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Headlines for Friday, March 5, 2021


Kansas Advances Unemployment Bill; Staffing Surge Promised

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican lawmakers are moving forward with legislation to overhaul Kansas’s troubled unemployment system. The House approved the measure Thursday on an 87-36 vote, sending it to the Senate. The vote came after Democratic Governor Laura Kelly announced plans to more than double the number of staff who help the jobless, and to make them available on weekends. The House bill was drafted by Republican members and would give the GOP-controlled Legislature more oversight of the modernization of the Department of Labor’s unemployment system. It would also require upgrades to be completed by the end of 2022. The department says that deadline is unrealistic.


Report: 15% of Kansas Residents Have Received COVID-19 Vaccine

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Slightly more than 15% of Kansas residents have received at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with the state’s white residents getting the shots at higher rates.  State health department data released Friday shows nearly 440,000 people have been vaccinated in the state. The agency said nearly 220,000 have received second doses. The data shows about 124 white people per 1,000 have received vaccines compared to about 55 Black people per 1,000. About 127 per 1,000 people who do not identify as Hispanic have received a vaccine, compared to 76 per 1,000 among those who do identify as Hispanic.


Kansas to Vaccinate Meatpacking Plant Workers; Rules Upset Counties

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Laura Kelly says Kansas plans to give thousands of meatpacking plant workers their first COVID-19 vaccines by the end of next week. Her announcement Thursday came as at least a few counties pushed back against state inoculation rules that carry the threat of having doses withheld for not complying. The vaccinations for meatpacking workers began Thursday afternoon, and Kelly said the state plans to administer the first of two doses to more than 12,000 of them. Meanwhile, within the past week, Sedgwick and Riley counties have been at odds with the state over moving to vaccinating people younger than age 65 with chronic medical conditions.


Kansas Legislature Mulls State of Emergency Laws; Counties Limited on Vaccinations

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators are bargaining over what power Kansas governors and other officials should have during future public health emergencies as at least a few counties are chafing against state rules for distributing COVID-19 vaccines.  The House approved a bill Thursday on an 81-40 vote to require the governor to confer with the attorney general and get legislative leaders’ approval before issuing executive orders during a state of emergency. The measure went to the Senate, which has its own bill. Lawmakers from both chambers began talks over their differences. Meanwhile, officials in Sedgwick and Riley counties pushed this week against state rules preventing them from vaccinating people under 65.


Ex-Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer Signals He'll Make 2022 Governor Bid

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Former Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer is signaling that he’ll make a comeback bid in 2022 by bringing a granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower to his team. Colyer stopped short Friday of formally announcing his candidacy but described philanthropist Mary Eisenhower as joining “our campaign” as its treasurer. The announcement came on “Jeff Colyer Governor” letterhead. Colyer’s path to the GOP nomination and the right to challenge Democratic Governor Laura Kelly is far from open. Many Republicans expect state Attorney General Derek Schmidt to run. Colyer's last race was his narrow loss in the 2018 primary to conservative firebrand Kris Kobach, who lost to Kelly in November 2018.


Kansas House Passes Bill to Lower Concealed Carry Age to 18

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill to lower the legal age to carry concealed firearms in Kansas from 21 to 18 has won final passage in the Kansas House. The bill’s support came mostly from Republicans, who say that those under 21 are eligible to vote and serve in the military. People as young as 18 can already openly carry firearms in Kansas. The legislation would require those under 21 to complete a background check and undergo safety training to carry concealed firearms, which is currently required for those 21 and older. The state House approved the bill Thursday on a 85-38 vote, sending it to the Senate.


Kansas House Stalls on Proposal Allowing Nurse Practitioners More Freedom to Work

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — A proposal to let nurse practitioners do their jobs without signing contracts with doctors has stalled in the Kansas House. The Kansas Advanced Practice Nurse Association says the bill is being blocked by Republican Representative Brenda Landwehr of Wichita. She chairs the House Health committee and, the nurses association says she is refusing to allow a vote on the proposal. Landwehr didn’t reply to repeated requests for an interview. Half of U.S. states let nurse practitioners work without permission from a physician. But doctors say patients are safer when doctors remain in control. The National Academy of Medicine and public health experts are questioning those claims because they don’t bear out in research. The Federal Trade Commission warns doctors can use their control to stifle competition from advanced practice nurses.


Kansas Governor: State Has Obligation to Pay for Summer School Programs

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly says the state is “morally obligated” to pay for enhanced summer programs and other remedial education to make up for classroom time lost this school year.  Kansas students began returning to the classroom this semester for the first time in months, some for the first time since schools closed last March. Kelly said the state should fund any programs needed for students to catch up.  “I’m optimistic that we will get enough funding from the federal government that’ll allow us to do the enhanced learning in a way that’ll really make a difference” Kelly said. The governor said the enhanced summer programs could include more weeks of school, extended hours, or intensive summer programs.


