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Headlines for Friday, January 21, 2022

 

Kansas Senates Approve Controversial Redistricting Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans have used their supermajority to win Kansas Senate approval for a redistricting plan that likely would make it harder for the state’s only Democrat in Congress to win reelection this year. The nearly four-hour debate ahead of the Senate’s 26-9 vote Friday previewed the arguments that attorneys for both parties may use during an expected court challenge over any new lines. The bill goes next to the House. Both proposals would carve thousands of Democratic voters out of the Kansas City-area district held by Democratic U.S. Representative Sharice Davids. Both also would put Lawrence at the far eastern edge of an expanded central and western Kansas district.

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Kansas Officials Want Legislature’s Help Attracting Massive, $4 Billion Secret Factory

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KC Star) - Kansas is pushing lawmakers to fast-track legislation creating the state’s largest business incentive program ever as officials say a $4 billion factory could be on the line. The Kansas City Star reports that details about that project are scarce. According to the Kansas Department of Commerce, the state is a finalist in what development officials call a mega project. It is anticipated to produce 4,000 jobs paying about $50,000 per year as well as temporary construction employment for 6,000. But state officials said they can’t give lawmakers or the public details because they signed non-disclosure agreements with the mystery company. The lack of transparency, paired with the state's history of failed and secretive incentive programs, has left some lawmakers skeptical. Experts say the numbers point to a new electric vehicle, battery or microchip plant. Those industries are all expanding domestic footprints and their factories cost in the billions, said Ron Starner, a writer and editor at Site Selection magazine, which tracks the expansion and relocation of U.S. companies.  States have competed aggressively for such facilities in recent months as automakers embrace electric vehicles and the pandemic revealed major supply chain challenges with overseas microchip manufacturing.

Kansas leaders said the undisclosed company is expected to make a final decision next month before announcing the project in March. To seal the deal for Kansas, the department of commerce is asking lawmakers to rush passage of the new incentive program. Though most lawmakers didn’t have direct knowledge of the project, they theorized Thursday that the Kansas City metro area was the most likely location.

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Help Extended for Hospitals, Nursing Homes Hit Hard by COVID

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly signed a bill Friday extending executive orders that help address crippling shortages of medical personnel and nursing home workers. One order allows hospital staff to perform a broader range of duties. The other makes licensing of nursing home workers more flexible so homes can hire people whose licenses have lapsed and fill less-skilled jobs with workers who have relatively little or no previous training. Kelly announced the orders earlier this month as COVID-19 cases soared, but they could only remain in place for 15 days unless lawmakers took action. The bill Kelly signed extends the orders through next January.

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Kansas Governor Deploys National Guard to Assist with COVID-19 Response

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) – Kansas Governor Laura Kelly announced additional efforts the State is taking to combat COVID-19. Kelly deployed 80 non-medical soldiers and airmen from the Kansas National Guard to support the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s (KDHE) testing sites across the state and assist with the shipment and delivery of personal protective equipment. The governor has also enlisted the assistance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to provide limited acute care and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds for temporary medical treatment of non-eligible VA individuals to help reduce the strain on Kansas hospitals.  “We are at an inflection point with the Omicron variant, and the strain on our hospitals is taking a toll on our health care workers and patients – all while the virus continues to spread rapidly through our communities,” Kelly said. “The majority of hospital patients are unvaccinated. Please do your part by getting vaccinated and boosted today.”

Military medical professionals in the Kansas Guard, already filling positions at medical facilities in their communities, will stay in their respective communities. The nonmedical soldiers and airmen will be on federal orders for 31 days to assist the additional efforts.  Governor Laura Kelly signed a state disaster declaration on January 6 to alleviate hospital staffing shortages along with two executive orders to temporarily suspend certain restrictions and regulations for adult care home and hospital staff.

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Kansas Child Among Latest COVID Death Numbers

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reports that a child is among the 128 new deaths listed on its COVID-19 website Wednesday. The state lists deaths by age group. There are rarely deaths in the age groups representing children, but there is one in the 0-9-year-old age group this week.  The KDHE does not release the exact age, gender, or location of COVID-19 deaths. The agency has not responded to a question from KSNW TV about whether this is a recent death or new information about a previous death. Before this, the last time the KDHE reported a child’s COVID-19 death was in November 2021.

