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Headlines for Thursday, October 20, 2022


Groups Ask Feds to Investigate Topeka Police

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Ten community groups are asking the federal government to investigate the Topeka Police Department’s use of force. The groups say police are too quick to shoot Black people. The concerns stem from multiple incidents. In recent weeks, Topeka Police shot and killed two Black men who were holding knives. Officials say using force was justified, but the community organizations point out that white Topekans holding machetes have survived encounters with police. The groups are further concerned that when officers shot at the knife-wielding suspects, they fired in public areas and could have hit innocent bystanders. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that it isn’t clear whether the Department of Justice will investigate these cases.


Avian Flu Surfaces in Shawnee County

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - The Kansas Department of Agriculture says bird flu is back in the state. The agency confirmed the virus today (THUR) in Shawnee County. The case was found among a backyard flock of birds. It’s the third reported case of the virus in Kansas this fall. State officials quarantined the site and moved the affected birds to decrease the chance of spreading the virus. The state also reported six cases of the bird flu in the spring.


Kansas Ballot Features Justices, Proposed Amendments

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Some important issues in the Kansas fall election will actually appear at the bottom of the ballot. Kansans will vote on a constitutional amendment that would let state lawmakers overturn rules and regulations set by the governor’s administration. That could affect rules ranging from pollution regulations to foster care policies. Alexandra Middlewood, a political scientist at Wichita State University, says important constitutional amendments are becoming more common in Kansas. “Not only are there more of them, they have a much larger impact on the way the government functions," she said. Voters will also decide whether to keep six of the Kansas Supreme Court justices. Some abortion opponents want to remove the justices because of a ruling that said the Kansas Constitution protects abortion rights. Election Day is November 8.


U.S. Attorney's Office Will Have Presence in Kansas on Election Day

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KNS/KCUR) - The U.S. Attorney’s offices for Kansas and the Western District of Missouri have appointed federal officials to handle voting rights concerns that may arise during the November 8th midterm election. The appointments are part of a nationwide Election Day Program by the U.S. Justice Department to address things like threats of violence against election officials as well as election fraud. In Kansas, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Maag will oversee the effort. In the Western District of Missouri, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Simpson will oversee the effort. In addition, the FBI will have special agents available in each of its field offices to address allegations of election abuses and irregularities.


U.S. Heating Costs, Supplies Worry Americans

JAY, Maine (AP) - Many American families are filled with fear and dread as winter approaches because of high energy costs and tight fuel supplies. The U.S. Department of Energy is projecting sharp price increases for home heating compared to last winter. Some worry whether heating assistance programs will be adequate for struggling families. Last month, Congress added $1 billion to Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, bringing the total to at least $4.8 billion. But that level represents a cut from last year, when federal pandemic relief pushed the total energy assistance package past $8 billion.


Railroads Reject Sick Time Demands, Raising Chance of Strike

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The major freight railroads appear unwilling to give track maintenance workers much more than they received in the initial contract they rejected last week, increasing the chances of a nationwide strike. The railroads rejected the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division union's request to add paid sick time on top of the 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses they received in the first five-year deal. But Union Pacific CEO Lance Fritz said Thursday he's confident that all 12 unions will ultimately approve their deals, so the industry can avoid a strike that would be devastating to the nation's economy.


Kansas Man Arrested in Connection with 1992 Branson Cold Case Assault

BRANSON, Mo. (KYTV) - A Kansas man has been arrested in connection with a cold case assault in Branson, Missouri, that dates back to 1992. KVTY in Springfield, Missouri, reports that prosecutors in Taney County have charged Tony Lee Wagner, of Fort Scott, with two counts of first-degree assault, kidnapping, and forcible rape. The Missouri Highway Patrol calls his arrest a major break in a 30-year-old cold case. The assault happened on August 15, 1992, at the Henning Conservation area in Branson. Authorities say Wagner attacked two women from Texas. One woman escaped and flagged down a driver who contacted the local sheriff’s office.  That's when the decades long search for Wagner began. Wagner is now jailed in Bourbon County, Kansas. If convicted, he faces 10 to 30 years in prison or life.


