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Headlines for Tuesday, May 10, 2022

 

Kansas COVID-19 Infection Rate Exceeds National Average

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCUR) - The majority of people in Kansas have now had COVID-19.  That's according to a new federal estimate. More than 62% of Kansans had COVID-19 at least once, as of the end of February. That’s according to estimates based on testing for antibodies in blood samples which were collected for lab work. The federal data, which were updated last week, show Kansas is slightly higher than the 58% national average infection rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that the testing did not determine the amount of antibodies in the blood samples, so the data should not be used to estimate how many people currently have immunity to the virus.

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Douglas County Sees Spike in COVID Cases

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) - Douglas County has seen an uptick in COVID cases in recent weeks. The Kansas News Service reports that Douglas is one of three Kansas counties with high COVID transmission right now. New cases have jumped tenfold since late March. The local health department urges people with underlying conditions to be cautious, even though hospitalization numbers remain low. It comes weeks after the Jayhawks NCAA championship victory sparked large celebrations. But a county health department official says the increase could be linked to other factors, too, such as spring break and the highly transmissible COVID variants currently circulating.

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Program to Aid Towns with Public Art Projects

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) -Displays of public art, such as murals, can do more than simply add beauty to small towns. The art can also be an economic driver by bringing in tourists. A new Kansas grant program is offering up to $10,000 to small towns to help them put up more art. Program administrators say public art can boost community pride and help with economic development by attracting tourists. In a trial last year, the state’s Office of Rural Prosperity gave grants to five towns. Jetmore in western Kansas painted a mural about local hunting and fishing. Courtland in north-central Kansas put up murals celebrating the town’s irrigation history. The grant program aims to help rural Kansas communities with fewer than 10,000 residents and this year, plans to double the number of grants awarded. Applications are open on the Department of Commerce website through May 16th and the winners will be announced next month. (Read More)

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Lawrence's Free State High School Ranks Near Top Ten in New Kansas Ranking

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - Free State High School in Lawrence has placed near the top 10 in a new ranking of the best public high schools in Kansas. U.S. News & World Report conducted the survey of all the high schools in the state. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Free State High ranked No. 11 in the state, and was the top-ranked public high school in Douglas County. The magazine uses a variety of metrics to rank the schools including standardized test scores as well as data from the U.S. Department of Education and the non-profit group that administers Advanced Placement exams. Free State boasts a 90% graduation rate as well as relatively high scores in science, reading and mathematics proficiency. The west Lawrence school also has a 17-to-1 student-teacher ratio. Lawrence High School came in at number 23 on the statewide rankings. The Sumner Academy of Arts and Sciences in Kansas City, Kansas was the topped ranked public high school in the state. Other schools in the top 10 include Blue Valley North at number 2, Shawnee Mission East in 3rd place and Olathe Northwest at number 4. (Read More)

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K-State Scientists: “Virtual” Fences Could Aid with Cattle Control

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas State University scientists are studying how a technology called virtual fencing could help prevent water pollution from cattle. K-State biologists are testing the idea in the Flint Hills. They are putting GPS collars on cattle that give the animals a mild shock if they wander into certain areas. The researchers say the practice will help protect streams from pollution and protect patches of tallgrass for prairie chicken nesting. Professor Walter Dodds specializes in freshwater ecology at Kansas State. He says doing the same things with physical fencing is difficult and expensive. “If you just want to put a fence around a stream all the way up and down a watershed, it really takes a lot of fence, and it’s not easy,” Dodd said. The researchers say virtual fences also make it easy for ranchers to make sure cattle don’t overgraze any specific part of their pasture.

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Kansas Senator Roger Marshall Calls for LGBTQ Advisories on TV

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Republican U.S. Senator Roger Marshall of Kansas is calling on regulators to update ratings for TV shows so parents can shield their children from LGBTQ characters. Marshall and four other Republican senators from North Dakota, Utah, Indiana and Montana said the use of LGBTQ characters in television is harmful to children and erodes parental rights. The letter to the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board specifically pointed to a Disney executive who said she wanted to have more LGBTQ characters in stories. The senators compared sexual orientation and gender identity to sexual content that children should not see. Critics say the Republican senators are using the issue as another attack against the LGBTQ community in the, ongoing, “culture wars.” The TV Parental Guidelines are a rating system meant to help parents decide what programming is appropriate for their children. 

