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Headlines for Friday, May 22, 2020

Kansas Governor’s Emergency Powers Weakened by Lawmakers

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — In a one-day session that wrapped up a legislative year upended by the coronavirus, state lawmakers early today (FRI) reined in the governor’s powers to respond to the public health crisis.  Democratic Governor Laura Kelly blasted the all-nighter rush that drafted the bill, but stopped short of saying she’d veto it.  A wide-ranging bill passed after sunrise lets the governor’s emergency declaration — notably, the power to shut down businesses — extend through the end of May. After that, she’d need a panel of lawmakers to extend it.  And businesses that broke the governor’s orders would face just civil penalties, rather than misdemeanor criminal charges that they’d face currently.  The Republican-controlled Legislature also passed protections for businesses against some lawsuits related to the COVID-19 outbreak.  Meanwhile, efforts to expand Medicaid to cover the health care bills of another 130,000 or so people in the state vanished for another year.  (Read more about this story.)

(AP version)

Kansas Lawmakers OK Barring COVID-19 Suits, Curb Governor's Power

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans have pushed a big package through the GOP-controlled Kansas Legislature that would shield businesses and health care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits. The bill they approved Friday also would shift control of the state's pandemic response from Democratic Governor Laura Kelly to legislative leaders. The sweeping bill was approved by votes of 27-11 in the Senate and 76-34 in the House. The measure reflects Republicans' view that Kelly is reopening the state's economy too slowly and has been too aggressive with restrictions. Kelly accused GOP lawmakers of trying to "cram" the proposal through the Legislature and Democrats were skeptical of the provisions protecting businesses.

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GOP Tirade Against Democratic Leader Caps Kansas Legislative Session

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A marathon legislative session in Kansas ended early Friday with two Republican senators denouncing the Democratic leader who accused them of racism over their treatment of the state’s Hispanic labor secretary. The dispute stems from an email Anthony Hensley of Topeka sent Wednesday to Sens. Gene Suellentrop and Rob Olson after they berated Secretary of Labor Delia Garcia during a May 14 meeting about the unemployment system. Suellentrop called it a “vile, vulgar accusation.” Olson says the Senate should discipline Hensley. Hensley sat silently through the criticism and left shortly after the session ended.

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Kansas Prosecutor: No Criminal Charges over Pandemic Orders

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Reno County District Attorney Keith Schroeder said Thursday he will not file criminal charges against people who violate executive orders issued by the governor related to the coronavirus pandemic. The Wichita Eagle reports Schroeder attributed his decision to guidance from Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. A legal opinion issued Wednesday by the state attorney general calls the legality of the disaster declaration granting her broad emergency powers “doubtful." Schroeder was among several officials who had asked the attorney general for a legal opinion on the matter.

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Kansas Nursing Home with 15 Virus Deaths Employed Aide Who Worked While Ill

PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. (AP) — A new report shows that a suburban Kansas City nursing home with 81 coronavirus cases and 15 deaths allowed a nurse’s aide to work despite having symptoms of the illness. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services cited Brighton Gardens in Prairie Village, Kansas, on May 11 after finding that it placed residents in “immediate jeopardy related to the spread of COVID-19.” The facility subsequently addressed concerns related to the screening of employees, and the “Immediate Jeopardy” tag was removed.

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Chancellor: University of Kansas Faces $120 Million Shortfall

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod says the university faces a shortfall amounting to more than a quarter of its general operating budget after the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close its campuses. The Lawrence Journal-World reported Thursday the $120 million shortfall stems from losses in research dollars, event fees and student housing and dining revenue. Girod said “all options must be on the table.” Those include sweeping vacant position budgets, using reserve funds and keeping in place a hiring freeze. He also hinted furloughs and layoffs are likely after the new fiscal year begins July 1.

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Kansas Reports More than 8,900 COVID-19 Cases, Including 185 Deaths 

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — As of Friday morning, state health officials reported 8,958 cases of COVID-19, including 185 deaths.  Cases have been reported in 88 of the state's 105 counties.  (The latest COVID-19 case numbers for Kansas are released here Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.)  

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Feds Sending $63 Million to Kansas Nursing Homes Impacted by COVID-19

WASHINGTON (KPR) – Kansas Senator Jerry Moran has announced the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will be distributing $63.4 million to Kansas skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) to help combat the effects of COVID-19. This funding was provided through the CARES Act.  "Caring for our seniors is particularly challenging during this pandemic, and to help protect our loved ones, we rely heavily on the services of nursing homes across the state,” said Moran.   “This funding will help provide the tools and resources needed to prevent the virus from spreading into nursing homes that haven’t been infected and help provide life-saving resources to the facilities where they continue to battle the spread of the virus.”  Each SNF will receive at least $50,000, plus $2,500 per bed.  Moran says nursing home recipients must attest that they will only use the funds for permissible purposes.  

