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Headlines for Wednesday, June 24, 2020

City of Topeka Looks to Cut Jobs in Wake of Budget Crisis

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The city of Topeka is looking to cut more than 30 jobs next year to deal with a $5 million budget deficit resulting from efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.  On Tuesday, Topeka City Manager Brent Trout proposed cutting 32 full-time positions and reducing at least one position to part time in 2021. The mayor and City Council will consider the proposal before finalizing the budget in August. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 14 of the cuts would be with the public works department. The proposed cuts come as reduced sales tax revenues have left the city struggling to balance its budget for this year.

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Kansas Closes in on 13,000 Cases of COVID-19, Including 261 Deaths

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — Kansas has recorded 12,970 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.  That number includes 261 deaths.  State health officials released those numbers Wednesday. Cases have been reported in 94 of the state's 105 counties. The next update is expected Friday. Wyandotte, Ford and Finney counties have recorded the highest number of cases (Wyandotte County = 2,030; Ford County = 1,963;  Finney County = 1,528).

(The Kansas Department of Health and Environment releases new data on COVID-19 case numbers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.)

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Jump in Kansas COVID-19 Cases Biggest in More Than 6 Weeks

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has seen its largest jump in new coronavirus cases in more than six weeks with an increase of more than 500 cases in two days. The state health department on Wednesday reported a total of 12,970 cases of the novel coronavirus, up 4.1% from Monday. Gov. Laura Kelly has urged local officials to postpone lifting their last restrictions on businesses and public activities for another two weeks. The state also reported an additional two deaths since Monday, bringing the total to 261 since the pandemic began in early March. The state hasn’t seen such a spike in new cases since the first half of May.

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Kansas Governor Urges Communities to Slow Reopening Plans

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly is recommending that communities wait a little bit longer before moving to the next phase of reopening as coronavirus cases increase. The "Phase Out" stage of Kelly's Ad Astra reopening plan was set to begin Monday, but Kelly and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment are now advising communities to stay in Phase 3 for at least two more weeks. The main difference is that Phase 3 limits mass gatherings to no more than 45 people. The "Phase Out" stage merely urges social distancing but doesn't limit the size of crowds. The ultimate decision, though, remains with local officials.

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12 Test Positive for COVID-19 at KNI 

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR)  At least 12 people at the Kansas Neurological Institute in Topeka have tested positive for COVID-19.  The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services says five staff members and seven residents at KNI tested positive.  The agency is also reporting the first case of coronavirus at Osawatomie State Hospital, where one staff member tested positive.  The Kansas Department of Health and Environment, KNI, and local health officials are expanding testing, with a goal of testing all staff members as soon as possible. 

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Kansas Governor Creates Commission on Racial Justice Issues

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has appointed a commission to examine policing and other racial justice issues and named the superintendent of Topeka’s public schools and a state university administrator to lead it. Kelly issued an executive order Wednesday to create the Commission on Racial Equity and Justice. She said it would focus first on relationships between law enforcement agencies and the communities they police and develop policy proposals for state and local officials. The governor promised her administration would tackle such issues following George Floyd’s death May 25 in Minnesota. The commission's leaders are Topeka Superintendent Tiffany Anderson and University of Kansas associate dean Shannon Portillo.

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KDOL Secretary Resigns After Agency Makes Duplicate Unemployment Payments to Thousands

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Embattled Kansas Labor Secretary Delia Garcia has resigned amid escalating problems with the state's unemployment insurance caseload. Governor Laura Kelly announced Monday that she had accepted Garcia's resignation and appointed the governor's Deputy Chief of Staff Ryan Wright as acting secretary until a permanent candidate is nominated. On June 10, duplicate payments totaling $7 million were made to more than 4,500 claimants of pandemic unemployment assistance and compensation programs. The Labor department last week reversed those payments, causing some recipients' bank accounts to be overdrawn.  (Read more.)

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Some Kansans Eligible for Extended Unemployment Benefits

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansans struggling to find work amid the coronavirus pandemic can receive unemployment for 13 more weeks. The Kansas Department of Labor has announced that the state qualified for a program that provides federal reimbursement for extended benefits during periods of high unemployment.  The Wichita Eagle reports that workers must have exhausted regular unemployment insurance benefits to qualify. New data released Friday shows Kansas has more than 12,000 coronavirus cases.  That was up 3%, or 378 cases, from Wednesday. The state health department also said the number of COVID-19 deaths rose by seven to 254.

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Suit: Kansas Official Must Disclose Uncounted Ballot Names

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) _ A lawsuit accuses the top election official in Kansas of violating the state's open records law by refusing to release the names of people who cast provisional ballots or say whether their votes were counted. The American Civil Liberties Union sued Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab in Shawnee County District Court on Wednesday. The lawsuit seeks a court order forcing Schwab to disclose the information. It was filed on behalf of voting rights advocate Davis Hammet and Loud Light, a non-profit group whose mission is to increase voter turnout. 
 
