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Headlines for Tuesday, January 18, 2022


Kansas Will Stop 'Futile' COVID-19 Contact Tracing

UNDATED (AP) – Kansas health officials say the state will stop contact tracing for COVID-19 next month. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Tuesday that contact tracing has become futile because of increased COVID-19 cases and the public's declining interest in participating. The change means people who test positive for the virus will be responsible for notifying their close contacts about possible exposure. If the person has been exposed at high-risk settings such as schools or daycares, state or local health departments will notify the setting, which will be responsible for notifying close contacts about the potential exposure. The change takes effect on February 1.


KS GOP Redistricting Plans in Would Split Kansas City Swing District; Would Move Much of Lawrence into Big First 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators in Kansas are pursuing a redistricting proposal that would remove Democratic voters from the Kansas-City area swing district currently held by the state’s only Democratic member of Congress.

The plan unveiled Tuesday also would move Lawrence, home to the main University of Kansas campus, into the sprawling and largely rural district covering western and central Kansas. The city is known for its liberal politics, while former President Donald Trump carried many western Kansas counties with more than 80% of the vote in 2020.

The debate in Kansas comes with Republicans hoping to regain a U.S. House majority in this year’s mid-term elections. Democrats fear that new political boundaries will make it harder for Democratic U.S. Representative Sharice Davids to win reelection in Kansas’s 3rd District, and are focused on keeping most of Johnson and Wyandotte counties together. Those two counties contain most of the state’s side of the Kansas City metropolitan area, and Wyandotte County is among a few Democratic strongholds in Republican-leaning Kansas.

The proposal was introduced during separate meetings of the state House and Senate redistricting committees, first by House committee Chair Chris Croft, an Overland Park Republican, then by Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican. Both dismissed the idea that politics lay behind the division of the Kansas City area, though Davids would lose the northern half of Wyandotte County and its Democratic neighborhoods and pick up territory in three GOP-leaning counties.

“A lot of it’s population driven,” Croft told reporters after the House committee’s meeting. “There’s a lot of factors that go into it.”

Davids’s district is almost 58,000 residents over the ideal district population of about 734,000. The other three districts are underpopulated, with the already-sprawling 1st District of western and central Kansas needing to pick up close to 34,000 people for all four districts to be as equal in population as possible.

Masterson said because of population growth in the Kansas City area, Davids’s district must lose either part of Johnson or part of Wyandotte County. He also argued that Davids and the state’s three GOP congressmen still would be reelected with the new lines.

“We’re just interested in fairness,” he told reporters.

Democrats are skeptical that GOP proposals on congressional redistricting aren’t driven by a desire to wound Davids politically. Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat, and Democratic state Rep. Tom Burroughs, of Kansas City, unveiled their own proposals, and both keep all of Wyandotte County in Davids’s district while splitting off western and southern Johnson County.

LGBTQ-rights advocates also are watching redistricting closely because Davids is the first and only LGBTQ person to represent Kansas in Congress.

“The LGBTQ community deserves the same seat at the table as everybody else in this country,” said Tom Witt, executive director of the advocacy group Equality Kansas. “We’re going to fight to preserve it.”

And Democratic Governor Laura Kelly, who can veto redistricting measures, told reporters last week: “What should happen is that they should shrink it in a way that maintains that community interest there in the KC metro area.”

Top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature hope to avoid the meltdown that occurred in 2012, the last time lawmakers faced redrawing political boundaries to account for shifts in population. A bitter fight over legislative districts between conservative and moderate Republicans kept any proposal from passing — and three federal judges drew all the lines.

The plan outlined by Masterson and Croft would put northern Wyandotte County into a redrawn 2nd District with Topeka and most of southeast Kansas, and would come closer to resembling twisting districts in other states. Lawrence would be at the ending eastern tip of the 1st.

A second GOP proposal came from Republican Rep. Kyle Hoffman, of Coldwater, and it would move all of Wyandotte County into a 1st District that would stretch from the Colorado to the Missouri border in the north part of the state. He said it was based on a proposal that won House approval in 2012.

“I’m not really introducing it because I’m in love with it,” Hoffman said. “It’s more of a map to just give us an idea and a baseline.”


Prosecutor: No Charges in Black Kansas Teen’s Custody Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas prosecutor says he won't file charges over the death of a Black 17-year-old who became unresponsive while being restrained after an altercation with staff at a Wichita juvenile center in September. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett made the announcement in a Tuesday news conference. Cedric Lofton died at a hospital two days after the altercation at the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center.  A December autopsy report contradicted an earlier, preliminary finding that the teenager hadn’t suffered life-threatening injuries. The autopsy ruled the death a homicide. Bennett says the state’s “stand your ground” law prevents him from bringing any charges.


Freed Missouri Inmate Sues over Medical Care in Prison

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A Missouri inmate who was freed from prison in November after serving more than 40 years for a triple murder he didn't commit is suing a company that provides medical care to inmates. Kevin Strickland alleges in his lawsuit that medical decisions made by Corizon while he was in prison left him dependent on a wheelchair. KMBC-TV reports the lawsuit alleges Corizon workers at the Crossroads Correctional Center and Western Missouri Correctional Center repeatedly denied, delayed or rejected his requests for medical care for spinal stenosis and neurologic problems. Strickland is seeking a jury trial and damages related to his treatment. Corizon officials did not immediately return a message seeking comment. 


