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Headlines for Monday, January 11, 2021


Police: Topeka Man Killed in Early Morning Shootout with Officers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Topeka say a man has died in a shootout with officers following a highway chase early today (MON).  Police say the incident began late Sunday night when a 911 caller in Shawnee County reported a domestic threat involving a Topeka man. Responding deputies later stopped a car with the suspect inside.  Law enforcement officers tried to negotiate with the man, later identified as 49-year-old Joseph Howell, but he displayed a gun and fired at least two shots, then fled in the car.  After a brief chase, police forced Howell's car off the road.  Gunfire was exchanged around 12:30 am today (MON).  Howell was later pronounced dead at the scene. No officers were injured.


UPDATE: Kansas Lawmakers Open Session Clouded by COVID, DC Violence

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have opened their annual session with new leaders in the Senate, new lawmakers in a quarter of the seats and a top Republican acknowledging that he’s asked for extra security. The 90-day session began amid the COVID-19 pandemic and under the shadow of last week’s mob violence in Washington. House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, said he has asked for extra security from the Kansas Highway Patrol. A spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly said her office is taking all potential threats seriously. The Senate's top leaders were all new to their jobs, and 42 lawmakers were new to their seats.

(– Earlier Reporting –) 

Kansas Legislature Opens Session with New Members, New Leaders

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are preparing to open their annual session with new leaders in the Senate and new lawmakers in a quarter of the seats. The House and Senate sessions Monday afternoon were for swearing in members and ratifying Republican lawmakers' selection of each chamber's top leaders. The new Senate president and majority leader are Wichita-area Republicans Ty Masterson and Gene Suellentrop. The new Senate minority leader is Lenexa Democrat Dinah Sykes. Twenty-eight of the House's 125 members are new. Fourteen of 40 senators are new, though seven previously served in the House. The 90-day session will be marked by COVID-19 precautions.


GOP Seeks to Push Kansas to Right over Democratic Governor's Objections

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature convenes its annual session today (MON) with the GOP seeking to wrest control of policy from Democratic Governor Laura Kelly.  The session's 90 days will come amid a partisan dispute over how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic and mostly behind-the-scenes political jockeying for the 2022 governor's race. GOP leaders believe they have a mandate to govern after voters elected more conservatives in last year's elections. Top Republicans have outlined priorities that include cutting income taxes and putting a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution on the ballot. The governor has promised to push again for Medicaid expansion.


Kansas Public Radio Will Broadcast Governor Laura Kelly's State of the State Speech Tuesday Night

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — Kansas Public Radio, along with other public radio stations, will broadcast Governor Laura Kelly's State of the State speech Tuesday night.  Coverage of the speech begins at 7 pm Tuesday and will last about an hour.  Anchored by KPR News Director J. Schafer, the coverage will include the GOP response and analysis from KPR Statehouse Bureau Chief Stephen Koranda and veteran Statehouse observer Jim McLean, of the Kansas News Service.  The coverage is sponsored in part by Kansas Action for Children.


Legislative Hotline Now Open for Kansas Residents

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The State Library of Kansas is reminding Kansans that information about the 2021 Kansas Legislature is only a phone call away.  The number for the Legislative Hotline is (800) 432-3924.  The Hutchinson News reports that calls are answered by state librarians who are experienced with the legislative process.  Frequently asked questions include, "Who is my legislator?" and "What is the status of this bill?"  Reference librarians at the State Library take questions by phone, email and chat. Kansans can leave brief messages for their legislators or request copies of bills and other legislative documents.  In addition to calling the hotline, Kansans can chat with a librarian in real-time through the library’s Ask A Librarian service.  The Legislative Hotline is available weekdays from 8 am to 5 pm.   


Kansas Governor to Try Again to Reorganize Social Services

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Laura Kelly plans to try a second time to reorganize Kansas’s social services after the Republican-controlled Legislature blocked the move last year. Kelly announced Monday that she will issue an order next week creating a single Department of Human Services to administer programs for children, families, the disabled and older Kansas residents. Her plan would combine the Department for Children and Families with the Department for Aging and Disability Services. Kelly said a single department would provide “easier access” to services but Republicans have been skeptical. They can prevent a reorganization by voting it down in one chamber. The House blocked Kelly's plan last year.


Officials: Weak Earthquake Shook Area in South-Central Kansas

MAYFIELD, Kan. (AP) — Geological officials say a weak earthquake shook an area near Mayfield in south-central Kansas. Television station KAKE reports that the 2.8-magnitude earthquake hit just before 1 am Sunday. The U.S. Geological Survey says the epicenter was just northeast of Mayfield in Sumner County. No damage was reported.  The quake was just one of 40 minor earthquakes reported in Kansas and Oklahoma so far this year. Just two days before the new year, a 3.8-magnitude quake was reported in east Wichita. In December, a Kansas regulatory agency determined that the oil and gas industry wasn't to blame for a spate of Wichita-area earthquakes.


