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Headlines for Wednesday, October 19, 2022

 

In AG Bid, Kobach Wants to Rid Kansas of Ballot Drop Boxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Republican Kris Kobach wants to rid his state of ballot drop boxes and says as he's running for attorney general that discounting talk of election fraud is ignoring reality. An Associated Press survey of state election officials found expanded use of drop boxes in 2020 didn’t lead to any widespread problems. Kansas Secretary of State and Republican Scott Schwab says they are secure. But Kobach said Wednesday that allowing drop boxes prevents Kansas from enforcing a 2021 law making it illegal for individuals to deliver ballots for more than 10 other people. Kobach was secretary of state before Schwab and vice chair of President Donald Trump's short-lived commission on voter fraud.

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Kansas Governor Hopes to Expand Capacity for Child Care Centers

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas Governor Laura Kelly's administration says it's trying to expand capacity at child care facilities that have been jam packed the past few years. The Kansas News Service reports that Kelly wants to expand the range of children's ages that facilities are allowed to accept, which she says will increase capacity. Kelly says the changes come after conversation with parents, child safety experts and businesses across the state. Some estimates say Kansas has only half the child care slots needed. The proposal must go through public comments where parents can weigh in on whether they support the suggestions.

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As Kansas Lawmakers Tour State Prison, Public and Reporters Barred from Meeting

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - Reporters and the general public have been banned from attending a meeting where lawmakers tour a recently reconstructed state prison in Lansing.  According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Kansas Legislative Research Department meeting schedule shows the Joint Committee on State Building Construction was scheduled to meet at 9 am Wednesday at Lansing Correctional Facility. Emails from the KLRD to committee members called it a meeting. Yet, legislative staffers now say the meeting isn't a meeting.  KLRD staffer Shirley Morrow said in an email. "No business will be discussed on this tour." The implication is that members of a committee on building construction won't talk about anything related to building construction while touring a recent building construction project.

Lansing underwent major reconstruction work on buildings after a 2018 groundbreaking. The state building construction committee was directly involved in the project. A Kansas Department of Corrections spokesperson referred inquires to KLRD and didn't respond to a question about reporters being allowed on the tour without KLRD approval.

State statute defines meetings to including "discussing the business or affairs" of a public body. It doesn't matter whether the gathering is called a tour or a meeting.

Max Kautsch, president of the Kansas Coalition for Open Government, said the meeting is "too intrinsically related" to the committee's work "to credibly claim that its members would not discuss Committee business during a tour." He said the public should be allowed to attend. "The notion that a majority of the members of a public body could gather, and then not discuss public business, tends to rub Kansans the wrong way," Kautsch said. While KOMA allows the Legislature to create rules that exempt meetings from public meetings requirements, legislative leadership has instituted no such rule to exempt committee tours. Tours of state agency buildings have been treated as public meetings in the past, evidenced by KLRD staff taking meeting minutes.

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Neosho County Attorney Linus Thuston Faces Criminal Investigation by State Authorities

CHANUTE, Kan. (Kansas Reflector) — Neosho County prosecutor Linus Thuston is under fire. The Kansas Reflector reports that Thuston makes no apologies for cutting deals with child rapists, expanding the use of diversions to pad his office budget, or using his power at the top of the county’s criminal justice system to benefit his private practice clients. Outspoken community leaders are frustrated with the prosecutor's behavior and say he presides over a kingdom of fear in this rural southeast Kansas county. Thuston, a church deacon and Army National Guard veteran, dismisses questions about conflicts of interest, saying people who dislike him just have an ax to grind.

The Kansas Reflector gathered thousands of pages of documents, including some that are confidential, and conducted interviews with numerous sources over the course of a six-month investigation into concerns about Thuston. The current and former Neosho County sheriffs say “justice is for sale” in the form of diversion agreements approved by Thuston, sometimes for felony crimes. The county commission doesn’t trust Thuston’s handling of finances. The Disciplinary Administrator’s Office, which reviews complaints against attorneys for the Kansas Supreme Court, has determined three times that Thuston committed ethics violations but allowed him to keep practicing law. (Read more.)

