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Headlines for Thursday, April 22, 2021

 

Kansas Governor Vetoes Ban for Transgender School Athletes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has vetoed a measure that would have banned transgender athletes from girls' and women's school sports. The Democratic governor's action Thursday thwarted an effort by conservative Republican lawmakers to make Kansas the latest state with a GOP-controlled legislature to enact such a ban, with more than 20 considering it. Kelly's veto was widely expected because she had labeled the bill “regressive” and suggested it would hurt the state's ability to recruit businesses. Conservative Republican lawmakers did not have the two-thirds majorities necessary in both chambers to override a veto when they pushed it to passage earlier this month.

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Kansas Governor Vetoes GOP-Backed Education Measures

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Laura Kelly has vetoed two Republican-backed education bills. One of the measures the Democratic governor vetoed Thursday would have required high school students to pass a civics test to graduate. The other would have allowed districts to incorporate gun safety courses into their curriculums. The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the bills this month, but not by large enough margins for override attempts to succeed. It wasn’t immediately clear if anyone who opposed either bill initially might back one or both in an override attempt, or even if attempts would be made. Some Republicans who opposed the bills agreed with state Board of Education members who said the measures would have infringed upon the board’s constitutional authority to set graduation requirements.

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Kansas Schools Get COVID Stimulus Money

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) — Kansas public schools will get nearly $1.3 billion to address learning losses and other effects of the pandemic.  Most of the money will go directly to local school districts. They have to spend it by 2024 and show how the funds will help students make up learning lost during the pandemic.  Susan Willis, budget director for Wichita schools, said, "that’s going to be a very big component as we vet through all of these ideas: Can we draw these lines to COVID and our COVID recovery plan?"  Districts must seek input from students, teachers and community groups. About $60 million in federal aid is earmarked for special education.  Schools can’t use the money to cover part of their existing budgets. State Education Commissioner Randy Watson said, "First the confusion was the pandemic. Now it’s, ‘How will you distribute federal funds and do it appropriately and meet the letter of the law?'’" 

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Most Kansas Counties Turn Down Vaccine over Past Month

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — About three-quarters of Kansas counties have turned down new shipments of the coronavirus vaccine at least once over the past month as demand slows. State data shows that six counties have rejected allocations for four straight weeks.  Only 24 counties, mostly the larger ones such as Shawnee, Johnson and Sedgwick, haven’t turned down any vaccine shipments. The slowdown is coming even though just 37% of the state’s residents have received at least one vaccine dose, state data shows.

(–Related–)

COVID Vaccine Increasingly Available Without Appointments

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas counties are increasingly allowing people to walk in to get a coronavirus vaccine without an appointment as interest wanes. In the Lawrence area, mass vaccination clinics, which had been immunizing almost 700 people per hour at their peak, are coming to an end next week. They'll be replaced next month with five-day-per-week drive-thru clinics that will deliver 200 to 300 vaccinations per day to people without being scheduled in advance. The health department in Johnson County also opened a mass vaccination clinic in Lenexa to walk-ins on Wednesday and Thursday. In the Wichita area, appointments will not be needed starting Monday to get a vaccination at the former downtown library. Wyandotte County also has opened its three clinics to people who don’t have appointments.

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Kansas COVID-19 Case Total Nears 307,000, Including 4,961 Deaths, Since Pandemic Began

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reports there have been 306,883 cases, including 4,961 deaths related to the virus, since the pandemic began.  Read more here.  Another update is expected Friday.

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COVID Vaccine Sent to Rural Missouri Often Not Used by Locals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Doses of the coronavirus vaccine that were sent to rural areas of Missouri at the beginning of the state’s immunization campaign often didn’t reach locals, according to state data.  That means that vaccination rates in parts of largely rural southern Missouri have stalled, even though rural areas initially received more doses per person than cities. For instance, 46,000 doses were allocated as of April 13 to a cluster of nine counties in an area of south-central Missouri where West Plains is located. But KCUR Radio reports that state data shows that only 37,000 doses were administered to the region’s 137,110 residents.