National Group Investigates Layoffs at Emporia State University

EMPORIA, Kan. (KNS) - A national organization of college professors has announced that it is investigating Emporia State University over the dismissal of dozens of faculty members. The Kansas News Service reports that Emporia State recently laid off 33 employees, including tenured faculty, as part of a large-scale restructuring in response to declining enrollment. The American Association of University Professors calls the move an assault on academic freedom and tenure. The group says it’s investigating whether the firings violated faculty members’ due process. Michael DeCesare , of AAUP, says Emporia State may have ignored procedural standards. “When a professor who’s on a tenured appointment can simply be summarily dismissed, tenure exists in name only at that institution," he said. Emporia State officials have said they adhered to a Kansas Board of Regents rule that let colleges temporarily bypass regular policies on layoffs to address financial problems. DeCesare is urging the university to rescind the notices of termination. He says the layoffs are an attack on academic freedom. Emporia State officials say they don’t agree with the allegations but respect the group’s wish to investigate.


Emporia Officially Honored with Best-Tasting Water Award

EMPORIA, Kan. (KVOE) - Just how good is the tap water in Emporia? Apparently, it's pretty good. KVOE Radio reports that the city continues to get recognized for the high quality of its drinking water. In late August, the city’s tap water was honored for having the state’s best-tasting water. The honor was officially delivered during the Emporia City Commission meeting Wednesday. The award comes from the Kansas Water Environment Association and Kansas Section of the American Water Works Association. The city gets water from the Neosho River, not from nearby wells like other award winners. The latest award follows top honors in 2012 and 2007. Emporia has also fared well in other water-quality competitions. In 2013 and 2017, Emporia won an award for having the best-tasting water in the world.


Saint Luke's Closes Two More Hospitals in Johnson County

OLATHE, Kan. (KNS/KCUR) - Saint Luke’s Health System officials say two more community hospitals in Johnson County will close by the end of the year. Emergency services are available until the community hospitals in Olathe and Shawnee officially close their doors on December 23rd. Inpatient services will cease sooner than that, but Saint Luke’s did not specify a date. Hospital officials said the decision was part of a plan to refocus available resources on emergency care in areas with the greatest patient demand. Last year, Saint Luke’s closed two other community hospitals in Overland Park. Earlier this year, it closed Cushing Hospital in Leavenworth.


Federal Judge Dismisses Kansas Election Lawsuit

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KCUR) - A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by six Kansas residents asking him to remove all electronic voting machines and drop boxes for the 2022 midterm elections. KCUR Radio reports that U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree ruled the plaintiffs had utterly failed to establish they were likely to succeed on the merits. He said their lawsuit was "long on suspicion, contingency and hypothesis but short on facts and identifiable harm." The plaintiffs included two Olathe residents who previously filed a lawsuit in Johnson County seeking to preserve election records to assist Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden, who claims he’s investigating election fraud. That suit was also dismissed. In the federal case, the plaintiffs claimed that various Kansas counties have contracts with election companies with foreign loyalties.


In Bid for Attorney General's Office, Kris Kobach Plans to Rid Kansas of Ballot Drop Boxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Republican Kris Kobach wants to rid his state of ballot drop boxes and says as he's running for attorney general that discounting talk of election fraud is ignoring reality. An Associated Press survey of state election officials found expanded use of drop boxes in 2020 didn’t lead to any widespread problems. Kansas Secretary of State and Republican Scott Schwab says they are secure. But Kobach said Wednesday that allowing drop boxes prevents Kansas from enforcing a 2021 law making it illegal for individuals to deliver ballots for more than 10 other people. Kobach was secretary of state before Schwab and vice chair of President Donald Trump's short-lived commission on voter fraud.


Education Officials: Chronic Absenteeism Among Kansas Students Has Doubled

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - The number of Kansas students who are chronically absent from school has almost doubled over the past two years. Education leaders say schools need to reverse the trend. The Kansas News Service reports that new data from the Kansas Department of Education show that more than one in four students was chronically absent last school year. That means they missed at least 10% of school, or about a month of instruction. Schools with higher numbers of low-income students, students of color and new, English-language learners recorded higher absenteeism. Education Commissioner Randy Watson says the trend is especially troubling for young students. "Children in the early grades — chronically absent in pre-K, kindergarten, first — are much less likely to be able to read at grade level by the time they get to third grade," he said. Watson also said students who are chronically absent miss critical instruction and tend to drop out of school. It’s not clear what caused the huge drop in attendance, but officials say changes in school habits during COVID-19 likely played a role. Officials say schools should engage with families to see what might be causing students to miss class. Schools can also offer incentives for attendance.


