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Headlines for Friday, December 24, 2021


Kansas Lawmakers to Consider Tax Amendment

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas is expected to have $3 billion in reserves by the end of the budget year, and that has state lawmakers considering tax cuts. The Kansas News Service reports that some lawmakers want to put tax cuts into the state constitution. A committee is recommending that lawmakers change the constitution so that when the state has robust revenue collections, taxes would automatically be cut or money would go to paying down state debt. Putting it in the constitution would mean lawmakers could not easily sidestep it. Republican state Senator Caryn Tyson, who chairs the Senate Tax Committee, supports the amendment as a way to limit the growth of state government. “It allows for an increase, but it’s not the staggering increase that we have been seeing, or that we are seeing," she said. State lawmakers would not easily be able to sidestep the requirement if it was in the constitution.  Opponents argue that it would limit the flexibility of lawmakers to react to unexpected budget challenges. Democratic Representative Henry Helgerson says he supports limiting spending, but a constitutional amendment would make it too hard to respond to budget challenges. “Because there are too many ifs and too many wildcards out there that we can’t control," he said. A constitutional amendment would need the approval of two-thirds of each legislative chamber and approval in a statewide ballot vote.


Kansas Democratic Governor Pivots to the Center Ahead of Touch Reelection Battle

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has signaled her efforts to appeal to moderate Republican and GOP-leaning independent voters whose support is necessary for her to win a tough reelection race in Kansas next year. A recent example was her signing Republican legislation aimed at helping Kansas workers resist COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Kelly is like other governors in Michigan and Wisconsin in trying to win a second term against midterm political headwinds helping Republicans. She's doing it in a state former President Donald Trump carried twice. Her attempt to stake out ground in the political center has irritated some Democrats in the short term. But others argue it's a tactic that could work for her.  


Governor Wants to Give Kansans $250 Tax Refunds

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is proposing to give Kansas residents who filed state income tax returns last year a one-time rebate of $250. Kelly dropped the idea Wednesday on a skeptical Republican-controlled Legislature as she faces a tough reelection race. Kansas can afford one-time rebates because the state's budget picture has improved and because the payments won't permanently reduce state revenues. Top Republican lawmakers said they prefer permanent tax cuts and accused Kelly of a move aimed at boosting her chances of reelection. Kelly's plan would provide $250 to individual tax filers and $500 to married couples filing jointly. About 1.2 million people would rebates totaling $445 million.  


Record Number Signing Up for Healthcare Via ACA Enrollment

UNDATED, (KCUR) - With about three weeks remaining until enrollment closes, a record 13.6 million Americans have signed up for health coverage on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces. The numbers are up 16% in Kansas, with nearly 103,000 people enrolling for coverage next year compared to fewer than 89,000 enrollees last year. In Missouri, nearly 243,000 people have signed up, compared with just over 215,000 last year, although the peak was 290,000 in 2016. The surge in enrollment was partly driven by lower premiums thanks to the COVID-19 relief bill enacted by Congress this year. Monthly premiums for most enrollees will cost $10 or less, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The open enrollment period runs through January 15th.


Kansas City Police Investigate Two More Killings, Pushing 2021 Total to 154

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Police in Kansas City, Missouri, are investigating two more killings, bringing the yearly total to 154. A man was killed around 11 pm Wednesday in an altercation outside of an apartment building on East Linwood. Police say the victime was "cut or otherwise injured." No arrests have been made. A few hours later, police were called to a shooting on Northeast Ridgeway Avenue. The male victim was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. People at the scene said the shooting happened as the victim was involved in a disturbance with another man. The suspect fled. A short time later, a person of interest was taken into custody.


Prosecutor: Topeka Police Justified in Fatal Shooting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka area prosecutor has found that police were justified in fatally shooting a homicide suspect. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay said this week that no charges would be filed in the death of 33-year-old Jesse Buck Lees. Kagay also found that Lees acted alone in the fatal shooting of his girlfriend, 25-year-old Jennifer Morris. Witnesses said Morris and Lees had gotten into an argument on September 8 before he dragged her into a bathroom and shot her. Police spotted Lees on September 10 pulling out of a convenience store parking lot and a chase ensued. After crashing, Lees took off running and raised a handgun in the direction of police. Three officers then fired.


