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Headlines for Friday, February 5, 2021

COVID-19 Caseload in Kansas Pushes Past 280,000; Deaths Top 4,100

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported Friday that there have been 281,562 cases of COVID-19, including 4,101 deaths, since the pandemic began.  That's an increase of 2,647 cases and 206 deaths since Wednesday.  KDHE will provide another update on Monday. 

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Officials: Coronavirus Variant Likely Present in Many Parts of Kansas 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Officials with a major Kansas health system say a faster-spreading coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom is probably more widespread in the state than a single confirmed case in northwest Kansas suggests. The first identified case of the variant came as the number of new COVID-19 cases dropped and with officials focused on distributing vaccines. The state health department announced Wednesday that it had confirmed the U.K. variant for the first time, in Ellis County. University of Kansas Health System officials say that there's a chance the variant is also in Kansas City and surrounding areas.

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Kansas Pharmacies to Start Administering COVID Vaccines Soon

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas has an online map showing locations offering the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, the map shows county health departments and hospitals but some major pharmacy chains will soon join the list.  A limited number of drug stores will receive vaccine supplies starting the week of February 8 through a federal program that sends doses directly to retailers. The CDC lists seven local pharmacy chains as part of the initial rollout, including Wal-Mart, Dillons Food Stores, and Good Neighbor Pharmacies. Vaccine supplies remain a problem. About one million Kansans qualify to get shots now but the state has been getting only 45 thousand doses a week. Kansans can visit each pharmacy’s website for details on whether doses will come to a store near you, and how to schedule a shot.

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Kansas to Proceed with COVID-19 Vaccination Timetable for Inmates Despite GOP Protest

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration plans to begin giving COVID-19 vaccinations to state prison inmates next week. The move would ignore a call from the Republican-controlled Legislature to postpone the inoculations so that others can get them first. Spokesperson Carol Pitts said in an email that the state Department of Corrections has not yet vaccinated any inmates but would start giving them throughout its nine facilities. Her email came Thursday as the Kansas Senate was debating a resolution condemning a decision by Kelly to make inmates eligible for shots during the second phase of the state’s vaccine rollout that launched last month. The resolution passed on a 28-8 vote.

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KC Seeks to Boost Vaccinations for Black, Hispanic Residents

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — A new task force in Kansas City, Missouri, will seek to ensure that Black and Hispanic residents have equal opportunities to get COVID-19 vaccinations. Mayor Quinton Lucas has announced formation of Kansas City’s COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force. Lucas says the rate of Hispanic residents in the city dying from the coronavirus is nearly three times that of white residents. St. Louis County's health department, meanwhile, has begun an outreach campaign to push for vaccinations in north St. Louis County, the part of the county with the highest percentage of Black residents. Missouri remains among the worst states in terms of vaccination rates.

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Kansas Unveils Economic Plan as It Recovers from Pandemic

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has unveiled an economic development plan that aims to provide a blueprint for the state’s future as it looks to the new normal after the COVID-19 pandemic. Dubbed the Kansas Framework for Growth, the plan was lauded as the first of its kind in more than 30 years. It was showcased Thursday in a virtual announcement joined by two of the state’s former governors, Democrat John Carlin and Republican Mike Hayden. Work on drafting the plan began in late 2019, but the new challenges brought on by the pandemic created an urgent need to rethink an approach with the flexibility to respond to ever-changing economic conditions.

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Pandemic Relief Funding Slated for Kansas Infrastructure

NEWTON, Kan. (AP) — Kansas plans to invest the nearly $85 million the state received in the federal coronavirus relief funds for infrastructure programs and services in every county, leaving no part of the state behind. Governor Laura Kelly said Thursday that in deciding how to best invest the money it received, the state also decided on an approach that would invest the maximum amount of dollars into the economy in the least amount of time. It also is targeting economic opportunities in communities that have been hardest hit during the pandemic.

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Kansas Sen. Marshall Receives Seat on Agriculture Committee; Moran Sticks with Veterans' Affairs 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Sen. Roger Marshall has received the Senate Agriculture Committee seat that he told Kansas voters he would get if they elected him. The freshman senator also received seats on the Senate’s energy, small business and health and education committees. The Agriculture Committee has long been a key assignment for Kansas senators. Marshall was a two-term western Kansas congressman when he ran for the Senate last year, and he played up his service on the House Agriculture Committee as a reason voters could expect him to be named to its Senate counterpart. Senior Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran will be the ranking Republican on the Veterans' Affairs Committee.

