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Headlines for Thursday, February 25, 2021

 

Governor's Aide: GOP Plan May Slow Kansas Emergency Response

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A top aide to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly warned Republican legislators Thursday that a proposal to curb the power of the governor and other Kansas officials could seriously hamper the state’s response to future public health emergencies. Kelly chief of staff Will Lawrence also urged legislators to extend a state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawrence objected to key portions of a bill from the state Senate’s top Republicans that would rewrite the state’s emergency management laws. He said the oversight by the attorney general and the Legislature required by the bill could delay a response to an emergency. Republicans were skeptical of that argument.

(–Related–) 

Kansas Republicans Propose Amendment Aimed at Limiting, Blocking State Regulations

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR/KNS) - Republican state lawmakers have introduced a constitutional amendment that would let the Kansas Legislature block regulations from agencies controlled by the governor and other state officials.  State regulations cover everything from health and safety policy to environmental protections and voting rules. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt wants to amend the state constitution so lawmakers can block regulations if they don’t approve.  “There simply is no check and balance that’s functional over agency regulations,” Schmidt said.  Democrats argue it’s a move by Republicans to grab more power and undermine the Democratic governor. Republican lawmakers and Democratic Governor Laura Kelly have clashed over some of her policies, but supporters of the amendment say the legislation is not directly aimed at her.

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Kansas Legislative Audit: Bogus Unemployment Claims May Have Cost the State $600 Million

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A legislative audit says Kansas may have paid $600 million worth of bogus claims for unemployment benefits last year. The report released Wednesday by the GOP-controlled Legislature's nonpartisan auditing division gave a figure that's more than double the state Department of Labor's estimate. The report suggested that nearly one in four unemployment claims paid last year could have been fraudulent amid a surge in filings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The department on Tuesday estimated last year’s fraudulent claims as worth $290 million. The department strongly disputed the audit’s figure.  But Republican lawmakers saw the audit as likely to be more accurate. (Read more in the Lawrence Journal-World.)

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Police: Body Found in Wreck that Likely Happened Days Ago

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Kansas, say officers found the body of a man at the site of a wrecked car that had likely crashed days earlier. Police say officers were called Wednesday morning to investigate a report of a vehicle lying in a creek bed along Riverview Avenue. Arriving officers found the body of a man in his 60s. Police say an investigation led them to believe the man had been driving the vehicle Sunday night when it left the road, hit an embankment and landed in the partially frozen creek bed. Police say the area where the crash occurred is in a wooded area, making it difficult for passing motorists to have seen the wreckage.

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Manhattan Woman Killed in Crash Near Topeka After Semi Lost Load of Metal Pipes on I-70

SHAWNEE COUNTY, Kan. (KPR) — One person died in an accident Wednesday afternoon in Shawnee County.  The Kansas Highway Patrol reported a semi truck, driven by 38-year-old Jesse C. Vannoy, of Knob Noster, Missouri, was eastbound on Interstate 70 near SW Topeka Boulevard. According to the Hays Post, the semi lost its load of large, metal pipes. The pipes traveled over the concrete barrier wall and into the westbound lanes of traffic.  The flying pipes caused a number of wrecks including one fatal accident, which claimed the life of 29-year-old Brooke N. Rees, of Manhattan.

(–AP Version–) 

Steel Pipes Fall from Trailer, Cause Crashes and 1 Death

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Highway officials in Kansas say a freak accident on Interstate 70 in which a load of large steel pipes fell off a moving trailer and rained down on other drivers in downtown Topeka led to multiple crashes and the death of a woman. The Kansas Highway Patrol says the incident happened Wednesday afternoon, when the load of metal pipes broke free from an eastbound semitrailer and crashed onto the road. Investigators say the pipes bounced over a concrete barrier into oncoming traffic in the westbound lanes, hitting multiple vehicles. One motorist, 29-year-old Brooke Rees of Manhattan, died in the incident.

