Kansas Governor Vetoes Republican Plan to Restrict Local Control of Health Measures
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has vetoed a bill that would prohibit government mask mandates in Kansas and curb the power of state and local health officials during outbreaks of infectious diseases. The measure vetoed Friday was the Republican-controlled Legislature’s response to mask mandates and other restrictions that outraged many conservative constituents during the coronavirus pandemic. It would prevent state and local government officials from issuing mask mandates and prevent state and local health officials from ordering law enforcement agencies to help them enforce orders dealing with infectious diseases. But the measure passed with less than the two-thirds majorities in both chambers needed to override a veto.
Kansas Governor Signs Bill to Shore up State Employee Retirement Fund
TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has signed a bill aimed at shoring up the state employee retirement fund, known as KPERS. The $1 billion infusion of cash is intended to fix problems caused by the state’s last budget crisis. Revenue shortfalls caused in part by tax cuts during Republican Governor Sam Brownback’s administration forced the state to delay contributions to the retirement fund and skip some debt payments. The money in the bill will make up for those missed contributions pay off long-term debts. It will also help close a gap between the fund’s projected assets and what will be needed decades from now to pay benefits. Republicans pushed for the bill arguing that a current budget surplus gave the state a rare opportunity to fix a series of lingering problems with the retirement fund, which has more than 150,000 active members.
Kansas Legalizes Sports Betting, Then Gets Sued by Casino
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has legalized sports betting. But the state was sued almost immediately Thursday by a state-owned casino operator over an unrelated part of the law designed to revive a long-closed greyhound track in its area. State officials and others weren’t sure ahead of Kelly's signing of sports betting legislation Thursday when sports fans would be able to start making wagers. The lawsuit is from the Kansas Star Casino operated by Boyd Gaming about 15 miles south of Wichita. The casino has a contract with the lottery and says that contract has been breached because the new law allows improper competition from new gambling devices at Wichita Greyhound Park.
Governor Kelly Signs Bill Legalizing Sports Betting in Kansas
TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Kansans will soon be able to legally place bets on their favorite sports teams. Governor Laura Kelly has signed a bill into law to legalize sports gambling. The new law will allow people in the state to use cellphone or computer apps to bet on sporting events and to place bets at state-owned casinos or up to 50 other locations chosen by each casino. Gambling will be legal beginning July 1. The measure dedicates most of the the state’s share of revenues to efforts to lure the Kansas City Chiefs from Missouri to Kansas. Supporters of the law say it was time to legalize sports betting because people were already doing it. They also say it will help raise tax revenue. The state estimates legal sports betting will bring in up to $10 million a year by 2025. Kansas joins dozens of other states that have made sports gambling legal in recent years.
Kansas Governor Signs Law Mandating Labels for Alternative "Meat" Products
TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas will no longer allow products like veggie burgers and plant-based sausages on grocery store shelves without a label clearly stating they are not made from meat. Governor Laura Kelly has signed a bill into law that adds the labeling requirements for meat alternatives. The Kansas Livestock Association has wanted the law for years. It’s part of a nationwide effort to push back against meat alternatives. KLA lobbyist Aaron Popelka says the law was necessary to help shoppers know when they're buying vegetarian products rather than animal meats. “It became pretty clear they were using deceptive labels to try to market their products.” Popelka said, “When consumers go to the grocery store, they will now exactly what they are buying.” Critics say consumers are not confused and that very few consumers accidentally buy alternative meat products. They say the law is putting needless restrictions on the businesses that produce vegetarian products. Meanwhile, plant-based meat alternatives continue to grow in popularity, with retail data showing more than $7 billion in sales in recent years.
Governor Signs Bill Phasing Out Kansas Grocery Sales Tax
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has signed a plan from Republican lawmakers into law to phase out the state’s sales tax on groceries over three years. Kelly had a ceremony Wednesday at a grocery store in Olathe to fulfill a promise to sign the bill even though it is not as aggressive in eliminating the tax as she and fellow Democrats want. They had hoped to eliminate the entire 6.5% tax as of July 1. Only 13 states charge any sales tax on groceries. Kansas’ rate is second only to Mississippi’s 7%. The new law drops the tax to 4% in January, to 2% in 2024 and to zero in 2025.
