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Headlines for Friday, May 7, 2021

 

UPDATE: Kelly Hints She'll Sign Kansas Schools Plan by Taking Credit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has indicated that she’ll sign bipartisan education legislation by publicly claiming credit for it. The measure she praised Friday would boost funding for public schools while also making more students eligible for private school scholarships. The governor’s statement that she had “delivered on education, and did right by our kids” came hours after Senate President Ty Masterson and House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. said she had committed to signing the $5.2 billion education funding and policy measure. Masterson and Ryckman hoped both chambers would pass the measure Friday or early Saturday and clear the way for lawmakers to wrap up their business for the year.

(–Earlier Reporting–)

 GOP Leaders: Kansas Governor Pledged to Sign Education Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two Republican leaders say Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has committed to signing a bipartisan plan that boosts funding for public schools while also making more students eligible for private school scholarships. Senate President Ty Masterson and House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. bargained with Kelly as negotiators for each chamber drafted the $5.2 billion education funding measure. The two legislative leaders hoped both chambers would pass the measure Friday or early Saturday. Kelly’s office did not immediately comment on the results of her negotiations. Conservatives did get a key “school choice” initiative into the package. The measure contains Kelly's proposal for a 5.3% school funding increase.

GOP Drops 'Choice' Plan in Kansas School Funding Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Conservative Republicans have set aside their most ambitious proposal for helping Kansas parents move their children into private schools so lawmakers could forge a bipartisan compromise on education funding and policy. Three state senators and three House members drafted the final version of a bill funding public schools as top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature negotiated with Democratic Governor Laura Kelly over the measure. The bill drafted by lawmakers includes Kelly's proposal for a 5.3% increase in public school funding but not a proposal for state education savings accounts for students that could be used to pay for private schooling. 

GOP Leaders, Governor Negotiating over Kansas School Funding

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republican legislators and Democratic Governor Laura Kelly are negotiating over funding for Kansas public schools and proposals aimed at helping some parents send their children to private schools. Conservative Republicans have tried to tie an increase in aid to the state’s 286 local public school districts to “school choice” initiatives, but have been unable to pass a bill with that combination. Democrats and education groups would prefer to provide the dollars with no new strings attached. Kelly’s office and GOP leaders hadn’t reached a deal Thursday. However, the Republican-controlled Legislature cannot wrap up its business for the year without resolving school funding issues and finishing the next state budget.

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Kansas House Approves Medical Marijuana; Senate Won't Follow

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill to legalize medical marijuana has passed in the Kansas House for the first time, but the Senate isn't expected to consider it in the final days of the annual session. Kansas House members on Thursday voted 79-42 to advance the measure to the Senate for consideration. Although some legalization advocates were hopeful that strong support for the bill among Republicans in the House would spur Senate leaders to debate it this session, Senate President Ty Masterson’s spokesperson, Mike Pirner, told The Associated Press that a budget bill and school funding legislation have taken priority this week.

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5,000 COVID-19 Victims in Kansas; Kelly Orders Flags at Half-Staff

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly on Friday directed that flags be lowered to half-staff across the state to recognize that more than 5,000 Kansans have now lost their lives to COVID-19. The order extends until sundown on Sunday. As of midday Friday, the coronavirus had been blamed for 5,016 deaths in Kansas. Kelly, in a news release, says the best way to honor the memories of victims “is by getting vaccinated” and practicing health protocols to protect against the spread of the virus.

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Vaccine Passports, Other Virus Issues Split Kansas Lawmakers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Republican lawmakers in Kansas are split over proposals to ban COVID-19 vaccine passports, limit efforts to track down close contacts of people with the coronavirus and compensate businesses that closed or faced restrictions early in the pandemic. House and Senate negotiators slipped a ban on state agencies issuing vaccine passports and limits on COVID-19 contact tracing into budget legislation late Thursday night. But some conservative Republicans still wanted Friday to pass a separate bill because the budget provisions would remain in effect only through June 2022. Legislators also were working on a plan to use up to $700 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to compensate businesses financially harmed by pandemic restrictions. 

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Kansas Lawmakers Propose Refunds for Businesses Hurt by State Pandemic Rules

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas lawmakers are moving to give refunds to retailers for taxes paid when they were shut down or restricted during the pandemic. State senators voted this week to let businesses apply for tax refunds if they were closed or had their capacity reduced by government orders. Republican Senator Caryn Tyson says health orders from the state and local governments hurt Kansas businesses. “Their income was completely shut off. Their financial obligations were still owed.” Tyson said. “Their utility bills were still owed. Their property taxes were still due.” The retailers could receive up to $7,500 for the current year and another $7,500 for last year. Opponents raised concerns about the cost, estimated at $70 million over two years. Local county governments would be responsible for one third and the state would pay the rest. Supporters say it could be paid with federal coronavirus aid.

