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Headlines for Tuesday, February 23, 2021


Kansas Governor Converts Pandemic Business Loans to Grants

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Hospitality businesses that got loans through an emergency relief fund in Kansas at the beginning of the pandemic will no longer have to repay the money. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly announced today (TUE) that funding provided through the Hospitality Industry Relief Emergency Fund has been converted from bridge loans to grants.  Businesses that have already made repayments will be reimbursed.  The program was originally envisioned as a working capital loan program. The fund was established last year to provide immediate help to Kansas hospitality businesses faced with revenue losses due to COVID-19.  In total, $5 million went to 344 businesses.


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%.


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. For the Kansas News Service, I'm Stephen Koranda at the Statehouse

(-AP version-)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Top Republican officials in Kansas have launched a new effort to curb Democratic Governor Laura Kelly's power after months of criticizing her handling of the coronavirus pandemic and problems with the state's unemployment system. GOP Attorney General Derek Schmidt and top Republican lawmakers have outlined a proposal that would amend the state constitution to give the GOP-controlled Legislature the power to revoke regulations issued by state agencies. The proposal is the latest in a series of measures aimed at curbing the governor's power, and Republicans also are trying to build a case against Kelly's reelection in 2022.  


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 this (TUE) 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.


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.  


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.


Kansas Bill Creating Agency to Track Foster Care System Advances

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved a bill to create an independent agency to oversee the state's foster care system. The House Children and Seniors Committee on Monday advanced the bill creating the Office of the Child Advocate. The agency would  investigate complaints and track child welfare agencies, primarily the state Department for Children and Families, which oversees the foster care system. The move came after the bill's chief proponent agreed to have the proposed agency report to the Republican-led Legislature instead of an executive branch agency under Democratic Governor Laura Kelly. The bill now goes to the full House for a vote.


Kansas Lawmakers Tackle the Cost of Unemployment Fraud

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers hope that a legislative audit to be released later this week will provide an estimate of how much the state has paid out in fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature remained frustrated Monday with the lack of an estimate from the state Department of Labor for the potential cost of bogus unemployment claims. Their focus on potential fraud has intensified in recent weeks. The Legislature’s nonpartisan auditing division plans on Wednesday to release a reports on problems at the department. Republican Representative Kristey Williams of Augusta said lawmakers expect to get “a good baseline” in assessing fraud.


Indian Country Keeps Close Eye on Deb Haaland Confirmation Hearing

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — For Native Americans, Deb Haaland is more than an elected official on track to become the first Indigenous secretary of the Interior Department. She is a sister, an auntie and a fierce pueblo woman whose political stances have been molded by her upbringing. Haaland's confirmation hearing today (TUE) will be closely watched in Indian Country with virtual parties amid a pandemic. Tribes and tribal organizations have for weeks been urging people to write to and call U.S. senators who will decide if she lands the job. Haaland is in her second term representing New Mexico in Congress.


Wyandotte Nation Set to Open Casino Near Wichita

PARK CITY, Kan. (AP) _ The Wyandotte Nation plans to open a new main casino next week near Wichita. The Crosswinds Casino will open next Tuesday in Park City. The opening comes after years of legal battles, including the state of Kansas filing an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to block the tribe from operating the casino.  The Wyandotte Nation opened a small temporary facility in October. The new 20,000-square-foot casino offers 500 slot machines, 200 video gaming machines, a bar, cafe and a high-limit lounge. The Wyandotte Nation bought the land where the casino was built nearly 30 years ago.


Kansas Governor Urges FERC to Investigate Weather-Related Failures

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly is urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to investigate systemic failures during this month's weather emergency and to protect Kansans from demand-related price surges for natural gas and electricity. A letter on Friday was signed by Kelly and members of the Kansas Corporation Commission. Kansas was among many states hit with snow, ice and bitter cold over the past two weeks. Kelly and the commission called on the FERC to examine the circumstances that led to reduced supply of natural gas. Kelly will seek aid from the Biden administration and will encourage Congress to pass a stimulus package to provide relief for Kansas communities.


Kansas Records Nearly 292,000 COVID-19 Cases, Including 4,643 Deaths, Since Start of Pandemic

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reports there have been 291,715 cases of COVID-19, including 4,643 deaths, since the start of the pandemic. Johnson and Sedgwick counties continue to have the most recorded cases, with more than 53,000 each.  KDHE will provide its next update  Wednesday. 


Meatpacking Workers in Kansas Still Wait for Vaccines

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Meatpacking plants have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, yet thousands of workers at southwestern Kansas meat plants are still waiting to hear when they'll be vaccinated. The Kansas News Service reported that the wait is frustrating for workers who have watched college faculty, first responders and postal workers get their vaccines, and as Kansas launched a program to get a first dose into the arms of every school worker by early April. Meatpacking plants have been the state's third-largest source of COVID-19 outbreaks, topped only by long-term care facilities and correctional centers.


Kansas Man Linked to Proud Boys Arrested in Capitol Riot

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A man linked to the Kansas City metro chapter of the Proud Boys is charged with participating in the riots at the U.S. Capitol last month. FBI agents arrested Ryan Ashlock, of Gardner, Kansas, Monday morning without incident. Federal authorities allege in an affidavit the 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.


Geary County Authorities Seek Suspect in Apparent Road Rage Shooting on I-70

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in northeastern Kansas are seeking a man suspected of shooting a woman in a road rage incident on Interstate 70 south of Manhattan. The Geary County Sheriff's Office says in a news release that deputies were called to the stretch of I-70 around 11:30 am Sunday for a road rage incident and arrived to find a woman inside a vehicle suffering from a single gunshot wound. The woman was taken to a Manhattan hospital for the injury, which was not believed to be life-threatening. The sheriff's office said it was searching for a male suspect believed to be in his 20s or 30s, but no arrest had been reported by this (MON) morning.