Kansas House Backs Giving Students College and Wage Data

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has unanimously passed a bill that would require the Kansas State Department of Education to send students starting in the seventh grade information about college costs and the average wages for graduates with various degrees. The legislation passed by the House on Thursday would also require the department to distribute employment and wage information for those with technical educations and those in each branch of the military. The Kansas Board of Regents already publishes data on undergraduate degree programs on its website. The board expressed support for the bill in written testimony.  The bill now goes to the Senate.


Remains of Kansas Priest Who Died in Korean War Identified

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — U.S. military officials say they have identified the remains of a Kansas priest who is being considered for sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. The Rev. Emil J. Kapaun, of Pilsen, Kansas, died as a prisoner of war during the Korean War. The Defense Department's POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Thursday that Pilsen's remains were officially identified on Tuesday. The agency said Kapaun was captured while tending to soldiers near Unsan, North Korea, and continued to minister to fellow prisoners until he died of pneumonia on May 23, 1951. In 1993, Pope John Paul II declared Father Kapaun a Servant of God, which is the first step toward sainthood.


'Falling Through Cracks': Vaccine Bypasses Some Older Adults

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Thousands of older Americans are spending hours online or enlisting their grandchildren's help to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine. They are the fortunate ones. An untold number of older people are getting left behind in the desperate dash for shots because they are too frail, overwhelmed, isolated or poor to navigate a system that favors healthier individuals with more resources. The urgency of reaching this vulnerable population is growing as more and more Americans in other age groups become eligible. Nonprofits, churches and health care outreach workers are scrambling to reach older people who are falling through the cracks before the nation’s focus moves on and the competition for vaccines stiffens.


Kansas Lawmakers Mull Governor's Power, Closing Businesses

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservative Republican lawmakers argue that Kansas shouldn’t be able to shut down businesses during an emergency like the coronavirus pandemic. Their comments Wednesday came as the GOP-controlled Legislature considered how far to go in restricting a governor’s power in future emergencies. The Kansas House gave first-round approval on a voice vote to a bill that would require governors to confer with the state’s attorney general and get legislative leaders’ approval before issuing executive orders during a state of emergency. Some conservative Republicans wanted to go farther and ban business closures or even restrictions but acknowledged that Democratic Governor Laura Kelly would never sign such legislation.


Kansas Senate Approves Bill Requiring In-Person K-12 Classes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a proposal from its top Republican to require all of the state's public school districts to offer in-person classes to all students by March 26. Senate President Ty Masterson is pushing the measure with the number of new COVID-19 cases lower than they have been in months. Masterson and other Republicans argue that many students don't fare well academically or emotionally with online learning and need to get back into classrooms. The Senate's 26-12 vote Wednesday sends the measure to the House. Some Democrats argued that the bill was an attack on local control of public K-12 schools.


Kansas House Gives Initial Approval to Civics Test for Graduation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill that would require high school students to pass a civics test to graduate has won first-round approval in the Kansas House. Lawmakers voted Wednesday to advance the bill despite opposition from the Kansas State Board of Education, which has said the bill encroaches on its constitutional authority to set graduation requirements. The legislation would require students to pass one or more tests consisting of 60 questions from the U.S. citizenship test. Supporters say the move would give students basic civics knowledge to become engaged citizens. The bill faces a final House vote before going to the Senate.


Kansas Lawmakers Approve Plan to Help Cities with Huge Energy Costs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have quickly created a low-interest loan program for cities to help them cover a spike in costs associated with providing heat and electricity to residents during last month’s intense cold snap. The state Senate approved the program by a vote of 37-1 on Wednesday to allow the state to loan out $100 million of its idle funds immediately to cities that have community owned electric and natural gas utilities. Its vote came hours after the House passed the measure, 124-0. Subzero temperatures led to a big spike in demand for natural gas, and other problems, such as freezing equipment, made gas hard to obtain, cause prices to jump.


Former Kansas Congressman Agrees to Diversion Program to Avoid Trial on Voter Fraud Charges

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Former one-term congressman Steve Watkins has agreed to a diversion program to avoid a trial on voter fraud charges. The case against the Topeka Republican stems from him using a UPS storefront as his address on a voter registration form. He then voted in the wrong city council district in 2019 and told a police investigator that he didn’t cast a ballot in that election. In the agreement struck with the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office, Watkins agrees to the facts he’s charged with and avoids prosecution if he doesn’t commit a crime or carry a weapon for six months. The charges were filed against Watkins shortly before he lost the Republican primary in his race for re-election last year to Jake LaTurner. LaTurner now holds that congressional seat.