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GOP Lawmakers Narrow Bill for Cutting Kansas Income Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican lawmakers narrowed their proposal to cut Kansas income taxes before it cleared its first legislative hurdle. A GOP leader said that they’ll put off further action at least a short while to consider how the plan might affect the next state budget. The Republican-controlled Senate tax committee endorsed a bill reducing income taxes by about $170 million during the budget year that begins July 1. The measure would provide relief to individuals and businesses paying more in state income taxes because of changes in federal tax laws in 2017. The bill initially would have provided $329 million in relief during the next budget year.

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Kansas Governor, Spouse Victims of Bogus Unemployment Claims

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly says both she and her husband had fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits filed in their names with the state. The Democratic governor told reporters Friday that she and first gentleman Ted Daughety received Department of Labor notices “months ago” about obtaining unemployment benefits. The governor’s office said the notices came in early fall and that Kelly quickly went to the department’s website and reported the fraud. The Republican-controlled Legislature has been scrutinizing bogus unemployment claims and ongoing criticism of the state Department of Labor’s operations.

(–Related–)

Kansas GOP Lawmakers Not Yet Mollified on State's COVID-19 Unemployment Scam Defenses

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas labor officials are saying that new security protocols are blocking thousands of fraudulent attempts every hour to access the Kansas unemployment benefits system. But those assurances are doing little to dispel the concerns of Republican lawmakers. The state Department of Labor reported that it had blocked more than 538,000 attempts from internet bots or human scammers to log into its unemployment system during the 27 hours after a shutdown of the system ended Tuesday morning. The department shut down the system Saturday afternoon to add new security protocols after a flood of fraudulent claims for benefits. Republican lawmakers say they are still concerned about the Department of Labor’s ability to get benefits to the unemployed and to thwart scammers. They worry that Kansans will face paying taxes on benefits they didn’t receive and employers will be on the hook for covering some or all of the costs of bogus benefits until the fraud is fully detected. The unemployment system’s reboot required jobless workers to register again for benefits, and the department said more than 9,500 did so within several hours. 

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Surprise Tax Forms Reveal Extent of Unemployment Fraud in Kansas and U.S.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Unemployment agencies across the country were bombarded with so many claims during the pandemic that many struggled to distinguish the correct from the criminal. Simple tax forms - barely enough to fill a half-sheet of paper - are now revealing the extent of the identity theft that made state-run unemployment offices lucrative targets for fraud after millions of people lost their jobs during the pandemic. Terri Finneman of Lawrence was surprised when she got a form saying she owed taxes on $1,500 in unemployment payments that she never received. In Ohio, the governor and lieutenant governor also learned that fraudulent claims had been filed in their names. 

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Kansas to Receive Settlement from Pharma Consulting Firm over Opioid Sales

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) —Kansas is receiving nearly $5 million for drug treatment as part of a lawsuit over opioids. The settlement was announced Thursday. The consulting firm McKinsey and Company agreed to a pay $573 million to settle a case from 47 states, Washington, D.C., and five territories over its role advising opioid manufacturers. Company documents showed that McKinsey advised Purdue Pharma to prioritize selling its OxyContin painkiller, despite the drugmaker previously pleading guilty to misleading the public about the risks of opioid addiction. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says opioids led to a man-made public health crisis that has killed hundreds of Kansans. Schmidt says he will ask the Legislature to use the money for a drug treatment grant program. The lawsuit argued McKinsey profited from the opioid crisis by working with opioid manufacturers to help them illegally increase sales. 

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Kansas Measure Would Criminalize Care for Transgender Youth

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislation that would make it a felony for doctors to provide medical treatments that help transgender youth transition is unlikely to get a hearing. The proposal from four conservative GOP members of the Kansas House has drawn condemnation from LGBTQ lawmakers and advocates. It is among measures in more than a dozen state legislatures targeting transgender youth in sports or medical treatments for them. Republican House health committee Chair Brenda Landwehr said Thursday that the measure probably will not have a hearing because the panel has too much other work, such as proposals for modernizing the state's mental health system.

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Kansas Lawmakers Push Civics Test for High School Graduation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas lawmaker and the state's Republican attorney general are pushing a bill to require high school students to pass a civics test to graduate. The goal, they say, is to increase civic engagement. The proposal is facing pushback from members of the largest teacher's union in the state, the second-largest school district and the Kansas Association of School Boards, which say that Kansas students are already getting an education in civics in government and history classes. The Kansas State Board of Education, which rejected a similar proposal about six years ago, also opposes the bill. 

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Congress to Investigate Safety at U.S. Meatpacking Plants

WASHINGTON (KNS) - A congressional subcommittee has launched an investigation into worker safety violations at meatpacking plants. The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has sent letters to the three largest meatpacking plant companies: JBS, Smithfield and Tyson, as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which the committee alleges was too lenient in its COVID safety response. Illinois Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi is a member of the subcommittee. He says the Trump administration was too lax in its oversight of the meatpacking industry. “A lot of people unnecessarily got sick and a lot of people died.” Krishnamoorthi said.  “We cannot tolerate that any longer.”  Representatives from JBS and Smithfield say they’ve invested millions of dollars in safety measures and have implemented numerous health protections for their workers.

