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Headlines for Sunday, August 18, 2019

 

Towns Near Flint Hills Trail Working to Draw Visitors

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Towns along the new Flint Hills Trail park in east central Kansas are working to draw visitors as a way to improve the rural economy.  The Wichita Eagle reports towns along the trail are planning music festivals, opening breweries and bike shops, and offering Airbnbs to visitors.  The park runs along old railroad lines and takes hikers and bikers through hills, wetlands, tallgrass prairie and hardwood forests. It will eventually stretch 117 miles from Osawatomie to Herrington. Currently, it is open from Osawatomie to Council Grove.  Once a piece of the Missouri Pacific Railroad line, the trail was acquired by the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, which converts old railroad lines and into nature trails. Last summer, the trail was officially named a Kansas state park.  The trail has had a slow start and is not as popular as trails like the Prairie Spirit Trail — a 51-mile trail that runs between Iola and Ottawa in eastern Kansas.  Jim Manning, natural resource officer for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said he is confident the trail's popularity will grow.

In Osawatomie, a task force has raised $250,000 to run the trail from its starting point about a half-mile outside of town into town and connect it with the recreational center, said Doug Walker, president of Kanza conservancy.  "The community is really excited and has gotten behind it," Walker said. "It's gone like we've hoped, but better than we expected."

Ottawa, at the convergence of the Flint Hills Trail and the Prairie Spirit Trail, plans to open an outdoor events pavilion called Legacy Square Park in September at a cost of more than $4 million.  Residents say the trail already has helped spark economic growth, including a new brewery, cafe and bowling alley.

And Council Grove is the finish line for the Rush to Rails bike race each year, with this year's event scheduled Oct. 5.The event is part of a statewide push to drive traffic to the trail, said Scott Allen, vice president of the Kanza conservancy.  "We are really trying to get development in the area for activities and things to do when people get to Council Grove along the trail," said Deidre Knight, an organizer for Rush the Rails and a Council Grove resident. "People just see the opportunities and want to provide that for people along the trail once they get here."

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Kansas City, Kansas, Police Investigate Shooting Death

Kansas City, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Kansas, are investigating the shooting death of a man whose body was found in the North Town Fork Creek neighborhood.  Police say officers were called to the scene around 8 am Saturday after someone reported finding a body.  Arriving officers found a man who had been shot. Medics declared the man dead at the scene.  Police have not released the victim's name or age.  Investigators are asking anyone with information on the shooting to call the TIPS hotline.

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Wichita Man Sentenced to Prison for Fatally Shooting Another Man 15 Times in 2017

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has been sentenced to prison for a 2017 shooting that killed another man and injured two other people.  On Friday, a judge sentenced 23-year-old Jeremiah Mork to more than 26 years for the December 2017 shooting that killed 45-year-old Randy Gibson, of Wichita, and wounded two other men. A jury convicted Mork earlier this year of voluntary manslaughter, two counts of aggravated battery and a weapons count.  Police say Gibson and the two other men injured were moving Gibson's belongings from a home when Mork shot them. An autopsy revealed Gibson was shot 15 times.

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Series of Earthquakes Rattles Reno County

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A series of earthquakes shook parts of Kansas near Hutchinson, knocking down ceiling tiles and breaking some windows.  The largest earthquake measured 4.2 and struck around 8 am Friday, with an epicenter about 3 miles from Hutchinson. The U.S. Geological Survey received reports that it was felt in Topeka; Ponca City, Oklahoma; and even Kansas City, Missouri, which is some 200 miles from Hutchinson.  Rick Miller, of the Kansas Geological Survey, says three temblors with magnitudes ranging from 2.8 to 3.3 quickly followed in the same area. He says the epicenters were within 200 yards of each other, near the intersection of U.S. 50 and Kansas 96.  A 2.5 earthquake on Wednesday may have been a foreshock.

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Kansas Cancels Grant for Kansas Reading Roadmap, the Early Literacy Program in Schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is cancelling a grant with the company that administers an early literacy program for public school children after an audit found the company received millions of dollars it wasn't entitled to during former Governor Sam Brownback's administration.  The Kansas Department for Children and Families announced Friday it was ending the contract with Hysell & Wagner, which operated the Kansas Reading Roadmap program.  For the next academic year, the agency will directly fund schools planning to offer the program.  Auditors found Hysell & Wagner claimed nearly $2.3 million in 2014 and 2015 it should not have received.  The agency said in a news release the audit that uncovered the incorrect payments began during Brownback's administration but was never finalized or released.

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1,040 Kansans Ignore School Bus Stop Signs in 1 Day

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas education officials are expressing concern that many motorists are ignoring a state law that requires them to stop when approaching a stopped school bus that is loading or unloading children.  A recent survey found 1,040 motorists illegally passed school buses in Kansas during a one-day test in April, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported . The survey included only three-fourths of the state's school districts so the number of violations is likely higher.  Education officials are expected to make recommendations during the next legislative session on ways to reduce the number or school bus violations.  (Read more about this story.)

