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Headlines for Friday, January 29, 2021

 

Kansas Lawmakers Put Anti-Abortion Measure on 2022 Primary Ballot

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators in Kansas have put a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution on the ballot for the state’s August 2022 primary election. The Senate approved the measure Thursday on a 28-11 vote that gave abortion opponents one more vote than the two-thirds majority they needed. The House approved the measure last week. Approval by a simple majority of voters would change the Kansas Constitution. The measure would overturn a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision that found that access to abortion is a “fundamental” right. The measure would not be an abortion ban but would allow lawmakers to enact one if the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it.

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Kansas Governor Picks Lawrence Woman to Run Labor Department

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly has tapped a Lawrence woman with a technology background to run the Kansas Department of Labor. Amber Shultz will lead an agency that has struggled for months to process a surge in claims from workers left unemployed by the coronavirus pandemic. The governor said Friday in a news release that Shultz will serve as acting labor secretary until the Kansas Senate confirms her as the new head of the agency. Kelly’s first labor secretary, Delia Garcia, resigned in June amid problems with the system for distributing unemployment benefits. Shultz most recently worked as general manager of the municipal services and operations department for the city of Lawrence. The nomination comes days after Kelly announced a temporary halt to the processing of unemployment claims because of a big influx of fraudulent ones. Payments to some unemployed people will be delayed while the state installs new safeguards. The state labor department told KMBC-TV that its leadership received “credible death threats and threats of violence” just hours before the system was set to go offline to receive the security upgrades. It cancelled a scheduled interview with the station. “Out of an abundance of caution with the governor’s office, we are going to stop doing television interviews,” department spokesman Jerry Grasso said. “I can’t tell you how long it will be or not be. It’s just where we are right now.”

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COVID-19 Caseload in Kansas Nears 275,000; Virus-Related Deaths Approach 3,800

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported Friday that there have been 274,685 cases of COVID-19, including 3,779 deaths, since the pandemic began. That's an increase of 2,168 cases and 61 deaths since Wednesday. Another update from KDHE is expected Monday.

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Frustration, Lines Common as Kansas Expands Vaccine Rollout

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — A long line of seniors, some clutching walkers, waited in the cold this week when Kansas’s most populous county began vaccinating its oldest residents against the coronavirus. Johnson County isn’t alone in struggling with demand as the state moved beyond vaccinating health care workers and long term residents. Health officials and hospitals are being deluged with calls, and appointment slots are filling up in minutes. The challenge is that the second phase is massive, including about 1 million people, or about one-third of the state’s residents. It prioritizes those 65 and older, essential workers such as teachers and police and those living in communal settings such as prisons and homeless shelters.

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Police Discover Body of Woman in Lawrence Home Following Tip from Topeka Police

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Police in Lawrence have found the body of a woman in her home and are investigating her death as a homicide after police in Topeka contacted the Lawrence department with a tip in the case. Lawrence police said in a news release that Topeka police officials reported they had a man in custody for an unrelated investigation who may have been involved in the killing of a Lawrence woman. Lawrence officers who went to the woman's home on Wednesday found the body of 41-year-old Jennifer Marie Mosby. Police are investigating her death as a homicide, but have not said how she died. Police in Topeka were holding the 43-year-old man as a suspect in Mosby's death.

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Attorneys Seek Nearly $3.3 Million in Kansas Voting Rights Suit

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas could be on the hook for nearly $3.3 million in attorney fees and expenses after losing a lawsuit that challenged a state law requiring documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote. The filing Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union asks the U.S. Court for the District of Kansas to award the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees of more than $2.9 million and non-taxable expenses of nearly $383,000. The U.S. Supreme Court last month rejected an appeal from Kansas that sought to revive the law after the federal appeals court declared it unconstitutional.

