday to approve a bill declaring that when there's a live birth during an abortion procedure, medical personnel must take the same steps to preserve the newborn’s life as “a reasonably diligent and conscientious” provider would with other live births. The law would apply to any “complete expulsion or extraction” of a fetus from the mother, including labor and delivery abortions during which a doctor induces labor. The measure is similar to a proposed Montana law that voters there rejected in November and laws in 18 states, including Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Texas.

The U.S. Supreme Court declared in June that states can ban abortion, and the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature has long had strong anti-abortion majorities in both chambers. But a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision protected abortion rights and in August 2022, voters rejected a proposed change to the state constitution to overturn that decision and give lawmakers the power to greatly restrict or ban abortion.

Supporters of the “born-alive infants protection” bill argued during a House debate Tuesday that the measure would survive a court challenge because it doesn't limit abortion itself. But a few Republicans touched on their moral opposition to abortion as a reason for backing the bill.

“If you truly want to hold effective conversations about the indiscriminate and brutal acts of violence in our society today, we must teach others to hold life as precious and sacred," state Rep. Rebecca Schmoe, a Republican from northeastern Kansas, said during a debate Tuesday before voting for the bill Wednesday.

Abortion providers and abortion rights advocates contend measures like the ones in Kansas and Montana are designed only to give abortion care a false and negative public image. They also argue that current state laws against homicide and child neglect, as well as laws on doctors’ duties, are sufficient to address any real problems.

House passage sent the measure to the Senate, where GOP leaders have also signaled that they see it as a priority.

“I pray for the day where we would stop killing our own children and ask God for forgiveness and mercy,” said southeastern Kansas Rep. Trevor Jacobs, explaining his “yes” vote along with six other GOP conservatives.

Supporters of the bill portrayed it as saving infants born during unsuccessful or botched abortions. But it would apply to cases in which doctors induce labor to deliver a fetus that won't survive outside the womb, often because of a severe medical issue, with the expectation that the newborn will die within minutes or even seconds.

Like the laws in the 18 other states, the Kansas measure would require the hospitalization of infants born during unsuccessful abortions and impose criminal penalties for doctors who don’t try to save them. In Kansas, failing to attempt to save such a newborn would be a felony, punishable by a year's probation for a first-time offender.

“This bill takes away the right of a mother to make her own private medical decisions in the most complicated and heartbreaking of cases,” state Rep. Lindsay Vaughn, a Kansas City-area Democrat, said, explaining her “no” vote Wednesday. “This is a right the overwhelming majority of Kansans voted to protect.”

Like most states, Kansas doesn’t collect data on births during induced abortion procedures.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 1% of the more than 600,000 abortions a year occur after the 21st week of pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says almost no fetuses are viable before the 23rd week of pregnancy.

Kansas law bans most abortions after the 22nd week of pregnancy, and no abortions after that point have been reported since at least 2016.

Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, a spokesperson for Wichita abortion clinic operator Trust Women, said the facility has never seen an abortion result in a live birth in the nearly 10 years the clinic has been open.

“This is just this fantasy,” Gingrich-Gaylord said. “It’s simply not true that there’s any kind of danger of this happening.”

Not providing this care after unsuccessful abortions was already outlawed under a 2002 U.S. law, but it doesn't contain criminal penalties. The Republican-led U.S. House passed a measure in January to add penalties, but it's not expected to pass the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate.

Opponents also said if the legislation passes, doctors would be forced into futile and expensive attempts to prolong dying infants' lives, and those medical interventions would deny parents opportunities to hold dying babies and to say goodbye. The same argument was made ahead of Montana's vote.

Such laws also don't tell doctors when they are allowed to stop medical interventions for a dying infant, said Hillary-Anne Crosby, who coordinated the campaign against Montana's proposed law. She said doctors would be forced to choose between medically appropriate care in line with a family's wishes and “safe” actions that avoid legal problems.

Supporters of the Kansas bill rejected such arguments.

State Rep. Leah Howell, a Wichita-area Republican who voted for the bill, said she had a baby die in the 20th week of pregnancy.

“Believe me, when this bill came to my attention, the very first thing I checked for was that this law would allow moms to hold their dying babies in their arms and tell them they loved them and to say goodbye,” she said, her voice wavering.


Bill Would Ease Penalties for Suspended License Scofflaws

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Some Kansas lawmakers want to lower penalties for people caught driving on suspended licenses. The bill would remove the mandatory jail time for driving on a suspended license. Robert Anderson Jr. is the Ellis County Attorney. He says his county has hardly any public transportation and current state law only punishes people who have few options to get around. “They got jobs to get to. They got kids to take to school. They are going to drive; they are going to take that risk,” Anderson said. The law still allows for people to go to jail for driving on a suspended license, but it gives judges discretion. County and city officials say that allows the courts to punish bad actors while helping people trying to get on the right track.


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.


Defense Attorneys to Advance Self-Defense Motive in Lawrence Teen's Shooting

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KSNT) — Attorneys for a Lawrence teenager charged with first-degree murder in the death of 14-year-old boy will try to show that the defendant acted in self-defense. KSNT reports that the attorney for the 17-year-old filed a motion Tuesday asking a Douglas County judge permission to seek immunity from prosecution. His next hearing is set for on April 20. The 17-year-old is charged with shooting and killing 14-year-old Kamarjay Shaw in Lawrence last Saturday afternoon.


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.


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.


Lawrence Police Investigate Death at Homeless Camp

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — Lawrence Police are investigating a death at the city’s temporary support site for people experiencing homelessness. Police were called to the scene just after 8 o'clock Tuesday night and found a 36-year-old female unresponsive inside a tent. Investigators are still looking into the death, but say there are no immediate signs of foul play.


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.


Wichita State Hires ORU's Paul Mills to Lead Hoops Program

UNDATED (AP) – Wichita State hired Paul Mills away from Oral Roberts on Wednesday, hoping to turn around its languishing men’s basketball program. The Shockers landed what has been one of the hottest names among mid-major coaches. Mills led the the Golden Eagles to two of the past three NCAA Tournaments. He engineered upsets of Ohio State and Florida as a No. 15 seed in 2021 before going 30-5 this past season and losing to Duke as a No. 5 seed. He replaces Isaac Brown, who was fired after three seasons. The Shockers are trying to position themselves at the forefront of a new-look American Athletic Conference that is poised to lose powerhouse Houston to the Big 12 after this season.


Super Seniors Lead the Way into March Madness Sweet 16

UNDATED (AP) – March Madness has reached the Sweet 16 round, and so-called super seniors have had a huge impact on the teams that made it this far. Nine of the 16 teams have players in fifth seasons granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic. They bring experience, leadership and presence with them on these deep runs into the bracket. Kansas State has four, leading the Wildcats from the Little Apple to the Big Apple in coach Jerome Tang's first season. Texas also has four, led by high-scoring guard Marcus Carr. Xavier's Souley Boum, Miami's Jordan Miller and Gonzaga's Rasir Bolton also have had huge impacts on their teams in their fifth seasons.


NYC Guards Lead Michigan State, K-State to Sweet 16 at MSG

NEW YORK (AP) — Kansas State's Markquis Nowell and Michigan State's Tyson Walker honed their game as point guards in New York City. They'll renew their acquaintance at Madison Square Garden in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament's East Regional. New York City isn’t pumping out star basketball players at the same rate it used to but the city is still the breeding ground for tough-minded point guards. Zakai Zeigler is another point guard from the New York area and was key to Tennessee's season. But he's out with a knee injury and will only be able to watch the Volunteers play FAU.


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.