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2 Black Female Officers Sue Kansas City Police Department

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two Black female officers allege in separate lawsuits that they faced sexual and racial discrimination while working for the Kansas City police department. The Kansas City Star reports that Officer Rashawnda Williams says in her lawsuit that she was subjected to misogynistic, racist and sexist comments from male colleagues. In another lawsuit, Officer Alexis Bush-Bailey said a white female supervisor targeted her because of her race, sex and age. The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners is named in both lawsuits. The women say the board is responsible for their treatment. A Kansas City police spokesman said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

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Missouri House Axes Constitutional Change for Parent Control in Public Schools

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing parents control of their children's public education has failed to pass the Missouri House. Lawmakers in the GOP-led House on Monday voted 60-81 against the proposal. The legislation would have enshrined parents' rights to direct their children's public school education in the Missouri Constitution. If enacted by voters, the proposal also would have put constitutional restrictions on how teachers discuss race and racism. Some Republicans argued that the legislation should be enacted through state law, not the Constitution. One Democrat said parents already have the right to control their children's education by homeschooling. 

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Missouri Senate Approves Photo ID Requirement for Voting

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri senators have passed a bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. Senators voted 23-11 for the bill Monday. The primary bill would require voters to show government-issued photo identification to cast ballots. Voters who don't bring valid IDs could cast provisional ballots. The bill would also allow two weeks of no-excuse absentee voting. Voters could cast ballots up to two weeks prior to the date of an election. Currently, voters need to cite an excuse for why they won't be able to vote in-person on Election Day. 

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Missouri Legislature Advances Ballot Measures on Marijuana and Ranked Voting 

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Campaigns to legalize recreational marijuana use and allow ranked-choice voting in Missouri both submitted signatures ahead of Sunday's deadline to get the measures on ballots. One proposed amendment would allow adults age 21 and older to buy and grow weed for personal use. It would automatically clear criminal records for people who have been convicted of nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. The other measure would require a single primary ballot with both Republican and Democratic candidates. The top four vote-getters would advance to the general election. Both groups submitted more than 300,000 signatures. They were required to submit about 170,000 signatures from six of the state's eight congressional districts. 

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Kansas Legislature Gives More Money to Public Defenders but Board Says More Help Needed

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Low-income Kansans charged with crimes could have better access to legal defense after the state Legislature gave public defenders more money. But the Kansas News Service reports the request for more staffing in public defender offices has not been approved.  State lawmakers approved around $7 million in pay raises for attorneys and public defenders who work with the Board of Indigents Defense Services. That money will boost morale, attract new staff and help retain qualified employees, public defenders say. Executive director of the board, Heather Cessna, welcomes the money but wishes more was done. She wants to hire more public defenders and says past attempts to do so have not been successful enough. “Not having counsel to provide that representation is, you know, is a failing of our constitutional obligation," she said. Cessna says the state is taking a step in the right direction, but it will take years to adequately address shortages in the public defense system.(Read more.)

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Foster Child Found Dead in Kansas City, Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - A Kansas foster child was found dead in Kansas City, Kansas, days after running away from state custody. Fifteen-year-old Ace Scott ran away from state foster care contractor Cornerstones of Care in mid-April. Authorities have confirmed that a body found in KCK on April 15 was that of Scott, a transgender teenager. The Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department says his body was found in an abandoned lot. The Kansas City Star reported that the teen was admitted to the hospital before running away and had run away before. The Kansas News Service had requested documents relating to the boy, but those requests were denied because there is an ongoing police investigation. Department for Children and Families Secretary Laura Howard called the death a tragedy. Howard says in a statement that the department is working to improve its systems to prevent future problems. 

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Experts: Bird Flu Danger Abates in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas bird lovers have less to fear about the spread of avian flu than people in other states. The chance of transmission of the disease to humans is considered very low and, experts say, many of the wild birds carrying the virus have already migrated out of the state. Some states have recommended people stop using bird baths and feeders because they can help spread the virus that has devastated the poultry industry. But in Kansas, bird experts suggest regular cleaning is enough to control flu and other diseases. Audubon of Kansas says avian flu has mostly been seen among waterfowl that have already left the state. The Kansas Department of Agriculture reported six outbreaks of bird flu, with the most recent occurring in late April.  

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Governor Kelly Announces Upcoming Statewide Virtual Job Fair

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR/Kansas Office of the Governor) – A virtual statewide job fair will take place next week, beginning at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, May 18th, and running through 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 19. Governor Laura Kelly announced the job fair via press release. Job seekers can apply, live chat and interview virtually with employers participating in the event. Registration is required in order to participate in the virtual job fair. The job fair portal features a Job Seeker Training video, a list of participating employers, various channels for attendees to register and login.