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Missouri Health Director Who Worked for 2 Governors Resigns

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's health director has resigned. Republican Governor Mike Parson on Tuesday announced the departure of Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams. Williams was appointed to the job in 2017 by Parson's predecessor, former GOP Governor Eric Greitens. Williams helped lead the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic and is leaving amid the vaccine rollout. Parson says he's naming his deputy chief of staff, Robert Knodell, to be the state's acting health director. Parson says Knodell has also been leading the state's COVID-19 response. But Knodell doesn't have a medical background as Williams does.

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Pro-Mask Candidates Leave Office as Missouri Tires of COVID Restrictions and Limits

ROLLA, Mo. (AP) — Pro-mask candidates are leaving office and occupancy limits are falling by the wayside in Missouri as communities tire of pandemic restrictions. St. Louis Public Radio reports that in the central Missouri city of Rolla, a slate of of anti-mask candidates joined the City Council on Monday after being elected this month even though the local mask mandate they opposed was allowed to expire two months ago. Other anti-mask elected officials also lost their seats in April elections, including in the Missouri tourist city of Branson. Meanwhile, Joplin dropped all of its occupancy limits on Monday. Active cases have dropped dramatically since Joplin's winter peak, but they recently increased slightly from 19 two weeks ago to 25 as of Monday.

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Inmate Escapes Kansas Jail, Threatens Officer with 2x4; Still at Large

ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are searching for an aggravated robbery suspect who is accused of threatening an officer with a piece of lumber after escaping from a Kansas jail. The Atchison County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post that 20-year-old Taggart Darnell Lee was able to manipulate a door lock and make his way into an unsecured area of the Atchison County Jail around 1:30 a.m. Thursday after staff failed to follow several security procedures. From there he made his way outside, where an officer chased him for several blocks. The post said Lee, who had been in custody since January, got away after picking up the 2x4 foot piece of lumber and using it to threaten the unarmed officer. The post said the sheriff’s office considers Lee dangerous and that he has a history of being armed.

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Mushroom Hunters Find Human Skull Southwest of Salina

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The Saline County Sheriff's Department says mushroom hunters in a rural, wooded area in central Kansas found a human skull. The Salina Journal reports that the discovery was made by the two men Tuesday evening about 10 miles southwest of Salina. Sheriff’s deputies secured the area, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation was expected on the scene Wednesday to collect the skull and search for any additional evidence. Sheriff Roger Soldan says there is no information available to identify the skull, but said it appeared to have been sitting undisturbed for a long time.

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Man Charged in Cold Case Killing in Roeland Park

ROELAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors in suburban Kansas City, Kansas, have filed charges against a man in the fatal stabbing - 36 years ago - of another man. Prosecutors announced the developments in the cold case Tuesday, charging 65-year-old Geter Rhymes with first-degree murder in the 1985 stabbing death of 29-year-old Gary Watson. Watson's body was found on March 13, 1985, in his apartment in Roeland Park. Police at the time said three men were seen entering Watson's apartment about two hours before his body was discovered. Police conducted more than 200 interviews in the case. Johnson County Sheriff’s crime scene investigator Kate Meyer said advances in testing allowed investigators to reanalyze evidence collected from the 1985 scene and make the arrest.

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Kansas Woman Who Fatally Beat Ex's Dog Gets Probation

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita woman has been sentenced to probation for beating a man's dog to death with a baseball bat, reportedly in a jealous rage. The Wichita Eagle reports that 32-year-old Hilda Noordhoek was sentenced Wednesday to two years' probation. Prosecutors say she broke into the man's home in 2018 by smashing a window, stole a computer and headphones and fatally bludgeoned the man's bulldog with a bat. A witness told police that Noordhoek killed the pet because she was mad that the man — with whom she was romantically involved — was seeing another woman. Noordhoek denied committing the crimes to police, but pleaded no contest in February to burglary, theft and cruelty to animals.

