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Headlines for Wednesday, July 14, 2021

School Board: Critical Race Theory Not Taught in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas State Board of Education has released a statement saying that critical race theory is not part of state academic standards after hearing from at least one candidate for office who is claiming that it is. Board Chairman Jim Porter, a Fredonia Republican, said it was important for the board to issue a statement partly because he had read a comment from an unnamed candidate for office that inaccurately claimed that critical race theory is being taught in Kansas schools. Board Member Jean Clifford, a Garden City Republican, said not commenting on the issue could be interpreted as a statement in itself. The board approved the statement Wednesday.

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Police Probing 5 Overdose Deaths in Wichita Since July 5

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Wichita are investigating following five suspected drug overdose deaths in the city over a nine-day period. Police say in a news release that in each case, evidence of crack cocaine use was found. Police say a 38-year-old woman was the first to die on July 5, followed by a 48-year-old woman on July 11. The next day, police found a 56-year-old man dead, and on Tuesday, a 67-year-old man and a 44-year-old woman likely overdosed at a Wichita motel and died. Police did not give the names of those who died. Police said autopsies and toxicology reports would determine the cause of each of the deaths.

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GOP Senator Asks if Background Checks Were Adequate as State Ramped Up Unemployment Staffing

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Republican lawmaker is questioning whether Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s administration may have worsened unemployment fraud by not conducting adequate background checks on hundreds of people hired to help with a surge in claims during the pandemic. State Senator Caryn Tyson of Parker raised the issue Tuesday as the state prepares to launch a unemployment fraud investigation. She serves on a new state council charged with auditing unemployment fraud and says she wants the audit to examine what kind of checks the state did on more than 400 workers it hired. Democratic State Representative Stephanie Clayton of Overland Park says the state hired workers quickly because lawmakers demanded it.

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Increasingly Larger Numbers of COVID-19 Cases Seen in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas is seeing increasingly larger numbers of new COVID-19 cases and a surge in cases of the faster-spreading delta variant. State health officials say Kansas averaged 371 new cases a day for the seven days ending Monday. That's the highest figure in more than four months. Officials are also reporting a nearly 28% increase in confirmed cases of the delta variant since Friday.  Meanwhile, Wyandotte County's health department has announced plans to expand an existing vaccine lottery.

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COVID-19 Outbreaks Blamed on Summer Camps

UNDATED (AP) - The U.S. has seen a string of COVID-19 outbreaks tied to summer camps in recent weeks in places such as Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Illinois and Florida, offering what some fear could be a preview of the upcoming school year.  The clusters have come as the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. has reversed course, surging more than 60% over the past two weeks from an average of about 12,000 a day to about 19,500.  The rise in many places has been blamed on too many unvaccinated people and the highly contagious delta variant.

Southwest Missouri Hospital Bracing for More COVID-19 Cases

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - A Springfield, Missouri, hospital has opened its sixth COVID-19 ward as the delta virus variant rages in the state's southwest region. Mercy Hospital in Springfield announced the new ward as the hospital was treating 133 virus patients. Hospital officials say the hospital needed, at most, five virus wards last year. Many people in rural areas of southern Missouri remain unvaccinated. Many people from rural areas don't have nearby hospitals, so they come to Mercy Hospital in Springfield.

Trend of Rising Coronavirus Cases Reaching Central Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A coalition of Oklahoma medical professionals says the increase in coronavirus cases is starting to reach central Oklahoma. Dr. David Kendrick with the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition said Tuesday that the number of positive tests in Oklahoma County has risen from about 2% on July 2 to 5.8%. Members of the coalition say the increase appears to have entered Oklahoma from Missouri and Arkansas, which are 1st and 2nd in the nation in new coronavirus cases per 100,000 population. Oklahoma ranks 10th in the nation with 11.66 new cases per capita.

