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Headlines for Friday, February 26, 2021

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Governor's Aide: GOP Plan May Slow Kansas Emergency Response

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A top aide to Democratic Governor Laura Kelly warned Republican legislators Thursday that a proposal to curb the power of the governor and other Kansas officials could seriously hamper the state’s response to future public health emergencies. Kelly's chief of staff Will Lawrence objected to key portions of a bill from the state Senate’s top Republicans that would rewrite the state’s emergency management laws. He said the oversight by the attorney general and the Legislature required by the bill could delay a response to an emergency. Republicans were skeptical of that argument. Lawrence also urged legislators to extend a state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Kansas Republicans Propose Amendment Aimed at Limiting, Blocking State Regulations

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR/KNS) - Republican state lawmakers have introduced a constitutional amendment that would let the Kansas Legislature block regulations from agencies controlled by the governor and other state officials.  State regulations cover everything from health and safety policy to environmental protections and voting rules. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt wants to amend the state constitution so lawmakers can block regulations if they don’t approve.  “There simply is no check and balance that’s functional over agency regulations,” Schmidt said.  Democrats argue it’s a move by Republicans to grab more power and undermine the Democratic governor. Republican lawmakers and Democratic Governor Laura Kelly have clashed over some of her policies, but supporters of the amendment say the legislation is not directly aimed at her.

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Kansas Plan Puts $450 Million in COVID Funds in Unemployment System

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Kansas have advanced a new proposal to put $450 million in COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government into the state’s unemployment program to help cover losses from fraudulent claims. GOP members of the House commerce committee included the measure Friday in a bill aimed at overhauling the unemployment system. The committee approved the bill on a voice vote, sending it to the full House for debate, possibly as early as next week. GOP lawmakers are worried that employers, which pay taxes to finance unemployment benefits, will be on the hook to cover fraudulent claims. Some Democrats were wary of the proposal to set aside federal dollars.

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Kansas Legislative Audit: Bogus Unemployment Claims May Have Cost the State $600 Million

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A legislative audit says Kansas may have paid $600 million worth of bogus claims for unemployment benefits last year. The report released Wednesday by the GOP-controlled Legislature's nonpartisan auditing division gave a figure that's more than double the state Department of Labor's estimate. The report suggested that nearly one in four unemployment claims paid last year could have been fraudulent amid a surge in filings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The department on Tuesday estimated last year’s fraudulent claims as worth $290 million. The department strongly disputed the audit’s figure.  But Republican lawmakers saw the audit as likely to be more accurate. ( Read more in the Lawrence Journal-World.)

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Kansas Lawmakers Consider Legislation to Respond to Issues Arising from Pandemic

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are moving ahead with two measures that are a response to issues arising during the COVID-19 pandemic. One measure considered Wednesday is designed to help courts and prosecutors deal with a backlog of criminal cases. Another is a proposal to limit state and local officials’ power in setting restrictions in future pandemics. The House gave first-round approval to a bill that would suspend, until May 2024, a law that sets deadlines for criminal trials to protect defendants’ constitutional right to a speedy resolution of their cases. The Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on a bill rewriting the state's emergency management laws.

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Law Enforcement Expresses Opposition to Medical Marijuana Legalization

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Representatives from Kansas law enforcement groups spoke to the Kansas Legislature Thursday in opposition to a proposed bill that would legalize medical marijuana. Graham County Sheriff Cole Presley, representing the Kansas Sheriffs’ Association, said legal medical pot could open the door to even looser marijuana laws. “Almost every state that we’ve seen go down this path, this is just one step closer to legalizing recreational marijuana” Presley said. Other law enforcement concerns include more people driving under the influence. The legislation includes some provisions aimed at minimizing opposition. For instance, it would stipulate that physicians only prescribe the drug for certain conditions, and only to patients who’ve been in their care for at least a year.

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Trump Endorses Kansas Senator Jerry Moran; Primary Fight Less Likely

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Kansas Senator Jerry Moran for reelection in 2022. Trump's early backing makes it unlikely the two-term Republican will face a serious challenge in the GOP primary. Trump’s endorsement Thursday evening came less than two weeks after Moran voted with most Republican senators to acquit Trump on an impeachment charge of inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington. But Moran had voted to certify the results and the Clay County Republican Party censured him earlier this month. That suggested that Moran might face an August 2022 primary challenge. But a former GOP state chairman said Friday that Trump's endorsement could head off a challenge.

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Kansas Supreme Court Suspends Foul-Mouthed Judge from Bench

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — A foul-mouthed Kansas judge accused of bigotry who cursed at courthouse employees so often that a trial clerk kept a “swear journal” documenting his obscene outbursts has been suspended from the bench for one year. The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday called Montgomery County Judge F. William Cullins’s behavior “quite troubling” while meting out a harsher punishment than was recommended by a disciplinary panel. The court says Cullins shows bias and the appearance of bias in his remarks and that his coarse language sullies the judiciary. The ruling is effective immediately, but the court said it would consider waiving the remaining suspension after 60 days if he enters into an approved plan for training and counseling.