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University of Kansas Faculty Group Decries Dismissal Policy

UNDATED (AP) — A group of University of Kansas faculty met via Zoom to decry a new Board of Regents policy that makes it easier for university CEOs to fire, dismiss or suspend employees, including tenured faculty. The meeting Thursday night was organized by a group called OneKU and attracted about 200 participants. Speakers at the meeting said the policy would hurt the university's stature and employee morale by damaging or ending tenure and shared governance. The University of Kansas is the only one of six public universities that plans to consider using the policy, although Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer said last week she hopes that it is never used.

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Holton Man Sentenced for Fatally Shooting Father in 2018

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas man who fatally shot his father while he was in bed has been sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison. Fifty-year-old Derrick Bohnenkemper, of Holton, was sentenced Friday in the death of his 73-year-old father, Gaylen Bohnenkemper at the family's home in 2018. He was also sentenced to three years of post-release supervision and must register as a violent offender. Authorities say Derrick Bohnenkemper's mother called 911 and was able to escape from the home. Bohnenkemper barricaded himself inside the house for about five hours, and fired at officers before he was arrested. He pleaded no contest in December to second-degree murder. 

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Wichita School Board Considers Changing Redskins Mascot Name

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wichita school board plans to discuss changing Wichita North High School's Redskins mascot name. The discussion scheduled for the board's meeting on Monday comes as teams on all levels across the country are changing or reconsidering mascots considered to be culturally insensitive. The Wichita Eagle reports the district's policy suggests initiating change if an existing theme becomes offensive or divisive. The board planned to discuss the issue last summer but delayed it because of the coronavirus pandemic. The agenda item said board members have received several letters asking them to consider changing the high school's mascot, while others want the board to retain the Redskins name.

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Police: Man Killed, Woman Injured in Kansas City Shooting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police in Kansas City, Missouri say a man is dead and a woman critically injured in a shooting in a neighborhood on the city's south side. Police say in a news release that the shooting was reported around 3 p.m. Thursday, and arriving officers found a man dead at the scene. An injured woman at the scene was taken to a hospital in critical condition. Police say the pair were shot by an unknown suspect who then fled the area. The victims' names have not been released. The Kansas City Star reports that the man's death marked the city's 12th homicide so far this year, compared with 19 homicides by this time last year. 

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Wichita Police Find Body of Woman Whose Boyfriend Also Died

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police have found the body of a woman whose boyfriend was found dead earlier this week. Wichita police spokesman Charley Davidson said officers found 18-year-old Kaylah Blackmon dead inside her car Thursday.  The car was located in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Wichita. Authorities have been searching for Blackmon since the body of her boyfriend, 17-year-old Michael Beasley, was found near an abandoned church in Wichita on Monday. Authorities have released no other details about the deaths.

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Topeka Police Officer Attacked by Man Who Grabbed for Gun

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police say a police officer responding to a call was attacked by a man riding his bike past the scene. Police Sgt. Scott Scurlock says the officer was at a boarded up home Thursday morning when the bicyclist tried to get his attention. Scurlock says when the officer asked the man to wait, the suspect charged the officer, knocked him over and punched him several times. During the tussle, the man tried unsuccessfully to grab the officer's gun. A bystander intervened and the suspect was arrested. The officer was not seriously injured. 22-year-old Justin Reed was booked into the Shawnee County jail facing charges in the attack.

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Kansas Man Dies After Falling Down Embankment into Creek

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Barton County officials say a 20-year-old man died when he fell down an embankment into a creek. Sheriff Brian Bellendir said emergency crews were called to Wet Walnut Creek near Great Bend early Wednesday. Paramedics found Manuel Castillo in the creek and tried resuscitation  but he was pronounced dead at a hospital. An investigation determined that Castillo fell about 40 feet down an embankment into the river. He was cut and bruised during the fall by rock, metal rods and corrugated steel used to prevent the embankment from eroding. That left him incapacitated in 2 feet of water. A medical examination determined Castillo's death was caused by accidental drowning.

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Missouri River to Remain Low Headed into Spring Flood Season

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The amount of water being released into the Missouri River from a key dam on the Nebraska-South Dakota border will likely remain low this month because conditions remain dry and snowpack levels are below average throughout the region. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that it will keep the amount of water flowing out of Gavins Point Dam at the winter release rate of 17,000 cubic feet per second. That means river levels will remain low headed into spring. Officials say it still appears that 2021 will be somewhat drier and only about 89% of the normal amount of water is expected to flow down the Missouri River.