KDHE data show most deaths are in the 55 and older age groups. But the percentages in the younger age groups have been climbing.  The median age of those who have died went from 79 in September to 77 this week.  State health officials release new COVID data every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, except for holidays.

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State of Kansas Works to Increase COVID-19 Testing Amid High Demand

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas health officials say they are working to improve the availability of COVID-19 testing. The department says as positive COVID-19 cases rise, the demand for testing is also increasing, causing delays in receiving tests and getting test results. In response, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment says it is increasing staffing at existing testing sites and working to add 13 new testing sites. The department says it is looking for new laboratories to reduce waits for test results and is searching for large indoor testing locations to prevent closures because of bad weather. KDHE also confirmed Thursday that a seventh child in Kansas has now died from COVID-19. 

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62 Missouri School Districts Temporarily Closed in January

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — State education officials say COVID-19 has caused 62 Missouri school districts to temporarily close for one or more days in January. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said that is 12% of the state's school districts. The Kansas City Star reports the closures come as COVID-19 cases increase because of the omicron variant, and after Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt threatened to sue districts that impose masks or quarantine mandates. The districts said the closings were needed because of lack of staff and high student absenteeism. The Odessa school district near Kansas City is having virtual classes Thursday and Friday, rather than closing.

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Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver Tests Positive for COVID-19

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II says he has tested positive for COVID-19. Cleaver, who represents a Kansas City-area district, announced the breakthrough infection in a statement released Wednesday evening. Cleaver said he is fully vaccinated and also received a booster vaccine, which he credits for keeping his symptoms mild. The congressman said he will isolate while recovering from the infection and will work remotely until he no longer has symptoms and after completing his self-imposed quarantine.

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Death Sentences Upheld in Case Dubbed 'The Wichita Massacre'

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld the death sentences of two brothers who were sentenced in 2002 for four killings known as “the Wichita massacre.” Jonathan and Reginald Carr argued that a ruling declaring that the state constitution protects access to abortion opened the door to a new legal attack on the death penalty. But the majority disagreed in upholding the death sentences for the brothers in separate opinions. The brothers were sentenced to die over a home invasion in December 2000 that included robbery, rape, torture and the execution-style shootings of four victims. Other crimes over six days left a fifth person dead.

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Kansas Teen's Death Has Spotlight on 'Stand Your Ground' Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Even some Republicans who have supported the “stand your ground law” in Kansas want to revisit it following the death of a Black teenager who was restrained at a juvenile intake center in Wichita last September. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said this week that the law prevented him from charging the local juvenile center's employees in the death of 17-year-old Cedric Lofton, who’d been restrained on the ground on his stomach, shackled and handcuffed for more than 30 minutes.  Legislators said they intended the law to apply to homeowners facing down burglars or people who are attacked on the streets. The Kansas House speaker said this week that he wants to review the law.

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Kansas Fire Officials: Several Rural Fires Caused by Arson

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Fire officials say several rural brush fires set in two Kansas counties were arson. The fires were set Tuesday in Chase and Lyon counties. No one was injured and no buildings were damaged. The Emporia Gazette reports the Kansas Fire Marshal’s office believes the fires are connected and is helping with the investigation. Chase County Sheriff Richard Dorneker said four fires were reported in his county Tuesday morning. He said it's not clear how those fires were set. Lyon County crews handled at least seven brush fires Tuesday afternoon and evening, most of them west of Emporia.

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Feds: Nursing Home Operator Failed to Pay $29.5 Million in Taxes

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Federal prosecutors in New Jersey say the operator of a failed multi-state nursing home chain failed to pay $29.5 million in payroll and unemployment taxes for his employees at 95 facilities he operated in 11 states. Authorities arrested Joseph Schwartz of Suffern, New York, on Thursday and charged him with willful failure to pay over employment taxes, evasion of unemployment taxes and failure to file annual financial reports. Authorities say his New Jersey-based Skyline Management Group had approximately 15,000 employees and Schwartz failed to pay their taxes from mid-2017 through June 2018. Prosecutors also allege Schwartz failed to file financial reports related to Skyline’s 401K retirement plan contributions that are automatically withdrawn from an employee’s pay. Five plaintiffs who worked at Skyline-operated facilities in South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and Arkansas filed the suit. Skyline facilities were also in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Tennessee, according to an Associated Press review.