Kansas Audit: Nebraska Contractor in Decline While Seeking Contract

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A new Kansas audit says a child welfare provider that served Omaha-area families was plagued with mounting debt, poor money management and other problems even before it won a Nebraska state contract. The Omaha World-Herald reports that the audit of Saint Francis Ministries shows a nonprofit in financial disarray, with managers who spent money on themselves instead of programs and a chief executive at the time who enjoyed lavish trips paid for by the organization. The audit also states that Saint Francis has since taken steps to correct those issues. A Saint Francis spokesperson says the organization is now financially stable.


Andover Officer Shoots Suspect Who Allegedly Drove at Police

ANDOVER, Kan. (AP) _ A man is hospitalized in serious but stable condition after being shot by a police officer in Butler County. The KBI is investigating the shooting that happened around 11 pm Wednesday after a resident reported a suspicious person inside a self-storage facility in Andover. Four Andover police officers arrived and found the man, identified as 25-year-old Nicholas T. Waggoner, in one of the storage units. The KBI says that when Waggoner was allowed to get into his pickup truck to retrieve his driver's license, he put the truck in reverse and backed up in the direction of the officers. One of the officers shot Waggoner. No police officers were hurt.


Investigation Begins in Fatal Shooting at Fishing Lake

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - Authorities in southern Kansas are investigating after a man was shot to death at a state fishing lake. The Cowley County Sheriff's Office received a 911 call just after 6 pm Wednesday reporting a shooting at Cowley County State Fishing Lake. After a search of nearly two hours, deputies found 37-year-old Joel Leon-Santos of Arkansas City, who had been shot. The coroner pronounced him dead at the scene. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is urging anyone with information on the shooting to come forward. No further details have been released.  


Double Homicide Suspect Believed to Have Killed Himself

LONGTON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a man fatally shot two people in rural Kansas and then apparently killed himself in a nearby home. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation said in a news release that 41-year-old Lyle Miller showed up at an outdoor gathering early Thursday in the small southern Kansas town of Longton and opened fire, killing 55-year-old Dewayne Smith and an unidentified 57-year-old. The KBI said that Miller then fled to a nearby home. Law enforcement surrounded the house, spending hours trying to convince him to leave before sending a robot inside. The robot then located Miller dead from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.


Lawrence May Close Winter Emergency Shelter if Enough Volunteers Don't Step Forward

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - The Emergency Winter Shelter is Lawrence may be forced to close, if more volunteers don't sign up to help out.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that 28 people showed up at the Community Building Tuesday night, looking for a warm place to stay as temperatures fell below freezing. But officials say volunteers are in short supply, so the city run winter emergency shelter may be forced to lock its doors. Dozens of people experiencing homelessness have been living unsheltered outdoors. Many have been staying in encampments near the Kansas River. Others are camping - or car camping - at Clinton Lake State Park.  The primary shelter for homeless people in Douglas County - the Lawrence Community Shelter - has been forced to reduce its capacity due to the pandemic.  This, in turn, prompted the city to open the winter emergency shelter at the city's Community Building.  Roger Steinbrock, with the Parks and Rec Department, says the emergency shelter is now in desperate need of dozens more volunteers if the facility is to remain open.


Experts Warn of "Perfect Storm" in Missouri as COVID Cases Jump

ST. LOUIS (AP) - New cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19 are surging throughout Missouri. Health leaders are warning of an approaching "perfect storm" if more people don't get vaccinated and take other precautions. Missouri is seeing a seven-day average of daily new cases of more than 3,000. The average dipped below 1,000 in October. Hospitals in St. Louis and the Kansas City area say they are already overwhelmed. That's even before Christmas gatherings and before the fast-moving omicron variant fully takes hold. Data tracked by The Kansas City Star shows the Kansas City region is now averaging around 844 new COVID-19 cases per day over seven days. That's the highest number since January.


