Kansas Governor Seeks Tuition Freeze, Calls State Healthier
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Laura Kelly is calling for another freeze in tuition at Kansas colleges. Her State of the State address Tuesday evening to a joint session of the Legislature also portrayed Kansas as booming economically and previewed what are likely to be major themes in her reelection campaign. The Democratic governor didn’t provide details about her college tuition proposal in her speech. Legislators and the board overseeing the state's higher education system have already tried to contain those costs. Kelly also is pushing to eliminate the state’s sales tax on groceries and give a $250 income tax rebate to Kansas residents. The proposals come as she faces a tough reelection race.
Kansas Lawmakers Begin 2022 Legislative Session; Governor to Deliver State of the State Speech
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have kicked off their annual session, and tax cuts are expected to be a big issue because the state is flush with cash. The session that opened Monday also is shadowed by redistricting, election-year politics and COVID-19. Both the Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Governor Laura Kelly are pursuing tax breaks. Lawmakers must redraw the state's political boundaries to account for shifts in population over the last 10 years, and they're likely to consider restrictions on how public schools teach students about race and the influence of racism in U.S. history. COVID-19 cases have surged recently. Meanwhile, Kelly faces a tough reelection race. The governor delivered her annual State of the State address at 6:30 Tuesday night and Kansas Public Radio provided live coverage of the speech, as well as the GOP response, delivered this year by Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman.
Senate Hearing on Pandemic Gets Testy: Fauci Criticizes Marshall and Paul
WASHINGTON (AP) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, angrily accused a senator Tuesday of making false accusations that are leading to threats against him. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has repeatedly said Fauci lies about the pandemic and in a hearing Tuesday also claimed that he tried discredit scientists who disagreed with him. The feud overshadowed a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee designed to examine if policy changes are needed while the U.S. is battling the hugely contagious omicron variant. Later in Tuesday’s hearing, Fauci was heard muttering “what a moron” after Senator Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, accused him of hiding financial disclosure forms that have long been public.
Kansas Governor Raised, Spent More Last Year than Presumed GOP Foe
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly raised more cash last year, spent more money and entered this year with more funds than her presumed Republican opponent ahead of a tough reelection race in Kansas. Campaign finance reports filed Monday by the campaigns for Kelly and Attorney General Derek Schmidt suggest their contest could be unusually expensive for Kansas. Their reports covered last year. Kelly reported raising more than $2 million. That’s almost $412,000 or 25% more than the $1.6 million Schmidt raised after launching his campaign in March. But Kelly also spent $762,000 last year when Schmidt spent roughly $331,000. Kelly entered this year with $1.9 million, and Schmidt had $1.3 million.
Seven-Year-Old Boy Dies, Two Others Injured in Topeka Fire
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 7-year-old Topeka boy has died after fire broke out at a home. Firefighters were called just before 7 am Monday and were told residents were possibly trapped. The fire department says crews searched the home despite heavy fire and smoke coming from the first floor. A woman and the child were rescued and taken to a hospital. The child, identified as Alexander Servantez, died. Two other people got out on their own. One has non-life-threatening injuries, and the other was unhurt. The cause of the fire remains under investigation but foul play is not suspected.
UPDATE: KBI: Murder/Suicide Leaves Three Dead in Central Kansas
LARNED, Kan. (KMUW/KNS) - The triple homicide of a family in Larned over the weekend has been ruled a murder-suicide. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says that just about 3 am on Saturday, Jon Smith arrived in a pickup truck at the home of his estranged wife, Shala Smith, carrying a shotgun. The KBI says evidence suggests he shot and killed both Shala Smith and Carver Smith, his 12-year-old son, before killing himself.
Deaths in Central Kansas Ruled Double Homicide, Suicide
LARNED, Kan. (AP) — Authorities investigating a triple homicide in central Kansas have determined that a man fatally shot his estranged wife and his 12-year-old son before killing himself. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says 44-year-old Jon Smith arrived at Shala Smith's Larned home around 3 am Saturday and entered alone, carrying a shotgun. The release said that evidence indicates that he shot his wife, who also was 44, and his son, Carver Smith, before shooting himself. Their bodies were found that night.
2 Adults, 12-Year-Old Boy Found Dead in Kansas Home
LARNED, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating after two adults and a 12-year-old boy were found shot to death in central Kansas. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation said in a news release that a man discovered the bodies Saturday night in a Larned home. A coroner pronounced 44-year-old Shala Smith, 12-year-old Carver Smith and 44-year-old Jon Smith dead at the scene. The KBI said that there is no ongoing threat to the public and that additional details would be released after an autopsy is completed. Larned, a city of about 3,700 residents, is located in Pawnee County, about 23 miles southwest of Great Bend.