Report Reveals Abuse at Indian Boarding Schools, Including Haskell in Lawrence
LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - The U.S. Department of the Interior has released a report into the history of American Indian boarding schools and found that the schools were responsible for more than 500 student deaths between 1869 and 1969. Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence was one of the first Native American boarding schools. It was known as the Indian Industrial Training School when it opened in1884. The Lawrence Times reports that the school is mentioned twice in the Interior Department report. The report says that conditions were poor at the Lawrence school and that students were often physically disciplined for misbehavior or for infractions such as using their native languages. Haskell still maintains a cemetery of 103 Native American children who died at the school. In June 2021, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland commissioned the first comprehensive examination of Native American boarding schools in the U.S. after the remains of 215 children were discovered at the site of a former Indigenous school in Canada. (Read more)
U.S. Grappling with Native American Boarding School History
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The U.S. government hasn't been open to investigating its role in stripping Native Americans of their cultures and identities in boarding schools. Until now. That’s partly because people who know first-hand the persistent trauma caused by the boarding school system are positioned in the U.S. government. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland last year announced an investigation into the government's oversight of Native American boarding schools, and the Interior Department released some initial findings this week. But the work to uncover the truth and create a path for healing will require financial resources. And tribes will have to navigate federal laws on repatriation to bring home children who died and were buried at the schools.
Kansas Records Second-Highest Percentage Increase in Drug Overdose Deaths
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas recorded the nation’s second largest percentage increase in drug overdose deaths in 2021, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reported that drug overdose deaths in Kansas increased by 43%, from 476 deaths to 680. Most of the drug overdose deaths in Kansas, and nationwide, involved fentanyl, a synthetic opioid often mixed with other drugs like cocaine or methamphetamines. Dr. Daniel Warren, of the University of Kansas School of Medicine, says that Kansas lacks the harm reduction efforts that have been found to work in other states. “We have just a lot of people who are not informed about what is present in the drugs that they’re using,” Warren said. “And because they lack information, they are dying.” Nationwide, the CDC says more than 107,000 people died of drug overdoses last year.
"From Crisis to Death:" Probing Wichita Teen's Last, Desperate Hours
MISSION, Kan. (AP) — When Wichita police were called to deal with a teenager in the throes of a mental health crisis, everything went wrong. Cedric “C.J.” Lofton had had a troubled life, and his final hours were horrendous — he was dragged from the porch of his foster home, taken to a Sedgwick County juvenile detention facility instead of a mental hospital, and shackled face down until he lost consciousness. No one has been charged in C.J.'s death; the prosecutor in the case raised questions about nearly everyone involved in C.J.’s care, from the juvenile workers to the foster care system, and said this death never should have happened.
Corrections Staffing Issues Lead to Closure of Sedgwick Juvenile Facility
WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - Sedgwick County's continuing problems with staffing in its corrections programs has led to the closure of a residential juvenile facility. Corrections officials say they were forced to close the juvenile residential facility to provide adequate staffing for the county’s juvenile detention facility. The residential facility allows juveniles to serve their sentences without confinement. Even with pay increases and bonuses, the county says current staffers are leaving due to burnout. County Commissioners say they were blind-sided by the news. Commissioner Jim Howell says closing the facility is not the right answer. "We’re simply, because of money, backing away from any type of effective program that actually helps these kids not reoffend and not become issues in the community and not end up in a penitentiary in the future,” Howell said. The closure comes as a community task force set up by the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County pushes for a restorative justice program to keep youth out of jails.
Man Charged in Fatal Hit-and-Run Outside Arrowhead Stadium
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police say a man has been charged in a fatal hit-and-run crash that happened last year outside of Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Television station WDAF reports that 19-year-old Thomas Weyer is charged with one count of leaving the scene of a fatal crash in the Oct. 10 death of 66-year-old Steven Hickle, of Wichita. Investigators say Hickle had left the stadium during a rain delay of a Chiefs game and was crossing a street when he was hit by two vehicles that left the scene. Court documents say an anonymous tip led police to Weyer, who initially denied involvement, but later admitted hitting Hickle after being told police had learned his vehicle was at the scene of the fatality at the time of the hit-and-run crash.
Advocates Continue to Seek Legalization of Fentanyl Test Strips in Kansas
TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Advocates for legalizing fentanyl screening kits. Fentanyl is a leading cause of overdoses and supporters say allowing people to use the kits could save lives in the opioid epidemic. Sometimes people die after taking cocaine or other drugs that were spiked with the powerful opioid. Some states are legalizing kits that let people screen drugs for fentanyl contamination. The Kansas House wanted to follow suit but the Senate did not. Some lawmakers said they fear that legalizing fentanyl test kits would encourage drug use. But advocates say the test strips help people stay safe while they work on overcoming their addiction disorders. Kaiser Health News reports the kits are legal in about half of states.
