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Headlines for Friday, February 9, 2024

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Emily Fisher

Former CEO of Failed KS Bank Charged with Embezzling Millions

ELKHART, Kan. (KAKE) - The former CEO of a failed bank in southwest Kansas has been charged with embezzling tens of millions of dollars. Court documents show that the CEO of Heartland Tri-State Bank in Elkhart, Shan Hanes, made $47 million in wire transfers from the Elkhart based-bank in an effort to purchase cryptocurrency. According to KAKE TV, prosectors say the loss of that $47 million caused the bank to fail. Prosecutors also allege Hanes purchased cryptocurrency with funds embezzled from a church and local investment club. If found guilty, Hanes could spend up to 30 years in prison and be forced to pay a fine of up to $1 million. When the bank failed, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation took control. It reopened as Dream First Bank. Heartland Tri-State Bank had approximately $139 million in total assets and $130 million in total deposits, the FDIC said. Dream First Bank agreed to buy essentially all of Heartland Tri-State’s failed assets.


Kansas Won't Collect Much Revenue from Super Bowl Bets

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (KNS) - The Kansas City Chiefs are playing in the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. Last season, lots of Super Bowl bets were made at state-owned casinos in Kansas, but the state only collected a tiny amount of revenue. During last year's contest, more than $193 million in bets were made in Kansas, but the state collected a little more than $1,000 in revenue. Even more money is expected to be waged in Kansas on this year's Super Bowl, but the state is expected to collect very little, especially if the Chiefs win. (Read more.)


Kansas Attorney General Seeks to Add Gas Inhalation as Method of Execution in Kansas

UNDATED (KNS) – Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach wants the state to add gas inhalation to the state’s methods of execution. The Kansas News Service reports that Kobach’s request comes after Alabama became the first state to use the method in January. The Kansas Reflector reports a bill in the Legislature would allow the state to choose between using gas or lethal injection for executions. The state currently allows only the use of lethal injection for executions. But Kobach says it is difficult to acquire those drugs. Kansas has nine inmates who are sentenced to death, but the state has not executed an inmate since 1965.


Kansas Attorney General Targets School Districts over Transgender Student Policies

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) – Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach called out several Kansas school districts Thursday for their policies on transgender students. The Kansas News Service reports that Kobach says some districts allow employees to hide from parents the fact that a student is using a different name or pronoun at school. Kobach says he notified six districts that their policies violate parents’ rights, and he attacked the practice as “woke gender ideology.” He says officials in Maize and Belle Plaine amended their policies. Four other districts — Kansas City, Olathe, Shawnee Mission and Topeka — responded to the attorney general’s inquiry but have not changed their guidelines. Shawnee Mission Superintendent Michelle Hubbard said in a letter to Kobach that schools develop plans through discussions with students and their parents.

(–Additional Reporting–)

Kansas AG Tells Schools They Must Out Trans Kids to Parents, Even With No Specific Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The attorney general of Kansas is telling public schools they're required to tell parents their children are transgender or non-binary even if they're not out at home, though Kansas is not among the states with a law that explicitly says to do that.

Republican Kris Kobach’s action was his latest move to restrict transgender rights, following his successful efforts last year to temporarily block Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s administration from changing the listings for sex on transgender people’s birth certificates and driver’s licenses to reflect their gender identities. It’s also part of a trend of GOP attorneys general asserting their authority in culture war issues without a specific state law.

Kobach maintains that failing to disclose when a child is socially transitioning or identifying as non-binary at school violates a parents' rights. He sent letters in December to six school districts and the state association for local school board members, then followed up with a public statement Thursday after four districts, all in northeast Kansas, didn't rewrite their policies.

The Kansas attorney general's letters to superintendents of three Kansas City-area districts, Topeka's superintendent and the Kansas Association of School Boards accused them of having “surrendered to woke gender ideology.” His letters didn't say what he would do if they didn't specifically require teachers and administrators to out transgender and non-binary students.

LGBTQ+ rights advocates saw the letters as seeking policies that put transgender and non-binary youth in physical danger but also as an attempt to tell transgender people that they're not welcome. Jordan Smith, leader of the Kansas chapter of the LGBTQ+ rights group Parasol Patrol, said forced outing will create more anxiety for students and even push some back into the closet.

“It's like they don’t want us to exist in public places," said Smith, who is non-binary.

Five states have laws requiring schools to inform parents if their children use different pronouns, socially transition to a gender different than the one assigned at birth or present as non-binary, according to the Movement Advancement Project, which supports transgender rights. Another six have laws that encourage it, the project says.