Kansas Hospital Runs Out of Ventilators as Virus Cases Soar
EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — A hospital in eastern Kansas ran out of ventilators Friday as the state continued to report a surge in COVID-19 cases. The Lyon County Board declared a local emergency Friday after the Newman Regional Health hospital in Emporia ran short of ventilators. That declaration will help the hospital receive two additional ventilators from the state. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Kansas soared over the past two weeks from 1,109.29 new cases per day on December 24 to 6,543.43 new cases per day on Friday. And in the Kansas City area, officials at the University of Kansas Hospital said they were scrambling to deal with staff shortages as the number of COVID-19 patients they were treating jumped.
Staff Absences Plague Schools, Health Care Amid COVID Surge
MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Employee absences fueled by a surge in COVID-19 cases are straining Kansas hospitals, schools and emergency services and raising questions about whether some court trials might need to be delayed. In the Wichita school district, more than three times as many students and seven times as many staff members were quarantining after break than in late November. The situation has led the Kansas State Board of Education to announce that no in-person attendees will be allowed at its meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. The number of patients continues to climb at the University of Kansas Hospital, hitting 162 on Monday. On top of that, 850 employees were out over the weekend.
Omicron Explosion Spurs Nationwide Breakdown of Services
The explosion in omicron-fueled coronavirus infections has caused a breakdown in basic functions and services across America. Ambulances in Kansas speed toward hospitals and then suddenly change direction because hospitals are full. Employee shortages in New York City cause delays in trash and subway services and diminish the ranks of firefighters and emergency medical services. Airport officials shut down security checkpoints at the biggest terminal in Phoenix and schools across the nation struggle to find teachers for their classrooms. It's just the latest illustration of how COVID-19 keeps upending life more than two years into the pandemic.
Mask Resistance Remains Strong Despite Latest COVID-19 Surge
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita school board meeting was canceled when new members refused to wear masks and elected officials in the Topeka area rejected a plea from health officials to mandate them. Even as a surge in COVID-19 cases has strained hospitals and sent absences soaring in school districts, most of the state was plowing ahead with few if any new restrictions. University of Kansas Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer on Monday told faculty and staff members that classes will start “on time and in person,” with the addition of a stricter mask policy for instructors.
Missouri Virus Hospitalizations Sets Record as Cases Surge
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The number of people being treated for COVID-19 across Missouri continues to set records as virus cases surge across the state and strain hospital capacity. The state Department of Health and Senior Services said 3,235 people were hospitalized with the virus statewide and about 15% of the state’s hospital beds remained available. That number just topped 2,900 for the first time on Friday and exceeded the record of 2,862 set in December 2020. Statewide, the seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases also hit a record Saturday at 7,058 cases before declining to 6,983 on Sunday.
Kansas Court Ruling Keeps Law Allowing COVID Lawsuits Alive
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court is keeping intact a law that allows people to sue counties over mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions and obtain quick trial-court decisions. The court declined Friday to consider whether it's constitutional for a state law to require judges to rule on such lawsuits within 10 days. It concluded that a Johnson County judge had no business striking down the law in a case that dealt with another legal question. Judge David Hauber's decision against the law applying to counties was in a lawsuit against a school district's mask mandate. School districts were covered by another law that's since expired.
Kansas Woman Gets Probation for Role in Riot at U.S. Capitol
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP/KPR) — A Kansas woman has been sentenced to two years of probation for her role in the January 6, 2021 riot at the nation's Capitol. Esther Schwemmer, of Leavenworth, also must perform community service and pay $500 in restitution for damage to the Capitol building. The Kansas City Star reports that the sentence was handed down Monday. Schwemmer said that she hopes in time, she can forgive herself. Schwemmer and her friend Jennifer Ruth Parks attended then-President Donald Trump’s rally before following the crowd to the Capitol. Parks, of Leavenworth, received a similar sentence in December. Eight Kansas residents have been charged in connection with the Capitol riot.
Kansas City Public School District Earns Full Accreditation
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri state education officials say the Kansas City public school district has earned full accreditation, effective immediately. Tuesday's announcement means the district will be fully accredited for the first time since 2000. The State Board of Education said the district has improved its academics and instructional systems and has gained stability in its leadership. Since losing its accreditation in 2000, the district has been provisionally accredited then lost that accreditation again. The district regained its partial accreditation in 2014. School district officials said the district has improved its four-year graduation rate from 68.7% in 2016 to 77.8% in 2021, as well as significantly increasing the number of students taking advance courses.
Police: Car Drove at Deputy, Who Responded with Gunfire
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two people are in custody after a car allegedly drove at a Kansas deputy who responded by firing into the vehicle. No one was hurt in the incident that happened Sunday evening in Wichita. Police say a Sedgwick County deputy responded to a theft report at a business and found the suspects outside. Police say one of the suspects began driving at the deputy, who fired one round into the vehicle. No one was hit. The car sped away but the suspects — a 55-year-old woman and 31-year-old man — were later arrested. She was booked on suspicion of aggravated assault and drug charges. He was booked on suspicion of theft and drug crimes.