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Kansas Treatment Clinic Owner Faces Drug Trafficking Counts

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The operator of a Kansas drug treatment clinic has been indicted on federal charges of drug trafficking. Federal prosecutors for western Missouri said in a news release Thursday that 44-year-old Trevor Robinson has been indicted on one count each of possessing methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, fentanyl and ecstasy, with the intent to distribute the drugs. Robinson is listed as the office manager of Nuvista, an an opioid addiction clinic in Olathe. Prosecutors say the case got its start in October when Kansas City police stopped a 2014 Maserati driven by Robinson and found methamphetamine, pills, cocaine, heroin, a digital scale and more than $12,500 in cash.

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Topeka Hospital's Board, Hospital's Foundation Board Members Get COVID-19 Vaccine Shots Early

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka hospital is defending a decision to give COVID-19 vaccinations to members of its hospital board and a fundraising board before it was given to people who were at greater risk for infection. A spokesman for Stormont Vail Health in Topeka said decisions made by the boards govern the daily operations of the hospital.  According to the Kansas News Service, the spokesman said health care workers who directly see patients got the vaccine shots first. The board members received the shots during Phase 1 of the state rollout of vaccinations, which focused on nursing homes, health care workers and others critical to the pandemic response. (Read more.)

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Official: Confusion Cited as One Cause of Lagging Missouri Vaccinations

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri health official says the state's poor ranking in getting residents a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine is partly due to “confusion” in the final days of the Trump administration and through the transition of power. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that Missouri for days ranked last among the states in the percentage of residents getting the first dose. Missouri moved up a notch Thursday, slightly ahead of Idaho. Missouri Division of Community and Public Health Director Adam Crumbliss on Thursday blamed the state's poor ranking partly on “a lot of confusion in the final weeks of the previous federal administration and the transition to the incoming administration."

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Judge Approves Settlement in Kansas Child Welfare Lawsuit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has approved a class-action settlement that aims to fix problems in the child welfare system in Kansas. U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree said in his ruling Thursday that the agreement provides “real value” to the more than 7,000 children in the foster care system. The judge said it addresses needs identified in the lawsuit — an end to extreme housing disruption and inadequate mental health care. While the settlement brings an end to the litigation, Crabtree retained jurisdiction to ensure that it is enforced.

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Latino Advisory Commission Suggests Changes to Kansas Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s Latino Advisory Commission is pushing to give undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses.  The group says that when more people in the community have licenses, it gives police a reliable source of identification and means fewer uninsured motorists on the roads.   Catalina Velarde is an Overland Park attorney who spoke during Hispanic Day at the Capitol.  Velarde says that changing the Kansas driver's license law could have lasting benefits.  “It would certainly engender trust between policing and the communities that they serve." Velarde said. "It would also solve a lot of the language issues." The commission also lobbied for allowing change a state law that prevents non-citizens from becoming police officers.  Immigrants who have a green card are legally allowed to live and work in the U.S., but Kansas state law prohibits them from working in law enforcement. The commission said that hiring non-citizens for law enforcement jobs would make those agencies more representative of the communities they serve and could also help police departments who are struggling to find new recruits.  Some police departments in states like Colorado and Illinois have already begun hiring green card holders.

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Kansas to Spend Bulk of Federal Virus Aid on Education

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas anticipates getting at least $1.1 billion from the latest federal coronavirus relief package and expects to spend about half of it on K-12 schools, higher education and grants for child care. State data shows about $168 million is earmarked for testing, tracing and mitigation. Another $26 million is planned for vaccine distribution. How the money is spent is dictated by federal law. The new funding, which follows $1.03 billion in federal aid received last year, arrives as the state is working to speed up vaccinations. Gov. Laura Kelly received her second dose Wednesday and used the occasion to urge continued caution, saying “we all must remain vigilant.”

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Kansas to Shut Down Unemployment System to Deal with Fraudulent Claims

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas will shut down its system for processing claims for benefits from unemployed workers this weekend to impose new anti-fraud protections. Democratic GovernorLaura Kelly made the announcement Wednesday shortly after Republican lawmakers said they will push to protect employers from being on the hook for fraudulent claims. GOP lawmakers said a surge in claims is a signal that the state is potentially seeing thousands more fraudulent claims. Kelly said they might be right and that the unemployment system will go down from 2 pm Saturday until 7 am Tuesday. No benefits will be paid during that time but Kelly said the state will try to catch up afterward.

