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Headlines for Friday, May 28, 2021

 

2021 Kansas Legislative Session Ends with No Veto Overrides

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas lawmakers officially wrapped up their work and adjourned the 2021 session Wednesday without overriding any of the governor's vetoes, but they did ask her to trim back unemployment benefits.  Both chambers of the Kansas Legislature passed a resolution calling on Democratic Governor Laura Kelly to opt-out of the additional $300 per week unemployed Kansans can currently get from the federal government.  The resolution isn’t binding, so Kelly can ignore it. But Republican Senate President Ty Masterson says it sends a signal.  “The intentions were good in the beginning, and the need was there, but we’re at the point where this extra program has become a bit of a perverse incentive to our employment,” he said.  Republicans argue the extra benefits are keeping people from taking open jobs but Democrats say there are other factors to consider like childcare and low wages.  Twenty-three states with Republican Governors, including Missouri, have ended benefits before they were set to expire in September.

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UPDATE: Panel Approves Truncated COVID State of Emergency Extension

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republican legislators are serving notice that they’re preparing to end the state of emergency in Kansas for the coronavirus pandemic and are accusing Democratic Governor Laura Kelly of having no “exit strategy.” Eight of the GOP-controlled Legislature's leaders on Friday approved a shorter extension of the state of emergency than Kelly wanted until June 15. Six leaders are Republicans. The state of emergency was set to expire Friday. State law required Kelly to get to lawmakers’ approval to retain it. She sought the longest extension the law allows at one time, 30 days, until June 27. Democrats say it's still too early to end the state of emergency.

(–Earlier Reporting–)

Kansas Legislative Panel Deciding on Extension of Emergency Declaration

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) – Kansas lawmakers will decide today (FRI) whether to extend the state’s emergency declaration related to COVID-19. Governor Laura Kelly is asking lawmakers to renew the declaration for another 30 days, so the state can access emergency funds. The group of five Republicans and two Democrats have the power to continue the state of emergency in Kansas for the next 30 days, or end it. The declaration allows access to federal money and resources like National Guard members who can help run vaccination clinics. Senate Democrats say ending the emergency now would be a bad idea because it could jeopardize special emergency funds and vaccination efforts. A spokesperson for Republican Senate President Ty Masterson says he will consider the extension ”on its merits.”

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Olathe “Proud Boy” Pleads for Release from D.C. Jail

OLATHE, Kan. (KNS) - The Olathe man charged in the January 6th storming of the U-S Capitol is once again asking to be released from lock-up.  William Chrestman has been identified by federal prosecutors as a Proud Boy – a group of far-right extremists who supported former President Trump. He was arrested in February along with three other Kansas City-area men for their role in the Capitol insurrection. He’s now being detained in Washington D.C. and was denied release in February. On Thursday he asked the D.C. court to let him out of jail because he has some medical conditions, including back pain. Chrestman says he’s on several pain medications and was getting care from the Veteran’s Administration. He also said the Olathe home he shares with his common-law partner and their six children is in danger of foreclosure. 

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Kansas House Weighs in on Gaza War with Pro-Israel Statement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Republicans have pushed a resolution through the Kansas House expressing solidarity with Israel on behalf of the state and condemning Hamas militants as "terrorists" after an 11-day war this month in the Gaza Strip.  On Wednesday, the Kansas House voted 83-27 for the resolution, and it is to be sent to Israeli government representatives in the U.S. The measure inspired a brief but intense debate as two of the Legislature's most liberal members argued that it ignored abuses by the Israeli government against Palestinians. Republican lawmakers also intensified pressure on Democratic Governor Laura Kelly to end extra unemployment benefits by passing a resolution through both chambers calling for that action.

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Wichita Democrat is 3rd in Kansas House to Resign This Month

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state lawmaker from Wichita is giving up her seat and she's the third Democrat in the Kansas House to step down this month. Rep. Elizabeth Bishop told colleagues Wednesday that she wanted to retire and it was her last day in the Legislature. It also was lawmakers’ last day in session for the year. Bishop was first elected to the House in 2016. Democratic state Reps. Brett Parker and Stephanie Day of Overland Park announced earlier this month that they would be stepping down as well. Democrats in Bishop's district will pick a replacement to serve through the 2022 elections.