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UPDATEGOP's Split Halts Push in Kansas for Convention of States

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservative Republicans have split and halted the push in Kansas for a convention of states to propose changes to the U.S. Constitution. The state Senate spent nearly three hours during the final days of its annual session to consider a resolution asking Congress to call a convention. But senators voted 21-19 to send the resolution back to committee. Convention backers envision a one-vote-per-state gathering that proposes “fiscal restraints” on the federal government and term limits for Congress. The Kansas Constitution says a call must get a two-thirds majority in both chambers, but convention backers argue that conflicts with what the U.S. Constitution requires. That issue dominated Wednesday's debate.

(–Earlier Reporting–)

Push for Constitutional Convention of States Splits Kansas Conservatives

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are taking time in the final days of their annual session to consider calling for a constitutional convention of the states with the goal of helping to settle a legal question vexing some conservatives. The state Senate on Wednesday debated a resolution calling on Congress to call a convention of states to propose changes in the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution says Congress shall call a convention if two thirds of the states seek one. Convention backers believe it requires a simple majority in both legislative chambers, but the Kansas Constitution specifies two-thirds majorities. Kansas supporters of such a convention are hoping to spark a lawsuit that settles the issue.

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Missouri Legislature Passes Bill for Limited School Voucher Program 

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Missouri lawmakers have approved a tax credit program to pay for kids to go to private schools. The Republican-led Senate voted 20-13 Thursday to send the bill to Governor Mike Parson. Under the program, private donors would give money to nonprofits that in turn would dole out scholarships. Donors would get state tax credits equal to the amount they donate. Only K-12 students in the state's largest cities will be able to get the scholarships, which could pay for private school or other education expenses. And only students with disabilities or children from low-income families could access scholarships. 

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Kansas Seeks 9% of Allowed Vaccine Doses, Ponders COVID Laws

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has requested less than 9% of its federal allocation of COVID-19 vaccine doses for this week. Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled Legislature is trying to revive proposals to ban government vaccine passports and restore limits on tracing the close contacts of people exposed to the virus. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s office said Thursday that the state has asked for fewer than 14,000 vaccine doses for the week, out of a federal allotment of almost 162,000. Kansas has seen its vaccination rate slow in recent weeks, and counties have been turning down vaccine doses as demand has waned.

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Kansas COVID-19 Case Count Over 310,000; Death Toll Tops 5,000

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reports there have been 310,582 cases of COVID-19, including 5,016 deaths related to the coronavirus, since the pandemic began. That's an increase of 467 cases and 17 deaths since Wednesday. Another update is expected Monday. 

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COVID Hospitalizations on the Rise in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Hospitalizations from COVID-19 are on the rise again, after falling for months. The problems for the state’s hospitals were at their worst in November and December of 2020, when some facilities in Kansas were so packed they were spending hours on the phone calling each other attempting to find an available bed. Hospitalizations from COVID-19 fell dramatically during the first few months of 2021. But in mid-April, they started ticking upward again and by late last week they had reached 250 COVID inpatients in a day. Fewer people are getting tested for COVID in Kansas, but the state is reporting an increase in cases. State health officials say there have been 310,115 cases of COVID-19, including 4,999 deaths related to the coronavirus, since the pandemic began. 

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Fewer Kansans Lining Up for Coronavirus Vaccinations

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - In March, Kansas was getting a first dose of vaccine to more than 3% of the state’s population per week. Since mid-April, the pace has slowed to less than half of that and those figures reflect a national trend. Polling by federal agencies earlier this year found most Kansans say they want to get the shots but fewer than 40% of the state’s population has done so. Currently, the vaccine is only available to people over the age of 16, but the Pfizer version could get soon be approved for children as young as 12.

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Missouri Governor Orders State Workers Back to the Offices

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Missouri Governor Mike Parson has directed all state employees to return to in-person work in the office by May 17, after many spent most of the past 14 months working remotely. Parson's order, announced Wednesday, also requires that all state buildings be open and accessible to the public during normal business hours. The governor cited the decreasing number of cases and the availability of vaccine. His office says COVID-19 screening and testing protocols will remain in place and the state is encouraging all employees to consider vaccinations. 

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Families Sue 2 Kansas School Districts over Mask Mandates

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The families of 16 students sued two suburban Kansas City school districts, arguing their children should be allowed to attend school during the pandemic without wearing masks. The Kansas City Star reports that the lawsuit against the Blue Valley and Olathe school districts in Johnson County argues students should be granted individual exemptions to mask mandates. The parents contend masks are interfering with their children’s ability to learn. The lawsuit was first filed in state court but was moved to federal court this week. It alleges the districts violated the equal protection clause under the U.S. Constitution. Districts already offer medical exemptions, generally for students with special needs or disabilities.

