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Headlines for Wednesday, April 20, 2022

 

Kansas Banks $500 Million for Emergencies; Gives Pay Raises to State Employees

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas will set aside $500 million to deal with future financial problems, give state employees a 5% pay raise and increase spending across state government. Governor Laura Kelly signed budget legislation into law today (WED) that contains the bulk of the state's $22 billion-plus budget for the 12 months beginning July 1, aside from money for the state's public K-12 schools.

(-Related-)

Kansas State Budget Bill Extends Health Coverage for Low-Income Mothers

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - The new state budget includes new funding for dozens of state programs, including one to extend health coverage to low-income mothers. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic the federal government paid to expand Medicaid coverage to new mothers from 60 days to a full year. The emergency money has run out. But Kansas will use a combination of state and federal dollars to keep the extended coverage in place. David Jordan heads a coalition of groups that lobbied for the extension. He says it’s critical to the health of new mothers, who can develop serious complications - including postpartum depression - months after giving birth. “A quarter of deaths postpartum happen in the period after 60 days of coverage. So, extending postpartum coverage can save lives," he said. The extension will increase the state’s annual share of Medicaid costs by about $4 million and provide coverage to an additional 9,000 women living just above the federal poverty level. The new state budget also includes, for the first time, money to extend dental coverage to more than 150,000 Kansas adults receiving Medicaid. 

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Kansas Families Will Have to Start Paying for School Meals Again

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW/KNS0 - Public schools in Kansas could soon stop offering free meals for all students. COVID-19 pandemic legislation had been paying for the meals, but that could soon end.  Federal subsidies the past two years have allowed Kansas schools to stop charging for breakfast and lunch. Many also offered free grab-and-go meals during remote learning and over the summer. But those waivers are set to expire at the end of this school year. That could leave Kansas districts scrambling to manage meal applications and raising the price of school lunches for some students. Haley Kottler is with the anti-poverty nonprofit Kansas Appleseed. She says free meals helped families cut costs during the pandemic. "For parents, it opens up the pocketbooks to provide more food for themselves and their families," she said. "And so we are very concerned about the waivers ending.” In 2019, about half of Kansas public school students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch based on their family income.

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KC Man Dies After Detention Officers Find Him Unresponsive in Lyon County Jail Cell

LYON COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) - A Kansas City man has died after Lyon County detention officers found him unresponsive in his cell Tuesday night. WIBW TV reports that detention officers were on their regularly night cell check when they found inmate Marcus Heard, of Kansas City, Kansas, unconscious in his cell.  Detention officers say the 30-year-old man was the only person in the cell. They called for an ambulance and started CPR. However, officials say those efforts were ineffective and Heard was pronounced dead by paramedics at the scene. Officers say it appeared the incident was self-inflicted by the victim. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation will investigate the death, as required by state statute.  Lyon County officials say there were no indications from Heard that he may have considered self-harm.  An autopsy will be performed as part of the KBI's investigation. (Read more.)

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Kansas Man Sentenced for Role in January 6 Capitol Riot

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A 32-year-old Kansas man has been sentenced to two years of probation for participating in the January 6th riot at the U.S. Capitol. Mark Roger Rebegila, of St. Marys, was also sentenced Wednesday to 30 days of home detention, a $2,000 fine and 60 hours of community service. Prosecutors say the man went into the U.S. Capitol twice that day and entered two offices. He was not accused of any violence or property destruction. Rebegila apologized for his actions. He's the third of eight Kansans charged in the riot to be sentenced.

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Evacuation Orders Lifted for Western Kansas Town Threatened by Fire

LEOTI, Kan. (AP) - Evacuation orders have been lifted in a western Kansas town threatened by fire at a fertilizer plant. Officials in Wichita County have removed barricades to the town of Leoti and those evacuated from the town have been allowed to return home. Parts of the town were evacuated Tuesday because hazardous materials were involved in the fire at a Nutrien Ag Solutions plant in Leoti. No injuries were reported.

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Kansas Wildfire Season Should Be Winding Down but Seems to be Heating Up

HAYS, Kan. (KNS) - The Kansas wildfire season typically winds down around this time of year. But after months of drought, high winds and dry grass are creating prime fire conditions across the state. That’s bad news for firefighters. Chip Redmond is a volunteer captain with a rural department in Pottawatomie County, where he’s responded to more than a dozen wildfires in the past two weeks. He says his crew is frustrated and exhausted. "We are wore out," he said. "Equipment has been breaking because it's just been used excessively… it's running us ragged.” To make it worse, many departments, including Redmond’s, are shrinking. The National Volunteer Fire Council says the number of volunteer firefighters nationwide has dropped more than 15% since the 1980s.