93-Year-Old Woman Dies After Being Hit by Vehicle in Hutchinson

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Police say a 93-year-old woman hit by a vehicle as she attempted to cross a street in Hutchinson has died of her injuries. Television station KAKE reports the crash happened Saturday afternoon, as Carmen Raya of Hutchinson was crossing East Avenue. Officials say Raya was taken to a local hospital, where she later died. Police continue to investigate her death and have not released the name of the driver involved. No charges in the case have been announced.


Firefighters: Woman Found Critically Injured in Topeka Fire

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Officials say a woman is fighting for her life after being found critically injured in a fire that consumed an abandoned commercial building in Topeka. The Topeka fire Department says in a news release that crews were called around 8:30 pm Sunday 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 and rushed her to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. Her name has not been released. An investigation showed the blaze was likely started by a "warming fire."


Kansas Girl Dies After Becoming Trapped Trapped in Wichita Duplex Fire

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 17-year-old girl died from smoke inhalation after she was unable to escape a fire in west Wichita. Wichita fire investigator Donny Eckerman told The Wichita Eagle that the girl was trapped inside the duplex Friday afternoon by a deadbolt that required a key to open. The fire started in the kitchen after a burner was left on and a pan with grease caught fire. Firefighters found the girl unresponsive in her grandmother's room, which is where the deadbolt key was kept. She died later at a hospital. Officials estimate the fire caused $40,000 damage to the building and $20,000 damage to the contents.


Missouri House Tries Again with Photo ID Law for Voting

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Republican-led Missouri House is advancing another version of a Missouri voter photo identification law that was gutted by the state Supreme Court. Judges last year permanently blocked a central provision of the 2016 voter identification law that required voters without a photo ID to make a sworn statement in order 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. Missouri is one of several states where Republican-led legislatures have passed voter photo ID laws touted as a means of preventing in-person voter fraud, which studies have shown is very rare.


Injections Wells Closed or Reduced After Oklahoma Earthquake

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The injection of wastewater into underground wells by oil and gas producers has been stopped or reduced in the area where a magnitude 4.2 earthquake struck in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Friday directed disposal wells within three miles of the quake's epicenter to stop operations and those from three to 10 miles of the epicenter to reduce volume by at least 50%. There were no injuries or damage reported from the quake that occurred Friday morning near Manchester along the Oklahoma-Kansas state line. The commission took similar action earlier this month after a series of earthquakes about 55 miles southeast of Friday's quake.


Arrest Made in Connection with Body Found in Duffel Bag in Northwest Missouri

FAUCETT, Mo. (AP) — One suspect has been arrested and police are searching for a second person in connection with the death of a woman whose remains were found inside a duffel bag in northwestern Missouri. The Buchanan County Sheriff’s office said Sunday that 22-year-old Taylor Stoughton has been charged with second-degree murder in the February 2020 death of 21-year-old Ariel Starcher. The sheriff’s department is searching for Marcus Brooks in connection with Starcher’s death. A Missouri Transportation Department worker found the bag with Starcher’s body inside it on February 18, 2020 alongside the road, which is about 45 miles north of Kansas City.


Kansas City Man Charged in Deaths of Woman and Her Son

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City, Missouri, man is facing charges in the deaths of a woman and her son. The Kansas City Star reports that 32-year-old Dmarius Bozeman is charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the shooting deaths of 35-year-old Khasheme Strother and her 19-year-old son, Raymond Hill. Both were killed Wednesday. The shootings happened at a town home. A juvenile witness told police that Bozeman and Strother were involved in an altercation when they heard gunshots. Bozeman was also shot but authorities said his injuries were not considered life-threatening. The killings marked the 18th and 19th homicides in Kansas City this year.


Man Gets Probation for Shooting Woman He Found in His Home

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man who shot a woman after finding several people inside a home he was trying to sell has been sentenced to probation. Christopher Meece was sentenced recently to two years of probation and ordered to pay $44,000 restitution in connection with the October 2019 shooting. Meece pleaded guilty to several misdemeanors after prosecutors dismissed several felony aggravated battery charges. Meece had reported four burglaries at the home in the days before the shooting. When he went to check on the home on October 29, 2019, Meece told police he saw two men and one woman running before he fired a shot and struck the woman.


Clay Center Dedicates Mural Honoring WW II Veterans

CLAY CENTER, Kan. (KFRM/KCLY) —  This week marks the 76th anniversary of U.S. Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi during World War II.  In honor of the anniversary, officials in Clay Center held a dedication ceremony today (TUE) for a new mural, titled Freedom Isn’t Free. The painting depicts the iconic moment marines raised Old Glory during the battle for Iwo Jima.  Brett Hubka, president of Clay Center's Rotary Club, said, "Not only is today the 76th anniversary of the flag raising at Iwo Jima, but it’s also World Rotary Day and this was a rotary project so support was astounding.” The ceremony included members of Ft. Riley’s Big Red One and several guest speakers, including Brad Logan.  Brad is the son of William C. Logan, a former mayor of Clay Center and veteran of the battle of Iwo Jima.


Kansas Enjoys Warmer Weather but Watch Out for Return to Winter on Wednesday

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - Much of Kansas enjoyed much warmer weather today (TUE), with temperatures in the low to mid 70s.  A week ago, public schools and universities were closed in Kansas, amid sub-freezing temperatures and rolling power outages. More winter-like weather will return on Wednesday with most communities reaching high temperatures below 50 degrees.


KPR's daily headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays and updated throughout the day. KPR's weekend summary is usually published by 1 pm Saturdays and Sundays. 


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