Kansas is on neither list. A bill introduced last year would bar schools from using the preferred pronouns for a student under 18 without a parent or guardian's written permission, but it did not clear a Senate committee.

GOP lawmakers did enact a law over Kelly's veto that ended the state's legal recognition of transgender and non-binary identities by defining male and female for legal purposes based on a person's “reproductive anatomy” identified at birth. But Republican state Sen. Renee Erickson of Wichita, a vocal supporter and a former middle school principal, said it does not cover issues about whether schools must inform parents about a child's gender identity at school.

Erickson said she now favors taking a look at the bill before a Senate committee, saying it addresses a “policy gap.”

“The parents have a right to know what is affecting their child. They’re an integral part, if not the most important part, in helping their child grow and develop with the values that the parent wants,” she said.

But Kobach didn't cite Kansas law in his letters to the state school boards association, the Topeka school district and the Kansas City, Shawnee Mission and Olathe school districts in the Kansas City area. Instead, he cited U.S. Supreme Court decisions going back as far as 1923 that he said affirmed parents' rights to control how their children are raised. His office released copies Thursday.

He told each of the four district that its policies on transgender students violated parents' rights and said two other districts in the Wichita area quickly rewrote their policies after his letter arrived. In his letter to the school boards group, he noted it provides legal help to local districts.

“It would be arrogant beyond belief to hide something with such weighty consequences from the very people (parents) that both law and nature vest with providing for a child's long-term well-being,” Kobach wrote in each of the letters.

State attorneys general serve as the lead lawyers for state governments, and most also oversee at least some criminal prosecutions. But they also look outward, and Kobach's letters weren't the first to issue warnings not grounded in a specific state law.

Last year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent requests to at least two medical providers that don't operate in his state for information about providing gender-affirming care as part of an investigation, though it's not clear what Texas law would cover them. Washington state's attorney general invoked a law there to block Seattle Children’s Hospital from complying, and QueerMed, a Georgia-based telehealth provider, said on its website that it will not comply.

As for Kobach, Tom Alonzo, a Kansas City, Kansas, LGBTQ+ rights advocate, argued that the Kansas attorney general is bent on “intentional marginalization” of transgender people.

“There’s no excuse for it,” he said as he staffed a table Thursday in the Statehouse. "I was a gay kid hiding in high school. I remember how ugly high school can be if you're out.”

While the Kansas City, Kansas, district declined comment, the other three districts said they deal with transgender and non-binary students case by case and seek to work with parents. The Topeka district expressed confidence that its practices are legal. The four districts are among the largest in Kansas and together have more than 88,000 students or 18% of the total for the state's public schools.

The strongest response came from Michelle Hubbard, the Shawnee Mission superintendent, in her district's response in December. She said “it is rarely the case” that students seek something “entirely opposed” by their parents.

She also chided Kobach for not citing actual cases in the district of parents' rights being violated and suggested that he was relying on “misinformation” from “partisan sources.” She called his use of woke “as an insult” disappointing in an attorney general.

“We are not caricatures from the polarized media, but rather real people who work very hard in the face of intense pressure on public schools,” Hubbard wrote.


Kansas Lawmakers Due for 93% Pay Raise in 2025

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/KPR) - Kansas is set to nearly double state lawmaker pay at the start of next year. That will make their compensation better than it is for their counterparts in a majority of states. The increase is nearly $28,000 a year for rank-and-file legislators. That will boosts their total compensation to nearly $58,000 or an increase of 93%. The pay increase appears to have bipartisan support. But lawmakers never voted on it directly. Instead, the Legislature set up a bipartisan pay commission last year. The commission's proposal was set to take effect unless both legislative chambers passed a resolution rejecting it. And they did not reject the pay raise.


Kansas Legislature Considers Bill to Stop Appropriation of Federal Funds from Foster Children

UNDATED (KNS) – A bill in Kansas would stop the state from using foster children’s federal benefits to reimburse the Department for Children and Families for the child’s care. The Kansas News Service reports that the state would instead put the money in a savings account for the child. Supporters of the bill say Kansas has taken federal benefits from foster children without their knowledge, even though it rightfully belongs to them. But lawmakers questioned if it is fair to stop the state from collecting the federal funding on behalf of a child in its care. The funds are meant to be used for a child’s food, shelter and clothing. Republican Representative Paul Waggoner says that is what the state provides. “Is it that much of a stretch that the money it is going to their daily needs, it's just going as it would be to the state of Kansas?” Waggoner asked. State researchers estimate the bill would cost the state about $8.5 million of federal funding each year.


