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Headlines for Wednesday, May 11, 2022

 

Kansas Governor Signs Bill Phasing Out Grocery Sales Tax

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has signed a plan from Republican lawmakers into law to phase out the state’s sales tax on groceries over three years. Kelly had a ceremony Wednesday at a grocery store in Olathe to fulfill a promise to sign the bill even though it is not as aggressive in eliminating the tax as she and fellow Democrats want. They had hoped to eliminate the entire 6.5% tax as of July 1. Only 13 states charge any sales tax on groceries. Kansas’ rate is second only to Mississippi’s 7%. The new law drops the tax to 4% in January, to 2% in 2024 and to zero in 2025.

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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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Kelly Signs Measure Promoting Computer Science

TOPEKA - (KPR) Governor Laura Kelly has signed a new law promoting computer science education in Kansas schools. The Kansas Reflector reports that the measure requires every secondary school to offer at least one computer science course beginning in the 2023-24 school year. The law will also require the State Board of Education to submit an annual report to the Legislature detailing the success of the programs. The law also provides  scholarships for students in rural areas and underrepresented socioeconomic groups to obtain training in computer science education. It allows the Kansas Board of Regents to provide scholarships of up to $1,000 for pre-service teachers working toward their degrees in elementary or secondary education.

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Kansas Schools Still Struggling to Find Substitute Teachers 

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Schools across Kansas are having trouble finding enough substitute teachers in the midst of labor shortages and a lingering pandemic. The Kansas Board of Education is considering new options for people who want to work as substitutes. Earlier this year the board approved a temporary license that allows anyone 18 or older with a high school diploma to work as a sub. Those special licenses end June 1st. But officials have proposed a new option that would allow people to work as substitute teachers without the normal requirement for 60 hours of college coursework. They would just have to take four hours of online training. Education Commissioner Randy Watson says lower standards are not an ideal solution but schools face unprecedented staffing shortages. For the third straight year, the state board will likely remove restrictions on the number of days a sub can teach in any one class.

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Kansas Board of Education Considers Changes to High School Graduation Requirements

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - High school students in Kansas could soon need more than just classroom credits to earn a diploma. A state task force has proposed adding community service, work experience and other activities to the list of graduation requirements. State Board of Education member Jim McNiece leads the group exploring the changes. He says adding real-world experiences will make it more challenging for students to graduate, and he says, that would be a positive change. “In terms of challenging them to look at school differently and to think about their future differently.”   McNiece said. An early proposal calls for students to complete two or more activities from a list that includes sports, community service, and pursuing college credits. The group says the changes would give students more flexibility in choosing which classes to take while also requiring them to acquire experience outside the classroom.

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Man Pleads No Contest in Bridge Shootings Near Leavenworth

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A 39-year-old man who authorities say randomly shot at drivers stopped on a bridge between Missouri and Kansas has pleaded no contest in the case. Jason Westrem, from Houston Lake, Missouri, entered the plea Wednesday to attempted first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Investigators said Westrem fired at least 20 rounds at construction workers and drivers stopped on the Centennial Bridge between Leavenworth, Kansas, and Platte County, Missouri, in May 2020. He was stopped when a soldier from Fort Leavenworth, Master Sgt. David Royer, hit Westrem with his vehicle. One person was injured and gunshots hit several vehicles. Authorities have not released a possible motive for Westrem's actions.

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Kansas Man Convicted of Killing 4-Month-Old Daughter in 2018

HAYSVILLE, Kan. (AP) — A southern Kansas man has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the 2018 death of his 4-month-old daughter. Television station KAKE reports that 36-year-old Andrew Franklin of Haysville pleaded no contest last month to the reduced charge and a single count of child abuse in the death of Brexley Grace Franklin. Andrew Franklin faces years in prison when he's sentenced June 6. Police say the baby girl died on September 13, 2018, five days after she was admitted to a hospital suffering from a skull fracture, retinal hemorrhages and bruises to her jaw. Franklin was initially charged with first-degree murder and two counts of child abuse.

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Tennis Player's Lawsuit Dismissed Due to Statute of Limitations

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A once top-ranked high school tennis player has lost her bid to hold the United States Tennis Association and the Kansas City Racquet Club liable for failing to prevent her coach from sexually abusing her. Adrienne Jensen filed the lawsuit two years ago when she was in her mid-20s,  Jensen alleged that Haultain “methodically groomed and manipulated” her, first by texting her and later by exposing himself to her, demanding nude pictures from her, pressuring her to have sex with him and ultimately penetrating her.  But U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum ruled that her claims were barred by the statute of limitations since she first reported the abuse by her coach at the racquet club as far back as 2010. The coach, Rex Haultain, pleaded guilty in 2013 to an unrelated charge of soliciting child pornography and was sentenced to 78 months in prison. Jensen moved to Kansas City with her parents in 2009, when she was 14, in order to train with Haultain. The United States Tennis Association did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on Lungstrum's ruling. Jensen's attorneys said they’re considering an appeal. 

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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 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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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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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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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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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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