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National Weather Service Confirms Tornadoes in Nebraska, Kansas

BENKELMAN, Neb. (AP) — The National Weather Service has confirmed strong storms that raked rural areas of southwestern Nebraska and northwestern Kansas spawned at least two tornadoes in mostly uninhabited parts of each state. The service's office in Goodland says the first tornadoes reported Wednesday hit around 3:30 pm in fields north of Benkelman in Nebraska. Two more were reported about an hour later northwest of Herndon, in Kansas. Meteorologist Jesse Lundquist says the service received a report of one homestead near Herndon possibly being damaged by a tornado, but has received no reports of injuries. Lundquist says the storms also dropped large hail and heavy rain in the region.

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Masks No Longer Mandatory on KU's Lawrence, Edwards Campuses

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - The University of Kansas has rescinded its mandatory face mask policies for its Lawrence and Edwards campuses.  Effective immediately, KU officials say masks are now optional – not required – for all individuals on campus.  Exceptions include public transportation and campus healthcare facilities, which will still require masks. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control issued new recommendations that people who are vaccinated for COVID-19 can resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing. That same day, Governor Laura Kelly adopted the CDC guidance for the state of Kansas and on Wednesday, Douglas County officials followed suit, letting the county health order expire.  Since the pandemic began, KU officials say there had been no known COVID-19 transmissions within the school's classroom or research settings, and no outbreaks stemming from university events.  KU officials say individuals who are not vaccinated are still strongly encouraged to continue wearing masks and to get vaccinated as soon as possible.  For more information about the change in mask policy and other health and safety topics, visit protect.ku.edu(link is external).

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Strong Winds, Flooding and Hail Damage Winter Wheat Crops

HAYS, Kan. (KNS) - Severe storms battered western and central Kansas Wednesday night bringing strong winds, flash flooding and large hail. The system knocked out power to thousands in Salina and produced several tornadoes. But most of the damage reported so far has been from the golf ball to baseball sized hail that damaged property and crops. Craig Dinkel is a crop production agent with Kansas State Research and Extension for Russell and Ellsworth Counties. He says the wheat in that area had been looking promising this year, but that the hail damage came at an especially inopportune time when the grain is just beginning to form. Flooding from the storm remains a risk to people and crops in much of central Kansas, where some areas saw more than four inches of rain.

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First Lady Jill Biden Visits Community College in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KNS) — First Lady Jill Biden handed out vouchers for free credit hours and touted vaccination incentives while visiting the Metropolitan Community College campus in Kansas City, Missouri on Thursday. The school is giving students three free credit hours if they get the vaccine. Biden toured the medical clinic at the Penn Valley campus, greeting workers and talking with people who were lined up to get their COVID shots. Biden, who is a community college professor, said the free tuition was a great incentive to encourage inoculations.  “This is the best way to get us all back to the weddings and the homecomings, and the concerts, everything that we've missed for really the whole year” Biden said. The First Lady was in Kansas City as part of the administration’s efforts to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

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Kansas COVID-19 Case Count Approaching 314,000; Death Toll Rises to 5,076

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported Friday that there have been 313,997 COVID-19 cases in Kansas, including 5,076 virus-related deaths, since the pandemic began. That's an increase of 277 cases and nine new deaths since Wednesday.  Another update on case numbers is expected Monday.

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KDHE Head Says Lottery Prizes Under Discussion to Boost Vaccination Rates 

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) – Kansas health officials are discussing some type of prize drawing to boost Covid-19 vaccination rates. Dr. Lee Norman says the state health department is in talks with Kansas Lottery officials. Norman says the state will not offer a $1 million dollar prize, like Ohio and Colorado are doing. But he says some type of prize drawing for people who are vaccinated is likely.  About 42 percent of Kansans have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That trails the national average of about 50 percent.  Norman says the number of daily vaccinations in Kansas continues to fall.