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Education Officials: Chronic Absenteeism Among Kansas Students Has Doubled

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - The number of Kansas students who are chronically absent from school has almost doubled over the past two years. Education leaders say schools need to reverse the trend. The Kansas News Service reports that new data from the Kansas Department of Education show that more than one in four students was chronically absent last school year. That means they missed at least 10% of school, or about a month of instruction. Schools with higher numbers of low-income students, students of color and new, English-language learners recorded higher absenteeism. Education Commissioner Randy Watson says the trend is especially troubling for young students. "Children in the early grades — chronically absent in pre-K, kindergarten, first — are much less likely to be able to read at grade level by the time they get to third grade," he said. Watson also said students who are chronically absent miss critical instruction and tend to drop out of school. It’s not clear what caused the huge drop in attendance, but officials say changes in school habits during COVID-19 likely played a role. Officials say schools should engage with families to see what might be causing students to miss class. Schools can also offer incentives for attendance.

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USDA's Livestock Assistance Program Hopes to Help Kansas, Missouri Ranchers Deal with Drought

UNDATED (HPM) - The drought affecting Kansas and Missouri has been severe enough to activate a livestock assistance program in many counties.  Harvest Public Media reports that the program helps ranchers whose pastures have dried out. Ranchers in most of the counties in Kansas and half of Missouri’s counties have become eligible for the USDA’s livestock forage program, which makes cash payments to ranchers in counties affected by severe drought. Many ranchers are culling their cattle herds at a much higher rate than normal because they cannot feed them, says Todd Barrows of the Kansas Farm Service Agency. "That will impact the future of the number of animals available, which is going to impact our meat supply chain," he said. This program and others that assist with water, feed or livestock transportation could help producers keep their herds intact and stay in business.

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New Aerospace Manufacturer Plans to Bring 155 Jobs to South-Central Kansas

WELLINGTON, Kan. (KWCH) - Aerospace manufacturer Pinnacle Aerospace plans to invest $14.7 million in a new facility in Wellington. KWCH TV reports that Governor Laura Kelly announced the news Monday. The aerospace parts manufacturer plans to hire 155 employees within the first five years of operation by working closely with the Cowley College Sumner Campus to hire qualified and local workers. The plant will build and assemble complex hard metal aerospace components for commercial, general, military, and space industries.

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State of Kansas Auctions Bison to Thin the Herd in Central Kansas

MCPHERSON, Kan. (KNS) - The state of Kansas is selling bison to help preserve a Kansas prairie. The Kansas News Service reports that 80 bison are up for auction next month with many coming from the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge in central Kansas. Cliff Peterson, with the Department of Wildlife and Parks, says having too many bison on the land causes overgrazing. If the animals eat too much grass, birds and other native species will struggle to survive. "It’s not only about the grazers, you know, and how much gain you can get for the grazers," he said. The auction at the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, east of McPherson, will be a chance for Kansans to get their own bison. According to wildlife experts, when animal numbers are kept in check, bison grazing helps stimulate the growth of the prairie.

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Carbon Monoxide at Kansas City School Sends 8 to Hospital

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City fire officials say six students and two adults were taken to a hospital for evaluations after a carbon monoxide leak at an elementary school. Emergency responders were called to Longfellow Elementary School Wednesday morning after several children reported being ill. Assistant Fire Chief Jimmy Walker said firefighters found “extremely high” levels of carbon monoxide inside the school. Walker said no one suffered life-threatening injuries. The cause of the leak is under investigation. Other students and staff were taken to another school for the day. A school district spokeswoman said the district had its heating systems checked last week and no problems were detected.