Woman Shot and Hit by Car Outside Weekend Party in Wichita
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 39-year-old woman was in critical condition Sunday after being shot outside a party in Wichita and then hit by a car. Police said the shooting was reported shortly after 2 am Sunday in the 2200 block of East 12th Street. Officer Trevor Macy said in a statement that the woman was wounded once when multiple shots were fired. Then investigators believe she was hit by a car as people began to flee after the shooting. No arrests had been announced as of Sunday afternoon and the victim was not immediately identified.
Man Given 4 Consecutive Life Sentences for Child Sex Abuse
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 40-year-old Wichita man has been sentenced to four consecutive life sentences for sexually assaulting a young girl. Jeremiah Orange was sentenced last week for abusing a girl during the summer of 2016 while she and her mother were staying with him. He was convicted in November of two counts of rape and two counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. The four life sentences each have parole eligibility after 25 years. District Judge Jeffrey Syrios said each of the four sentences represent a separate act against the child.
DCF Extending Pandemic SNAP Benefits
TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — The Kansas Department for Children and Families is extending the emergency food benefits offered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The increase raises the maximum food stamp benefit through the SNAP program for more than 60,000 Kansas families. Emergency food assistance will continue through July 31 or whenever the federal public health emergency ends. The emergency benefits allowed under the federal rules bring an average of an additional $232 a month for SNAP recipients. The federal government is paying the additional $15 million a month in Kansas benefits. Department for Children and Families Secretary Laura Howard says these benefits are crucial for some families to access food.
Kansas Attorney General Clarifies Laws on Delta-9 Cannabis Products
HAYS, Kan. (KNS) — Some Kansas shops have been selling a cannabis product called delta-8. The product is a molecular variant of the traditional THC compound in marijuana that produces a high. Law enforcement officials have complained that they didn’t know if the substance was illegal. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt now says delta-8 is only legal in hemp products that contain very small amounts. Some shops sell vape oils and other items with high amounts. So far, store owners in at least one city, Hays, have been put on notice. Ellis County Attorney Robert Anderson told shops to give their supplies of delta-9 to local police or they could face legal consequences
Authorities: Beware of Vapes, Gummies in Some Kansas Stores
MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Confusion is clouding the legality of vapes, gummies, teas and other products that include a chemical cousin of marijuana’s main intoxicating ingredient. A recent Kansas attorney general opinion, court decision and law change have raised questions for prosecutors and law enforcement as the products, which are frequently sold in smoke shops and even gas stations, proliferate. At issue is a chemical called delta-8 THC that is billed as producing a milder high than the better-known delta-9 THC. Delta-8 is often marketed as being legal even where marijuana is not. That argument stems from the fact that most delta-8 is synthesized from CBD, a popular non-intoxicating chemical that’s prevalent in hemp, a form of cannabis that Congress legalized in 2018.
Woman Charged with Helping Man Escape from Larned State Hospital
LARNED, Kan. (AP) - A Ulysses woman is charged with helping a man escape from the Larned State Hospital last week. The Pawnee County Attorney's Office says 38-year-old Emilia Melinda Brown is charged with aiding escape. Investigators allege Brown drove 43-year-old Isaac Watts away from the Larned campus after he escaped last Monday. A day later, Watts and Brown were arrested at a Garden City hotel. Watts is jailed in Finney County pending possible charges for the escape. Authorities have not said how he got out of the state hospital. He was the second patient to escape from Larned since June, and state officials are looking for a firm to review security procedures there.
Security Check at Larned State Hospital Accelerated After Escapes
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State officials say they are working to find an independent firm to review procedures after two convicts escaped from Larned State Hospital since June. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services says it's working with the Correctional Leaders Association to find a firm to conduct a comprehensive security review at the facility. The effort began after John Colt escaped from the prison in June. He was not arrested until September in Utah. The governor's office says the effort will accelerate after another inmate, Isaac Watts, escaped from Larned last week. He was later arrested in Garden City.
Trail Would Connect 2 Kansas City, Kansas History Sites
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Plans are underway to connect a Civil War-era commercial port on the Missouri river and a Kansas City, Kansas, park where Lewis and Clark once camped. KCUR reports that the proposed Northeast Kansas City, Kansas, Heritage Trail came to life when the Groundwork Northeast Revitalization Group partnered with the Unified Government to apply for a grant from the Mid-America Regional Council. They were awarded $108,000, supplemented by a $30,000 match from the UG. The south end of the trail will be Kaw Point Park, part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers. The north end will be the Quindaro Townsite, one of three National Commemorative Sites in the National Park System.
Sporting KC's Pulido Needs Knee Surgery and Will Miss MLS Season
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Mexican forward Alan Pulido needs knee surgery and will miss Sporting Kansas City’s entire 2022 Major League Soccer season. The team says Pulido will have surgery on Monday in Los Angeles. Expected recovery time is nine months to a year. Pulido had eight goals in 21 league games last year in his second season with Kansas City. He played previously for Tigers, Greece’s Levadiakos and Olympiakos and Chivas. He has five goals in 20 appearances for Mexico. He was on the 2014 World Cup roster but did not get in a game.
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!