Marine from Olathe Among Fatalities in California Helicopter Crash

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Marine Corps released the names Friday of the five Marines killed when their CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter went down in the mountains outside San Diego during a historic storm. All of them were in their 20s.

The decorated Marines were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and were based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

“We have been confronted with a tragedy that is every service family’s worst fear,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas J. Harvey, commanding officer of the squadron. “The Flying Tigers family stands strong and includes the friends and community who have supported our squadron during this challenging time. We will get through this together.”

The youngest was Lance Cpl. Donovan Davis, 21, of Olathe, Kansas, who was just promoted to the rank of lance corporal on New Year’s Day. The oldest was Capt. Miguel Nava, 28, of Traverse City, Michigan.

Davis and Sgt. Alec Langen, 23, of Chandler, Arizona, were both crew chiefs. The rest were CH-53E pilots.

“We will miss him dearly,” his mother Caryn Langen told KNSD-TV of San Diego.

The other pilots on board were Capt. Jack Casey, 26, of Dover, New Hampshire, and Capt. Benjamin Moulton, 27, of Emmett, Idaho.

The Super Stallion vanished late Tuesday night on its way back to Miramar from Creech Air Force Base. The craft was discovered Wednesday morning near the mountain community of Pine Valley.

The military confirmed Thursday that all five Marines were killed when their helicopter went down during stormy weather, and efforts were underway to recover their remains, which will take weeks because of the rough terrain and weather, said Col. James C. Ford, operations officer with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. In the meantime, Marines are staying with the remains round-the-clock to adhere to their ethos of never leaving any Marine behind.

The military is investigating the crash.


Sunflower Electric Planning Large Solar Project in Southwest Kansas

LIBERAL, Kan. (KNS) – The hot and dry climate of southwest Kansas is attracting what will be the largest commercial solar facility in the state. The Kansas News Service reports that the Sunflower Electric Power Corporation is planning its third solar project in the state. The company will provide solar power to its member utilities and the residents they serve in western Kansas. The 150 megawatt facility in Ford County will produce energy during the hottest days of the year, when electricity is in peak demand. It will cover 1,000 acres with 300,000 solar panels, accounting for about 10% of the corporation's energy needs. Construction for the Boot Hill site will begin next year. With this project soon to be underway, plus high capacity wind farms located in neighboring counties, southwest Kansas could be open for business in terms of green energy.


Northwest Kansas County Adopts Resolution Opposing Transport of Undocumented Immigrants to Area

THOMAS COUNTY, Kan. (KNS) – Frustration from elected officials in Thomas County, Kansas, has led to the county government adopting a resolution opposing any programs that might bring undocumented immigrants to the area. The county commission adopted a resolution stating opposition to any program that would involve transporting, settling or employing undocumented migrants in the northwest Kansas county. Michael Baughn, county commission chairman, says it was prompted by dissatisfaction with the current immigration laws and people crossing the border. “Congress is sitting on their hands and sitting there yakking at each other and getting nothing done about comprehensive immigration reform,” Baughn added.

Census data shows Thomas County is 95% white. The resolution opposes any type of programs for undocumented immigrants and does not make any distinction for migrants who may be seeking asylum.


San Fran Area Tortilla Company Moving Factory to Kansas

MOUNDRIDGE, Kan. (KSNW) - A San Francisco area tortilla company is moving its factory to Kansas. KSNW TV reports that the La Tortilla Factory will relocate its operations from Santa Rosa, California, to Moundridge, in McPherson County. The move will take effect in late March. The company already has a presence in Kansas and will now consolidate some of its operations in Moundridge.


Labor Unions, Business Groups Endorse Bill to Reform Worker's Compensation in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR/KNS) – Kansas labor unions and business groups are endorsing a bill to reform worker’s compensation in the state. The Kansas News Service reports that business and labor groups met through the summer to work on a deal to improve the system for both workers and employers. The bill would increase caps on compensation for injured workers, tie those caps to inflation starting in 2027, and add some cost-saving measures for employers. The Senate Commerce Committee recommended the legislation be passed. It now awaits action in the Senate. Lobbying groups like the Kansas Chamber and the Kansas AFL-CIO support the bill.