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Underground Water Supply Dwindling in Central and Western Kansas

JOHNSON CITY,, Kan. (KNS) — The amount of water beneath the state of Kansas decreased in the last year after three years of slight gain. Average groundwater levels in western and central Kansas are down by nearly a foot compared to last year. That means water is being used more quickly than it’s being replenished.  Rain and snow totals were 25% to 50% below average last year in parts of western Kansas, and when there’s little precipitation, farmers pump more water from the ground to irrigate crops. The Kansas Geological Survey combines measurements from 14 hundred wells to create a database that informs the state’s water management decisions. Since the program began 25 years ago, average water levels have dropped about 12 feet.

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KCC Rejects Evergy's Proposals on Rates for Solar Users

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Corporation Commission has rejected two proposals from Evergy involving rates for solar users. The commission said Thursday it would be better to wait until Evergy's next general rate case to address how residential solar users are billed. One Evergy proposal would have charged solar panel users a monthly grid access fee of $3.00 per kilowatt, even if the home didn't use the electrical grid. Another proposal would have charge all customers a minimum bill of $35 per month. Evergy argues it needs to recover the cost of providing on-demand electricity for solar-equipped homes that don’t use many kilowatts.

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Kansas Passes 293,000 COVID-19 Cases, Including 4,735 Deaths, Since Start of Pandemic

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The  Kansas Department of Health and Environment(KDHE) reports there have been 293,663 cases of COVID-19, including 4,735 deaths, since the start of the pandemic. That's an increase of 826 cases and 11 deaths since Wednesday. Johnson County has the highest number of recorded cases, with more than 54,200.  KDHE will provide another update Monday. 

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Tribes in Legal Limbo over Federal Virus Relief Funding

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Nearly a year after Congress passed a coronavirus relief bill, some Native American tribes are still in legal limbo over what's been distributed. The issue didn't become any more clear this week for three tribes who argued in a federal court hearing that they should get quick relief because they were shortchanged by the use of federal population data. The Treasury Department has doled out all but about $530 million from the $8 billion set aside for tribes in the CARES Act. Where it goes depends on the outcome of two cases in a federal district court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Kansas Man Convicted in Death of His Girlfriend in Iowa

WEBSTER CITY, Iowa (AP) — A 34-year-old Kansas has been convicted of killing his girlfriend in Iowa in 2018.  Zackery Bassett, of Elwood, Kansas, was found guilty Tuesday of second-degree murder in the September 2018 death of 50-year-old Andrea Solokowski, in Webster City, Iowa. Bassett was originally charged with first-degree murder in the case. Prosecutors said Bassett had abused and stalked Solokowski, of Sioux City, for more than a year before her death. An autopsy found injuries consistent with asphyxiation but Solokowski's cause of death was listed as undetermined. The maximum sentence possible for second-degree murder is 50 years in prison. Bassett is scheduled to be sentenced April 5.

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Manhattan Woman Killed in Crash Near Topeka After Semi Lost Load of Metal Pipes on I-70

SHAWNEE COUNTY, Kan. (KPR) - One person died in an accident Wednesday afternoon in Shawnee County.  The Kansas Highway Patrol reported a semi truck, driven by 38-year-old Jesse C. Vannoy, of Knob Noster, Missouri, was eastbound on Interstate 70 near SW Topeka Boulevard. The semi lost its load of large, metal pipes which bounced over a concrete barrier wall and into the westbound lanes.  The loose pipes caused a number of wrecks including one fatal accident, which claimed the life of 29-year-old Brooke N. Rees, of Manhattan.

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Police Say Woman Hit, Killed While Walking in Wichita Street

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a woman has died after being hit by a vehicle as she walked along a street in southwest Wichita. Television station KAKE reports that the crash happened around 4:15 a.m. Friday along South West Street. Police say the woman was in her 30s and was walking in the roadway when she was hit. Police have not released her name. Investigators say the driver was going to work at the time of the crash and didn't see the woman. Officials say the driver is cooperating with police.

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Student Arrested at Kansas High School with Gun in Backpack

SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) - Police in Shawnee say a high school student found with a handgun in his backpack at school has been arrested. The Shawnee Police Department said in a news release that the gun and other contraband were found by Shawnee Mission Northwest High School staff Thursday morning in a search of the student's backpack. Principal Lisa Gruman said in a note to parents that the search was conducted and gun found during an investigation involving an unrelated matter. Police confiscated the gun and arrested the student, who is under 18 and whose name was not released.