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Man Sentenced in 2017 Killing of 18-Year-Old Topeka Woman

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 2017 killing of an 18-year-old Topeka woman. Twenty-year-old Javon Amond Smith was sentenced Thursday for second-degree murder and other crimes linked to the death of Kianna Cherise Hodges. Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay said Topeka police were called on March 4, 2017, after a man on foot shot into two separate vehicles, killing Hodges and wounding four other people. New information emerged during a cold case review in 2020, leading to Smith's arrest. Smith pleaded guilty in October to second-degree murder and criminal discharge of a weapon into an occupied vehicle.

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Kansas Man Draws 22-Year Prison Sentence for Robbery, Battery

MINNEAPOLIS, Kan. (KPR) - A Tescott man has been sentenced to more than 22 years in prison for aggravated robbery, aggravated battery.  Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says 33-year-old Chad Rico was sentenced Thursday in Ottawa County District Court by Chief Judge Rene S. Young to 228 months for aggravated robbery and 43 months for aggravated battery to be served consecutively.  Rico was also ordered to pay $2,526.84 in restitution. Rico was convicted of the crimes on November 8, 2021.  Schmidt says the crimes took place in September 2020, when Rico held a man at gunpoint, robbed him and forced him to make withdraws of cash from several ATMs and gas stations. A second defendant is awaiting sentencing in the case.  The case was investigated by the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, Saline County Sheriff’s Office, Salina Police Department and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General Amy Norton and Nicole Southall of Schmidt’s office.

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Man Arrested More than 2 Years After Fatal Wichita Crash

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A man accused of causing a fatal motorcycle crash in Wichita more than two years ago has been arrested on charges of involuntary manslaughter while under the influence and operating without a proper license. The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office says 31-year-old Travis James Brent Bryson was arrested Wednesday at his home after being charged last week in the July 21, 2019, crash that killed 45-year-old Christopher Monk of Wichita. Investigators say the crash happened late at night on Interstate 135 when the motorcycle Bryson was operating hit a highway barrier. Investigators say Monk, who was a passenger on the bike, was thrown over the side of an overpass and died at the scene. Bryson suffered serious injuries in the crash.

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Marshal's Task Force Member Shoots Man in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Authorities say a member of a U.S. Marshal's Task force shot and injured a man in Kansas City. Missouri State Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Bill Lowe said the suspect was shot Wednesday in eastern Kansas City. The man's injuries were not believed to be life-threatening. Lowe says the task force was looking for the suspect on a federal probation violation and a Jackson County warrant. He says the officer fired his weapon after the man reached for a handgun as he was fleeing from officers. One officer was injured by glass while struggling with the suspect during the arrest. That officer was taken to a hospital for observation. 
 
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Homeless Man Sentenced for Killing Wichita Woman Who Helped Him

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A homeless man has been sentenced to life plus 195 months in prison for killing a 72-year-old Wichita woman who had sometimes provided him with food and a place to stay. Television station KAKE reports that 57-year-old John Darwin Pepper was sentenced last week after being convicted in November of first-degree murder and criminal sodomy for the July 2019 death of Rita Golden. Prosecutors say Pepper killed Golden during the course of sexually assaulting her. Police have said Golden let Pepper stay in her backyard and sometimes let him take naps and eat insider her home. An autopsy determined Golden died from a heart condition but she also had injuries associated with being smothered and sexually assaulted.

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Bankers Survey: Rural Economy Stays Strong in 10 States

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new monthly survey of bankers in parts of 10 Plains and Western states shows the region's rural economy remains strong. However, bankers say they have growing concerns about the rising costs associated with running farms. The overall Rural Mainstreet economic index released Thursday fell in January to 61.1 from December’s 66.7. Any score above 50 suggests growth. Bankers say high inflation is affecting the prices of farm supplies, from fuel to fertilizer. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, says higher grain prices, low short-term interest rates and growing agricultural exports are helping the regional economy. The survey covers Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

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University Diversity Head Resigns for Plagiarism on MLK Day

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP/KPR) — A University of Kansas vice provost of diversity resigned after admitting that he plagiarized a message he sent out on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. D.A. Graham's resignation was accepted Wednesday and is effective immediately. The resignation came after the Lawrence Journal-World reported Monday that Graham's message sent across campus was largely the same as one written several years ago by an official with the U.S. Veterans Benefits Administration. Graham says it was an oversight that came as he hurried to get a message together for the holiday. Graham was interim vice provost of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at the university.  KU Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara A. Bichelmeyer sent an email to the university community that said, "Plagiarism is never acceptable behavior – for students, faculty, staff, or administrators."  In the message, she also said, "Despite his mistake, I appreciate all D.A. and our DEIB leadership team have accomplished to build diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at KU."