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Police: Man Charged in 2018 Death of Kansas City Woman

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police have announced that a man has been charged in the 2018 killing of a Kansas City woman whose body was found in rural wooded area months after she disappeared. Television station KCTV reports that 32-year-old Kenneth Wilson Jr., of Cameron, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of 18-year-old Vernece Brown. Brown's remains were found by mushroom hunters in May 2018 in a wooded area near Harrisonville, about 35 miles south of Kansas City. She had been missing since Valentine's Day of that year. Police say cellphone data shows Brown had been communicating with Wilson and that their cellphones were in the same location about the time she disappeared.

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Officials: Woman Critically Injured in Topeka Fire Has Died

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Officials say a woman found critically injured in a fire that consumed an abandoned commercial building in Topeka has died from her injuries. The Topeka Fire Department says 29-year-old Rashawn Brooks died Wednesday in a hospital where she was being treated. Fire crews were called Sunday night to a fire in a single-story masonry commercial building that firefighters believed to be vacant. During a search of the building, firefighters found an unresponsive woman, later identified as Brooks, and rushed her to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. An investigation showed the blaze was likely started by a “warming fire.”

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Kansas Records Nearly 293,000 COVID-19 Cases, Including 4,724 Deaths, Since Start of Pandemic

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reports there have been 292,837 cases of COVID-19, including 4,724 deaths, since the start of the pandemic. Johnson County has the highest number of recorded cases, with more than 54,000.  KDHE will provide another update on Friday. 

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As Hospital Numbers Fall, Fatigued Staff Get Relief at Last

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. has plummeted by 80,000 in six weeks, and nearly 20 percent of the nation’s adult population has gotten vaccines. The improvements offer some relief to front-line workers. St. Louis respiratory therapist Joe Kowalczyk recalled that when COVID-19 patients were inundating the region's hospitals, colleagues arriving for yet another grueling shift with a dwindling supply of ventilators would often glance at their assignments and cry. On his most recent shift at at Mercy Hospital St. Louis, there were only about 20 coronavirus patients, down from as many as 100 at the peak of the surge.

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KCC Rejects Evergy's Proposals on Rates for Solar Users

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Corporation Commission has rejected two proposals from Evergy involving rates for solar users. The commission said Thursday it would be better to wait until Evergy's next general rate case to address how residential solar users are billed. One Evergy proposal would have charged solar panel users a monthly grid access fee of $3 per kilowatt, even if the home didn't use the electrical grid. Another proposal would have charge all customers a minimum bill of $35 per month. Evergy argues it needs to recover the cost of providing on-demand electricity for solar-equipped homes that don’t use many kilowatts.

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Kansas Lawmakers Consider Legislation to Respond to Issues Arising from Pandemic

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are moving ahead with two measures that are a response to issues arising during the COVID-19 pandemic. One measure considered Wednesday is designed to help courts and prosecutors deal with a backlog of criminal cases. Another is a proposal to limit state and local officials’ power in setting restrictions in future pandemics. The House gave first-round approval to a bill that would suspend, until May 2024, a law that sets deadlines for criminal trials to protect defendants’ constitutional right to a speedy resolution of their cases. The Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on a bill rewriting the state's emergency management laws.

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Bill Addressing Collegiate Sports Name-Image-Likeness Issues Would Allow College Athletes to Return from Draft

UNDATED (AP) — The latest federal bill related to college sports would allow athletes to earn money from endorsements, loosen restrictions around transfers and permit players to return to school after entering a professional league's draft. The proposed legislation introduced Wednesday by Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran also would require the wealthiest athletic programs to increase spending on long-term medical care for athletes. The bill is the fourth to emerge from the Senate since December and second from a Republican. Most recently, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy introduced a bill narrowly focused on giving college athletes the right to earn money off their names, images and likenesses.