Wichita Police: 2 Teenagers Killed in Shooting

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Wichita say two teenagers were shot to death on the south side of the city. Police say in a news release that the shooting happened just before 9:30 Monday night, when officers were called to the scene. Arriving officers found 17-year-old Alexis Cervantes-Martinez and 16-year-old Mariah Zamora, both of Wichita, with gunshot wounds inside a vehicle that had crashed into a garage at an apartment complex. Police say Cervantes-Martinez, who was driving the car, died at the scene. Zamora was rushed to hospital where she later died. Investigators believe the teens had gone to the location to take part in a drug deal that had been set up on social media. No arrests have been announced.


Kansas City Police ID Man Found Shot to Death in Vehicle

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police have identified a man found shot to death inside a vehicle. Police say in a news release that 45-year-old Maurice Bell was found Saturday night unresponsive inside a vehicle sitting in the front yard of a home. Police say Bell died at the scene. Kansas City police spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina said investigators believe Bell was shot while he was inside the vehicle before it rolled to a stop in the yard. No arrests have been announced in the shooting.


Police Identify Victim of Fatal Shooting on Amtrak Train in Kansas City Area

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. (AP) — Police have identified the victim of a fatal shooting on an Amtrak train as a 30-year-old man from Independence, Missouri. Police were called Friday night to the Amtrak station in Independence where they found that Richie T. Aaron Jr. had been shot while the train had been stopped earlier at the Lee’s Summit station. Sgt. Chris Depue of the Lee’s Summit Police Department says police are looking for the suspect, who was also riding the train and fled in Lee’s Summit. The Kansas City Star reports that police say people on the train did not immediately recognize that a person had been shot.” The train traveled north to Independence where life-saving efforts were attempted before Aaron was pronounced dead.


Two Large Kansas School Districts Shuttered as COVID Surges; Some Wichita Schools Close

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Schools in Olathe and Kansas City, Kansas, have canceled classes as COVID-19 cases surge among staff and students in the districts. The Kansas City Star reports that Olathe Public Schools and Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools canceled classes for Tuesday and Wednesday. Olathe Superintendent Brent Yeager said more than 800 school employees — about 20% of Olathe schools' staff — were out sick heading into this week. Yeager says more than 1,500 students had the virus last week. Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools reported it had 200 teaching positions unfilled Friday. Three public and three Catholic elementary schools will be closed in Wichita Tuesday, with two of the Catholic schools also closed Wednesday.


Surge in Virus Hospitalizations in Missouri Makes Transfers More Difficult

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The current surge in virus cases in Missouri driven by the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant is straining hospital capacity and making it difficult to transfer patients to larger hospitals. Kellie Meehan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she can hear the desperation in doctors’ and nurses’ voices when they call the Mercy transfer center that she oversees. But increasingly she has to turn down their transfer requests. Virus hospitalizations have risen sharply across Missouri in recent weeks to hit 3,526 on Thursday, which is the most recent data available. That’s more than 700 higher than last year’s peak.


COVID Hits Missouri Nursing Homes Again; Staff Hard Hit

ST. LOUIS (AP) — COVID-19 infections are rising in Missouri nursing homes as the highly contagious omicron variant surges. New data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows cases among nursing home staff ballooned to 1,261, up from a peak of 981 last fall. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the 895 cases among residents still remain below the peak. And 87% of Missouri nursing homes residents are vaccinated, just two-thirds of nursing home staff are. That's the lowest among states. Nursing homes have dealt with staffing shortages throughout the pandemic, but the latest surge has sent yet-unseen numbers of health care workers home due to illness or exposure.


COVID Task Force Issues Recommendations for Small Businesses

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A task force created by Missouri Governor Mike Parson is recommending several steps that could help small businesses in the state recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The task force's final report was issued Monday. The recommendations include improving childcare availability and affordability; expanding hospitality industry apprenticeships; and promoting and enhancing existing state programs that support small, women-owned and minority-owned businesses. Members of the task force met with small business owners in seven Missouri cities and conducted a statewide survey of business owners. The group also worked with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis to analyze the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state's small businesses.


Why Airlines Fear 5G Will Upend Travel This Week

UNDATED (AP) - The airline industry is raising the stakes in a showdown with AT&T and Verizon over plans to launch new 5G wireless service this week, warning that thousands of flights could be grounded or delayed if the rollout takes place near major airports. CEOs of the nation's largest airlines say that interference from the wireless service on a key instrument on planes is worse than they originally thought. The pushback this week from airlines follows an agreement earlier this month in which AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay the launch of a new slice of 5G service by two weeks.


4 People Hospitalized After Weekend Fire at Olathe Home

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Fire officials say four people were hospitalized after their house caught fire in Olathe. The Kansas City Star reports firefighters responding to a call Saturday morning found “significant fire conditions.  Captain Mike Hall, of the Olathe Fire Department, says three adults and one teenager who were inside the home were hospitalized in stable condition. The cause of the fire is under investigation. A damage estimate was not immediately available, although Hall says the home has “significant damage.”


Kansas Doctor Has License Suspended over Prescription Issues

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A state board that oversees doctors has suspended the medical license of a Wichita physician, alleging that he wrote prescriptions for people he hadn’t spoken to or examined. The Wichita Eagle reports that suspension order says that Chad Sharp’s employer had unlicensed employees call people last year and ask if if they were suffering from “chronic ailments.” These calls were recorded and then sent to Sharp, who was paid for each person whose information he reviewed. The order states that he then would prescribe a cream or ointment that was billed to the person’s insurance. 


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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