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Missouri Governor Calls for Higher Teacher Pay, Child Care Access

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's Republican Governor Mike Parson is calling for higher teacher pay and money to increase access for child care. Parson outlined some of the ways he wants to spend nearly $2.8 billion in federal COVID-19 aid during his State of the State address on Wednesday. Parson is asking the GOP-led Legislature for $722 million to prop up child-care centers. He wants another $22 million for matching grants to increase teacher pay to a minimum of $38,000 a year. Parson also lauded the state's coronavirus vaccination rate. About 73% of adults have received at least one dose, and 55% of Missouri's total population is fully vaccinated.

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Missouri Woman Sent to Prison, Must Repay $7.5 Million in Medicaid/Medicare Fraud Case

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A southeast Missouri woman has been sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay $7.5 million in restitution in a Medicaid and Medicare fraud case. A federal judge in St. Louis on Tuesday sentenced 42-year-old Brandy McKay of Cape Girardeau. She had earlier pleaded guilty. McKay operated several durable medical equipment companies. A plea agreement stated that the companies paid kickbacks for orders and prescriptions signed by telemedicine doctors and nurse practitioners who in most cases didn’t examine or even have contact with patients, and who did not determine those patients needed durable medical equipment. McKay’s companies then submitted reimbursement claims to Medicare and Medicaid.

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Chiefs Hope Edwards-Helaire, Williams Take Field vs Bills

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Chiefs could have running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire available for the first time in nearly a month when they play the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night for a spot in their fourth consecutive AFC championship game. Edwards-Helaire practiced all week for the first time since hurting his collarbone in the second half against Pittsburgh on December 26. Chiefs coach Andy Reid also said that linebacker Willie Gay Jr. would play against Buffalo. He was arrested and charged with misdemeanor criminal damage to property this week. Gay pleaded not guilty on Thursday and practiced on Friday.

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Chiefs Coordinator Eric Bieniemy Once Again Garnering NFL Head Coach Interest

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Doug Pederson lasted five seasons in Philadelphia and Matt Nagy just four in Chicago before they ultimately were fired. That hasn’t diminished the interest teams have in Andy Reid’s offensive coordinators. Passed over several times for head coaching jobs over the past few seasons, Eric Bieniemy is once again a hot commodity as the Chiefs prepare for their divisional round matchup with the Bills on Sunday night.

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Kansas City Chiefs' Willie Gay Arrested on Charge of Misdemeanor Property Damage

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (ESPN) - Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay was arrested Wednesday night by Overland Park police and charged with misdemeanor criminal property damage of less than $1,000. ESPN reports(link is external) that a spokesperson for the Johnson County Sheriff's Office said Gay was scheduled to appear before a judge Thursday. The Chiefs said they were aware of Gay's arrest.  Gay, the Chiefs' second-round draft pick in 2020, started 11 games this season plus the Chiefs' wild-card round playoff win last weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kansas City hosts the Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional playoff on Sunday.

(AP version)

Kansas City Chiefs Linebacker Willie Gay Arrested on Misdemeanor

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay has been charged with criminal damage to property after authorities say he broke some items during an argument. Gay was arrested Wednesday night in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas. The Kansas City Star reports that an Overland Park police report says Gay broke a vacuum and other items with a total value of $225. The report says no alcohol, drugs or weapons were involved and no one was injured. The Chiefs said they were aware of the incident but had no further comment. Kansas City hosts Buffalo in the AFC playoffs on Sunday.

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St. Louis Notary Ordered Hundreds of Fake COVID-19 Vaccination Cards

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A 23-year-old notary from St. Louis admitted that she ordered 989 fake COVID-19 vaccination cards from China. Morgan Webb pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal misdemeanor for intentionally buying the fake cards, which were labeled on a shipping manifest as thank-you cards. They were intercepted by customs agents in September at a DHL shipping hub in Kentucky and later delivered to Webb's home in St. Louis. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports her plea deal agreement does not detail Webb's motives or indicate if she sold any of the cards. Attorneys have agreed to recommend at Webb’s sentencing April 20 that she get probation.

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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 and 11 am on weekends. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today! 

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