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Headlines for Tuesday, December 21, 2021


Kansas Lawmakers Express Concern over State Pay Hikes

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas lawmakers fear Governor Laura Kelly’s plan to temporarily increase pay for some state workers will eventually lead to a wave of resignations from prisons and other facilities that operate 24/7, facilities that already have high vacancy rates. During a committee meeting Monday, state Senator Rick Billinger said Kelly’s plan won’t solve the problem. "My concern is the day you tell them you are no longer get this. How many of them are sticking around?,” he said. Governor Kelly issued an executive order temporarily raising pay and offering bonuses to state employees to help attract and retain workers. But lawmakers worry staff will just quit when those increases are removed. State Budget Director Adam Proffitt defended the raises before a legislative committee. He says the situation is dire and something needed to be done. "If we can get this stabilized, people can start to get some of their life back as well as not being at work 12 hours a day, six, seven days a week," he said. Lawmakers support pay increases for staff but wonder if other alternatives could have been proposed, like sign-on bonuses. Proffitt says strict guidelines on temporary pay increases limited what the governor could do. Plans for long-term solutions could be proposed during the legislative session starting next month.


New Kansas Job Numbers Suggest Many Are Back at Work

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - New unemployment numbers show that many Kansans who lost jobs during the pandemic are now headed back to work. The unemployment rate in Kansas continued its downward trend in November. Declining to 3.6 percent from 3.9 percent in October. The jobless rate has improved by more than a full percentage point since this time last year. Kansas Labor Department officials say some of the biggest gains were in the leisure and hospitality industries. Service jobs that were among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Gains were also recorded in transportation and skilled-trades. The tightening labor market is making it harder for some employers to fill jobs. Health care workers are in particularly high demand. There are nearly 5,000 openings for registered nurses across the state.


Wichita Area Hospitals Renew Pleas for Vaccination

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KPR) - Wichita hospitals continue to call for residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as Sedgwick County reports its first cases of the Omicron variant. Experts around the world are now calling it a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And that’s no different for local hospitals. Dr. Lowell Ebersole (LOW-al EBB-er-sahl) is the chief medical officer for Wesley Healthcare. He says about 95% of COVID patients admitted to Wesley since May have been unvaccinated. With Sedgwick County reporting its first cases of the omicron variant, he says it’s more important than ever to get both the vaccine and a booster shot. “The initial data and science is showing us that the booster is very, very important to confer immunity against the omicron variant.” State health officials reported nine cases of the omicron variant in Kansas, including five in Sedgwick County.

Meanwhile, the Lawrence Journal-World reports there were 58 more COVID cases and two more virus-related deaths recorded here in Douglas County over the weekend. The cumulative case count for Douglas County now stands at more than 14,000 cases of COVID-19.


Federal Judge Stops Vaccine Mandate for Federal Contractors

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A federal judge in Missouri has issued a preliminary injunction that prohibits a COVID-19 vaccine mandate from being enforced for federal contractors.  The injunction applies to 10 states that filed suit against the mandate. Monday's order comes on top of a nationwide injunction against the mandate issued earlier this month by a federal judge in Georgia. Under orders from President Biden's administration, all new, renewed or extended federal contracts were supposed to include a clause requiring employees to be fully vaccinated by January 18.  The contractor requirement is separate from vaccine mandates that Biden issued for health care workers and for businesses with more than 100 employees. All of the president's vaccine mandates are facing legal challenges.  


Oracle Buys Kansas City-Based Cerner in $28 Billion Deal

KANSAS CITY, MO. (KCUR) Cerner Corporation, Kansas City’s largest private employer, has agreed to be bought by software giant Oracle Corporation in a deal valued at $28.3 billion. Oracle is one of the biggest providers of software to other companies. Cerner provides electronic health records to hospitals and other health care providers. The company was founded in Kansas City in 1979 and is now the second biggest vendor of electronic health records after Epic Systems. Cerner employs more than 12,700 people at four campuses in the Kansas City area. The company has more than 25,000 employees worldwide. Although Oracle said it intends to grow Cerner’s presence in the Kansas City area, it’s not immediately clear what the deal’s long-term implications are for Cerner’s presence here. Officials at both companies could not be reached for comment.

(AP version)
Oracle Buys Medical Records Company Cerner for $28 Billion

UNDATED (AP) - Oracle is buying Kansas City-based electronic medical records company Cerner in an all-cash deal valued at about $28.3 billion. Oracle will pay $95 per Cerner share. Hospitals and physicians offices use Cerner software to record and share health and medical data. The companies announced Monday that Cerner systems will become a unit of Oracle.