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Missouri School District Settles Suit Filed by Black Woman

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) — A Black woman who sued a Missouri school district after its Black superintendent declined to hire her has received a $275,000 settlement. Danielle Nixon alleged in her 2019 lawsuit that the then-superintendent of the Lee's Summit school district said he would never hire a Black woman as director of communications. A white woman was hired to fill the job. The settlement said the district does not admit wrongdoing. The former superintendent, Dennis Carpenter, resigned in July 2019 after clashing for several months with the school board over implementing diversity training in the mostly-white Lee's Summit district.  

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Southwest Missouri Educator Faces Federal Child Porn Charges

SPRINGFIELD, Mo (AP) — An assistant principal at a southwestern Missouri junior high has been charged in federal court, accused of posing as a teenage girl to ask for sexually explicit photos of a 13-year-old boy. Federal prosecutors say 41-year-old Colby Fronterhouse, of Nixa, was charged Wednesday in Springfield's federal courthouse with sexual exploitation for the purpose of producing child pornography. Prosecutors say Fronterhouse was the assistant principal at Nixa Junior High in September when he engaged in a series of text messages with the boy who was a student at the school. Federal investigators say there were able to trace the phone used to request the photos to Fronterhouse. District officials say Fronterhouse was suspended from his school job following his arrest.

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Pension Firm Facing Lawsuit Tried to Influence Missouri Lawmakers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri state employees' pension official has testified that a private equity firm being sued for allegedly mishandling retirement investments has hired a lobbyist who tried to influence legislators and put pressure on the pension. The private equity firm Catalyst Capital Group hired a lobbyist after the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System filed its lawsuit in October. Pension system executive director Ronda Stegmann testified in a court hearing last week that a lobbyist then tried to set up a meeting with her, two legislators and Catalyst executives. The Kansas City Star reported parties involved in litigation typically do not speak with one another outside of court proceedings, except through their attorneys.

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Kansas Deputy Denies Intentionally Driving over Black Man

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas sheriff’s deputy caught on dashcam video running over a Black man who was fleeing shirtless across a field says in a court filing that he accidently struck the man with his patrol truck. Responding to a federal civil rights lawsuit, Kiowa County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Rodriguez denied Thursday that he intentionally swerved his truck to run over Lionel Womack on Aug. 15. Womack says he sustained serious injuries when Rodriguez intentionally drove over him. The video is at the crux of the case alleging the deputy used excessive force. Rodriguez denies the allegations and says he's entitled to qualified immunity.

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Suit: Background Check Failure Led to Kansas Patient's Rape

ANDOVER, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas assisted living facility is accused in a lawsuit of failing to vet staff and turning a blind eye while a woman with dementia was sexually assaulted. The Wichita Eagle reports that the suit alleges administrators at Mapleton Assisted Living facility waited six months to perform a background check on the former worker charged with raping the woman. That meant they didn’t know the certified nursing assistant had a sexual battery conviction and that the Kansas Board of Healing Arts decided in 2008 to restrict his solo contact with female patients. The Wichita Eagle reports that the suit said administrators also took steps to dissuade an investigation, including discouraging a sexual assault exam. No one from Mapleton returned a phone message from The Eagle.

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Man Arrested in Missouri in Attack on U.S. Capitol

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man who was accused of taking part in the attack on the U.S. Capitol was arrested Thursday. FBI agents and Springfield police took Zachary Martin into custody without incident on federal charges of unlawful activities on Capitol Grounds, disorderly conduct and demonstrating in the Capitol building. No court documents have been posted yet on the case, and Patton said she didn’t know whether he had an attorney. The storming of the Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump happened January 6 as Congress was meeting to vote to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral win. Five people died in the mayhem.