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Kansas Congressman Wants to Trim Subsidies for Electric Vehicles

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - A Kansas congressman wants to trim back federal subsidies for electric vehicles.  Representative Ron Estes has introduced two bills to cut the incentives.  The Wichita Republican says federal electric vehicle tax credits have too many loopholes and mostly benefit the wealthy.  His first bill would reduce or eliminate the $7,500 federal tax credit for people in states that have their own subsidies. Kansas and Missouri do not have state EV incentives. The second plan would eliminate the credit if the buyer of an EV is the state or federal government.  Estes says the bills are partly a reaction to President Biden’s proposal to spend $174 billion dollars on electric vehicle rebates, tax incentives and charging infrastructure.  Biden’s new plan would likely only provide rebates for less-expensive electric vehicles.  

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Police Board Sues Kansas City, Mayor over Budget Plans

UNDATED (AP) – The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners is suing the City Council and mayor over plans to change how a portion of the police budget will be spent. The board voted 4-1 Friday to file the lawsuit, with Mayor Quinton Lucas the only dissenting vote. The lawsuit was filed a day after the City Council passed two ordinances that would move about $42.3 million from the police budget to a new fund that would support services such as mental health and community engagement programs aimed at addressing causes of violent crime. The board contends the city does not have authority to reroute police funding and seeks injunctions to reverse the changes.

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1 Dead, 4 Injured in Crash During Police Chase near Holton

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a 26-year-old woman died and four people were injured in a crash during a police chase in northeast Kansas. Jackson County Sheriff Tim Morse says a Holton police officer was pursuing a vehicle Thursday night in Holton when it ran a stop sign at an intersection on Highway 75 and collided with a Jeep. A passenger in the first vehicle, Shai Boyd, of Topeka, died at the scene. The driver and a 19-year-old passenger were taken to a Topeka hospital with serious injuries. The driver and a passenger in the Jeep were treated for minor injuries. The police and the Kansas Highway Patrol did not say why the Holton officer began the pursuit.

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Feds Move to Protect Lesser Prairie Chicken; Kansas Senators Object

UNDATED, (KNS) - A federal agency wants to designate the lesser prairie chicken a threatened species in western Kansas. That could make it harder to convert grassland to new farmland.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Clay Nichols says the proposal would include exceptions that allow crop farmers to continue routine activities on existing farmland, even if those incidentally harm the birds or their habitat.  “We've been having discussions over the past couple of years with different agricultural groups. And we hope those continue, and we'd like to see additional conservation options developed for the species across the range," he said.  Both of the state's Republican U.S. senators, Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran, almost immediately criticized the effort to protect the grouse. They say such a move could hurt farmers, ranchers and the oil and gas industry.  The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will hold two virtual public hearings in the next 60 days before making a final decision about the listing.

(AP version)

U.S. Wildlife Managers Propose Protections for Rare Chicken

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - U.S. wildlife managers are proposing federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday said it will consider public comments and scientific information over the coming months before making a final determination. Once listed as a threatened species, the chicken's habitat spans parts of five states - including a portion of the oil-rich Permian Basin. Environmentalists have been pushing to reinstate protections. Landowners and the oil and gas industry have been working on voluntary conservation programs. Still, federal officials say threats remain. They are proposing to list the northern population as threatened and those in eastern New Mexico and the southern Texas Panhandle as endangered.

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Police: Olathe Officer Shoots Man Who Pointed Weapon

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Police in suburban Kansas City say an Olathe officer shot and wounded a man who pointed a gun at another officer. Olathe police say the shooting happened late Wednesday afternoon when officers were sent to check on an unresponsive man inside a parked vehicle. Police say officers checking on the man spotted a gun inside the vehicle and say the man picked it up and pointed it at an officer. Police say an officer then shot the man, and the man fled the scene on foot. He was found a short distance away and arrested, then taken to a hospital for treatment. Police say the man is expected to make a full recovery.

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2 Escaped Inmates from Kansas Recaptured in Oklahoma

COLUMBUS, Kan. (AP) — A suspect in a double homicide and another inmate who escaped from jail in Kansas earlier this week were recaptured in Oklahoma. The Cherokee County Sheriff's office said Friday that Mark Gerald Hopkins II and Michael Wayne Martsolf were arrested in Ottawa County, Oklahoma. They escaped from the county jail on Monday, prompting a massive search. Authorities did not provide details of how they were captured. Hopkins of Columbus, was charged with capital murder in the shooting deaths of two men in southeast Kansas in June 2020. Martsolf was being held on drug charges. Authorities previously arrested 26-year-old Tasha Young, of Weir, for her alleged role in the escape.