Blue Springs Man Charged in 2021 U.S. Capitol Breach
BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. (AP) - A suburban Kansas City man accused of being among the throng that breached the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, has been charged with five federal misdemeanors. The Kansas City Star reports that 32-year-old John G. Todd III, of Blue Springs, Missouri, appeared Tuesday in federal court in downtown Kansas City, where he was advised of the charges and released on his own recognizance. He is charged with entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly conduct; violent entry or disorderly conduct; impeding passage through the Capitol grounds or building; and parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. His next court hearing is scheduled for May 17 in Washington, D.C., via video conference.
Kansas Governor Signs Measure Promoting Computer Science
TOPEKA (KPR) — Governor Laura Kelly has signed a new law promoting computer science education in Kansas schools. The Kansas Reflector reports that the measure requires every secondary school to offer at least one computer science course beginning in the 2023-24 school year. The law will also require the State Board of Education to submit an annual report to the Legislature detailing the success of the programs. The law also provides scholarships for students in rural areas and underrepresented socioeconomic groups to obtain training in computer science education. It allows the Kansas Board of Regents to provide scholarships of up to $1,000 for pre-service teachers working toward their degrees in elementary or secondary education.
Kansas Schools Still Struggling to Find Substitute Teachers
TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Schools across Kansas are having trouble finding enough substitute teachers in the midst of labor shortages and a lingering pandemic. The Kansas Board of Education is considering new options for people who want to work as substitutes. Earlier this year the board approved a temporary license that allows anyone 18 or older with a high school diploma to work as a sub. Those special licenses end June 1st. But officials have proposed a new option that would allow people to work as substitute teachers without the normal requirement for 60 hours of college coursework. They would just have to take four hours of online training. Education Commissioner Randy Watson says lower standards are not an ideal solution but schools face unprecedented staffing shortages. For the third straight year, the state board will likely remove restrictions on the number of days a sub can teach in any one class.
Kansas Board of Education Considers Changes to High School Graduation Requirements
TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - High school students in Kansas could soon need more than just classroom credits to earn a diploma. A state task force has proposed adding community service, work experience and other activities to the list of graduation requirements. State Board of Education member Jim McNiece leads the group exploring the changes. He says adding real-world experiences will make it more challenging for students to graduate, and he says, that would be a positive change. “In terms of challenging them to look at school differently and to think about their future differently.” McNiece said. An early proposal calls for students to complete two or more activities from a list that includes sports, community service, and pursuing college credits. The group says the changes would give students more flexibility in choosing which classes to take while also requiring them to acquire experience outside the classroom.
Kansas Woman Arrested in 2002 Missouri Hospital Patient's Death
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say they've arrested a former respiratory therapist who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of a patient 20 years ago. The Livingston County Sheriff's Office says deputies in northeastern Kansas arrested 41-year-old Jennifer Hall on Thursday evening, under the name Jennifer Semaboye, of Overland Park, Kansas. She was charged this month in the 2002 death of Fern Franco — one of nine people who died at Hedrick Medical Center in Chillicothe over several months in 2002. Authorities say Hall worked as a respiratory therapist at the hospital when the patients all died from cardiac collapse. Matthew O'Connor, who has represented Hall in the past, said no evidence exists to connect Hall to the deaths. Hall has previously denied any involvement.
Man Convicted 19 Years After Woman's Rape Near Topeka
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A jury has convicted a man for a rape that was committed 19 years ago near Topeka. District Attorney Mike Kagay said in a news release that Pernell Adam Mack Jr. was convicted Wednesday for a woman's rape at a home south of Topeka on April 16, 2003. Kagay said the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said in February 2020 that DNA tied Mack to the case. Prosecutors said Mack and another person raped and pistol-whipped the victim after robbing her. No one else has been arrested.
Man Pleads No Contest in Bridge Shootings Near Leavenworth
LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A 39-year-old man who authorities say randomly shot at drivers stopped on a bridge between Missouri and Kansas has pleaded no contest in the case. Jason Westrem, from Houston Lake, Missouri, entered the plea Wednesday to attempted first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Investigators said Westrem fired at least 20 rounds at construction workers and drivers stopped on the Centennial Bridge between Leavenworth, Kansas, and Platte County, Missouri, in May 2020. He was stopped when a soldier from Fort Leavenworth, Master Sgt. David Royer, hit Westrem with his vehicle. One person was injured and gunshots hit several vehicles. Authorities have not released a possible motive for Westrem's actions.