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Kansas Couple Files Lawsuit to Keep Son from being Vaccinated

STILWELL, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City, Kansas, lawyer and his wife are suing to try to keep from having to vaccinate their 4-year-old son.  The Kansas City Star reports it's the second time Linus and Terri Baker, of Stilwell, have sued over the issue. They sued the Kansas Department of Children and Families after the agency in 2017 said it would vaccinate the boy against their wishes. That never happened, even though a judge dismissed the suit.  The Bakers say they are worried vaccines could affect the health of the boy, who was born with a heart condition that has since been corrected with surgery.  They are now suing the Blue Valley school district and various state officials, seeking an injunction to allow the boy to attend school without being vaccinated and without filing religious or medical exemptions. They're also asking a judge to declare Kansas' vaccination requirements unconstitutional.  The school district and health agency declined to comment to the newspaper.

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Prosecutor: Missouri Women Won't Face Abortion Felonies

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A top Missouri prosecutor says he doesn't believe women will be charged with felonies for seeking abortions under a new state law.  Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys President Tim Lohmar told The Associated Press that it's clear to prosecutors that charging pregnant women was not lawmakers' intent when they passed the law.  Lohmar says he "can't imagine any prosecutor in their right mind" would prosecute pregnant women under the new law.  The law is set to kick in August 28. It bars abortions at or after eight weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies but not for rape or incest.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that state public defender Comptroller K. Kathleen Lear in a memo wrote that the law could mean women who receive medication abortions face felony charges.  Critics have argued the law will target women who are eight weeks or more pregnant who go out of state for a medication abortion, then take the pill in Missouri. Republican lawmakers who drafted the bill disagree.

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Backers of Rural Dental Care Find Something to Smile About in Maine, Will Kansas be Next?

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — It can be hard to keep smiles healthy in rural areas, where dentists are few and far between and residents often are poor and lack dental coverage. Efforts to remedy the problem have produced varying degrees of success.  The biggest obstacle? Dentists.

Dozens of countries, such as New Zealand, use "dental therapists" — a step below a dentist, similar to a physician's assistant or a nurse practitioner — to bring basic dental care to remote areas, often tribal reservations. But in the U.S., dentists and their powerful lobby have battled legislatures for years on the drive to allow therapists to practice.

Therapists can fill teeth, attach temporary crowns, and extract loose or diseased teeth, leaving more complicated procedures like root canals and reconstruction to dentists. But many dentists argue therapists lack the education and experience needed even to pull teeth.  "It can kill you if you're not in the right hands," said Peter Larrabee, a retired dentist who teaches at the University of New England. "It doesn't happen very often, but it happens enough."

Dental therapists currently practice in only four states: on certain reservations and schools in Oregon through a pilot program; on reservations in Washington and Alaska; and for over 10 years in Minnesota, where they must work under the supervision of a dentist.

The tide is starting to turn, though.

Since December, Nevada, Connecticut, Michigan and New Mexico have passed laws authorizing dental therapists. Arizona passed a similar law last year, and governors in Idaho and Montana this spring signed laws allowing dental therapists on reservations.

Maine and Vermont have also passed such laws. And the Connecticut and Massachusetts chapters of the American Dental Association, the nation's largest dental lobby, supported legislation in those states once it satisfied their concerns about safety. The Massachusetts proposal, not yet law, would require therapists to attain a master's degree and temporarily work under a dentist's supervision.

But the states looking to allow therapists must also train them. Only two states, Alaska and Minnesota, have educational programs. Minnesota's program is the only one offering master's degrees, a level of education that satisfies many opponents but is also expensive.  

Some dental therapists start out as hygienists, who generally hold a two-year degree. Some advocates of dental therapists argue they should need only the same level of education as a hygienist — a notion that horrifies many opponents.

Some lawmakers in Maine, which will require therapists to get a master's from an accredited program, are optimistic about Vermont's efforts to set up a dental therapy program with distance-learning options. It's proposed for launch in fall 2021 at Vermont Technical College with the help of a $400,000 federal grant.

Christy Jo Fogarty, a Minnesota dental therapist, said the organization she works for saves $40,000 to $50,000 a year by having her on staff instead of an additional dentist — and that's not including the five other therapists.

According to state law, at least half of Fogarty's patients must be on governmental assistance or otherwise qualify as "underserved."  "Why would you ever want to withhold these services from someone who was in need of it?" she said.

Ebyn Moss, 49, of Troy, Maine, has had four teeth pulled, a bridge installed, a root canal, two dental implants and seven cavities filled at a cost of $6,300 since 2017, and expects to shell out another $5,000 in the next year — a bill Moss is paying off with a 19% interest credit card and $16,000 in annual income.  "That's the cost of choosing to have teeth," Moss said.

Now, Moss gets treated at a dental school in Portland — a two-hour drive for appointments that can last 3 1/2 hours. A dental therapist nearby would have made preventive care easier in the first place, Moss said.

The ADA and its state chapters report spending over $3 million a year on lobbying overall, according to data from the National Institute on Money in Politics. The Maine chapter paid nearly $12,000 — a relatively hefty sum in a small state — to fight the 2014 law that spring.

Legislation failed in North Dakota and Florida this spring. Bills are pending in Kansas, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, as well as Washington, where therapists could be authorized to practice outside reservations.  "Available data have yet to demonstrate that creating new midlevel workforce models significantly reduce rates of tooth decay or lower patient costs," ADA President Jeffrey Cole said in an email.

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