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Kansas Health Officials: 88% of Nursing Homes Vaccinated; Staff Only 65%

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KCUR) — Kansas health officials say 88% of their nursing and long-term care residents have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.  Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Lee Norman says the rollout in nursing homes is wrapping up with the exception of some second doses for residents and staff.  He says the state is concerned that only 65% of nursing and long-term care staff have opted to take the vaccine.  "The uptake by those staff, it seems to be a little lower than other healthcare settings. So we'll need to think through how to increase the use there."  The University of Kansas Health System has reported much higher vaccination numbers within their hospitals, with 84% of their staff getting the vaccine.  While vaccine distribution ramps up in Kansas, health officials say their COVID-19 testing numbers are on the decline.  Dr. Norman says the decrease in testing could be due to the decrease in the number of infections. He says the state plans to continue mass testing and is also looking to include some at-home testing options. As of now, Norman says the state’s positive rate of infection has dropped to about 5%.

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LGBTQ Advocates Take Aim at Proposal Regarding Trans Athletes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - LGBTQ-rights advocates are warning Kansas legislators that their discussion of a proposed ban on transgender students in girls' and women's school sports will lead to bullying. The American Civil Liberties Union is promising to sue the state if such a law is enacted. The state Senate Education Committee had a hearing on a bill backed by some athletes, Republican lawmakers and conservative groups. Supporters portrayed the bill as an attempt to ensure that girls and women aren't deprived of scholarships and other opportunities in sports. But critics say even having a hearing tells transgender students that they're not wanted and could encourage harassment. 

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Spirit AeroSystems Loses Nearly $900 Million

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW) — Spirit AeroSystems lost nearly $900 million dollars in 2020 because of the pandemic and the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max.  The aviation manufacturer issued its fourth quarter and full-year earnings report Tuesday morning.  Spirit says it laid off 8,000 employees last year, part of $1 billion dollars in cuts.  The 737 Max returned to service last December. Spirit delivered about 70 of the 737 Max units to Boeing last year, a drop of about 90 percent from 2019.  Spirit was also hurt by the reduction in commercial air travel caused by the pandemic.  Company officials hope that commercial air travel will rebound as more people are vaccinated.  Spirit expects its defense business to continue to grow in 2021. It also expects growth in its business jet and aftermarket service sectors.

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Two Joplin Men Drown After Falling Through Ice While Fishing at Southeast Kansas Strip Pits

CHEROKEE COUNTY, Kan. (KSN) — Two men from Joplin, Missouri, have apparently drowned in southeast Kansas.  Authorities say the men had gone for a short fishing trip Tuesday but didn’t return home.  KSN TV reports that family members headed to southeast Kansas Tuesday night to search for the men.  The only information family members had was that the men "were going to fish near Big Brutus at the strip pits."  Not able to locate the men, family members contacted the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office for help.  Officials recovered the bodies of both men from the water. No foul play is suspected in the deaths of 70-year-old Robert Sleep and 71-year-old Stephen LeMasters, both of Joplin.  "The initial investigation indicates both men fell through ice and drowned,” Cherokee County Sheriff David Groves said in a news release.  Both men were transported to Kansas City for autopsies.

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Kansas Man Convicted in Death of His Girlfriend in Iowa

WEBSTER CITY, Iowa (AP) — A 34-year-old Kansas has been convicted of killing his girlfriend in Iowa in 2018. Zackery Bassett, of Elwood, Kansas, was found guilty Tuesday of second-degree murder in the September 2018 death of 50-year-old Andrea Solokowski, in Webster City, Iowa. Bassett was originally charged with first-degree murder in the case. Prosecutors said Bassett had abused and stalked Solokowski, of Sioux City, for more than a year before her death. An autopsy found injuries consistent with asphyxiation but Solokowski's cause of death was listed as undetermined. The maximum sentence possible for second-degree murder is 50 years in prison. Bassett is scheduled to be sentenced April 5.

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5 Officers, Deputies Cleared in 2019 Killing of Wichita Man

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County's top prosecutor has cleared five Wichita officers and county sheriff's deputies of wrongdoing in the fatal 2019 shooting of a Wichita man outside his home. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Tuesday that the officers are "immune from prosecution" in the May 27, 2019, death of 49-year-old Robert Sabater. Police say Sabater twice called police to his home in the hours before he was killed, claiming people were outside. Bennett said officers returned a third time and fatally shot Sabater after he had fired a gun and pointed it at police. The investigation showed officers fired 46 rounds at Sabater.