Missouri Governor: Health Officials Play COVID-19 Blame Game

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Governor Mike Parson says some officials at Springfield hospitals are trying to find someone to blame for a large increase in COVID-19 cases in the region. Officials at Springfield's two largest hospitals have been publicly warning the public that the delta variant is causing a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The increase prompted Springfield officials to cancel a popular Route 66 festival scheduled for mid-August. And last week, Mercy health care officials said it would require employees at all its hospitals to be vaccinated by late September. Parson said Tuesday that health officials should encourage people to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but should not try to scare them into doing so.

Rural Hospitals in Kansas, Missouri Get Federal Money to Fight COVID-19

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW/KNS) - Small rural hospitals in Kansas are set to receive nearly $24 million from the federal government to continue the fight against COVID-19.  The grant, from the Department of Health and Human Services, is meant to help smaller rural hospitals increase their COVID-19 mitigation and testing capacities. The money will split between the 91 hospitals in Kansas that have fewer than 50 beds. The $23.5 million Kansas hospitals will receive is second only to Texas. The funding comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are beginning to increase again in some rural areas across the country, especially in southeast Missouri. In total, HHS is sending almost $400 million dollars to 46 states. Rural hospitals in Missouri will get $8.3 million.

Big 12's Bowlsby: 'Very Short-Sighted' for Players to Go Unvaccinated

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby says the league is doing everything it can to encourage vaccinations for all of its athletes. He says the conference won't mandate the shots. But those not getting vaccinated will be required to submit to multiple COVID-19 tests weekly. That's what every athlete had to do throughout the last school year during the pandemic. Bowlsby says it's very short-sighted to not get vaccinations. He says unvaccinated players risk being unable to play.

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New Case Linked to Illness Outbreak at Kansas Splash Park

GODDARD, Kan. (AP) — Health officials have identified another person infected with the bacteria that may have caused an outbreak of illness at a splash park near Wichita. State and Sedgwick County health investigators said Wednesday in a news release that at least seven people who visited Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Goddard, Kansas, on June 11 have now tested positive for the Shigella bacteria. Investigations are ongoing into other possible linked illnesses. The Shigella bacteria is spread from person-to-person through exposure to contaminated feces.

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16-Year-Old Suspected in 14-Year-Old Hesston Girl's Death  

NEWTON, Kan. (AP) - Newton police say a 16-year-old suspect is in custody after the shooting death of a 14-year-old Hesston girl. The girl, whose name has not been released, was shot Sunday night at a home where several teenagers were gathered. Police said in a Facebook post that the suspect was drunk and waving a gun around when the girl was shot. The suspect was arrested Monday morning.  

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2 Teenage Girls Accused of Running over Woman with Her Car

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Saline County authorities say two teenage girls are in custody after they allegedly stole a woman's car at a foster care facility and then ran over the woman when she tried to stop them from leaving. Saline County Undersheriff Brent Melander said two girls aged 14 and 17 ran from St. Francis Ministries in rural Saline County Monday evening. An employee jumped on the hood of her car when the girls tried to drive away. Melander says when the woman was eventually thrown off the hood, the girls drove over her before fleeing. The woman was hospitalized with injuries that are not life threatening. The girls were later arrested in Ellsworth.

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Kansas Man Who Skipped Sentencing Last Week Gets Prison

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A week after missing his first sentencing hearing, a Kansas man has been sentenced to more than 12 years in federal prison for carrying out a phony debt-selling scam involving millions of dollars. Joel Tucker, of Prairie Village, was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty last year to transporting stolen money, bankruptcy fraud and tax evasion. He was also ordered to pay more than $8 million in restitution to the IRS. Tucker had been set to  be sentenced last week, but did not show up for the hearing, and an arrest warrant was issued for him. His lawyers said Tucker was in Colorado dealing with a family matter.

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Authorities: Inmate Assaults Detention Deputy at Kansas Jail

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a detention deputy has been assaulted by an inmate at the Sedgwick County jail and has sustained multiple facial fractures. The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office says in a news release that the deputy was attempting to get the inmate to return to a cell early Tuesday after he had been let out to shower. Authorities say the inmate struck the deputy in the face with a closed fist at least twice, knocking him to the floor. The deputy received 15 stitches.