Carbon Monoxide at Kansas City School Sends 8 to Hospital

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City fire officials say six students and two adults were taken to a hospital for evaluations after a carbon monoxide leak at an elementary school. Emergency responders were called to Longfellow Elementary School Wednesday morning after several children reported being ill. Assistant Fire Chief Jimmy Walker said firefighters found “extremely high” levels of carbon monoxide inside the school. Walker said no one suffered life-threatening injuries. The cause of the leak is under investigation. Other students and staff were taken to another school for the day. A school district spokeswoman said the district had its heating systems checked last week and no problems were detected.


As Kansas Lawmakers Tour State Prison, Public and Reporters Barred from Meeting

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - Reporters and the general public have been banned from attending a meeting where lawmakers tour a recently reconstructed state prison in Lansing.  According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Kansas Legislative Research Department meeting schedule shows the Joint Committee on State Building Construction was scheduled to meet at 9 am Wednesday at Lansing Correctional Facility. Emails from the KLRD to committee members called it a meeting. Yet, legislative staffers now say the meeting isn't a meeting.  KLRD staffer Shirley Morrow said in an email. "No business will be discussed on this tour." The implication is that members of a committee on building construction won't talk about anything related to building construction while touring a recent building construction project.

Lansing underwent major reconstruction work on buildings after a 2018 groundbreaking. The state building construction committee was directly involved in the project. A Kansas Department of Corrections spokesperson referred inquires to KLRD and didn't respond to a question about reporters being allowed on the tour without KLRD approval.

State statute defines meetings to including "discussing the business or affairs" of a public body. It doesn't matter whether the gathering is called a tour or a meeting.

Max Kautsch, president of the Kansas Coalition for Open Government, said the meeting is "too intrinsically related" to the committee's work "to credibly claim that its members would not discuss Committee business during a tour." He said the public should be allowed to attend. "The notion that a majority of the members of a public body could gather, and then not discuss public business, tends to rub Kansans the wrong way," Kautsch said. While KOMA allows the Legislature to create rules that exempt meetings from public meetings requirements, legislative leadership has instituted no such rule to exempt committee tours. Tours of state agency buildings have been treated as public meetings in the past, evidenced by KLRD staff taking meeting minutes.


Neosho County Attorney Linus Thuston Faces Criminal Investigation by State Authorities

CHANUTE, Kan. (Kansas Reflector) — Neosho County prosecutor Linus Thuston is under fire. The Kansas Reflector reports that Thuston makes no apologies for cutting deals with child rapists, expanding the use of diversions to pad his office budget, or using his power at the top of the county’s criminal justice system to benefit his private practice clients. Outspoken community leaders are frustrated with the prosecutor's behavior and say he presides over a kingdom of fear in this rural southeast Kansas county. Thuston, a church deacon and Army National Guard veteran, dismisses questions about conflicts of interest, saying people who dislike him just have an ax to grind.

The Kansas Reflector gathered thousands of pages of documents, including some that are confidential, and conducted interviews with numerous sources over the course of a six-month investigation into concerns about Thuston. The current and former Neosho County sheriffs say “justice is for sale” in the form of diversion agreements approved by Thuston, sometimes for felony crimes. The county commission doesn’t trust Thuston’s handling of finances. The Disciplinary Administrator’s Office, which reviews complaints against attorneys for the Kansas Supreme Court, has determined three times that Thuston committed ethics violations but allowed him to keep practicing law. (Read more.)