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Indiana Prosecutor: Police Justified in Fatal Shooting During Chase; Wichita Resident Killed

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — A prosecutor says police were justified in fatally shooting a man during a chase and gun battle in east central Indiana. Delaware County Prosecutor Eric Hoffman said in a report Wednesday that the two officers who shot at 28-year-old Jonathan Levi Allen "unquestionably and without a doubt did so in self-defense and in the defense of others." Allen, a 28-year-old former Muncie resident who was living in Wichita, died March 10, one week after the March 3 shooting in Muncie. Indiana State Police say Allen was shot in the head by a Muncie officer and crashed his SUV into a parked vehicle.

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Investigation Underway into Woman's Death at Topeka Prison

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says it has begun an investigation into the death of an inmate at the women's prison in Topeka. Television station KSNT reports that 35-year-old Jessica Chapman died Monday at the Kansas Department of Corrections’ TCF women’s prison. The station initially confirmed the death through the KBI, because the Kansas prisons system did not send out a news release announcing the death. Department spokeswoman Carol Pitts said Wednesday that the corrections department only provides news releases if an inmate death is related to COVID-19 or may have been due to drugs, suicide or violence. Pitts says none of those circumstances apply to Chapman's death “as we know the facts at this time.”

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Small Southeast Kansas Town Files Lawsuit Against British Petroleum, Alleging Natural Gas Price Gouging

MULBERRY, Kan. (KPR) — Natural gas prices surged during February’s winter storm, leaving many people worried about their financial future. But one community is fighting back.  KSNW TV reports that it's a local case of "David vs. Goliath" and in this one, it's the small town of Mulberry vs. petroleum giant British Petroleum or BP. The southeast Kansas community has filed a lawsuit against the British multinational oil and gas company. The reason – profiting off of rural areas, like Mulberry, during a statewide disaster.  Darvin Weaver, a Mulberry resident, said, “We pretty much all banded together to fight this, we don’t know the outcome but we’re hoping for the best.”  February’s low temperatures caused gas bills to reach record heights. The city of Mulberry, in Crawford County, saw unit prices increase more than 11,000%.  Timothy Fielder, Mulberry City Attorney, said, “The city of Mulberry normally for February would have between a $7,000 to $7,500 bill, we received a bill for $51,000.”  The city is fighting back. It’s filed a lawsuit against its supplier, British Petroleum, for profiting off of residents during a disaster.  Republican state Representative Ken Collins said, “Anything over a 25% hike during a time of disaster is considered price gouging, and it was a hundred times increase not just a hundred percent.”  There is a 10-year, low-interest loan offered by the state of Kansas, but the city is not taking part in it. Officials say it would still reward the oil corporation for those increased prices.  When asked to comment, BP said quote, “Throughout this period, BP has sought to honor existing contractual arrangements and respond to customer needs, while complying with all laws and regulations governing the relevant markets.” Overland Park Law Firm Smithyman and Zakoura will be handling the case.  (Read more.)

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New Fiscal Forecast for Kansas Fuels GOP's Tax-Cut Dreams

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials have issued a new, more optimistic fiscal forecast for state government and projected healthy cash reserves through June 2022. The new forecast, released today (TUE), gave Republican lawmakers new ammunition in pushing for state income tax cuts over Democratic Governor Laura Kelly's objections. The fiscal forecasters revised the state's projections for tax collections during the current 2021 budget year, which ends June 30, upward by nearly 4%, or $304 million. The forecasters also made a small change in the projections for tax collections for the 2022 budget year, increasing the total by $38 million. Legislative researchers projected that Kansas will have $1.15 billion in cash reserves on June 30.

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Fundraising Underway to Erect Statue Honoring Topeka Mariachi Musician

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Fundraising is underway in Topeka for a statue recognizing a pioneering mariachi musician.  The late Teresa Cuevas was a founding member of Mariachi Estrella, an all-women mariachi band from Topeka that broke into a male-dominated genre.  But in a video produced for the Kansas Humanities Council, Cuevas said the group didn’t set out to do that.  "We just wanted somebody that played the instruments that we needed. We never said that we wanted all women.  After it was all women, oh, we all got so happy it was all women,” Cuevas said.  She was badly injured during the 1981 skywalk collapse at the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City that killed more than 100 people. Cuevas died in 2013 at the age of 93. Fundraising is underway to build a statue honoring her, which could cost $80,000. It would be the first statue honoring a woman in downtown Topeka.