(Additional Reporting...)

Little Relief in Sight During Kansas Wildfire Season

HAYS, Kan. (KNS) - Ongoing drought in Kansas is intensifying the state’s already long, dangerous wildfire season. Excess dry grass leftover from last year has provided the fuel for fires to burn hotter and more aggressively than normal. And, there have been stronger winds that help fires spread. In parts of north-central and northeast Kansas, wildfire danger indicators have been at -- or near -- record levels for more than a month. And Chip Redmond, a K-State meteorologist, says long-term weather projections don’t offer much good news. “Everything is the wrong way right now," he said. "Everything points to much drier conditions and warmer, even as you go into summer.” An advisory warning of critically dry conditions and extreme fire behavior covers most of Kansas through early next week. It’s the first time the state has seen this type of advisory since 2018.

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Kansas Deputy Sentenced for Stealing Cash, Drugs, Weapons from Evidence Locker

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - One of two former Sedgwick County sheriff's employees accused of stealing cash, drugs and weapons from the department's evidence unit has been sentenced to a suspended jail term and one year of probation. The Wichita Eagle reports that 47-year-old Marc Gordon was sentenced after pleading guilty earlier this month to one count of official misconduct and three counts of theft, all misdemeanors. Prosecutors say Gordon was a property and evidence technician with the agency when he and a supervisor stole more than $7,700 in cash, several pounds of cocaine, meth and other drugs and several Samurai-style swords. The missing evidence led the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office to dismiss or review dozens of drug cases. 

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City of Lawrence Will Return Sacred Boulder to the Kaw Nation

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) - A $5 million grant will help the Kaw Nation and University of Kansas move a sacred boulder from a city park in Lawrence to Kaw tribal land near Council Grove. White settlers forced the Kaw Indians from the area in the 1800s. And then turned the 20-ton quartzite boulder into a monument to their own arrival. James Pepper Henry is vice chairman of the Kaw Nation. "We're virtually invisible to the people of Kansas right now," he said.  "I would say, if I were to survey 10 people in the streets of Lawrence and ask them where the name of their state comes from, 9 out of 10 people could not tell you that the state of Kansas is named after the Kaw people or the Konza people.” A plan is now being crafted for the Lawrence park to recognize the Kaw and other Indigenous peoples who were forcibly removed from the region. Funding for the project comes from the Mellon Foundation.

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Bombardier Chooses Wichita for New U.S. Headquarters

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW) - Bombardier has announced that its Wichita facility will become its new U.S. headquarters. The aerospace company says Wichita was a logical choice because of its roots in aviation and opportunities for growth. Michel Ouellette is an Executive Vice President with Bombardier, which is based in Montreal. "The history of business aviation was written here and I'm so pleased to announce a new chapter here today," he said.  "We're all a part of it so be proud. This is great moment in time." The company says it's now actively recruiting to fill more than 180 jobs in Wichita and nearly 500 jobs across the U.S.  IIn addition to becoming the new U.S. headquarters, the manufacturer also announced the formation of Bombardier Defense - an expansion of its specialized aircraft division. The company says the defense market is a key growth area for them.

(AP version...)

Bombardier Makes Wichita Its American Headquarters

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Bombardier officials say Wichita will now be the company's U.S. headquarters, and it is planning to fill nearly 200 jobs in the city. The company announced Tuesday that Wichita will be the home of the newly named Bombardier Defense division. Bombardier officials said they are recruiting up to 500 jobs across the country, of which about 200 will be in Wichita. Bombardier also confirmed it has received additional orders for modified versions of its Global 6000 aircraft, as part of a potential $465 million order from the U.S. Air Force.

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Kansas Governor Announces Food Company’s $110 Million Investment in Olathe

TOPEKA, Kan. (Kansas Reflector) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly touted Tuesday a food company’s $110 million investment for an automated distribution center in Olathe that could create more than 125 new jobs. The distribution complex for Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, will span nearly 20 million cubic feet. Company officials say the facility modification will decrease costs and increase reliability for the company to handle and transport goods. Kelly says the project represents a win for the whole state. “Lineage Logistics’ decision to build the Smithfield Foods distribution center in Kansas is confirmation that our central location, strong infrastructure and world-class workforce are exactly what companies need to expand business operations,” Kelly said. Lineage designed the warehouse to be state-of-the art. “This advanced, fully-automated new facility speaks volumes to the innovation we are excited to have in Kansas," said Lieutenant Governor and Commerce Secretary David Toland. (Read more.)