Medical Pot Sales in Missouri Top $200 Million

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Medical marijuana sales in Missouri have reached a milestone, now topping the $200 million mark. According to state officials, 14 months after sales began, Missouri now has more than 158,000 patients who are active in the state's medical marijuana program, along with 3,200 caregivers.  Missouri voters approved medical marijuana in 2018 and the state implemented the program in about 23 months. Twenty-one states have implemented medical marijuana laws since 2005. In Missouri, residents with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma and 20 other qualifying conditions are eligible to use marijuana.  


Native American KU Students Want a Say in Criminal Cases

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Some Native American students at the University of Kansas want a say in criminal cases involving vandalism and thefts at the “Native Hosts” art exhibit. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that members of the First Nations Student Association have asked the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office to include them in processing of the criminal cases. Doctoral student D’Arlyn Bell says the crimes made Native American students feel “targeted.” Both crimes happened in September. Two students are charged in the thefts. No charges have been filed in the vandalism.


Kansas Woman Gets 31-Year Sentence in Death of 3-Year-Old

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas woman has been sentenced to more than 31 years in prison for killing a 3-year-old girl in a case that drew attention to the agency responsible for overseeing young children in the state. The Kansas City Star reports that Jacqulyn Kirkpatrick was sentenced in Kansas City, Kansas, yesterday (MON), a little more than a month after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and interfering with a law enforcement investigation. Olivia Ann Jansen of Kansas City, Kansas, died in July 2020. A medical examiner's report showed that she had signs of physical abuse and died of a brain bleed. The child's father, Howard Jansen III, also is charged with murder and goes to trial in May.


Arrest Warrant Issued in Arkansas for Ex-Nursing Home Owner

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An arrest warrant has been issued for a former nursing home owner on eight Medicaid fraud charges involving his facilities in Arkansas. The Arkansas attorney general's office says Joseph Schwartz also faces two counts of state tax violations for failing to pay taxes that were withheld from employees’ paychecks. Schwartz operated Skyline Health Care. Schwartz's attorney, Bill James, says his client is expected to surrender in January and will plead not guilty to the charges. Schwartz was also sued in federal court in 2020 by former employees in South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and Arkansas who claimed that they were left without health insurance even though money was deducted from their paychecks.


Quick Thinking Kansas Deputy Helps Woman Hit by Train

PARSONS, Kan. (AP) - Authorities are crediting a quick-thinking deputy with saving the life of a woman who was struck by a train in southeast Kansas. The Labette County sheriff's office says Deputy Gabe Vitt was in Parsons when he heard dispatchers tell emergency crews that the woman had been hit late Sunday while on foot. Vitt was only a couple blocks away from the crossing and arrived in time to apply a makeshift tourniquet to the woman's partially severed leg. The deputy consoled the woman until other rescue crews arrived. Officials say Deputy Vitt kept the woman "calm and coherent during a life threatening event."


Junction City Boil-Water Advisory Continues

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - A boil-water advisory remains in effect for Junction City, Geary County Rural Water District #1 and Grandview Plaza.  Local health officials say the boil-water advisory will remain in effect until the state health department can confirm the water is safe for consumption. The advisory is expected to remain in place at least through today (TUE). Residents have had to manage the logistics of getting clean water since the order was issued on Friday. Geary County Community Hospital has announced it will reopen some of its services on a limited basis today (TUE).


Topeka Police Investigate Downtown Shooting

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Police are investigating a shooting in downtown Topeka that left one person wounded.  WIBW TV reports that a person was shot in the leg just before 9 pm Monday near 10th and Kansas Avenue. The victim was taken to the hospital.


Two People Killed in Wrong-Way Crash in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Two people are dead following a wrong-way accident involving two pickup trucks in Wichita. KSNW-TV reports that the accident happened shortly after 9 am Tuesday. Police say a pickup traveling eastbound in the westbound lanes of Kellogg Street struck several vehicles before colliding head-on with another pickup. The drivers of both pickups died _ one at the scene and the other at a hospital. Two other vehicles were damaged but no additional injuries were reported. Police have not released the names of those killed in the accident. 


Retired Dallas Morning News Reporter Dies in Car Crash

DALLAS (AP) — Retired Dallas Morning News reporter Wayne Slater, who covered the rise of Texas governors Ann Richards and George W. Bush, has died in a car crash. He was 74. A Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman says Slater died Monday after his vehicle collided with a pickup. The crash happened near Florence, north of Austin and where Slater lived. Slater retired from the newspaper in 2014 after three decades there. Slater previously worked for The Associated Press in West Virginia, Kansas, Illinois and Colorado. He co-wrote two books about Bush adviser Karl Rove. Former president Bush called Slater “a hard-working and insightful reporter.”


Police: Two Found Dead in Independence, Missouri, Home

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) - An investigation continues after two people were found dead inside a home in the Kansas City suburb of Independence, Missouri. KMBC-TV reports that a man and a woman were found Sunday afternoon by one of their parents. Police say two children under the age of 10 also were in the home, but were unharmed. Police have not released a cause of death but said there were no visible gunshot wounds or reports of gunfire. The Jackson County Medical Examiner's office will determine the cause of death. Names of the victims have not been released.  