Kansas Governor Hopes to Expand Capacity for Child Care Centers

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas Governor Laura Kelly's administration says it's trying to expand capacity at child care facilities that have been jam packed the past few years. The Kansas News Service reports that Kelly wants to expand the range of children's ages that facilities are allowed to accept, which she says will increase capacity. Kelly says the changes come after conversation with parents, child safety experts and businesses across the state. Some estimates say Kansas has only half the child care slots needed. The proposal must go through public comments where parents can weigh in on whether they support the suggestions.


USDA's Livestock Assistance Program Hopes to Help Kansas, Missouri Ranchers Deal with Drought

UNDATED (HPM) - The drought affecting Kansas and Missouri has been severe enough to activate a livestock assistance program in many counties.  Harvest Public Media reports that the program helps ranchers whose pastures have dried out. Ranchers in most of the counties in Kansas and half of Missouri’s counties have become eligible for the USDA’s livestock forage program, which makes cash payments to ranchers in counties affected by severe drought. Many ranchers are culling their cattle herds at a much higher rate than normal because they cannot feed them, says Todd Barrows of the Kansas Farm Service Agency. "That will impact the future of the number of animals available, which is going to impact our meat supply chain," he said. This program and others that assist with water, feed or livestock transportation could help producers keep their herds intact and stay in business.


Lawrence Man Sentenced to More than 13 Years in Prison for Attempted Murder

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - A Lawrence man who was convicted of trying to kill his pregnant girlfriend and one of his friends was sentenced in Douglas County District Court Tuesday to more than 13 years in prison for that incident and several other crimes. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that 38-year-old Charles Darnell Thomas was found guilty in August of two counts of attempted second-degree murder.  He was also found guilty of battery and aggravated endangerment of a child for a shooting incident that took place on July 8, 2020. On Tuesday, he was sentenced for those crimes, and he also pleaded no contest and was sentenced for DUI and two counts of battery on a law enforcement officer in an unrelated incident. In total, Judge Stacey Donovan sentenced Thomas to 13 years and one month.

In the incident from July 2020, Thomas was accused of beating his pregnant girlfriend with a gun in the trailer they shared and then firing the gun at the woman, a friend, and two children. Nobody was wounded by gunfire in that incident, but jurors at the trial in August heard witnesses say there was blood all over the floor from where Thomas had beaten the woman with the gun. Thomas testified in August that he had been smoking K2, a type of synthetic marijuana, on the day the incident occurred. He said that he thought the K2 was laced with PCP and that he wasn’t himself the day in question.


KU Engineering Professor Wins $100,000 Award to Research Ways to Improve Water Quality

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — A University of Kansas professor has been awarded a $100,000 research prize to study a breakthrough approach to improving water quality. Belinda Sturm, KU professor of engineering, earned the award from the Water Research Foundation. Sturm’s research could allow municipal wastewater treatment plants to double their capacity without the need for expanding or adding new treatment equipment.
(Read more.)


New Aerospace Manufacturer Plans to Bring 155 Jobs to South-Central Kansas

WELLINGTON, Kan. (KWCH) - Aerospace manufacturer Pinnacle Aerospace plans to invest $14.7 million in a new facility in Wellington. KWCH TV reports that Governor Laura Kelly announced the news this week. The aerospace parts manufacturer plans to hire 155 employees within the first five years of operation by working closely with the Cowley College Sumner Campus to hire qualified and local workers. The plant will build and assemble complex hard metal aerospace components for commercial, general, military, and space industries.


Kansas Economic Policy Conference Will Explore Policies for Economic Resilience

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — The 2022 Kansas Economic Policy Conference at the University of Kansas next week will explore “Building a Resilient Kansas Economy.” The conference takes place October 27 at the Burge Union on the KU campus in Lawrence. Organizers say the conference will bring together community leaders, policymakers and experts to consider timely and relevant questions. “This year’s conference focuses on economic resilience,” said Donna Ginther, director of the Institute for Policy & Social Research, the conference organizer. “Now that we’re moving past the pandemic, as a state, our focus should shift to making investments that position us for growth and prosperity in the next decade."

Kansas Public Radio's Statehouse Bureau Chief, Jim McLean, and Deb Miller, of the KU Public Management Center, will moderate the conversations. Registration for in-person or online attendance is available through the conference website. KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research is organizing the event.