Missouri Lawmakers Move to Forgive Unemployment Overpayments

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Thousands of Missourians would be not be responsible for repaying federal unemployment benefits the state wrongly awarded them under a state bill gaining traction. House lawmakers voted 157-3 in favor of forgiving the federal portion of unemployment overpayments owed by Missourians. The state's Labor Department paid out $146 million in unemployment aid to 46,000 Missourians who didn't qualify last year. Under the bill, Missourians would still have to repay unemployment aid that they state kicked in. The measure now heads to the Senate.


National Weather Service Predicts More Active 2021 Tornado Season

DODGE CITY, Kan. (KNS) _ Kansas is in one of the world’s most active tornado regions but the state saw a historically low number of tornadoes last year. Kansas averages 86 tornadoes per year so the total of 17 twisters in 2020 was far below average. Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Dodge City say they expect a more active severe weather season this spring.  The weather experts say that atmospheric conditions will be particularly ripe for producing severe storms in the eastern three-quarters of Kansas, where there’s more moisture in the air. The weather service is warning Kansans to prepare a plan of action to stay safe when the first tornado warning arrives.


Seaman School District Forms Task Force to Discuss Name Change

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — A school district in north Topeka is considering changing its name, which it got from a former Ku Klux Klan leader. The Seaman School District announced it will begin exploring the name change at its next board meeting later this month. The move comes nearly five months after student journalists at Seaman High School discovered that the school’s namesake, Fred Seaman, was a local Klan leader in the 1920s. Seaman students have gathered for a peaceful protest and collected nearly 40 thousand signatures in an online petition that calls for renaming the school. Seaman school board president James Adams said this week that he will recommend the formation of a task force to make a recommendation on the name. The task force will include students, staff, parents, community businesses and civic organizations. The school board, which represents a district of more than 4,000 students, will meet to discuss the name on March 15th.


Suspicious Device Removed from Pittsburg State Campus

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Police say a suspicious device found near the Pittsburg State University campus contained a small amount of “incendiary components.” Police were notified Wednesday after the device was found on a block adjacent to the campus. The Kansas State Highway Patrol’s Hazardous Device Unit removed the device from campus Thursday evening. Pieces of it will be taken to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s Forensic Laboratories for further examination. Police said no suspects have been developed in the case and the investigation is continuing.


Motorcyclist Dies in Crash During Police Chase in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Sedgwick County Sheriff's office says a 37-year-old man died when he crashed during a police pursuit. Police identified the man Friday as Timothy A. Tatum of Wichita. Sheriff's department spokesman Lt. Benjamin Blick said the chase began early Friday when a deputy tried to stop Tatum for a registration violation near McConnell Air Force Base. Blick says the driver lost control when the motorcycle hit a median less than a half-mile after the chase began. Tatum was thrown from the cycle and he died at the scene.


Abortion Concerns Prompt Archdiocese Warning on Vaccine

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Catholic leaders in New Orleans and St. Louis are advising Catholics that the COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is “morally compromised” because it's produced using cell lines developed from aborted fetuses. Archdiocese statements in each city say Catholics should choose coronavirus vaccines made by Moderna or Pfizer — if they are available. Johnson & Johnson stressed in a statement Tuesday that no fetal tissue is used in the vaccine itself.


Kansas Crosses 295,000 COVID-19 Case Mark, Including 4,812 Deaths

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported Friday that there have been 295,861 cases of COVID-19, including 4,812 deaths, since the start of the pandemic. That's an increase of 752 cases and 0 deaths since Wednesday. The overall death toll was revised downward by KDHE on Friday following the department-standard review of death certificates. Some deaths initially reported to KDHE/Local Health Departments as COVID-19 related were identified during the review process as not having COVID-19 as the main cause or contributing cause of death. Such revisions are normal and not considered unusual during health statistics compilation. Johnson County has the highest number of recorded cases in the state, with more than 54,700.  KDHE will provide another update Monday.


COVID Helpline Launched for Douglas County Residents

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - A new COVID helpline is now available for Douglas County residents.  The phone number - (785) 864-9000 - will be answered by trained staff who can help answer questions about vaccinations, testing, symptoms, local public health orders and other questions related to the coronavirus.  The helpline will be available from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday, and from 8 am to noon on Saturday.  The University of Kansas has been using this phone number to help answer COVID-related questions since before the fall 2020 semester. Now, it has expanded the number of phone lines and employees available to answer calls with the help of various Douglas County agencies.  Those agencies include: Senior Resource Center for Douglas County, LMH Health and Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.


Shooting Thursday Marks Kansas City's 26th Homicide for 2021

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police say a man has died after being shot in Kansas City, Missouri's Oak Park Northwest neighborhood. The shooting happened Thursday afternoon, when officers were called to the area for a report of a man lying unresponsive in a person's front yard. Officers say the man had been shot and died at the scene. His name was not immediately released. The Kansas City Star reports the killing marked the 26th homicide in the city this year, compared with 31 homicides by this time in 2020. Kansas City recorded 182 homicides in all of 2020, the most in the city's history in a single year, according to the newspaper's data.