Kansas Officials Work to Speed Distribution of Eviction Aid

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas officials continue working to speed up the distribution of aid money to help people avoid eviction. Ryan Vincent, who leads the state agency overseeing the program, said more than 40% of the $169 million allocated to the state program has been given out so far.  Kansas, like most states, fell short of the federal goal of distributing at least 65% of the aid money by November 15. Vincent said Kansas has been making steady progress and roughly 32,000 Kansans have received help. And Kansas isn't in danger of having the federal government reclaim some of the money because the state had distributed at least 30% of the aid by the November deadline.


December Storms Across North-Central U.S. Classified as Derecho

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) - A line of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes that swept across the north-central U.S. last week has been classified by the National Weather Service as a serial derecho - the first on record December. At least 45 tornadoes have been preliminarily confirmed in the Dec. 15 storms that crossed the Great Plains and Midwest amid unseasonably warm temperatures. Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota took the brunt of the damage. Five deaths were blamed on the weather. A derecho shares similarities to a hurricane, but it has no eye and its winds come across in a line. The similarity is in the damage, which is likely to spread over a wide area.


Missouri Supreme Court Overturns Mall Shooting Conviction

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) _ The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned the conviction of a man in a deadly 2018 shooting outside a suburban Kansas City shopping mall because he was not allowed to argue that the shooting was self defense. The ruling from the full court said the prohibition hamstrung 19-year-old Tyler Gates's defense attorneys and violated Gates's constitutional rights. Jurors found Gates guilty in June 2019 of second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of 17-year-old Matthew Haylock at the Independence Center. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. 


Bus Fire Briefly Strands Newman University Basketball Team in Nebraska

HOLDREGE, Neb. (AP) — A bus carrying a Kansas college basketball team caught fire, leaving players and staff briefly stranded in a central Nebraska town. The Holdrege Daily Citizen says the Newman University men’s basketball team from Wichita was heading from Kearney, Nebraska, to Hays, Kansas on Saturday when the fire occurred. The bus was carrying 15 basketball players, three coaches and an athletic trainer. No one was injured. Holdrege volunteer firefighters received the call at around 1:40 pm Saturday. Head Coach R.J. Allen says the only personal items lost in the fire were phone chargers, pillows and blankets. Allen says the team was headed to a practice before a game against Fort Hays State University.


Jayhawks vs. Buffaloes Game Canceled

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KU Athletics) – Tonight's (TUE)  scheduled men's basketball game between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the University of Colorado Buffaloes has been cancelled, and will not be rescheduled this season. KU Athletics announced the move via press release, citing potential COVID-19 issues within the Colorado men’s basketball program. KU Athletics said the teams mutually agreed to cancel the game.


Kansas City's Tyreek Hill Among 21 NFL Players Added to COVID-19 List

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Another 21 NFL players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday, including Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill, cornerback Rashad Fenton and tight end Blake Bell. They were among nine players, including two on the practice squad, who joined tight end Travis Kelce and kicker Harrison Butker on Kansas City’s growing list. The Chiefs also have Charvarius Ward on the list, which means two of their top three cornerbacks are in the league’s virus protocol, along with defensive tackle Chris Jones, linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and wide receiver Josh Gordon. Linebacker Nick Bolton, offensive lineman Kyle Long, right tackle Lucas Niang and safety Armani Watts also were added to the list on Tuesday.


AP Source: Several Asymptomatic NFL Players Test Positive, Including KC's Travis Kelce

UNDATED (AP) – Several asymptomatic, vaccinated NFL players tested positive for COVID-19 on the first day of “targeted” testing, a person familiar with the results told The Associated Press on Monday. Overall, 47 players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the most in a single day since the pandemic began. The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because of privacy issues, didn’t specify how many of the players are asymptomatic and fully vaccinated. Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce and Lions quarterback Jared Goff are among the players who landed on the reserve list. Players who test positive must quarantine until they’re cleared to return. Under the NFL’s revised protocols which went into effect Monday, asymptomatic, vaccinated players can return in less than 10 days.


Chiefs Alone in First Place in AFC After Some Weekend Help

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Chiefs are alone with the best record in the AFC, one game ahead of the Patriots and Titans and two up on the Chargers, Colts and Bengals. That's crucial with three games remaining because there is only one bye for the playoffs, and that team also earns home-field advantage throughout the AFC postseason. Kansas City's next opponent: the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are fighting for a place in the postseason. The Chiefs and Steelers play Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. Then comes road trips to Cincinnati and Denver, two more teams that are trying to keep their playoff chances alive.


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. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today 

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