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Kansas Senator's Endorsement of Jeff Colyer May Be More Meaningful than Most Endorsements

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — Political endorsements often don’t mean much to voters. But Republican Senator Roger Marshall’s endorsement of Jeff Colyer for Kansas governor could boost his chances with a certain segment of GOP primary voters.  Jumping into the 2022 race early, Colyer is going after conservative voters he may have lost to former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in his failed bid for the gubernatorial nomination in 2018.  “I am the conservative candidate in this race and I will not back down from a fight,” Colyer said.  Marshall’s endorsement could help. Marshall is one of former President Donald Trump’s most loyal supporters, and one of a handful of senators who voted against certifying the presidential election.  Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty says Marshall's early backing of Colyer sends a signal to Trump voters in Kansas.  "In terms of that strategic play, it’s probably really, really helpful to Colyer,” Beatty said.  So far, Colyer’s main competition for the right to challenge Democratic Governor Laura Kelly is the state's three-term Republican attorney general, Derek Schmidt.

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Missouri House Expels Lawmaker Accused of Abusing His Kids

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri House has expelled a lawmaker accused of sexually and physically abusing his children years ago. On Wednesday, the GOP-led House voted almost unanimously to kick out Republican Rick Roeber. His now-adult children testified to House investigators this year that he sexually abused two of them at the ages of 5 and 9. The committee found records that show his children reported the abuse years ago but that prosecutors didn’t file charges. Roeber didn't immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment. He previously told the committee that he didn't sexually abuse his children.  

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Abuse Lawsuit Filed Against Former Christian Camp Counselor

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — A former counselor already in prison for abusing children at a Christian camp near Branson is being sued by another alleged victim. The lawsuit accuses Peter Newman of abusing the plaintiff, who is not named, several times beginning in 1999 at the Kanakuk camp. Newman is serving two life sentences, plus 30 years, after his 2010 sentencing on seven felony counts of sexually abusing boys at the camp. The latest lawsuit does not name Kanakuk as a defendant. The plaintiff is seeking $5 million. A similar lawsuit by another anonymous plaintiff was filed against Newman in February.

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Kansas City Police Set New Policies to Improve Interactions

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City police department is unveiling several new policies in response to citizen complaints in the aftermath of last summer's racial injustice protests. The department also announced Thursday about 900 of its officers are now equipped with body cameras, which was one of several demands made by community activists. The announcement comes a day after Mayor Quinton Lucas and Police Chief Rick Smith met privately with community activists who had made several demands for police reform since the protests. On Thursday, several civil rights groups who did not attend the meeting sent a letter criticizing Lucas and saying the changes are ineffective and inadequate.

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Black Ex-Firefighter Awarded $2.43 Million in Discrimination Case

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A federal jury has found a Black Kansas City firefighter was subjected to racial discrimination then fired in retaliation for his complaints. The Kansas City Star reports that jurors on Thursday ordered the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, to pay Jyan Harris more than $2.43 million for back pay, future pay and compensatory damages. The trial shone a spotlight on systemic racism within the department. Witnesses testified at trial that Black firefighters are frequently moved into one fire station, are often passed over for promotions and are not actively recruited to serve in the racially diverse city.

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Remains Identified as Sedalia Man Missing Since 2015

SEDALIA, Mo. (AP) — Pettis County authorities say skeletal remains found in 2018 were those of a Sedalia man who has been missing for six years. Pettis County Coroner Robert Smith identified the remains as 39-year-old Timothy Gibson, who was last seen on March 26, 2015, when he was taken to a hospital and then released. The coroner said he was not able to determine a cause of death because of the condition of Gibson's remains but there was no evidence of foul play. A Missouri conservation agent found the remains on October 27, 2018, in a densely wooded area.