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Two Kansans Arrested After 17 Dogs Removed from Their Home

HARTFORD, Kan. (AP) — Lyon County authorities say two people from Hartford face possible animal cruelty charges after 17 dogs were removed from their home. Lyon County Sheriff's deputies and animal control officers went to the home Wednesday to serve a court order to remove all but five animals from the home. The Hartford Municipal Court order said the animals were a nuisance and part of an unauthorized kennel. Deputies found poor living conditions in the home and removed 17 dogs, 14 of which were a dog-wolf breed. The homeowners, Thomas and Rhonda Staggs, are jailed in Lyon County on unrelated warrants. Guardian of the Wolves animal rescue is caring for the animals.

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Suspect in Salina Mother's Killing Arrested After Standoff

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Law enforcement officers say a suspect in a Salina woman's killing who eluded capture for three months is in custody. Thirty-five-year-old Nelson Gerrod Hull III surrendered to police after a standoff in Salina on Wednesday. He is charged with first-degree murder in the February death of 36-year-old Courtney Ann Hoffman in Salina, who was found shot to death inside a vehicle. Officers determined Wednesday that Hull was at a home in Salina. City, state and federal agents surrounded the home and negotiated with Hull for two-and-a-half hours. He surrendered after chemical agents were used in the house. He is being held in the Saline County Jail.

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Two Fired from Unit that Investigates Police Misconduct

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - Two employees of an independent unit that investigates accusations of excessive police force or misconduct in Wyandotte County have been fired because of comments that were made on an audio recording. The county prosecutor's office says that the remarks "violated the office's code of conduct." The news release issued by prosecutors didn't provide the names of the former employees of the Community Integrity Unit or describe what they said.  The news release only said that the recording was made during working hours and that the prosecutor's office was made aware of it last week.

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Postal Contractor Pleads Guilty to Stealing Gift Cards

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Warrensburg man admitted that he stole cash and gift cards from the mail while working as a contractor for the U.S. Postal Service. Twenty-seven-year-old Tyrone Read Jr. pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to conspiracy to possess stolen mail. Read was a driver for a company that delivered mail to and from post offices in Grain Valley, Oak Grove, Odessa and Concordia. He admitted he stole $1,820 in cash and gift cards from 30 customers between December 2019 and May 2020. He gave the cash and gift cards to his girlfriend, 35-year-old Kerry Swisher, of Warrensburg, who used them for personal expenses. She has pleaded guilty to possession of stolen mail. 

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Marijuana arrests in state parks drop after policy changes

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri officials say arrests for marijuana use in state parks have dropped dramatically after policy changes prompted by the legalization of medical marijuana. The parks department issued new enforcement policies in April of last year. The Department of Natural Resources says 51 people were arrested for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana or synthetics in the parks in 2020, compared with 120 similar arrests in 2019. Under the new policies, people with cards showing they can use medical marijuana may use the drug in private settings at state parks. Using medical marijuana in open spaces, such as around campfires, is still prohibited. 

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Kansas Man Charged After Neighbor Killed by Stray Bullet

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas City, Kansas, police say a man has been charged in the death of a neighbor who was hit by a stray bullet while standing in his house. James Edward Merrick Jr., is charged with first-degree murder in the March 31 death of 50-year-old Mark Winner. Police say Merrick was involved in a shooting outside Winner's home when a stray bullet went through a window and hit Winner, who died at the seen. Merrick fled but was arrested earlier this month in Topeka. The investigation into the shooting is continuing.

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Topeka Police: Man Fatally Shot in Central Park Neighborhood

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police say officers found a man fatally shot early Thursday morning in the city's Central Park neighborhood. Police say in a news release that the shooting was reported around 4:45 a.m. Thursday. Officers who responded to the area, which includes a mix of businesses and homes, found the man with gunshot wounds and rushed him by ambulance to a local hospital, where he died. The victim was identified as 49-year-old Aaron D. Shepherd, of Topeka. Police did not announce any suspects or arrests in the case.