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Police, Civil Rights Groups Settle Missouri Protester Case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Civil rights groups say police in Kansas City, Missouri, have agreed as part of a lawsuit settlement to stop banning protesters from returning to areas in the city where protests were held. The ACLU of Missouri and the MacArthur Justice Center sued Kansas City, Missouri, police commissioners last year challenging what they called an unconstitutional verbal banishment order. The Kansas City police department did not immediately comment. The lawsuit stems from protests against police brutality and racial injustice last year at the Country Club Plaza, a popular dining and shopping district. About 100 people were arrested.

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Millions of Gallons of Untreated Wastewater Dumped into Blue River in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Authorities overseeing a Kansas City wastewater treatment plant say a storm-driven power outage over the weekend forced the plant to dump several million gallons of untreated wastewater into the Blue River. The KC Water Blue River Wastewater Treatment Plant dumped about 42.5 million gallons of untreated wastewater from Saturday afternoon into early Sunday. KC Water spokeswoman Heather Frierson says that came to a rate of about 3.4 million gallons an hour. The Blue River begins in Johnson County, Kansas, and flows across the state line before connecting with the Missouri River.  

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Police: 2 Killed, 3 Injured in House Fire in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police say two people were killed and three others injured after a house fire in northwest Kansas City. The Kansas City Star reports that police spokeswoman Donna Drake confirmed the two deaths and said two of the other victims suffered critical injuries in Wednesday's blaze. The victims' names and ages were not immediately available. Earlier in the day, fire officials said three children and one adult had been taken to local hospitals. 

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Missouri's AG Wants to Keep Kevin Strickland in Jail

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri Attorney General's office says longtime inmate Kevin Strickland is guilty of killing three people in Kansas City in 1978. In a motion filed Monday, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Clarke asked a judge to deny a petition seeking to exonerate Strickland and free him from prison. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and those who convicted Strickland, as well as other officials, have said Strickland is innocent and should be released. In Monday's filing, the attorney general's office said Baker's office has avoided, overlooked or misinterpreted evidence in the case against Strickland. On Monday, Circuit Judge Ryan Horsman set an evidentiary hearing in Strickland's case for August 12-13.

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Wichita Delays Vote on Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wichita City Council has put off a decision on a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance, saying it needed more community input even after two marathon public listening sessions. The Wichita Eagle reports that the proposal bans discrimination in employment, housing and businesses. About 40 people weighed in Tuesday during the three-hour meeting. Some described how discrimination has impacted their lives and others said that the ordinance would infringe on their religious liberties. The discussion focused mainly on sexual orientation and gender identity. The council tentatively agreed to take the proposal up again on October 12.

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Atchison Schools Pick Phoenix to Replace Former Mascot

ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — The Atchison school district will use the Phoenix as its new mascot. The Board of Education chose the new mascot on Monday night after months of discussion. The vote came despite a petition with more than 700 signatures asking the board not to act until it had gathered more public input. The board voted in April to replace the former Native American-themed Redmen mascot for the high school and Braves for the middle school. Board members said the Phoenix is a neutral symbol, and they wanted to make the choice before the school year started. 

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New Law Helps Kansans with Suspended Driver's Licenses Get Back Behind the Wheel

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW) - Governor Laura Kelly held a ceremonial bill signing last week for a new law aimed at making it easier for Kansans with suspended licenses to drive legally again. The bill eliminates the $25 fee drivers have to pay to apply for a restricted license, which allows them to drive to work, school and medical appointments. It also allows more drivers to apply for restricted privileges and eliminates a 90-day waiting period once fines and fees are paid. Sheila Officer is on the Wichita Racial Profiling Board, which helped push for the new legislation. "This is one useful and important step on a journey that will require more, much more, to liberate thousands of Kansans that are stranded by some antiquated motorist laws," she said. The Kansas Department of Revenue says nearly 206 thousand drivers have a suspended license - about half of them in Sedgwick County. The majority of suspensions are related to unpaid fines and fees.