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Lawrence Man Sentenced to More than 13 Years in Prison for Attempted Murder

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - A Lawrence man who was convicted of trying to kill his pregnant girlfriend and one of his friends was sentenced in Douglas County District Court Tuesday to more than 13 years in prison for that incident and several other crimes. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that 38-year-old Charles Darnell Thomas was found guilty in August of two counts of attempted second-degree murder.  He was also found guilty of battery and aggravated endangerment of a child for a shooting incident that took place on July 8, 2020. On Tuesday, he was sentenced for those crimes, and he also pleaded no contest and was sentenced for DUI and two counts of battery on a law enforcement officer in an unrelated incident. In total, Judge Stacey Donovan sentenced Thomas to 13 years and one month.

In the incident from July 2020, Thomas was accused of beating his pregnant girlfriend with a gun in the trailer they shared and then firing the gun at the woman, a friend, and two children. Nobody was wounded by gunfire in that incident, but jurors at the trial in August heard witnesses say there was blood all over the floor from where Thomas had beaten the woman with the gun. Thomas testified in August that he had been smoking K2, a type of synthetic marijuana, on the day the incident occurred. He said that he thought the K2 was laced with PCP and that he wasn’t himself the day in question.

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KC Man Accused of Killing Brother with Sword After Argument over Pizza in the Oven

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KMBC) — A Kansas City man has been charged in the fatal stabbing of his brother after an argument over the use of an oven. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker says 38-year-old Aaron K. Winn has been charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action. KMBC TV reports that police were called Thursday to the 6200 block of Tracy Avenue for a reported cutting. Officers found the victim, Karl Winn, on the front porch. He had a sword through his chest. According to court records, Aaron Winn initially told detectives that his brother had committed suicide. He then told investigators that he had an argument earlier in the day with his brother over an oven being turned off while he was trying to cook a pizza. Aaron Winn is being held on a $750,000 bond.

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Lawrence City Commission Approves Raising Age to Buy Tobacco, Vaping Products to 21

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - City leaders in Lawrence have voted to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 and to establish a local tobacco sales license and enforcement process. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that city commissioners voted 5-0 Tuesday to adopt two ordinances that raise the age to buy tobacco, establish the local license procedures, and various new provisions regarding tobacco use. The changes would cover traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes, as well as synthetic products, such as e-cigarettes or vapes. The new ordinance will require any Lawrence tobacco retail business to obtain a $260 per year license before selling such products. To enforce the ordinance, a tobacco retailer will be subject to unannounced compliance checks, which would be conducted by the health department. Local health officials say they will be ready to begin the program January 1.

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Proposal Aims to Slow Depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer in Western Kansas

HAYS, Kan. (KNS) - A new proposal in western Kansas could slow the depletion of the declining Ogallala Aquifer by limiting irrigation. Under the plan, four counties in western Kansas might soon limit the amount of water farmers can use to irrigate crops. The Kansas News Service reports that a dozen area farmers gathered Monday at a public hearing in Scott City to learn more about the proposal. Here's how the plan would work: Farmers who have been pumping the most would need to cut their water use by up to 25%. But those who have been conserving water voluntarily might not get hit with any new restrictions. Camron Shay, who farms in Lane County, still has some questions about how to make the plan fair for everyone, but says it seems like a good first step. “People have concerns. Rightly so, rightly so. I was concerned when I came here. And I talked to a couple people and I feel a lot better about it," he said.

The public hearing in Scott City marked a big step toward establishing a new Local Enhanced Management Area or LEMA.  It’s a plan created by a board of local farmers that would require irrigators to cut their water use by an average of 10%. Katie Durham directs the groundwater district and says the survival of these communities depends on prolonging the aquifer’s life. “This is do or die. I mean, we want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. And I think doing it from the local level is always going to be more efficient and more publicly supported than doing it from the top down," she said. If the state approves the plan, the water use restrictions would go into effect early next year.

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KU Engineering Professor Wins $100,000 Award to Research Ways to Improve Water Quality

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — A University of Kansas professor has been awarded a $100,000 research prize to study a breakthrough approach to improving water quality. Belinda Sturm, KU professor of engineering, earned the award from the Water Research Foundation. Sturm’s research could allow municipal wastewater treatment plants to double their capacity without the need for expanding or adding new treatment equipment.
(Read more.)