Emmett Till Exhibit Opens Friday at KU

UNDATED (KCUR) – The killing of Emmett Till is explored in a University of Kansas exhibit starting Friday. KCUR reports that the traveling show “Let The World See” details the life and murder of 14 year-old Emmett Till, lynched in 1955 by white vigilantes for allegedly “whistling” at a white woman. Sydney Pursel helped curate the exhibit and says it's useful for having deeper conversations around race and injustice. “We have students from all walks of life that come through our building, but they might not go attend a Black Lives Matter protest. So it's a way that we can reach broader audiences and use art as a way to teach these histories and these stories,” Pursel said. A companion exhibit uses contemporary Black art to connect Till’s story to that of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, killed by a Florida neighborhood watchman in 2012. The exhibition opens at the Spencer Museum of Art on the KU campus Friday, and runs through May 19th.


Ed Dwight Was to Be the First Black Astronaut. At 90, He's Finally Getting His Due

NEW YORK (AP) — Ed Dwight grew up in segregated 1930s Kansas on a farm on the edge of Kansas City, Kansas. An airfield was within walking distance, and, as a boy, he’d often go to marvel at the planes and gawk at the pilots. Most were flying back from hunting trips and their cabins were messy with blood and empty beers cans on the floor.

“They’d say to me, ‘Hey kid, would you clean my airplane? I’ll give you a dime,’” Dwight, 90, recalls. But when he was 8 or 9, Dwight asked for more than a dime. He wanted to fly.

“My first flight was the most exhilarating thing in the world,” says Dwight, smiling. “There were no streets or stop signs up there. You were free as a bird.”

It would be years before Dwight entertained the idea of himself becoming a pilot. “It was the white man’s domain,” he says. But while in college, he saw in a newspaper, above the fold, an image of a downed Black pilot in Korea.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, they’re letting Black people fly,’" Dwight says. “I went straight to the recruitment office and said, ‘I want to fly.’”

With that decision, Dwight set in motion a series of events that would very nearly lead to him being among the first astronauts. As Dwight progressed through the Air Force, he was handpicked by President John F. Kennedy’s White House to join Chuck Yeager’s test pilot program at Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert.

That fabled astronaut breeding ground, site of “The Right Stuff,” might have turned Dwight into one of the most famous Americans and the first Black man in space. But at Edwards, Dwight was discriminated against even with Kennedy championing him. Dwight eventually departed for civilian life and largely receded from history.

But in recent years, Dwight is finally being celebrated. The new National Geographic documentary “The Space Race," which premieres Monday on National Geographic Channel and streams Tuesday on Disney+ and Hulu, chronicles the stories of Black astronauts — and their first pioneer, Dwight.

“When I left, everyone said, ‘Well, that’s over. We got rid of that dude. He’s off the map,’” Dwight said in an interview by Zoom from his home in Denver. “Now it comes back full force as one of these I-didn’t-know stories.”

It wasn't until 1983 that the first African American, Guion Bluford, reached space. But two decades earlier, Dwight found himself at a fulcrum of 20th Century America, where the space race and the struggle for social justice converged.

In “The Space Race,” astronaut Bernard Harris, who became the first Black man to walk in space in 1995, contemplates what a difference it might have made if Dwight had become an astronaut in the tumultuous '60s.

“Space really allows us to realize the hope that’s within all of us as human beings,” Harris says. “So to see a Black man in space during that period in time, it would have changed things.”

“Ed is so important for everyone who’s followed after, to recognize and embrace the shoulders they stand on,” says Lisa Cortés, who directed the film with Diego Hurtado de Mendoza. “There’s the history we know and the history that’s not had the opportunity to be highlighted.”

In 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit, it jolted its Cold War rival into action.

As the U.S. began pursuing a space program, political leaders were conscious of the image its astronauts could project of American democracy. The first astronauts, the Mercury Seven, were all male and white.

When the Aerospace Research Pilot School was established that November, the White House urged the Air Force to select a Black officer. Only Dwight met the criteria.

That November, Dwight received a letter out of the blue inviting him to train to be an astronaut. Kennedy called his parents to congratulate them.

Despite reservations, Dwight joined up. He was celebrated on the covers of Black magazines like Jet and Sepia. Hundred of letters hailing him as a hero poured in. But in training, he was treated with hostility by officers.

“They were all instructed to give me the cold shoulder,” Dwight says. “Yeager had a meeting with the students and the staff in the auditorium and announced it — that Washington was trying to shove this N-word down our throats.”

Yeager, who died in 2020, maintained Dwight simply wasn’t as good as the other pilots.

Dwight was among the 26 potential astronauts recommended to NASA by the Air Force. But in 1963, he wasn’t among the 14 selected. Dwight astronaut future took a more drastic turn when Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.