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Governor Enacts First Missouri Gas Tax Hike in Decades

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Governor Mike Parson has signed into law the state's first gasoline tax increase in decades. The law will gradually raise the state’s 17-cent-a-gallon gas tax to 29.5 cents over five years, with the option for buyers to get a refund if they keep track of their receipts. The first 2.5-cent increase is slated to take effect in October, which will bring the gas tax to 19.5 cents. A conservative advocacy group’s Missouri chapter is trying to put the gas tax hike to a public vote in 2022.

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Wichita State to Charge Fees for Seniors Who Audit Courses

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita State University plans this fall to stop allowing Kansas residents 60 and older to audit its classes for free. The Wichita Eagle reports that the university sent a letter this month to people who’ve previously audited its classes to notify them of the fees. Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Shirley Lefever said the new fees will help cover instructional costs. The new fees range from $7.75 a credit hour for liberal arts courses to $68 a credit hour for business courses. Most courses are three credit hours. The move comes with the university planning to keep tuition flat for the upcoming school year.

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Missouri Governor to Remove Cap on College Tuition Increases

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A bill Governor Mike Parson is signing will end Missouri limits on college tuition increases. Currently, public colleges and universities can raise tuition to keep up with inflation, compensate for cuts in state aid or keep up with the average tuition rates across the state. The new law will allow college officials to raise tuition as much as they want beginning in July 2022. The wide-ranging legislation also will let college athletes profit off their fame and celebrity, although the NCAA preemptively scrapped rules against that earlier this month.

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Missouri Medicaid Expansion's Fate Up to State Supreme Court

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Lawyers arguing over Medicaid expansion in Missouri say the newly approved constitutional amendment should stand. A lawsuit over the implementation of Medicaid expansion was argued before the state Supreme Court Tuesday. A circuit court judge last month deemed the voter-approved amendment unconstitutional. Republican Governor Mike Parson is refusing to enact it after the GOP-led Legislature didn’t provide any new funding for it. The Attorney General's Office is defending Parson. The solicitor general asked judges to let the amendment stand and interpret it to give lawmakers the option to block funding for only newly eligible patients.

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All Black Female Unit from WW II Honored by Congress

BOSTON (AP) - An Army battalion that made history as the only all-female, Black unit to serve in Europe during World War II is set to be honored by Congress. The Senate has passed legislation that would award members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion with the Congressional Gold Medal. The bill is awaiting action in the House. The unit, also known as the "Six Triple Eight." The unit was tasked with sorting and routing mail for millions of American service members and civilians. Only a handful of more than 850 members are still alive. A monument honoring the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion stands in the Buffalo Soldier Military Park at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 

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Never Left Out Again: Big 12 Coaches Like 12-Team Playoff

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Big 12 coaches say they like the proposal to expand the College Football Playoff to 12 teams. They feel the conference would never be left out of the playoff again. Oklahoma and Iowa State missed the four-team playoff last season. But under a 12-team format, the Sooners would have made it for the sixth year in a row. The Cyclones would have become the first league team other than the Sooners to make it. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley says the proposed expansion plan is a great start. Any playoff changes are still at least a couple of years away.

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Year Since Washington Change, Native Sports Imagery Evolving

UNDATED (AP) - Washington's NFL team will not be called the Warriors or have any other Native American imagery in the new name when it's revealed next year. This week marks one year since Washington dropped the name Redskins and the accompanying Indian head logo after 87 years amid recent pressure from sponsors and decades of criticism that both are offensive to Native Americans. Team president Jason Wright confirmed Monday that the organization had decided to disassociate from any Native American names or likenesses moving forward. Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians also plan to change their name. Baseball's Atlanta Braves, the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks and the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs have shown no indication of doing so.

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