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Police Say Pedestrian Killed in Kansas City Hit-and-Run

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police say a man who was walking along Blue Parkway in a commercial district of Kansas City, Missouri has been killed in a hit-and-run crash. Police say the crash happened around 8 p.m. Thursday at 63rd and Blue Parkway. Investigators say another person who was walking with the victim at the time of the crash was not injured. Police say the driver of the vehicle did not stop, and detectives are searching for that driver. The name of the man killed was not immediately released.

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Police: Man Charged in 2018 Death of Kansas City Woman

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police have announced that a man has been charged in the 2018 killing of a Kansas City woman whose body was found in rural wooded area months after she disappeared. Television station KCTV reports that 32-year-old Kenneth Wilson Jr., of Cameron, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of 18-year-old Vernece Brown. Brown's remains were found by mushroom hunters in May 2018 in a wooded area near Harrisonville, about 35 miles south of Kansas City. She had been missing since Valentine's Day of that year. Police say cellphone data shows Brown had been communicating with Wilson and that their cellphones were in the same location about the time she disappeared.

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Bill Addressing Collegiate Sports Name-Image-Likeness Issues Would Allow College Athletes to Return from Draft

UNDATED (AP) — The latest federal bill related to college sports would allow athletes to earn money from endorsements, loosen restrictions around transfers and permit players to return to school after entering a professional league's draft. The proposed legislation introduced Wednesday by Kansas Senator Jerry Moran also would require the wealthiest athletic programs to increase spending on long-term medical care for athletes. The bill is the fourth to emerge from the Senate since December and second from a Republican. Most recently, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy introduced a bill narrowly focused on giving college athletes the right to earn money off their names, images and likenesses.

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4 Mississippi Hunters Fined $48,000 for Kansas Violations

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge banned four Mississippi men from hunting anywhere in the world and fined them a total of $48,000 for violating wildlife laws in Kansas. Federal prosecutors said Wednesday the men pleaded guilty to conspiring to kill wild turkeys in excess of the legal limit and taking the birds across state lines. The men are accused of bagging at least 26 wild turkeys during an eight-day trip in 2018. Kansas limits hunters to two wild turkey kills per hunter per season. The hunters also took frequent hunting trips to Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska but did not have the required hunting licenses.

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Missouri House Passes Voter Photo ID

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Republican-led Missouri House has passed another bill to require voter photo identification at the polls. Lawmakers voted 109-46 in favor of the legislation. The bill is aimed at addressing a Missouri Supreme Court ruling last year that permanently blocked a central provision of a 2016 voter ID law. That law required voters without a photo ID to make a sworn statement to cast a regular ballot. The new bill would give voters two options: either show a photo ID to cast a regular ballot or cast a provisional ballot.

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Missouri GOP-led House Advances Private School Funding Bill

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Poor Missouri families could get money for private school through a tax credit program advancing in the state House. The Republican-led House voted in favor of the measure Wednesday. Under the program, private donors would give money to nonprofits that would dole out scholarships to low-income families. Donors would get state tax credits equal to the amount they donate. Only students in cities with populations of 30,000 people or more could access the scholarships. Democrats argued Republicans are imposing the program on big cities and urban areas even though some don't want it in rural Missouri.

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Teenage Boy Arrested After Man Stabbed to Death in Newton

NEWTON, Kan. (AP) — Police say a 16-year-old boy is in custody after a man was stabbed to death in Newton. Police say the teenager was stopped Thursday night because he was driving erratically. City spokeswoman Erin McDaniel said in a statement that the teenager told the officer he had been in a fight and stabbed someone. Officers later found a 27-year-old man suffering from stab wounds. The man died at a Wichita hospital. Police say they also found a bloody knife in the teenager's car. Police did not say how the boy and man knew each other, or what led to the fight.

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Anti-Hunger Groups, Agriculture Advocates Fight to Save Program Launched by Trump Administration

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Agricultural groups and anti-hunger organizations are pushing the Biden administration to continue a program launched by President Donald Trump that spent $6 billion to prevent farmers from plowing under food and instead provide it to millions of Americans left reeling by the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture began the Farmers to Families Food Box program in April 2020 after many people were shocked to see farmers destroy crops even as food banks were being overwhelmed by demand from people suddenly out of work. If the USDA extends the program, it will be a rare example of the new administration retaining rather than dismantling a Trump initiative.

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Wichita State Lifts Interim Tag, Gives Isaac Brown 5-Year Deal

UNDATED (AP) – Wichita State University has agreed in principle to a five-year deal with men's basketball coach Isaac Brown. The longtime assistant took over as interim coach at the beginning of the season and took a program in chaos to the top of the American Athletic Conference. The Shockers haven’t lost since Jan. 21, ripping off five wins in a row while navigating COVID-19 pauses within other programs that have forced four postponements. The team is expected to land an NCAA Tournament berth and is hoping to wrap up a league championship, too.

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KPR's daily headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays and updated throughout the day. KPR's weekend summary is usually published by 1 pm Saturdays and Sundays.