State of Kansas Auctions Bison to Thin the Herd in Central Kansas

MCPHERSON, Kan. (KNS) - The state of Kansas is selling bison to help preserve a Kansas prairie. The Kansas News Service reports that 80 bison are up for auction next month with many coming from the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge in central Kansas. Cliff Peterson, with the Department of Wildlife and Parks, says having too many bison on the land causes overgrazing. If the animals eat too much grass, birds and other native species will struggle to survive. "It’s not only about the grazers, you know, and how much gain you can get for the grazers," he said. The auction at the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, east of McPherson, will be a chance for Kansans to get their own bison. According to wildlife experts, when animal numbers are kept in check, bison grazing helps stimulate the growth of the prairie.


Lawrence City Commission Approves Raising Age to Buy Tobacco, Vaping Products to 21

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - City leaders in Lawrence have voted to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 and to establish a local tobacco sales license and enforcement process. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that city commissioners voted 5-0 Tuesday to adopt two ordinances that raise the age to buy tobacco, establish the local license procedures, and various new provisions regarding tobacco use. The changes would cover traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes, as well as synthetic products, such as e-cigarettes or vapes. The new ordinance will require any Lawrence tobacco retail business to obtain a $260 per year license before selling such products. To enforce the ordinance, a tobacco retailer will be subject to unannounced compliance checks, which would be conducted by the health department. Local health officials say they will be ready to begin the program January 1.


City of Wichita Cracks Down on Thefts of Catalytic Converters

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - The Wichita City Council has made it easier for the local police department to investigate and charge individuals for catalytic converter thefts. A new ordinance makes it more difficult for people to possess a detached catalytic converter. Police can charge someone with a crime if they have a catalytic converter but don't have paperwork that shows where it came from. Catalytic converter thefts have increased nearly 10-fold since 2019. Wichita Police Sergeant Bryan Safris addressed the city council and Mayor Brandon Whipple about the issue. “There’s no specific demographic where it’s influencing people. It’s everyone. Everyone in this community is affected by this," he said.  The Wichita Police department and other Kansas cities tried addressing thefts by encouraging residents to engrave an identifier on their converters, but police say the local effort has not been successful.


Help Wanted: Kansas Public Radio Seeks New Statehouse Bureau Chief

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas Public Radio is seeking a new Statehouse Bureau Chief. This position works primarily at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka. Duties include managing all aspects of KPR’s capital news bureau, which provides broadcast and digital news reports to a number of radio stations in Kansas and Missouri. This position is primarily responsible for reporting on all aspects of state government. The KPR Statehouse Bureau Chief researches, writes, reports and produces spot news, digital stories and long-form audio features for KPR and its reporting partners. Learn more about this position.

The University of Kansas prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, age, ancestry, disability status as a veteran, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, gender identity, gender expression, and genetic information in the university's programs and activities. Retaliation is also prohibited by university policy.


Junction City Man Makes 2nd Appearance on TV Talent Show "The Voice"

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (KSNT) — A Junction City man made his second national television appearance Monday night. Justin Aaron is competing to make his voice heard around the world on NBC’s hit show "The Voice."  KSNT TV reports that Aaron was picked up by Team Gwen after singing “Glory” by John Legend in his blind audition. Aaron says the experience so far has been amazing. Aaron adds while he’s still alive in the competition, it’s hard for him to see the ones he now considers family get sent home. But he says that he is still very close with his former opponents and talks to them on a daily basis. This isn’t the last song you’ll see Aaron perform on T.V. You can follow is journey on NBC's "The Voice."


Chiefs See Defenses Vary from Norm in Preparing for Them

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Perhaps no other team in the NFL sees a greater variety of defenses, and vast departures from an opponent's norm, than the Kansas City Chiefs. And while part of it has to do with Patrick Mahomes running the plays, and part of it Andy Reid calling them from the sideline, the biggest factor may be the fact that they've been working so seamlessly for so long. So defenses have learned they have no choice but to do things out of their own comfort zone, in effect throwing Reid and the Chiefs a curveball in their game prep. And that leads to interesting in-game chess matches.


These area headlines are curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Kaye McIntyre, and Tom Parkinson. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays, 11 am weekends. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.

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