Fire Destroys Northeast Kansas Church Building

MISSION, Kan. (AP) _ Firefighters in Johnson County are investigating a fire that destroyed part of the First Baptist Church in Mission, but spared the long-standing church's sanctuary. Firefighters were called to the church around 5:30 p.m. Thursday for smoke and flames coming from an annex building of the church. By the time firefighters arrived, flames had broken through the building's roof, which later collapsed. Firefighters managed to keep the fire from breaching the church's sanctuary. Officials say the building was empty when the fire broke out, and no one was injured. The State Fire Marshal is investigating to determine the cause of the fire.


Lawsuit in Injury of Wichita Police Officer Set for Trial

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A lawsuit filed by the wife of a Wichita police officer who was injured when he was run over by a stolen car is scheduled to go to trial in August. Officer Brian Arterburn was critically injured in February 2017 when he was hit by the car while putting down stop sticks. Attorneys for his wife, Claudale Arterburn, said Wednesday several motions in the case were denied February 23, clearing the way for the lawsuit to go to trial Aug. 9. The family is seeking $75 million plus punitive damages from  Eddy’s Chevrolet Cadillac and its owners, and the car's driver, Justin Terrazas.


Wichita Man Accused of Injuring Woman with Sword

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say they arrested a man who attacked his girlfriend with a sword and stabbed her dog. Officer Charley Davidson said Wednesday that 41-year-old James Brown was arrested. Police began looking for Brown early Tuesday after officers found a 41-year-old woman suffering from severe cuts on her hand and back. She was hospitalized in serious condition. Davidson said in a news release that Brown and the woman began arguing. He allegedly hit the woman with the sword several times and stabbed the dog before leaving the scene. Investigators also discovered the woman was strangled in another incident.


Police ID Man Fatally Shot at Wichita Home and Announce Arrest

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Police have identified a man who was fatally shot this week during a backyard gathering in northwest Wichita and have announced an arrest in the case. Police say 22-year-old Jacob Kalese died from his wounds after he was shot shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday. Officers called to the home found Kalese suffering from a gunshot wound, and police say he died on the way to the hospital. Several witnesses at the scene told investigators that Kalese was among those attending a gathering at the home when another man showed up, started an argument and fired several shots at Kalese. On Thursday, police identified the shooting suspect as 41-year-old Michael Swinney, who was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of first-degree murder.


KCMO Police Explode Suspicious Package Near Federal Courthouse

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police in Kansas City, Missouri say they blew up a suspicious package found Wednesday near the federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City.  Police said the package was found and reported Wednesday afternoon, and investigators called the department's bomb squad shortly after 5:30 p.m. and evacuated the area. Police said in social media posts that the squad used a ``controlled detonation'' to disable the suspicious package around 7 p.m., causing a loud boom that could be heard throughout the downtown area. No one was injured. Police did not described the package or said why it was considered suspicious.


Missouri River Remains Low Heading into Spring Flood Season

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — This year is shaping up to be drier than normal throughout the Missouri River basin, and the risk of flooding is generally below normal throughout the region because conditions remain dry and snowpack levels are below average. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that officials expect only about 84% of the normal amount of water will flow down the Missouri River this year. The Corps said it has increased the amount of water flowing out of Gavins Point Dam on the Nebraska-South Dakota border slightly, but the river remains at a low level heading into spring.


Virtual Event to Mark Anniversary of Churchill's  'Iron Curtain' Speech

FULTON, Mo. (AP) _ A small mid-Missouri college is preparing to celebrate the 75th anniversary of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's ``Iron Curtain'' speech in which he warned of the former Soviet Union's expansion of communism, ushering in the era of the Cold War. Westminster's president invited Churchill to speak at the college in late 1945. On March 5, 1946, just months after World War II's end, Churchill arrived, accompanied by President Harry Truman, a native Missourian. COVID-19 restrictions are forcing the commemoration on Friday at Westminster College in Fulton to be virtual. Live-streamed events are free and open to the public.


Report: Ex-LSU AD Wanted Miles Fired Amid Sexual Complaints

UNDATED (AP) – LSU’s former athletic director recommended in 2013 that Les Miles, the man who is now the head football coach at the University of Kansas, be fired as Tigers football coach because of his behavior with female student workers. Then-athletic director Joe Alleva’s recommendation is detailed in a newly released report into how the university has handled sexual misconduct complaints. The findings by the Husch Blackwell law firm offer a scathing view of the resources and attention LSU has dedicated to such complaints and has resulted in the suspensions without pay of two senior athletics officials: Deputy athletics director Verge Ausberry and senior associate athletic director Miriam Segar.


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