Kansas Prisoners Among Those to Get Vaccine Next, Prompting Concern

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — COVID-19 ravaged prisons in Kansas are set to be prioritized next for vaccinations. That's frustrating some lawmakers but is encouraging to some inmates' families and activists. The state prison system houses about 8,600 inmates. It's reported 5,320 cases among offenders and an additional 1,076 among staff. Thirteen inmates and four staff members have died. Governor Laura Kelly confirmed last week that people in prisons would be part of the next group to be vaccinated after health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Kelly said they're being prioritized based on guidance from doctors and public health experts.


COVID-19 Caseload in Kansas Closing in on 250,000; Virus-Related Deaths Top 3,200

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health reported Monday that there have been 247,502 cases of COVID-19, including 3,255 deaths, since the pandemic began. KDHE will release another update on Wednesday. 


Kansas Lawmakers Review State's Lagging Vaccine Distribution

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislators are reviewing Kansas’s distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, though U.S. government data shows the state’s inoculation rate no longer lags behind most other states. Top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature have been unhappy with what they consider a rocky vaccination rollout. The state House and Senate health committees plan to have separate hearings Tuesday on vaccine distribution. A federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report at the end of December showed Kansas ranking last among states for its inoculation rate. A CDC report Monday shows 25 states have a lower inoculation rate than Kansas.


Washburn, Kansas State Universities Start Semester Late Due to COVID-19

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State and Washburn universities will begin the spring semester online as the pandemic rages. The first two weeks will be virtual at Kansas State, but it isn't clear when in-person learning will resume at Washburn. Dr. JuliAnn Mazachek, vice president of academic affairs at Washburn, said in a statement that the decision about classes will be reviewed weekly and that "the university will return to face-to-face classes as soon as possible." Kansas State said in a statement that the goal was to mitigate continued spread of COVID-19.


More Coronavirus Relief on the Way for Small Businesses

NEW YORK (AP) — Millions of business owners are about to get additional help weathering the coronavirus outbreak. The Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department are reviving the Paycheck Protection Program five months after its first two rounds of funding ended. Businesses that received loans last year will be able to borrow up to $2 million as long as they have no more than 300 employees and suffered at least a 25% drop in quarterly revenue. First-time borrowers with no more than 500 workers will be able to borrow up to $10 million. The loans, which can be forgiven, will have five-year terms and carry an interest rate of 1%.


Kansas Woman Set to Die for Killing Pregnant Woman, Cutting Baby from Womb

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas woman who killed a pregnant woman, cut a baby from her womb and then passed off the newborn as her own is set to die for the crime. Lisa Montgomery of Melvern, Kansas, would be the first woman executed by the federal government in some six decades if her execution happens as scheduled on Tuesday at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. Montgomery was holding 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett's baby in her arms when she was arrested one day after the December 2004 killing. Montgomery’s lawyers have argued that sexual abuse during Montgomery’s childhood led to mental illness.


Kansas Teen Wounds 3-Year-Old and Himself While Handling Gun

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a Wichita teen shot and wounded himself and a 3-year-old boy Saturday while handling a handgun. Wichita Police Officer Paul Cruz said the shooting that was reported around 7 pm Saturday appears to have been accidental but prosecutors will review the situation to determine whether to file charges. When officers arrived at the home where the shooting happened, the 3-year-old had already been taken to a hospital in a private vehicle. Police said the 3-year-old sustained serious injuries that aren't considered life threatening. Cruz said the 15-year-old boy's leg was also struck by the bullet.


Hallmark Cards Asks Hawley, Marshall to Return Donations

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Hallmark Cards is asking U.S. Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Roger Marshall of Kansas to return donations that company employees made to their campaigns. The Kansas City-based greeting card manufacturer made the request Monday after the two senators opposed certifying Joe Biden's presidential win, even after a mob broke into the U.S. Capitol. The company says employees donated to political candidates at all levels through its PAC. In the last two years, the PAC donated $7,000 to Hawley and $5,000 to Marshall. A company spokeswoman says the actions of Hawley and Marshall don't reflect Hallmark's values.


Republicans Recoil from Missouri Senator Josh Hawley After Capitol Riots

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Senator Josh Hawley is being scolded and even blamed for Wednesday's riots at the U.S. Capitol. Hawley's political mentor, former Senator John Danforth, says supporting him was the "worst decision" he's ever made. The 41-year-old first-term senator has rapidly emerged as one of President Donald Trump's most loyal backers in Congress.  He also challenged votes in the Electoral College during the certification of the presidential vote.  The certification became the focus of a violent siege of the Capitol. At least one major donor has turned on Hawley, now calling him a "political opportunist" and urging the Senate to censure him. And the editorial board of one home-state newspaper, the Kansas City Star, declared he has "blood on his hands."