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Kansas Competes with other States to Lure $4 Billion Megaproject

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas has been on an economic development roll lately. But a decision on what could be the biggest business recruitment prize in state history keeps getting delayed. Just this week, a pharmaceutical company and a major food producer announced plans to invest more than $750 million in new Kansas facilities. But state officials are still waiting to see if a $1 billion incentive package that lawmakers approved in February will be enough to win the competition for a $4 billion mystery project. Officials can’t name the company, but numerous published reports say Panasonic is looking at locations in Kansas, Oklahoma and perhaps Texas to produce electric vehicle batteries. Oklahoma’s Republican Governor, Kevin Sitt, is making a late push to keep that state in the running with new incentives. "I’m asking the Legislature to do what we call some special mega-legislation," he said. Kansas officials declined comment when asked what was delaying the company’s decision.

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Kansas Governor Vetoes Special Pension Measure for Lawmakers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has vetoed a measure tucked into a budget measure that would have allowed Kansas legislators to reconsider a decision not to join the state pension system for teachers and government workers. The state constitution gives governors the power to veto individual items in spending bills even while signing them. Kelly used it Wednesday to strike what she called "an exclusive opportunity" for members of the Republican-controlled Legislature that's not available to other public employees. State law currently gives lawmakers one chance to decide whether they will participate in the state pension system. The vetoed provision would allow them to reverse course before their 2023 session starts.

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Kansas City Man Allegedly Stabbed Child During Police Chase

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ The Jackson County Prosecutor's office says a Kansas City man stabbed a toddler during a police chase. KCTV-TV reports the 18-month-old boy underwent emergency surgery and remains in intensive care. Blue Springs police say the chase began early Monday when Tabatha Ong drove away from a crash. Prosecutors say 24-year-old Anthony Beighley-Beck, a passenger in the car, stabbed the child during the chase. Court documents say he later told investigators he was afraid the boy would be given to relatives who would abuse him. Beighley-Beck is charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action. Tabatha Ong is charged with endangering the welfare of a child.

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Kansas Woman Guilty of Fraud, Stealing $1 Million from JOCO Court

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - A 61-year-old woman who worked for the Johnson County District Court has pleaded guilty to a fraud and tax scheme netting about $1 million. Dawna Kellogg, of Williamsburg, Kansas, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to wire fraud and filing a false tax return. Prosecutors say Kellogg managed the Johnson County District Court's accounting department. Between January 2007 and June 2017, she stole a total of about $1.1 million from the court. Sentencing is scheduled for August 16.  

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Douglas County Leaders Consider Proposed Solar Farm Regulations Again

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - This week, Douglas County leaders are again considering proposed standards for solar farms in the county, just a few weeks after their last discussion on the topic.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the proposed regulations spell out details, such as how large solar farms in the county can be and how far they must be set back from roads, homes and other structures. They also limit the amount of grading on the site, and restrict the height of individual solar panels to 15 feet. At their meeting today (WED), county commissioners could take a number of actions related to the proposed regulations. They could vote to approve the regulations with or without changes and direct county staff to prepare a resolution to adopt them. They could also vote to defer action until a future meeting and direct staff to revise the regulations, or they could vote to deny them entirely.

The most recent discussion on the topic took place during a study session at the end of March focused on agrivoltaics, the concept of using land for solar power generation and agriculture simultaneously. Commissioners had a number of questions about the topic — especially regarding the technical challenges of multi-use land and how it could complicate leases and business arrangements among private land owners, solar corporations and agriculture businesses like grazers or planters.

Regulations for solar farms have been a topic of discussion in Douglas County recently, in part because Florida-based energy firm NextEra last year expressed interest in developing a larger-scale farm partially located in Douglas County. (Read more.)

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Cause of Explosion, Fire at Haven Gas Plant Still Unknown

HAVEN, Kan. (AP) _ Investigators still don't know what caused an explosion and fire at a gas plant in south-central Kansas last week. The State Fire Marshal's office says investigators have not been able to determine what caused the blast at the Haven Midstream Gas Plant last week, but no foul play is suspected.  Two people suffered minor injuries in last Thursday's explosion at the plant near Haven. 

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This Week Marks 27th Anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing

UNDATED (KPR) - Tuesday marked the 27th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.  It was on April 19, 1995 that an explosion ripped through the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people and injuring more than 680 others. The blast destroyed much of the building and it later had to be demolished.  The explosion damaged or destroyed more than 300 other buildings in the area. Two former Fort Riley soldiers and anti-government extremists - Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols - were convicted in the terrorist attack.  McVeigh and Nichols built a massive bomb in Kansas and McVeigh rented a Ryder truck in Junction City to carry the bomb to Oklahoma City. McVeigh was executed for the crime. Nichols remains in a maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado, serving a life sentence.