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Kansas Economic Policy Conference Will Explore Policies for Economic Resilience

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — The 2022 Kansas Economic Policy Conference at the University of Kansas will explore “Building a Resilient Kansas Economy.” The conference takes place October 27 at the Burge Union on the KU campus in Lawrence. Organizers say the conference will bring together community leaders, policymakers and experts to consider timely and relevant questions. “This year’s conference focuses on economic resilience,” said Donna Ginther, director of the Institute for Policy & Social Research, the conference organizer. “Now that we’re moving past the pandemic, as a state, our focus should shift to making investments that position us for growth and prosperity in the next decade."

Kansas Public Radio's Statehouse Bureau Chief, Jim McLean, and Deb Miller, of the KU Public Management Center, will moderate the conversations. Registration for in-person or online attendance is available through the conference website. KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research is organizing the event.

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City of Wichita Cracks Down on Thefts of Catalytic Converters

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - The Wichita City Council has made it easier for the local police department to investigate and charge individuals for catalytic converter thefts. A new ordinance makes it more difficult for people to possess a detached catalytic converter. Police can charge someone with a crime if they have a catalytic converter but don't have paperwork that shows where it came from. Catalytic converter thefts have increased nearly 10-fold since 2019. Wichita Police Sergeant Bryan Safris addressed the city council and Mayor Brandon Whipple about the issue. “There’s no specific demographic where it’s influencing people. It’s everyone. Everyone in this community is affected by this," he said.  The Wichita Police department and other Kansas cities tried addressing thefts by encouraging residents to engrave an identifier on their converters, but police say the local effort has not been successful.

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Help Wanted: Kansas Public Radio Seeks New Statehouse Bureau Chief

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas Public Radio is seeking a new Statehouse Bureau Chief. This position works primarily at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka. Duties include managing all aspects of KPR’s capital news bureau, which provides broadcast and digital news reports to a number of radio stations in Kansas and Missouri. This position is primarily responsible for reporting on all aspects of state government. The KPR Statehouse Bureau Chief researches, writes, reports and produces spot news, digital stories and long-form audio features for KPR and its reporting partners. Learn more about this position.

The University of Kansas prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, age, ancestry, disability status as a veteran, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, gender identity, gender expression, and genetic information in the university's programs and activities. Retaliation is also prohibited by university policy.

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Nationwide Railroad Strike Still Possible

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCUR) - Railroad workers continue to vote on a tentative agreement with the five major U.S. freight railroads. That includes Kansas City Southern and BNSF. So far, one union has voted not to ratify the proposed agreement and that could trigger a costly, nationwide rail strike. The Biden administration hashed out the proposed labor agreement last month, narrowly averting a rail strike. It would boost workers’ pay by 24%, but it leaves work rules that union members consider to be harsh largely unchanged. So far, one of the 12 unions representing railroad workers has rejected the agreement, and six have approved it. But if one strikes, the others will strike in solidarity. The two largest unions, the ones representing locomotive engineers and conductors, won’t finish voting until mid-November. If there is a strike, it will likely come sometime afterward. A freight rail strike would be costly, but likely short lived. Congress has authority to impose a settlement if workers and railroads reach an impasse.

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Man Dies when Vehicle Driven by 12-Year-Old Boy Crashes in Western Kansas

QUINTER Kan. (WIBW) - Authorities say a man was killed Sunday afternoon when the pickup truck he was riding in - and that was being driven by a 12-year-old boy - crashed in Gove County, in western Kansas. WIBW TV reports that the crash was reported Sunday afternoon about two miles east of Quinter. According to the Kansas Highway Patrol, a 1977 Chevrolet pickup truck was traveling south on County Road 78 when, for an unknown reason, the vehicle began to skid sideways. The patrol said the pickup truck then entered a ditch, where it rolled over before coming to rest on its roof. A passenger in the truck, 36-year-old Benjamin J. Keller, of Quinter, was pronounced dead at the scene. The patrol said Keller wasn’t wearing a seat belt. The driver of the pickup truck, 12-year-old Landen Schmid, of Quinter, was transported to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita with serious injuries. The patrol said Schmid also wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

