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Headlines for Thursday, May 6, 2021

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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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 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 Tuesday 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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UPDATE: GOP'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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GOP Leaders Close to Control over Kansas COVID Relief Funds

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators are poised to give their leaders the final say over how Kansas spends federal coronavirus relief funds. Some also pushed Tuesday to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars of that money for small businesses. The Republican-controlled state Senate is expected to override Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of a provision in budget legislation leaving to top lawmakers the final decisions on spending $4.8 billion in federal funds. The GOP-controlled House voted 86-38 on Monday to overturn the veto. The Senate also debated a bill to set aside $700 million in coronavirus relief funds for small businesses. Senators whittled down a plan for $2 billion in compensation.

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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 Tops 310,000; Death Toll at Brink of 5,000

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reports there have been 310,115 cases of COVID-19, including 4,999 deaths related to the coronavirus, since the pandemic began. That's an increase of 470 cases and 14 deaths since Monday. Another update is expected Friday. 

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US Parents Excited over Prospect of Virus Shots for Children

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Many parents and educators are excited over the news that the Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine by next week for youngsters ages 12 to 15. Officials are hoping that extending vaccinations to children will drive down the nation’s caseload even further and allow schools to reopen with minimal disruption this fall. It could also reassure parents and teachers alike. While children are less likely to get seriously ill from the coronavirus, they can still get sick and spread it to others, too.

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Coronavirus Variants Surge, Vaccine Distribution Slows in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas health officials say vaccinations to protect the public from COVID-19 slowed in April, even as more contagious variants of the coronavirus surged and hospitalizations from the disease rose in the state. The Wichita Eagle reports that Kansas Department of Health and Environment numbers show about 91,000 fewer people received first doses of the available vaccines in April than in March. Officials say there were 520 new hospitalizations and 157 new ICU admissions in April, compared with 438 new hospitalizations and 150 new ICU admissions in March. Meanwhile, confirmed variant cases nearly tripled over the last three weeks of April. Officials did see a decrease in deaths from COVID-19 in April, at 69, compared with 170 deaths in March.

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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. That's an increase of 470 cases and 14 deaths between Monday and Wednesday. 

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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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Treasury: Some Tribes Will Get More Money from CARES Act

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Some Native American tribes will receive more money from a federal virus relief package approved last year. The U.S. Treasury Department recently revised its methodology for distributing some of what remains from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The department had distributed 60% of the funding set aside for tribes, or $4.8 billion, to tribal nations based on federal population data. Three tribes sued over the methodology, alleging the data didn't reflect their actual tribal enrollment numbers. The Treasury Department filed a revised methodology Monday in the court case and said payments would go out starting this week.

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Two GOP Lawmakers Considering Bids for Kansas Attorney General

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two Republican legislators are considering running for Kansas attorney general in 2022. House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch of Ottawa said Tuesday that he is looking at the race and will decide after lawmakers finish this month with their business for the year. Senate Judiciary Chair Kellie Warren of Leawood said people are encouraging her to run, but she hasn’t made a definitive decision. Attorney General Derek Schmidt is seeking the Republican nomination for governor. Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach announced his candidacy for attorney general last week. Finch has served in the House since 2013 and Warren was first elected to the Legislature in 2018.

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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 Kansas City-area 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. 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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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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Leavenworth Police Investigate Man's Shooting Death

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — Leavenworth police are investigating the death of a 31-year-old man. Chief Pat Kitchens says officers responded to an intersection Tuesday night after reports that shots were fired. Officers found Floyd Ross Jr. in the street suffering from several gunshot wounds. He was pronounced dead at a hospital. The investigation is continuing.

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Man Dies in Dodge City After Crash While Fleeing Officers

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Ford County authorities say a 23-year-old Garden City man has died from injuries he suffered in a crash during a law enforcement pursuit. Sheriff Bill Carr said Wednesday that Luis Salgado was injured when he was thrown from his vehicle after it rolled on Sunday. Authorities say Salgado was a suspect in a stabbing in Garden City. The chase began in Gray County, when deputies saw his vehicle near Cimarron on Highway 50. The chase went into Ford County and Dodge City, and ended when Salgado's vehicle hit a power pole and rolled several times.