Kennedy was killed on a Friday. By Monday, Dwight says, he had papers in his mailbox shipping him out to Germany. He quickly met with Bobby Kennedy in Washington, who had the Pentagon cancel those orders.

Ultimately, Dwight was stationed at Wright-Patterson in Ohio in January of 1964. He graduated the program and totaled some 9,000 hours of air time, but never became an astronaut. He left the Air Force in 1966.

Asked if he was bitter about his experience, Dwight exclaims, “God no!”

“Here you get a little 5-foot-4 guy who flies airplanes and the next thing you know this guy is in the White House meeting all these senators and congressmen, standing in front of all these captains of industry and have them pat me on the back and shake my hand,” Dwight says. “Are you kidding me? What would I be bitter about? That opened the world to me.”

In 1977, he earned his Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from the University of Denver. Much of his work is of great figures from Black history such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Barack Obama. Several of his sculptures have flown into space, most recently one aboard the vessel Orion. NASA named an asteroid after him.

Dwight is filled with gratitude. His one recommendation is that every congressman and senator be flown on a sub-orbital flight so they can see the Earth from above. Everyone, he thinks, would realize the absurdity of racism from that height.

“I’d advise everybody to go through what I went through, and then they’d have a different view of this country and how sacred it is,” Dwight says. “We’re on this little ball flying around the galaxy.”


Chiefs Fans Undeterred by Steep Prices, Limited Availability of Super Bowl Tickets

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCUR) – Kansas City Chiefs fans are paying steep prices for seats at this year’s Super Bowl. KCUR reports that Kansas City, Missouri resident, George Medina, has been a season ticket holder since Patrick Mahomes joined the team. He attended both the 2020 and 2023 Super Bowls. Medina and his daughters have their flights and hotels booked in Las Vegas -- they’re only missing one thing. “This year’s gonna be a little harder. We don’t have tickets yet," Medina said, adding that "...we’re planning on leaving Friday morning, and you know, we’re gonna go regardless. And so, we’re going to have a good time. It’s Las Vegas and we’re going to make the best of it." Medina is confident he’ll be able to score tickets through friends-of-friends. Super Bowl tickets are currently selling for nearly $10,000 a piece.


60 Years Ago this Week, the Beatles Appeared on Ed Sullivan

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - Sixty years ago this week, four young musicians from England arrived in New York City to appear on a popular TV program. The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan's show on February 9th, 1964. Even though it was nearly halfway through the decade, many cultural historians mark that TV appearance as a turning point - the day the 1950s became “The Sixties.” TV and radio journalist Bob Kealing is the author of "Good Day Sunshine State: How The Beatles Rocked Florida." Kealing, a Kansas City native and graduate of the KU School of Journalism, told Kansas Public Radio about an odd Kansas connection to the Beatles. Find out what it is by listening to Tom Parkinson's report about the impact of the Fab Four on America, 60 years ago.


Number of Monarch Butterflies Drops in Recent Key Population Count

UNDATED (KNS) – Butterfly lovers may have a harder time spotting monarchs this year in Kansas. Scientists say the size of the overwintering monarch population in Mexico is the second-smallest on record. There appear to be less than half as many butterflies as last winter. Kristen Baum directs Monarch Watch at the Kansas Biological Survey and Center for Ecological Research. She says if this year brings good rainfall that boosts plant blooms, it will help the population grow: “The thought is the population will rebound...but it's going to take time and it really depends on all those other conditions.” The butterflies face threats such as habitat loss and insecticides. But Monarch Watch experts say drought delivered an extra blow last fall – making it hard for the butterflies to find enough nectar during migration. (Read more.)


Kansas City Chiefs Prepare for Super Bowl LVIII

LAS VEGAS (KPR) – The Kansas City Chiefs are in the final stages of preparation for Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas, Nevada. After a presser full of questions about Taylor Swift and what Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce might do after his NFL career, Kelce made it clear that a chance to win the Super Bowl is serious business. He says there’s been chippiness at practice this week, adding that "...you can see everybody locked in and wanting to get their work in. Making sure that everybody’s ready for the task at hand on Sunday. I just love the focus and the energy of the team right now." Kelce says he’s prepared to play “bad cop” if a receiver drops a ball. Kadarius Toney, one of the ball-dropping culprits who was out for the AFC championship, has been practicing. It’s uncertain if he’ll play.


This summary of area news is curated by KPR news staffers. Our headlines are generally published by 10 am weekdays and are updated through 7 pm. This ad-free news summary is made possible by KPR members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.