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Passenger in Stolen Car Killed After Topeka Police Halt Pursuit  

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a passenger in a car that was reported stolen has been killed in a Topeka crash after police called off a pursuit. Police said in a news release that an officer attempted to stop the speeding car around 5:20 am Monday, about an hour after receiving a report that the the vehicle had been stolen at gunpoint. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the officer lost sight of the vehicle and ended the pursuit. But a separate officer then observed the stolen vehicle being driven at a high rate of speed before it crashed into a pickup truck. Police said in the release that officers weren’t in pursuit of the car at the time of the crash.

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Kansas City Officer Pleads Not Guilty in Black Man's Death

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 41-year-old Kansas City police detective has pleaded not guilty in the death of a Black man who was killed last year while sitting in his truck. Eric DeValkenaere is charged with first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the December 3 shooting death of 26-year-old Cameron Lamb. DeValkenaere, who has been suspended from the police force, pleaded not guilty Tuesday. Court records say DeValkenaere was one of two officers who went into Lamb's backyard while investigating an earlier disturbance. DeValkenaere told investigators he shot Lamb after he saw him reach for a gun and aim it at the second officer.

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Bagged Grocery Store Salad Sickens More than 100 in 7 States

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration has recalled bagged salad distributed to a dozen Midwestern states by Hy-Vee, Aldi and Jewel-Osco  grocery stores after 122 people in seven states were sickened.  Nineteen have been hospitalized. The salad mix is contaminated with cyclospora, a parasite that can cause severe diarrhea. The salad mix is packaged as Hy-Vee Brand Garden Salads, Jewel-Osco Signature Farms Brand Garden Salads, and ALDI Little Salad Bar Brand Garden Salads. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the most people sickened are in Iowa with 54 and Illinois with 30. Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin also have reported illnesses.

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6 Killed in Kansas Crash Were Finishing Cross-Country Drive

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Relatives say three adults and three children had been driving for nearly 20 hours when they were killed in a fiery crash in Kansas less than an hour from their destination. They collided with another vehicle Thursday evening on the Kansas 10 bypass. Sheriff's officials say the driver of the other vehicle was seriously hurt. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the victims were Anico Kirk; her three daughters, 11-year-old Yamel Kirk, 9-year-old Umariel Lee and 4-year-old Nah’Liyah Cay; Kirk’s brother, Maurice Ross; and longtime family friend Felecia Harvey. Kirk's uncle says the six were driving from Lakeland, Florida, to Topeka.

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Report: 25% of Kansas Wheat Harvested

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Farmers have harvested a quarter of the winter wheat crop in Kansas, making about average progress for this time of year. The National Agricultural Statistics Service also reports that 68% of the wheat in Kansas is now mature. It rated the condition of the wheat still out in the field as 6% excellent, 38% good and 33% fair. The agency reported that 16% was in poor condition, with another 7% of the crop rated as very poor.

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Omaha Man Gets Prison for More Than $800,000 in Medicare Fraud

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An Omaha man has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison and ordered to pay more than $809,000 in restitution for Medicare fraud he conducted in 16 states. Federal prosecutors say Nereus Sutko visited assisted-living facilities, retirement centers and low-income housing complexes in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and 12 other states. Prosecutors say he held pizza and ice cream parties at the facilities and convinced elderly people to sign up for Medicare-funded products he never delivered. Prosecutors say Sutko was paid more than $1.8 million by Medicare, Nebraska Medicaid and Iowa Medicaid, much of it based on fraudulent claims. Sutko pleaded guilty in December to health care fraud.

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Bayer Paying up to $10.9 Billion to Settle Monsanto Weedkiller Case

BERLIN (AP) — German pharma giant Bayer says it’s paying up to $10.9 billion to settle litigation over subsidiary Monsanto’s weedkiller Roundup. Monsanto has faced numerous lawsuits over claims that Roundup causes cancer. Bayer said Wednesday that it's also paying up $1.22 billion to settle two further cases, one involving PCB in water. The company says the Roundup settlement involves about 125,000 filed and unfiled claims. Under the agreement, Bayer will make a payment of $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to resolve current litigation over Roundup, and $1.25 billion to address potential future litigation. The company continues to maintain that Roundup is safe.

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ACLU Urges Missouri Schools to Drop Resource Officers

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri is urging school districts to remove police officers from schools. St. Louis Public Radio reports that the ACLU has circulated a letter to nine school administrators so far, mostly in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. The ACLU says money spent on school resource officers should instead go to the social-emotional needs of children, such as by hiring more social workers and counselors. Luz María Henríquez, executive director of ACLU Missouri, said there is “no evidence that increased police presence in schools improves school safety.”

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