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Man Who Fatally Shot Three People at Kansas Jewish Sites Dies in Prison

UNDATED (AP) – An avowed antisemite who testified that he wanted to kill Jews and was sentenced to death after he fatally shot three people at Jewish sites in Kansas has died in prison. The Kansas Department of Corrections said in a news release Tuesday that 80-year-old Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. died Monday at the El Dorado Correctional Facility. Miller, who was also known as Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., was sentenced to death for the killings in 2014 in suburban Kansas City. The corrections department says preliminary indications were that Miller died of natural causes. Miller said during his trial that he didn’t expect to live long because he had chronic emphysema. A corrections department spokeswoman declined to comment further on his cause of death or his medical condition.

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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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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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Kansas City Police Investigate Three Shooting Deaths in Seven Hours

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police in Kansas City, Missouri, are investigating the fatal shootings of three people in separate attacks in a 7-hour period overnight. Police say the first was the shooting around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday of a man in a business parking lot along Blue Parkway. The man was taken to a hospital, where he died of his injuries. An early investigation revealed there was a fight inside a business that led to the shooting. Around 10 p.m., police were called to Hillcrest Avenue and found a man in the street who had been shot and died at the scene. Around 4:30 a.m. Thursday, another person was fatally shot near 85th Street and Euclid Avenue. Police did not immediately release any of the victims' names. 

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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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Kansas AMBER Alert Canceled After Child Taken During Car Theft Found Safe

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Law enforcement in western Kansas say a 14-month-old boy who was inside a sport utility vehicle when it was stolen from a driveway early Wednesday morning has been found safe. An Amber Alert was issued for the toddler after his mother reported that she had strapped him in to the SUV in the driveway of her Garden City home around 5 a.m. Wednesday to take him to a babysitter. The mother said that when she briefly went back inside, she saw the SUV drive away. About three hours later, police found the SUV with the child still inside abandoned a short distance away within Finney County.

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Kansas Man Convicted in Plot to Kill Attorney, Informant

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas man has been convicted of trying to hire someone to kill an assistant Geary County attorney and a confidential informant. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Tuesday that 31-year-old Samuel Ibarra-Chu was convicted on 21 charges including conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. The plot was formed between July 2018 and August 2018 but was discovered before the murders occurred. Ibarra-Chu is scheduled to be sentenced June 25. Court cases are pending for two other people charged in the conspiracy. 

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Wichita Police Say Family Fight over Gun Led to Fatal Shot

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Wichita say a family fight inside an apartment over the weekend culminated in the inadvertent fatal shooting of a man as his aunt and another person struggled over a gun. Police say the shooting happened Sunday night. Investigators say the incident began when a 59-year-old woman grabbed a handgun as she argued with a relative. She and the relative grappled with the gun, which fired and hit the woman's nephew, 27-year-old John Ross, in the chest. Police say Ross had been sitting on a couch and wasn't involved in the fight when he was shot. Family members rushed him to a hospital, where he died. The aunt was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter, but hadn't been formally charged by early Thursday.

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American Rescue Plan Offers Help for Those Seeking ACA Health Coverage

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Most uninsured people qualify for subsidized health coverage and 40% of them can get a plan through the Affordable Care Act for free or nearly free. The American Rescue Plan that Congress passed in March offers more help for buying insurance over the next two years. If you couldn’t get a subsidy on the ACA exchange before, you might be able to now. Others who get partial subsidies can now get plans for free. People without health insurance can adjust their health plan at HealthCare.gov.. The tax credits will be retroactive to the start of this year. The deadline to buy or update a plan is mid-August.

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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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Monthly Midwest Economic Survey Index Soars to All-Time High

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new monthly survey shows the economy in nine Midwest and Plains states roaring back to life in the wake of a devastating global pandemic, with the survey's overall index soaring to its highest reading since it began almost three decades ago. The Creighton University Mid-America Business Conditions for April released Monday came in at 73.9 from March’s 68.9. Any score above 50 on the survey’s indexes suggests growth, while a score below 50 suggests recession. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, says the region has regained more than half the 106,000 manufacturing jobs lost to the pandemic in April 2020. The monthly survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

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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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