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Kansas Historical Society to Search Grounds of Former Native American School

FAIRWAY, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Historical Society plans to search the grounds of a former Native American boarding school to determine if any children were buried there. The site in Fairway, Kansas, housed students from several tribes in the 1800s and early 1900s. It was one of many schools across the country designed to assimilate Indigenous children into white American culture and Christianity. Leaders of Native American tribes want to determine if children were buried in unmarked graves at the site. Leaders of the Shawnee Tribe raised concerns about the proposal, saying they were not consulted about the search. Kansas officials contend they have consulted with the tribes.

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University of Kansas Returning Native American Remains

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas says it is returning Native American remains and sacred objects in its museum collections. The university says it recently was made aware that it possessed Indigenous remains, funeral objects and other sacred objects. The exact number of remains and artifacts found has not been disclosed. The university said in a statement that it is verifying inventory of its Native American artifacts across campus. Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Bichelmeyer has apologized to the Native American community. The university plans to form an advisory committee, consult with tribal nations and create institutional repatriation policies.

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Junction City Man Makes 2nd Appearance on TV Talent Show "The Voice"

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (KSNT) — A Junction City man made his second national television appearance Monday night. Justin Aaron is competing to make his voice heard around the world on NBC’s hit show "The Voice."  KSNT TV reports that Aaron was picked up by Team Gwen after singing “Glory” by John Legend in his blind audition. Aaron says the experience so far has been amazing. Aaron adds while he’s still alive in the competition, it’s hard for him to see the ones he now considers family get sent home. But he says that he is still very close with his former opponents and talks to them on a daily basis. This isn’t the last song you’ll see Aaron perform on T.V. You can follow is journey on NBC's "The Voice."

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North Carolina No. 1 in Preseason AP Top 25 Men's Basketball; KU Tied for Fifth

UNDATED (AP) – North Carolina is No. 1 in the preseason AP Top 25 men's basketball poll. The national runner-up from last season returns four of five starters and received 47 of 62 first-place votes. Gonzaga is No. 2, followed by Houston and Kentucky. Kansas and Baylor, the last two national champions, are tied for fifth. Duke, led by new coach Jon Scheyer, is seventh with UCLA, Creighton and Arkansas rounding out the top 10. The Big 12 and SEC lead the way with five teams apiece in the Top 25.

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Hold Your Breath: Big 12 Games Keep Coming Down to the Wire

UNDATED (AP) – Just about every game in the Big 12 this season has come down to the final minutes. Of the 17 so far, 12 have been decided by 10 points or fewer. Nine games have been decided by one possession and three in overtime. Iowa State has lost four times by a combined 14 points. TCU and Kansas State are still unbeaten in Big 12 play. They have combined to win four one-possession games. The Horned Frogs and Wildcats play each other on Saturday.

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Big 12 Conference Football to Go Without Divisions as 14-Team League in 2023-24

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Big 12 will continue to operate without divisions in football next season. That's when Central Florida, Cincinnati, BYU and Houston join the league to create a 14-team conference. It will end the current round-robin scheduling framework. Every school will play nine conference games, just as they have since it became a 10-team league, and schools will play each other at least once in each two-year period. Traditional rivalries, or at least those left after realignments, will be preserved. The schedule is due out in December.

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Chiefs See Defenses Vary from Norm in Preparing for Them

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Perhaps no other team in the NFL sees a greater variety of defenses, and vast departures from an opponent's norm, than the Kansas City Chiefs. And while part of it has to do with Patrick Mahomes running the plays, and part of it Andy Reid calling them from the sideline, the biggest factor may be the fact that they've been working so seamlessly for so long. So defenses have learned they have no choice but to do things out of their own comfort zone, in effect throwing Reid and the Chiefs a curveball in their game prep. And that leads to interesting in-game chess matches.

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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. And follow KPR News on Twitter.

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