Kansas Communities Try to Rebuild, Recover from Wildfires

PARADISE, Kan. (HPPR/KNS) - Last week’s wind storm sparked more than a dozen wildfires across western and central Kansas. For many ranchers, the fires cost them their land, their cattle and their livelihoods. But surrounding communities have sprung into action to help them. Rooks County farmer and volunteer firefighter Matt McCune has been one of the many people helping to distribute supplies and organize local recovery efforts on social media. But he says recovery there will require time and lots more help. “I'm hoping that this deal stays on the forefront. But you know, usually a couple weeks from now, these events drop off of people's minds, but you know, this could take forever to get this stuff back built back up," he said.  The most immediate need of most ranchers includes getting financial help to pay insurance deductibles and getting the materials and labor they need to rebuild their fences.

Extreme winds fueled widespread grass fires across western and central Kansas last week and now, the ranchers, farmers and communities who lost so much are beginning to pick up the pieces. When a massive wildfire tore through Russell County, Rich Koester’s ranch was right in the middle of it. He says the fire scorched all of his 800 acres and killed more than a third of his cattle. "It just went over the top of everything and burned it fast and a lot of the cattle didn't have a chance…and see, I don’t know how any of mine survived. I thought maybe... I would have lost all of them.” It’s a similar story for many ranchers across the region, where fires burned over 160,000 acres, and people are now focused on rebuilding. (Read more.)


Man Arrested in Connection with Double Homicide in Fort Scott

FORT SCOTT, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Fort Scott police have arrested a person of interest after two people were found shot to death inside a home. Police were called Tuesday night after someone found a woman had been shot. Arriving officers then found a man who also had been shot.  Both victims, identified as 48-year-old Melissa L. Mitchell and 53-year-old Leonard D. Zimmerman, were pronounced dead at the scene. KBI spokeswoman Melissa Underwood says 23-year-old Dawson J. Mitchell was arrested Wednesday afternoon on charges including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Dawson Mitchell had been sought as a person of interest in the case but has so far, not been charged in connection with the deaths. (Read more in the Wichita Eagle)


More Kansas Children to Get Free or Reduced-Price Lunches

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas children who receive Medicaid services will soon qualify automatically for free or reduced-price school meals. The Kansas News Service reports that the change will mean less paperwork for schools and families. Cheryl Johnson is director of child nutrition for the Kansas Department of Education, and she knows the importance of school breakfasts and lunches. "When kids are hungry and are listening to their little tummies roar or growl - or whatever you want to call it - they can’t learn," she said. Until now, Kansas families who qualify for food assistance were automatically enrolled in the free-lunch program. But everyone else had to apply. Starting next school year, those who receive health care through Medicaid will also get free or reduced-price school lunches, without additional paperwork. Kansas is now one of 27 states participating in the direct-certification program.


Kansas Supreme Court Considers State's Eviction Process

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - The Kansas Supreme Court has created a group to review the state's eviction process and look for ways to make it more fair and equitable. The Kansas News Service reports that the group will offer recommendations in February. More tenants and renters are representing themselves in court for the eviction process. Judge Sarah Warner doesn’t know why this is happening, but she says it became more common during the pandemic. This is just one issue the committee will examine.  COVID changed how courts operate, and Warner says now is a good time to rethink the eviction process. “This pandemic is not the disruption that any of us wanted in the court system. But perhaps it was the disruption that we needed," she said. The review also comes months after the moratorium on evictions was lifted. Warner says the number of eviction cases has risen, but it has not exceeded pre-pandemic levels.  


Commission Calls for End of Native American Mascots in Schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - A commission created by Governor Laura Kelly is calling for the end of Native American mascots in schools and sports teams, an expansion of Medicaid and increased access to contraceptives. The Kansas News Service reports that the commission has released dozens of other recommendations focused on racial justice. The commission offered recommendations on policing in 2020, but released dozens of new recommendations in its latest report: increasing vaccine equity, diversifying workforces and not allowing police school resources officers to discipline students. The 100-page report focused on social determinants of health. It proposed changes to child care, education policies and tax policy. The recommendations aim to help state and local governments consider new legislation. (Read more.)


These area headlines are curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Kaye McIntyre and Tom Parkinson. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today!  


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