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Flags Flown at Half-Staff in Honor of Victims of Coronavirus Pandemic

TOPEKA, Kan.  (KPR) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has ordered flags to fly at half-staff to honor victims of the coronavirus pandemic.  In accordance with Executive Order 20-30, and following the proclamation of President Trump, Governor Kelly ordered flags throughout Kansas to fly at half-staff from today (FRI) through sunset on Sunday.  “The death toll due to coronavirus is devastating in Kansas and beyond,” Kelly said. “We all have an obligation to honor those lost to the virus, to include courageous frontline workers who literally gave their lives to help and protect others during this pandemic.”

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Kansas Policy Lets Exposed Meatpacking Workers Stay on the Job

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP)  — Emails and text messages show Kansas softened its quarantine guidelines for meatpacking plants after industry executives repeatedly pushed state officials so employees who were potentially exposed to the coronavirus could continue working. The Kansas City Star and The Wichita Eagle reports that they obtained messages through an open-records request. The newspapers report the documents show that executives at Tyson and National Beef pushed Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Mike Beam to adopt more lenient guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowing meatpacking employees who have come into close contact with positive cases to stay on the job if they had no symptoms. The state had previously advised contacts to quarantine for two weeks.

(-Related-)

New Meatpacking Safety Recommendations Are Largely Unenforceable

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Federal recommendations meant to keep meatpacking workers safe as they return to plants that were shuttered by the coronavirus have little enforcement muscle behind them. That is fueling anxiety that working conditions could put employees' lives at risk. Extensive guidance issued last month by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls for meatpacking companies to erect physical barriers, enforce social distancing and install more hand-sanitizing stations, among other steps. But the guidance is not mandatory. OSHA's general guidance plainly says the recommendations are advisory and not a regulation or a new legal obligation.

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Trump: Kansas Governor Doing "Fantastic Job" on Coronavirus

WASHINGTON (AP / WDAF) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has received the kind of praise from President Donald Trump that Republicans in her home state of Kansas would love to hear about themselves. Kelly met with the Republican president Wednesday in Washington to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, along with GOP Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas. Trump said both have done "a fantastic job." A YouTube video of a session with reporters showed Trump touting his administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Kelly remained quiet as Trump said she speaks her mind on White House calls.  As WDAF TV reports, Kelly praised the Trump administration for its response to outbreaks in meatpacking plants.  She also said swift action from the federal government on coronavirus saved lives in her state.  “I appreciate what your team has done,” Kelly told the president.  “When we put out a cry for help with our meatpacking plants, you sent in a (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) SWAT team,” she said.  The Republican president said praise from Kelly, a Democrat, proves his administration stepped up in the middle of the crisis.

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Unemployment Numbers up as State Takes Major Reopening Step

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Kansas took a major step toward reopening Friday amid the coronavirus pandemic as unemployment numbers soared and a nursing home outbreak grew. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate hit 11.2% in April, an increase from a historical low of 2.8% in March, according to preliminary estimates from the Kansas Department of Labor. The U.S. unemployment rate is at 14.7%. Seasonally adjusted job estimates indicate total Kansas nonfarm jobs decreased by 130,400 from March. Private sector jobs, a subset of total nonfarm jobs, decreased by 121,600 from the previous month, while government decreased by 8,800 jobs.

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Man Being Held on Charges in Kansas Jail Dies in Cell

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas state police are investigating the death of a man being held on charges in the Lyon County Jail in Emporia. Station KVOE reports that 72-year-old Harold Gillen was found slumped over in the bottom bunk of his cell early Friday by guards performing a routine check. Gillen had been held at the jail since March 27 awaiting a pretrial hearing on suspicion of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Officials say jail staff performed CPR on Gillen until medics arrived at the jail and took over, but Gillen was pronounced dead around 2:30 a.m. Friday. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is investigating Gillen's death.

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Ruling: Kansas Sheriff Not Entitled to Immunity from Lawsuit

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Friday that a Kansas sheriff is not entitled to immunity from a lawsuit filed by the family of an unarmed black man who was shot in the back following a police chase. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Harvey County Sheriff Chad Gay is county official, and that unlike state officials he is not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity when sued in his official capacity. The decision comes in lawsuit filed by the family of Matthew Holmes, a 24-year-old black man, who died after McPherson County sheriff's deputy shot him during a 2017 arrest.

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Car Crashes into House in Suburban Kansas City, Kansas

WESTWOOD, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say two of three people in a car that crashed into a suburban Kansas City, Kansas, home were taken to a hospital with injuries. The crash happened before dawn Friday morning in Westwood, sparking a fire that damaged the home. Firefighters and medics were sent to the home to put out the fire and attend to those injured. Police say the incident began when an officer tried to pull over the car, and the car's driver lost control and hit the house. Police say all three people who were in the vehicle were arrested. No one inside the home at the time of the crash was injured.

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Missouri Para-Educator Charged with Federal Child Porn Count

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say a south-central Missouri paraeducator has been charged with one count of producing child pornography. A news release from the U.S. Attorney's office for the Western District of Missouri says 29-year-old Cody Ashton Ary, of West Plains, was charged Wednesday after prosecutors say he solicited children to send him sexually explicit photos and videos through social media apps. Federal investigators say Ary uploaded a sexually explicit video of an 8- to 10-year-old boy to an Instagram account he owned in which he posed as a 15-year-old boy. Ary is a paraprofessional educator with the West Plains R-7 School District who helps with special need students.