St. Louis Protesters Call on Missouri Senator Josh Hawley to Resign

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Several hundred protesters gathered in downtown St. Louis to call on Republican Senator Josh Hawley to resign over his objection to the certification of Electoral College votes for Democrat Joe Biden — even after the riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump. Those at Saturday's demonstration chanted “No Hawley. No KKK. No fascist USA,” and held signs calling on the first-term Missouri senator to resign. Hawley has rejected the calls for his resignation.  And he said he won't apologize for giving a voice to millions of voters.  Missouri's other senator, Republican Roy Blunt, said Sunday on CBS' “Face the Nation” that Trump's actions before the riot were “reckless” but that Trump shouldn't resign.


Missouri Lake Where 17 Drowned Could Get New Duck Boat Tours

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — A company says it is planning to bring “unsinkable” amphibious boat tours back to a Missouri lake where 17 people drowned. The owners of Branson Duck Tours say they want to restart the tours on Table Rock Lake in Branson this spring. They say their boats will not resemble the World War II-era amphibious duck boats in use when a boat sank in July 2018 during a storm. The company plans to use Hydra-Terra amphibious vessels, which include foam-filled compartments in the hull for buoyancy. However, Branson spokeswoman Melody Pettit said the city has not received a business license application or heard anything about the proposal from Branson Duck Tours.


Federal Funding to Allow Extension of Kansas City Streetcar

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A long-awaited extension of the Kansas City streetcar officially has a green light. Kansas City and federal officials on Friday announced they had signed an agreement officially committing $174 million in federal funding to extend the streetcar. When the project is completed, the streetcar will be extended from Union Station past the Country Club Plaza to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  Construction could begin late this year or early next year, with a projected opening in 2025. The 3.5 mile extension is expected to cost $351.7 million.  Most of the rest of the funding will come from special tax district approved by voters in 2018.


Red Tape Delays Law Making Voting Easier in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas law designed to allow voters to cast ballots at any polling place in their county may not be implemented until 2023 because of bureaucratic delays. The law was passed in 2019. People currently just vote at their assigned polling place. The law directed Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab to write the rules and regulations to implement the change. But it included no deadlines. The Wichita Eagle reports that officials in Sedgwick County had hoped to have the new rules in place for the 2020 election cycle. But they're only now coming up for approval by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Rules and Regulations.


Wichita Sets Record for Homicides in 2020 with 59

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita set a record for homicides last year with 59, eclipsing the city's 1993 record of 57 homicides. Wichita joined a number of cities nationwide in setting records for homicides and violent crime during 2020. Police Chief Gordon Ramsay has said that stressed related to the coronavirus pandemic may have been factors in the increase in homicides last year. Those include record high unemployment, closed schools and businesses, increasing domestic violence and the halting of court proceedings. Throughout the year, Wichita recorded a homicide roughly once every 6 days on average.


Kansas Supreme Court Upholds Workers' Compensation Law

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld a state law which governs how much money workers who are injured on the job can collect. The court ruled Friday that an amendment to the Kansas Workers Compensation Act was constitutional because it did not alter the requirement that a worker's impairment be "established by competent medical evidence." The court said the reference to American Medical Association guidelines does not make the statute unconstitutional because they are merely a guide and only serve as a starting point for any medical opinion. It reversed a 2018 ruling by the Court of Appeals that had found the updated law unconstitutional.


Kansas City Star Removes References to Its First Publisher

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Star is removing references to its founder and first publisher from its pages and website because of his role in supporting segregationist policies in the city. The newspaper's move to de-emphasize William Rockhill Nelson that was announced Sunday follows a detailed examination the newspaper published last month of its past coverage that showed how the Star often wrote about Black residents only as criminals or people living in crime-plagued neighborhoods and ignored segregation in Kansas City, Missouri, and its public schools. Editorial page editor Colleen McCain Nelson said the newspaper decided to make the change after reporting on its history.


Garden City Police Search for Suspect in Shooting Death

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Garden City police are looking for a suspect after a 39-year-old man was shot and killed. Police say emergency responders found Jose Gonzalez suffering from a head wound and a gunshot about 3 a.m. Monday. He died at a hospital. A preliminary investigation determined that Gonzalez got into an altercation with someone during a small gathering at his home and was shot. The suspect fled before officers arrived.


St. Joseph Officials Worried About Low Missouri River Level

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Flooding has been a consistent concern in the St. Joseph area, but this year, leaders of the community have the opposite worry — the unusually low level of the Missouri River. The St. Joseph News-Press reports that Buchanan County commissioners have sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Sam Graves raising worries about the river level, which was just about 3 feet on Monday. It was just two years ago that record flooding along the Missouri River swamped parts of northwestern Missouri, southwestern Iowa, northeastern Kansas and southeastern Nebraska. But in recent months, shipments through the St. Joseph Port Authority have been grounded by low water.


KPR's daily headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays and updated throughout the day. KPR's weekend summary is usually published by 1 pm Saturdays and Sundays.

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