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Missouri Bill to Limit Virus-Related Lawsuits Advances

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri senators have advanced a bill that would shield hospitals, manufacturers and other businesses from lawsuits over alleged wrongdoing during the coronavirus pandemic. Senators gave the measure initial approval Wednesday after hours of debate and negotiations. Proponents say hospitals and manufacturers that stepped up to make masks shouldn't be penalized for doing their best to help. But bipartisan critics said the measure is aimed at helping big business owners and would hinder people's access to the courts. The measure needs another vote of approval in the Senate to advance to the House.

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Missouri Bill Would Ban Enforcement of Federal Gun Laws

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers are advancing a bill to ban police from using federal laws to take away people's guns. The GOP-led House on Wednesday voted to give the bill initial approval. A previous version would have stopped officers from serving as Missouri police if they worked to enforce federal policy. House lawmakers toned down penalties in the bill Wednesday. But it still would subject police departments that employ officers who take away guns based on federal laws to lawsuits and $50,000 fines. The bill has gotten pushback from some law enforcement in the state.

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Police Find Man Fatally Shot Outside Kansas City Home

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police in Kansas City are investigating after officers found a man fatally shot outside of his home. Police say in a news release that the shooting happened late Wednesday night in a south Kansas City neighborhood. Officers called to the scene found the man, later identified as 34-year-old Kelly Randolph, with gunshot wounds. Randolph was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police say the shooting happened during a disturbance between Randolph and another person who did not live in the house. Police had not announced any arrests in the case by Thursday afternoon.

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Kansas Artist Creates Natural Portrait of Congressman John Lewis in Atlanta Park

ATLANTA (AP) - Freedom Park in Atlanta is doubling as the canvas for one of the city's portraits of the late civil rights icon and congressman John Lewis. Artist and progressive activist Stan Herd created this so-named Earthwork with natural materials. He's known for creating similar representational portraits around the world. The temporary installations only last as long as nature allows, eventually fading away.  Congressman Lewis died in July at the age of 80 after battling pancreatic cancer. He served in the House for 33 years representing Georgia's 5th Congressional District, which includes most of Atlanta. 

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NFL Writes to Biden Offering All Stadiums as Vaccine Sites

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The NFL is telling the federal government it will make the remaining of the league’s 30 stadiums available as COVID-19 vaccination sites. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is making the offer to President Joe Biden in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. There are already seven NFL stadiums serving as vaccine sites. They are in Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Houston, Miami and New England. Goodell says stadiums should be able to get prepared quickly because of previous offers as virus testing centers and election sites.

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Chiefs Assistant Coach Britt Reid in Car Crash Injuring 2 Young Children

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Chiefs assistant coach Britt Reid, the son of head coach Andy Reid, was involved in a multi-vehicle crash late Thursday that injured two young children near the team’s training complex adjacent to Arrowhead Stadium. The team confirmed in a statement Friday that Britt Reid was involved in the accident but declined additional comment. Local television station KSHB reported that Reid told an officer on the scene that he had “two or three drinks,” according to a search warrant filed just before midnight. Reid then complained of stomach pain and also was taken to an area hospital.

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Chiefs Under Pressure to Ditch "Tomahawk Chop"

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  (AP) — Pressure is mounting for the Super Bowl-bound Kansas City Chiefs to end the popular tradition of fans breaking into a “war chant” while making a chopping hand motion designed to mimic the Native American tomahawk. A coalition of Native American groups has put up billboards in Kansas City to protest the Tomahawk Chop and Chiefs’ name. It’s also planning a protest outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, site of Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Chiefs made some changes in the fall, barring headdresses and war paint and making a subtle change to the chop. But advocates say it is not enough.

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Football Fans Eager to See Match-Up Between Two of the NFL's Top Quarterbacks

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KNS) _ Because of the pandemic, the Super Bowl 55 crowd in Tampa, Florida will be downsized to around 22,000. But the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers has one of the biggest quarterback matchups in Super Bowl history. This year's big game is proving to be bigger than the first Super Bowl between the Chiefs and Green Bay Packers in 1967. That championship game featured two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Len Dawson and Bart Starr. This time it’s Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the first 43-year old quarterback, Tom Brady.   Brady has won six Super Bowls, more than any other quarterback in NFL history.  How long has Patrick Mahomes been aware of Brady?  "Probably since September 17, 1995, when I was born"  Mahomes told reporters. That was a year after Brady led the New England Patriots to back-to-back Super Bowl championships, something the Chiefs are trying to do for the first time since then.

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KPR's daily headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays and updated throughout the day. KPR's weekend summary is usually published by 1 pm Saturdays and Sundays.
 

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