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Canadian Pacific Attacks Rival Bid for Kansas City Southern

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Canadian Pacific railroad has continued its assault on rival Canadian National’s competing $33.7 billion bid to buy Kansas City Southern railroad in a formal letter to regulators. Canadian Pacific urged the Surface Transportation Board to closely examine Canadian National’s offer to buy Kansas City Southern. It says that deal would hurt rail competition throughout the central United States and destabilize the balance between the industry’s six largest players. Meanwhile, Canadian National maintains that the bid it announced Tuesday is superior to the $25 billion cash and stock deal that Canadian Pacific announced last month.

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Missouri House Votes to Ban Trans Athletes on Girls Teams

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Transgender girls would be banned from playing on girls' sports teams under a bill advancing in the Missouri House. House lawmakers voted 100-51 on Wednesday to add the proposal to another bill. Republican supporters argued the change is needed to protect girls in sports. They decried the risk of being called bigots, hateful or transphobic for proposing the rule. Democrats at times wept and said the rule change could push transgender children to kill themselves. Missouri’s current public high school sports rules already prohibit transgender girls from competing on girls teams unless they’re undoing hormone therapy.

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Lawrence City Commission Approves Ban on "Conversion Therapy"

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence will no longer allow minors to undergo conversion therapy designed to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. The city commission voted unanimously this week to prohibit licensed providers from practicing the therapy in Lawrence.  Commissioners said research on conversion therapy shows it is harmful to children's mental health and increases the risk of suicide. After some religious leaders previously raised concerns, commissioners noted the ordinance is aimed only at licensed providers, not clergy or religious figures who provide counseling without a license.

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Kansas Teacher Asks Kids to Be in Wedding on TikTok

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Students squealed with delight when their newly engaged Kansas teacher asked them to be in her wedding in a TikTok video that has more than 10 million views. The Wichita Eagle reports that Alexandra Stamps popped the question to her class of fifth-graders at McLean Science and Technology Magnet Elementary School in Wichita this week as Kina Grannis’s cover of the Elvis Presley ballad “Can’t Help Falling in Love” played in the background. When the camera turns on her junior bridesmaids and groomsmen, they’re cheering and jumping with joy. Some of her 19 students are even sobbing.

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Mormon Sex Therapist, Formerly from Kansas, Ousted from Faith for Critiques

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A sex therapist in Utah who has publicly challenged her faith’s policies on sexuality has been kicked out of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Natasha Helfer received a letter Wednesday from a church official, explaining the reasons for her removal from the Salt Lake City-based church. Helfer has been outspoken on sexual issues and supports same-sex marriage. She counsels that masturbation is not a sin and says pornography should not be treated as an addiction. Helfer was disciplined by church leaders in Kansas, where she lived before moving to Utah in 2019.

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Missouri House Passes Bill Approving Guns in Churches, Buses

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's GOP-led House has passed a bill that would allow guns in churches and on public transportation. The House voted Monday to send the proposal to the Republican-led Senate. Currently, people need permission to bring firearms into places of religious worship. The bill would allow people with concealed carry permits to bring guns into churches, synagogues and mosques regardless. Another provision in the bill would ensure that gun stores are considered essential businesses. That means the state and cities couldn’t order them closed during emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic.

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U.S. Sets Aside Habitat Critical for Survival of Rare Songbird

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — U.S. wildlife managers have set aside areas in seven states as habitat that's critical to the survival of a rare songbird that migrates each year from Central and South America to breeding grounds in Mexico and the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday made final the habitat designation for the western yellow-billed cuckoo. It covers about 467 square miles along hundreds of miles of rivers and streams. Most breeding in the U.S. occurs in Arizona and New Mexico, but the habitat designation also includes portions of California, Colorado, Utah, Texas and Idaho.

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CONCACAF Avoids Northeast, West Coast for Gold Cup; KCK Gets a Match 

MIAMI (AP) — CONCACAF is avoiding the large population areas of the Northeast and West Coast for the Gold Cup, a championship many top players are likely to skip. The New York area, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., were omitted from the venues, as were Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago. The Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Association Football said matches will be played at Arlington, Austin, Houston, Dallas and Frisco in Texas; Glendale, Arizona; Kansas City, Kansas; and Orlando, Florida, in addition to the final on Aug. 1 in Las Vegas, which was previously announced.

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