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Kansas Man Whose Case Divided Hometown Pleads Guilty

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) — A man whose rape case has divided his small northeast Kansas town has struck a plea deal with prosecutors that will likely put him in prison for 10 years. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 26-year-old Jacob C. Ewing of Holton pleaded guilty Friday in Jackson County District Court to two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Jackson County Attorney Shawna Miller said in a news release that both sides agreed to accept in the plea agreement a sentence of 10 years incarceration in one case and two years, eight months, in the other case. Both would run at the same time. Sentencing is scheduled for June 18.

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New Police Chief Named in Kansas City, Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A police veteran who spent nearly three decades with the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department is crossing the state line to lead the department in Kansas City, Kansas. Wyandotte County Administrator Doug Bach announced Friday that Karl A. Oakman will begin duties next month as the chief in Kansas City, Kansas. He replaces interim Chief Michael York, who has served in that role since the 2019 departure of former Chief Terry Zeigler. Oakman will oversee a department with about 345 sworn officers and 150 civilian employees. During his time in Kansas City, Missouri, Oakman developed initiatives focused on inclusion, community policing, youth engagement, recruitment and officer wellness.

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Torch.AI Plans to Add 500 New Jobs in Kansas City Area

LEAWOOD, Kan. (AP) _ An artificial intelligence company based in the Kansas City suburb of Leawood plans to add nearly 500 new high-paying jobs to the region over the next five years. Torch.AI's expansion was announced Friday. The company provides high-speed processing of large amounts of data. Torch.AI says it will add more than 100 new jobs in 2021, with an average annual salary of more than $100,000. The company's founder and CEO, Brian Weaver, says in a statement that the expansion agreement "represents our commitment to harness the wealth of experience and skillsets in the Kansas City region and develop new talent to expand our capabilities and customer impact.'' 

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Southwest Kansas Braces for Spike in Refugee Resettlement

HAYS, Kan. (KNS) — This week, President Biden increased the number of refugees the U-S will accept this year to 62,500. That’s up from 15,000 last year. That was the lowest total number of refugees to arrive in Kansas for at least 40 years. Catholic Charities in Dodge City manages refugee resettlement for southwest Kansas. In 2018, it received 47 newcomers. Last year, that number dropped to just 10. The agency’s executive director, Debbie Snapp, now expects to welcome 50 new refugees this year and as many as 100 in the following years. “The pipeline for resettlement throughout the world needs to be repaired and updated because of what had happened with that process the last four years.” Snapp said. Catholic Charities is ramping up its base of volunteers and opening a permanent office in Liberal, Kansas, to help a new wave of refugees. The region and its jobs in the meatpacking plants have long been a draw for refugees.

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Regents Appoint New President at Wichita State University

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The board that oversees the Kansas higher education system has appointed Richard Muma as the new Wichita State University president. The decision Thursday by the Kansas Board of Regents to make Muma the university’s 15th president is effective immediately. Muma had been serving as interim president since September, when former president Jay Golden resigned after less than a year on the job. Muma's deep ties to the university span 25 years during which he twice served as interim president and has been a professor, department chair, executive vice president and provost.

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Shawnee Mission North High School Names New Mascot: the Bison

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A Johnson County high school has announced its new mascot as the Bison after deciding earlier this year to drop its former team mascot name, the Indians, after complaints about its cultural and racial insensitivity. The Kansas City Star reports that Shawnee Mission North High School announced the new mascot this week. Three Shawnee Mission elementary schools followed this week by changing their own Native mascots. A new district policy determined those images to be offensive and derogatory. Students, administrators and staff spent months deciding on a new mascot, putting the final decision to a vote. But school officials say it will be a while before the Bison decorates the high school’s halls, with the change requiring new signs, uniforms and branding. The school expects the new mascot to be fully implemented by next summer.

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Ananda Will Not Run for Another Term on Lawrence City Commission

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW/KPR) — Lawrence City Commissioner Jennifer Ananda says she will not be running for reelection in November. Ananda says she will begin a Ph.D. program in the fall at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare. The Lawrence Journal World reports that Ananda began her term on the commission in 2018 and served as mayor in 2020. The terms of three of the five city commissioners are expiring this year but Commissioners Lisa Larsen and Stuart Boley say they plan to run for reelection.

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Kansas City Man Convicted in Scheme to Steal 1,400 Phones

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 31-year-old Kansas City man has been convicted of participating in a conspiracy to steal more than 1,400 cell phones in several states. Federal prosecutors say the phones were resold. The total loss in the thefts was more than $1 million. Bryan Kirkendoll II was found guilty of eight counts in federal court on Wednesday. Prosecutors say Kirkendoll and Victor Chernetskiy, also of Kansas City, stole electronic devices – primarily cell phones – from stores in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, and Oklahoma, and then resold them. They committed 48 burglaries from November 2018 to June 2019. Chernetskiy pleaded guilty last year and is scheduled to be sentenced in June.