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Report: EPA Officials Improperly Influenced Dicamba Decision

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — An internal Environmental Protection Agency report says agency officials during the Trump administration in 2018 improperly influenced a decision to re-approve use of dicamba, a herbicide blamed for crop damage in hundreds of lawsuits. The EPA's Office of Inspector General report was released Monday. Dicamba is found in several products and used on tens of millions of acres of soybeans and cotton nationwide. It has been the subject of multiple lawsuits, mostly by farmers whose crops are not dicamba-resistant, but whose land sits next to farms using the weedkiller. The lawsuits claim that wind blows dicamba onto their land, damaging and often killing their crops.

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Remains of Soldier Found in Korea Identified as Oklahoman

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Remains turned over to the United States by North Korea have been identified as those of a soldier from Oklahoma who disappeared during the Korean War. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said Thursday that the remains are those of Army Pfc. Bill Hobbs of South Coffeyville. Hobbs was 20 when he was reported missing in action on Nov. 30, 1950, when his unit was attacked near the Chosin River in North Korea. The remains are among 55 boxes of remains returned in June 2018 and identified using methods like DNA analysis. Burial is scheduled for June 26 in Coffeyville, Kansas.

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Pork Group Asks USDA to Support Faster Slaughterhouse Speeds

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A trade group for port producers is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to appeal a recent federal judge's order that struck down a federal rule allowing pork processing plants to speed up processing. The National Pork Producers Council says that a Minnesota judge's ruling in March ordering a return to slower processing line speeds will cost farmers $80 million in reduced income. Meatpacking worker unions challenged the faster speeds, saying they put workers' health and safety at risk. The pork producers group is asking the USDA to appeal the ruling and seek a stay so six plants now operating at faster speeds may continue under the new rules finalized by former President Donald Trump's administration in 2019.

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Winningest Coach in Kansas Retires

OLPE, Kan. (KSNT) - The state's winningest high school girl’s basketball coach will be retiring after 44 years.  KSNT TV reports that Olpe High School girl’s basketball coach Jesse Nelson announced his retirement with four state championships and 951 wins to his credit.  For his part, Nelson credits the students he coached, as well as their parents and assistant coach, Caroline Davis.  Davis was a freshman player on Nelson’s first team as a head coach. She's also retiring this year.  In 2012, with his 732nd win, Nelson became the winningest girl’s basketball coach in Kansas history.  In 2021 the Olpe Eagles girl’s basketball team won the 1A Division state championship with a 25-0 record.

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Reid: Chiefs QB Mahomes 'Full-Go' During Voluntary Workouts

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been “full-go” during the first week of voluntary workouts, three months after surgery for turf toe and a full month ahead of the original schedule. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said that Mahomes has been “doing everything” while players worked out in shorts at the team’s facility near Arrowhead Stadium. Players aren’t allowed to wear pads or hit, but the very fact that Mahomes is back on the practice field bodes well for his availability for next month’s mandatory minicamp.

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K-State Reaches Big 12 Baseball Semifinals After Win over Texas Tech

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Cameron Thompson homered and added three RBIs on a double in a five-run fourth, and No. 7 seed Kansas State University advanced to the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament with a 7-2 victory over Texas Tech. Kansas State takes on second-seeded TCU on Saturday, needing to defeat the Horned Frogs twice to reach the championship series. Dylan Phillips also homered in the third inning for Kansas State, before breaking it open in the fourth. Phillips’s 16th home run tied the Cats’ single-season record. Thompson’s double came with two outs, followed by Cole Johnson’s RBI single and a bases-loaded walk to make it 7-0. Tyler Eckberg pitched five innings of scoreless relief.

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Kansas Officially Signs 2 of Top College Hoops Transfers

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas head men's basketball coach Bill Self acknowledged in the aftermath of one of the worst NCAA Tournament losses in program history that the Jayhawks had to get more athletic and more dynamic if they wanted to once again be title contenders. They took a big step toward accomplishing that goal Wednesday. The Jayhawks announced high-scoring Arizona State transfer Remy Martin and versatile Iowa State guard Jalen Coleman-Lands had officially signed their transfer paperwork to join the program.

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