Kansas Man Convicted of Killing 4-Month-Old Daughter in 2018
HAYSVILLE, Kan. (AP) — A southern Kansas man has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the 2018 death of his 4-month-old daughter. Television station KAKE reports that 36-year-old Andrew Franklin of Haysville pleaded no contest last month to the reduced charge and a single count of child abuse in the death of Brexley Grace Franklin. Andrew Franklin faces years in prison when he's sentenced June 6. Police say the baby girl died on September 13, 2018, five days after she was admitted to a hospital suffering from a skull fracture, retinal hemorrhages and bruises to her jaw. Franklin was initially charged with first-degree murder and two counts of child abuse.
Kansas City Tennis Player's Lawsuit Dismissed Due to Statute of Limitations
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A once top-ranked high school tennis player has lost her bid to hold the United States Tennis Association and the Kansas City Racquet Club liable for failing to prevent her coach from sexually abusing her. Adrienne Jensen filed the lawsuit two years ago when she was in her mid-20s, Jensen alleged that Haultain “methodically groomed and manipulated” her, first by texting her and later by exposing himself to her, demanding nude pictures from her, pressuring her to have sex with him and ultimately penetrating her. But U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum ruled that her claims were barred by the statute of limitations since she first reported the abuse by her coach at the racquet club as far back as 2010. The coach, Rex Haultain, pleaded guilty in 2013 to an unrelated charge of soliciting child pornography and was sentenced to 78 months in prison. Jensen moved to Kansas City with her parents in 2009, when she was 14, in order to train with Haultain. The United States Tennis Association did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on Lungstrum's ruling. Jensen's attorneys said they’re considering an appeal.
Missouri Legislature Advances Ballot Measures on Marijuana and Ranked Voting
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Campaigns to legalize recreational marijuana use and allow ranked-choice voting in Missouri both submitted signatures ahead of Sunday's deadline to get the measures on ballots. One proposed amendment would allow adults age 21 and older to buy and grow weed for personal use. It would automatically clear criminal records for people who have been convicted of nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. The other measure would require a single primary ballot with both Republican and Democratic candidates. The top four vote-getters would advance to the general election. Both groups submitted more than 300,000 signatures. They were required to submit about 170,000 signatures from six of the state's eight congressional districts.
Wichita Leaders Apply for Major Industry-Promoting Grant
WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - Wichita is in the running for a multi-million-dollar grant to support industry in the region. A coalition of business leaders, elected officials and leaders from Wichita State University are applying for a piece of the $1 billion dollar Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The coalition would use the funding to develop a semiconductor testing facility at Wichita State and more advanced technology for regional manufacturers. Cindy Hoover is a vice president at Spirit Aerosystems. She says new manufacturing technology will be vital if Wichita is to stay competitive in the aerospace industry. “Aerospace is transforming, and we have to be ready for that because it’s a huge part of the Kansas economy.” Hoover said. The coalition in Wichita is one of 60 finalists out of more than 500 applicants. About 20 applicants will receive the grants of between $25 million and $100 million dollars.
Wichita State University Report: Airlines Struggling to Meet Growing Demand
WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - As airline passengers return following the end of COVID-19 restrictions, airlines are struggling to keep up. According to the latest Airline Quality Rating report from Wichita State University, pilot shortages and a lack of planes contributed to the problems. Researchers say those issues are likely going to take some time to address. Many pilots for small, regional airlines would like to advance to the major carriers but it takes two to three years to train them. The study also found that more than half of customer complaints were for refunds or issues with their flights. The report also found that Southwest Airlines had the highest quality rating among the major airlines.
Governor Kelly Announces Upcoming Statewide Virtual Job Fair
TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR/Kansas Office of the Governor) – A virtual statewide job fair will take place next week, beginning at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, May 18th, and running through 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 19. Governor Laura Kelly announced the job fair via press release. Job seekers can apply, live chat and interview virtually with employers participating in the event. Registration is required in order to participate in the virtual job fair. The job fair portal features a Job Seeker Training video, a list of participating employers, various channels for attendees to register and login.The job fair portal features a Job Seeker Training video, a list of participating employers, various channels for attendees to register and login.
Kansas City Announce 2022 Season Schedule
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KNS) —The Kansas City Chiefs will get plenty of national TV exposure with the 2022 schedule that was announced Thursday night. There will be five televised prime-time games including three at Arrowhead Stadium starting with the Chiefs home opener against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chiefs will open the season on the road, Sunday, September 11 at Arizona. The other prime time games at Arrowhead will be against the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night, October 10, and Sunday night, November 6, against Tennessee. The regular season concludes on the second weekend of January in Las Vegas. I’m Greg Echlin.
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, 11 am weekends. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today!