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Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department Seeks Minority Recruits

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas City, Kansas fire department is taking steps to improve recruitment and retention of minority and female candidates. Chief Michael Callahan said in a news release Thursday this year's recruit class did not come close to meeting the department's goals for increasing inclusivity. The department received a $2.3 million grant last year to add 18 firefighters. The initial pool of applicants included 48% more minority or female candidates, but when the candidates were selected, only 32% were minority and none were female. Callahan says the department plans to improve preparation for the physical agility test, restart a trainee program and eliminate past marijuana use as an automatic disqualification. 

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Highway Patrol: Oklahoma Woman Killed in Crash on Slushy Kansas Road

RUSSELL, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in north-central Kansas say an Oklahoma woman has died in a crash on a slushy and slick Kansas highway. The Kansas Highway Patrol says the crash happened Wednesday morning on westbound Interstate 70 east of Russell, when a Jeep SUV slid, entered the interstate median and rolled. Investigators say the driver, 24-year-old Miyotzi Jemenez, of Sperry, Oklahoma, died at the scene. Officials say another woman, a 24-year-old passenger in the SUV, was taken to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries. The crash came a day after a winter storm swept through the region, dumping nearly a foot of snow in some areas of northern Kansas.

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Kansas Legislation Would Help Low Income Students Attend Private Schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are considering a proposal to expand a program that uses tax credits to help low income students attend private schools. House and Senate committees considered the bill this week.  Supporters of the proposal say it would allow low-income students to voluntarily leave public schools if they choose to. They say the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted educational differences, with most private schools operating in-person full time while many public schools are online or in hybrid situations. Opponents argued the tax credits would hurt public schools by reducing the state's general fund, and would eventually lead to taxpayer money be used to send students to private schools.

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Top Executive Resigns from Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Company

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The top executive of Kansas City-based beer maker Boulevard Brewing Company has become the third high-ranking employee to leave since a viral Reddit post accused the company of being a harmful place to work for women. Jeff Krum, who has led Boulevard since 2016, confirmed his resignation to The Kansas City Star after informing employees in an email Wednesday afternoon. The iconic Kansas City brewery first came under fire on Saturday because of the Reddit post, which accused members of the company of pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment. Amid backlash on social media, the company on Tuesday released a longer statement where it acknowledged the widespread issue and apologized.

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Bluebloods Feeling Black and Blue as College Hoops Season Hits Homestretch

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Some of the top men's college basketball teams in the country are struggling. Kansas just ended a three-game losing streak. Duke needed to beat Georgia Tech this week to get back on the positive side of .500. Kentucky is 5-10 and in danger of missing its first NCAA Tournament since the 1988-89 season. Michigan State just lost to Rutgers for the first time. There are many reasons for their struggles. There are shortfalls of the one-and-done recruiting system, there have been injuries and the pandemic has disrupted everything, including crucial preparation and practice time during the preseason.

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Chiefs' Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy Passed Over for NFL Head Coaching Job

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Tyreek Hill was thrilled to hear that his first wide receivers coach, David Culley, was going to become an NFL head coach. He was baffled by the fact his current offensive coordinator once again will not. After interviewing for six openings, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy ultimately was passed over during the annual coaching carousel. That became official when the Houston Texans hired Culley, the long-time Andy Reid assistant who had been the assistant head coach in Baltimore.

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McCormack Helps No. 15 Kansas Stumble Past TCU, 59-51

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — David McCormack scored 15 points, Dajuan Harris and Tyon Grant-Foster provided a boost off the bench, and the No. 15-ranked University of Kansas Jayhawks slogged their way to a 59-51 victory over turnover-prone TCU on Thursday night to snap a rare three-game skid. Ochai Agbaji added 13 points for the Jayhawks, who once against struggled offensively but made enough free throws down the stretch to beat the Horned Frogs for the eighth straight time. Mike Miles hit five 3-pointers and had 18 points for the Horned Frogs, who turned the ball over 22 times while shooting just 35% from the field. RJ Nembhard added 12 points for TCU.

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