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Sedgwick County Deputy Killed on Duty in 1927 Gets Tombstone

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County Sheriff's deputy who died in the line of duty in 1927 will have a headstone installed on his grave this weekend. The sheriff's office will dedicate the tombstone for Deputy Benjamin Franklin Hill on Sunday at Highland Cemetery. Hill was killed on August 16, 1927, during an attempted jailbreak at the county courthouse. He is the only Black deputy in Sedgwick County who has been killed in the line of duty. Hill was taking lunch to a cell when he was confronted by three inmates, who demanded his keys. He was shot when he refused to give the inmates his keys.

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Canadian Pacific Gets Procedural Approval in Bid for Kansas City Southern Railroad

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Regulators have approved Canadian Pacific’s plan for acquiring Kansas City Southern if that railroad picks CP’s $25 billion bid over rival Canadian National’s $33.7 billion offer. The federal Surface Transportation Board said it would accept Canadian Pacific’s plan to set up a voting trust that would acquire Kansas City Southern and own the railroad while the board reviews the deal. But approving the trust agreement doesn’t mean regulators would eventually OK the deal. Canadian National has submitted a nearly identical plan to set up a voting trust if Kansas City Southern decides to accept its bid. The STB has yet to rule on that voting trust proposal, which was submitted about a month after Canadian Pacific.

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Missouri Man Pleads Guilty to Pandemic Business Loan Fraud

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) _ A Missouri man has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering after federal prosecutors say he fraudulently obtained more than $500,000 in federal loans meant to help businesses struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri says in a news release that 44-year-old Brian Ruth, of Deepwater, entered the pleas Wednesday in the federal courthouse in Springfield. Prosecutors say Ruth received nearly $523,000 in Paycheck Protection Program loans for three separate businesses. Officials say the businesses were not operational and that Ruth used the money to buy vehicles for himself. Ruth faces up to 40 years in prison when he's sentenced at a later date. 

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Sedgwick County Jailer Accused of Sex with Inmate Arrested

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County Sheriff’s detention deputy accused of having a sexual relationship with an inmate has been arrested. The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office announced on Wednesday the arrest of Deputy Tony LoSavio. A news release said a tip received Tuesday about the relationship led investigators to arrest LoSavio on suspicion of having unlawful sexual relations with a woman being held at the jail. Authorities say he faces eight counts and has been placed on unpaid suspension.

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Missouri River Remains Low Headed into Summer

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Officials may have to increase the amount of water released into the Missouri River over the next couple months to ensure there is enough water in the river for cities that rely on it for water and for barge traffic. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that significantly less water is expected to flow into the river this year because conditions remain so dry and snowpack is below normal levels. April was an exceptionally dry month the region. Because of that, officials said that only about 69% of the normal amount of water is expected to flow into the Missouri River this year.

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Wichita’s Spirit AeroSystems Announces First Quarter Losses

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) — Spirit AeroSystems says it lost about $126 million dollars in the first quarter of 2021.The Wichita-based aviation manufacturer released its latest earnings report Wednesday. Despite the loss, the figure was a 25 % improvement over the same quarter last year. Spirit says it's slowly increasing production on the Boeing 737 Max, has begun adding some employees to support the increase, and has started to rehire some of the employees who were laid off during the pandemic. Spirit is coming off a difficult 2020. The grounding of the 737 Max and the decline in air travel during the pandemic led to nearly $1 billion dollars in losses and thousands of layoffs. Spirit is the largest employer in Wichita.

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Police: Pizza Restaurant Employee Shot Man Found Dead in Parking Lot

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police in Kansas City, Missouri, say an employee at a Domino's pizza restaurant shot and killed a man found in the restaurant's parking lot this week following an altercation inside the business. Police say officers called to the lot Wednesday night found 32-year-old Marc Davis II on the ground with at least one gunshot wound. Police say after initial investigation, they believe Davis went into the Domino's and started arguing with employees while waving a gun. Police say one worker at the business pulled his own gun and fired several times at Davis, who was hit, ran out of the store and collapsed in the parking lot. The worker was detained and questioned before being released. 

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Police Seeking Driver Accused of Dragging KCK officer

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Police in Kansas City, Kansas, are on the lookout for a driver they say dragged an officer during a police stop. The incident happened Thursday afternoon in the Argentine neighborhood. Police say that while the officer was outside the stopped vehicle, the driver sped off, dragging the officer over a grassy area for about 200 feet. Police say the officer suffered minor injuries to his legs and was taken to an area hospital for treatment. Police had not reported finding the suspected driver by Friday morning.

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