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Forecast: Kansas Farmers to Harvest 284.4 Million Bushels of Wheat

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas farmers are projected to harvest 284.4 million bushels of winter wheat this year, industry leaders said Thursday. The forecast from the annual Wheat Quality Tour came during a virtual wheat tour held via Zoom this week amid the coronavirus pandemic. The group’s forecast pegged the anticipated wheat yield in Kansas this year at 44.5 bushels per acre.

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3rd Party May Review NCAA Allegations Against KU Basketball Program

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that a third party might become involved in the NCAA’s case against the men’s basketball program at the University of Kansas.  The NCAA has charged KU with recruiting violations, basically saying the men’s basketball program either knew about payments being made to prospective players or, should have known. KU adamantly denies any wrongdoing. The Lawrence Journal World reports that the NCAA wants to turn its case over to a newly-established panel called the Independent Accountability Resolutions Process. It’s an outside group of arbiters with no direct ties to the NCAA. If KU agrees to move the case, but loses, the decision is final and there is no appeal. KU has not yet indicated which way it wants to go. But if the case stays with the NCAA, it will also be decided by the NCAA.

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Kansas Woman Named 2020 National Teacher of the Year 

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — A teacher who instructed preschoolers inside a Kansas nursing home before the coronavirus pandemic has been named the nation's top educator. Tabatha Rosproy was chosen as the 2020 National Teacher of the Year for bridging the worlds of her community’s oldest and youngest. The year saw the retirement community where she taught in Winfield close to visitors to protect the residents as the state also shuttered its schools. Her selection from among 55 award-winning teachers around the country was announced Thursday by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Rosproy says her students were “well connected and well loved” and the retirement residents engaged.

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Report: Kansas Farm Income Grows, Supported by Government Payments

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — A new report shows net farm income in Kansas last year rose to an average of $110,380 per farm, propped up by government payments. The Kansas Farm Management Association released this week its annual economic data based on the 970 agricultural operations that their economists advised on financial decisions. Their figures show farm balance sheets were heavily subsidized by government payments _ with 72.49% of the income Kansas farmers received last year coming from the government. 

(–related–)

US Farmers Leaning More Heavily on Government Loan Programs

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — U.S. farmers leaned more heavily upon the federal government last year to finance their agricultural operations amid low commodity prices and trade disputes. And more of the money they borrowed is now delinquent. The Agriculture Department said it has not seen significant change in loan delinquency rates because of the coronavirus pandemic. But it does expect an impact if the the economic fallout continues. Farm foreclosures have not increased. The department is taking a number of measures to help borrowers, including extending repayments for operating loans. The department says it also temporarily suspended loan accelerations and non-judicial foreclosures.

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2 Arrested in Wichita Shooting That Left 1 Dead, 1 Injured

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say two people have been arrested after a shooting that left one man dead and one in critical condition. Police spokesman Charley Davidson says the shooting Thursday at an apartment complex happened when the two victims and the two suspects met for a drug deal. Twenty-year-old Missy Barber and 18-year-old Preston Reynolds are being held Friday on possible charges of first-degree murder and aggravated battery. Davidson says a 21-year-old man died and a 19-year-old was critically injured. Reynolds was taken into custody after he went to a hospital with a gunshot wound to the leg. Barber was not injured during the shooting.

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Missouri Mayors Want Lawmakers to Act on Online Sales Tax

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A group of Missouri mayors is asking Governor Mike Parson to call lawmakers back to work to ensure that the state collects online sales taxes. The Kansas City Star on Thursday reported that the mayors are asking Parson to call a special session on the issue. The mayors want the state to require out-of-state online retailers to collect Missouri sales taxes. Lawmakers failed to pass an online sales tax bill before their session ended earlier this month. Legislative leaders have already said they'll likely have to return to work at some point this to accept more federal coronavirus aid.

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Increased Missouri Virus Testing to Focus on Nursing Homes

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's governor says a plan to increase coronavirus testing will focus on nursing homes, prisons and widespread testing for anyone who wants it in certain counties. Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday said he wants 7,500 tests per day, including 1,850 at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Parson says increased testing also includes what's called community sampling, meaning anyone in a county can get tested regardless of whether they're at high risk or are symptomatic. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Missouri rose by 108 Thursday, raising the statewide total to 11,340. There have been 661 reported deaths.

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British Court Orders KCMO Gunrunner to Pay over $4.1 Million to UAE Emirate

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A British court has order an Iranian-American aviation magnate and gunrunner tied to the CIA and the Iran-Contra scandal to pay a sheikhdom in the United Arab Emirates over $4.1 million over a series of business disputes. The ruling on Friday against Farhad Azima caps a yearslong legal dispute stretching across the world between the Kansas City, Missouri resident and the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah. While ruling in the emirate’s favor, the High Court’s judgement also paints Ras al-Khaimah as the Wild West of frontier investing, with an alleged $2 billion separate embezzlement case and detaining people without charges.

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