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4 Mississippi Hunters Fined $48,000 for Kansas Violations

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge banned four Mississippi men from hunting anywhere in the world and fined them a total of $48,000 for violating wildlife laws in Kansas. Federal prosecutors said Wednesday the men pleaded guilty to conspiring to kill wild turkeys in excess of the legal limit and taking the birds across state lines. The men are accused of bagging at least 26 wild turkeys during an eight-day trip in 2018. Kansas limits hunters to two wild turkey kills per hunter per season. The hunters also took frequent hunting trips to Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska but did not have the required hunting licenses.

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Missouri House Passes Voter Photo ID

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Republican-led Missouri House has passed another bill to require voter photo identification at the polls. Lawmakers voted 109-46 in favor of the legislation. The bill is aimed at addressing a Missouri Supreme Court ruling last year that permanently blocked a central provision of a 2016 voter ID law. That law required voters without a photo ID to make a sworn statement to cast a regular ballot. The new bill would give voters two options: either show a photo ID to cast a regular ballot or cast a provisional ballot.

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Missouri GOP-led House Advances Private School Funding Bill

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Poor Missouri families could get money for private school through a tax credit program advancing in the state House. The Republican-led House voted in favor of the measure Wednesday. Under the program, private donors would give money to nonprofits that would dole out scholarships to low-income families. Donors would get state tax credits equal to the amount they donate. Only students in cities with populations of 30,000 people or more could access the scholarships. Democrats argued Republicans are imposing the program on big cities and urban areas even though some don't want it in rural Missouri.

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Man Exits Church After Years Living in "Sanctuary from Deportation"

MAPLEWOOD, Mo. (AP) — A Honduran immigrant who has spent 3 1/2 years living inside a Missouri church to avoid deportation has finally stepped outside. Alex Garcia left the church in suburban St. Louis on Wednesday after a promise from President Joe Biden's administration to let him be. Garcia is a married father of five. He was slated for removal from the U.S. in 2017. But Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood gave him sanctuary. Sara John of the St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America said Garcia’s emergence came after Immigration and Customs Enforcement declared it would not pursue his detention or removal.

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Kansas Member of Kansas City Proud Boys Chapter to Remain in Jail

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge in Washington D.C., has ruled that the alleged leader of the Kansas City-area chapter of the Proud Boys should remain in custody until his trial on charges arising from the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.  This week, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ordered 47-year-old William Chrestman to be taken from Kansas to Washington to be held until his trial. Chrestman, of Olathe, is charged with conspiracy and several other counts. Federal authorities allege he led members of the Kansas City-area Proud Boys who stormed the Capitol last month. Howell's ruling reversed a decision last week from a federal judge in Kansas that Chrestman should be released until trial.

(-Related-)

Another Kansas Man Linked to Proud Boys Charged in Connection with Capitol Riot

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas man linked to the Kansas City metro chapter of the Proud Boys is charged with participating in the riots at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.  FBI agents arrested Ryan Ashlock, of Gardner, this week without incident. Federal authorities allege in an affidavit that he was with several members of the Proud Boys who are already charged in the attack. The affidavit says Ashlock conspired with other Proud Boys members and helped knock down metal barricades between police officers and protesters outside the Capitol. The FBI says Ashlock separated from the group when he was hit with pepper spray and it was unclear if he went inside the Capitol.

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Anti-Hunger Groups, Agriculture Advocates Fight to Save Program Launched by Trump Administration

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Agricultural groups and anti-hunger organizations are pushing the Biden administration to continue a program launched by President Donald Trump that spent $6 billion to prevent farmers from plowing under food and instead provide it to millions of Americans left reeling by the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture began the Farmers to Families Food Box program in April 2020 after many people were shocked to see farmers destroy crops even as food banks were being overwhelmed by demand from people suddenly out of work. If the USDA extends the program, it will be a rare example of the new administration retaining rather than dismantling a Trump initiative.

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