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Southeast Kansas County to Change Diversion Program Eligibility

COFFEYVILLE, Kan (KNS) - Montgomery County, in southeast Kansas, will change how it offers diversion to people arrested for crimes. The move comes after allegations that the county was not giving people a chance to use the programs. A lawsuit filed in 2017 by the ACLU said Montgomery County, home of Independence and Coffeyville, was not giving people adequate access to diversion programs. Some people did not even know the options existed. A diversion agreement gives someone an alternative to jail or prison. It’s used when someone is facing criminal charges but is offered treatment, counseling or other services. The county will now post diversion materials online, create a new policy and make it easier for low-income Kansas to use the programs

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Kansans Will Vote in November on Constitutional Amendment About Abortion

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansans will vote on a constitutional amendment this fall that could protect or limit abortion access in the state. The U.S Supreme Court appears ready to strike down protections at the federal level and send the issue back to voters in individual states.  Many anti-abortion groups are focusing on the upcoming vote in Kansas. A state supreme court ruling currently guarantees access to abortions, which mean the procedure would remain legal even if federal protections are removed. However, abortion protections would likely vanish at the state level if the amendment is approved in November. Such a vote would not immediately make abortions illegal, but the state Legislature could approve stricter laws. Proposed legislation banning abortions has already been introduced. Danielle Underwood, with Kansans for Life, says the state doesn’t do enough to regulate abortion providers. “If Kansans want to stop this, they must vote yes (on the amendment)." Abortion providers maintain the procedure is already regulated in Kansas and is a critical health care service people need.(Read more.)

(–Related–)

Missouri Set to Ban Most Abortions if Roe Ruling Falls

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri is slated to ban most abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court undoes Roe v. Wade. Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt says he will take immediate action to allow an abortion ban to take effect if the landmark ruling is overturned, as a draft opinion leaked last week suggests. Missouri's GOP-led Legislature passed the abortion ban in in 2019 in hopes that the 1973 ruling would later be tossed out. Abortions would only be allowed to save the life of the mother. Anyone who performs an unlawful abortion would face 5 to 15 years in prison.

(–Related–)

In Abortion Fight, Conservatives Push to End All Exceptions

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Rape, incest and the health of the fetus or mother were once accepted reasons to obtain an abortion in even the most conservative Republican-led states. But now roughly 20 states have abortion bans in the works without some of those exceptions. The shift comes as the Supreme Court is expected to overturn the nationwide right to abortion this summer. Troy Newman with the national anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, says exceptions for rape and incest and to protect a pregnant woman's life were only included in previous legislation to appease centrists.

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Some Hope Next Farm Bill Includes Funding for Climate Change

URBANA, Ill. - (HPM) - The federal farm bill, which funds food and agricultural programs every five years, is set to expire next year and some hope the next bill will bolster climate change mitigation programs. The bill includes funding for things like nutrition assistance programs and crop insurance but it also provides cost-share programs for farmers to adopt more climate-friendly practices on their farms. President Biden’s Build Back Better plan included billions of dollars of funding for farmers to help mitigate climate change but that funding was pulled off the table when the Senate voted against the bill. Now, some legislators are trying to figure out how to fund more conservation programs for agriculture and they see the 2023 Farm Bill as an opportunity to secure that funding.

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Funeral Held for Royals Logo Designer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A private graveside service Monday commemorated the man who designed the original Kansas City Royals logo. Shannon Manning died last week at the age of 88. Manning was among 16 artists at Hallmark who submitted designs for the inaugural logo in 1969. He worked at Hallmark until retiring in 1997. Manning’s logo for the Royals has been modified to a degree over the years, but he had the satisfaction of providing the foundation of a logo that’s been widely displayed in the years since. 

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Topeka to Replace Gage Park Mini-Train

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Shawnee County Commissioners have approved the purchase of a new, electric mini train for Gage Park in Topeka. WIBW reports that the commission voted unanimously Monday to buy the new locomotive and five rail coaches from a Wichita manufacturing company for $650,000. Officials from Topeka’s Parks and Recreation Department told commissioners that, on the outside, the train will look much like the one it’s replacing but will be powered by lithium ion batteries instead of diesel fuel. Officials say the electric train will be 10 times more energy efficient and will be much easier to maintain than the 55-year-old train it’s replacing.  In November, the county commission voted to allocate $650,000 to either repair or replace the aging mini-train. The funds came from the American Rescue Plan Act. The train is scheduled to arrive by April of next year and will run on the existing track at Gage Park.

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Topeka Zoo Announces Birth of Orangutan

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Mother's Day came a little early to the Topeka Zoo this weekend. The Zoo reports on Twitter that their orangutan Rudy gave birth Saturday morning. Rudy and the baby orangutan are doing well and were on view Sunday for Mother's Day. The baby's name will be announced when its gender is determined. It's the third infant born to Rudy.

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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!

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