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New Rules Affect Young Kansas Drivers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Fifteen-year-olds in Kansas will be able to drive by themselves to and from worship services and other religious activities, starting in July. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has signed into law a bill approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature to expand driving privileges for holders of restricted licenses. The law already allows 15-year-olds to drive by themselves to and from work. This change will allow them to drive to and from religious activities from 6 am to 9 pm. A restricted license also already allows 15-year-olds to drive anywhere at any time if an adult with a valid license is sitting in the front passenger's seat.  

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New Kansas Laws Establish Boll Weevil Program, Let Drinkers Roam Freely at State Fair

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - One new Kansas law will make the state fair home to drinkers who are free to roam the fairgrounds with their alcohol.  Another new law allows the state to tax each bale of home-grown cotton up to $2 to pay for efforts to get rid of the bug that ruins cotton crops. On Monday, Governor Laura Kelly signed bills on beer and wine sales at the state fair and another to create a program for combating boll weevil infestations. At the state fair, patrons 21 and older already can consume beer and wine in designated buildings and areas, but the new law will allow them to walk outside those areas with their drinks within boundaries marked off with a barrier.

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With Growing Caseload, Kansas Supreme Court Creates More Judicial Positions

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - The Kansas Supreme Court is creating 23 new judicial positions across the state. The new positions were made possible by additional funding approved by lawmakers and the governor. The new positions are needed because caseloads continue to grow in the Kansas court system. It’s the first time new judge positions have been created since 2008. New judges will take over all across the state but some of the more populous judicial districts in Kansas will get new positions, like districts that include Shawnee, Johnson and Sedgwick County. Some of the judges will be elected to their positions and take over in January. The other judges will be appointed and then must stand for retention elections.

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Man Charged in Killing of 16-Year-Old in Johnson County

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Court records show a 19-year-old has been charged in the shooting death of a 16-year-old in Johnson County. The Kansas City Star reports Robert Lewis Jones, of Kansas City, is charged with first-degree murder in the April 10 shooting in Mission, Kansas. Police have not released the name of the 16-year-old victim. A 13-year-old girl was also shot and hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening. Mission Police Chief Dan Madden says the investigation is continuing and more arrests are expected.

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KC Man Convicted Again in Fatal Gas Station Shooting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Kansas City man has again been convicted of carrying out the fatal shooting of another man outside a central Kansas City gas station. Television station WDAF reports that a judge on Friday found 45-year-old Timothy Fernandez guilty of second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the February 2019 death of 40-year-old Michael Bryan in the city's Crossroads District. Police say surveillance video showed the two men briefly speaking before Bryan walked away. Police say the video then shows Fernandez shooting Bryan in the back. Police used DNA gathered from a tissue discarded by the shooter to link Fernandez to the killing. Fernandez was found guilty of the same counts in 2020, but was granted a new trial. He'll be sentenced at a later date.  

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Family IDs 1 of 2 People Killed in Wichita Hit-and-Run Crash

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — One of two people killed in a hit-and-run crash involving a motorcycle in Wichita over the weekend has been identified by his family. Television station KAKE reports that 20-year-old Levi Ward died from injuries sustained in the early Saturday morning crash. Ward's stepmother, Lana Ward, confirmed his death to KAKE. Police say the crash happened when a sport utility vehicle collided with a motorcycle carrying two people. Police say the crash killed both people on the motorcycle, which included Ward. The other victim's name has not been released. Police say the 23-year-old driver of the SUV fled the crash, but was later arrested when his father brought him back to the scene talk to investigators.

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Kansas Man Who Fatally Hurt Baby, then Played Video Games, Sentenced to More than 26 Years in Prison

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas father who reportedly played video games after fatally injuring one of his twin infant children has been sentenced to more than 26 years in prison. Television station KAKE reports that 25-year-old Marlin Williams Jr. was sentenced last week to 316 months in prison. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to second-degree murder in the January 2020 death of his 2-month-old son, Marrell, and to three counts of aggravated battery for abusing the baby and his twin sister. Williams told police he was frustrated with the infants' crying and squeezed his son's head “extra hard" before leaving the room to go play video games for around a half-hour. Doctors later found that Marrell had suffered two skull fractures and that his twin sister had suffered a broken femur.

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Washburn University President Plans to Retire in September

TOPEKA, Kan (AP) - Washburn University President Jerry Farley says he plans to retire in September. The university announced Monday that Farley will retire on September 30. He's led the school in Topeka since July 1997. After retirement, Farley will become president emeritus to focus on fundraising and international student recruitment. The Washburn Board of Regents will release details about its search for Farley's replacement in the coming weeks.  

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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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