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Headlines for Monday, May 23, 2022



Kansas Lawmakers Override Governor's Veto of Medicaid Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas lawmakers wrapped up their 2022 session today (MON). They spent part of their final day overriding a veto from the Democratic governor. Republicans overrode Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill that blocks her administration from negotiating new multi-billion-dollar contracts with companies that run KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program. They say that should be left to the next governor, who they’re hoping will be Derek Schmidt, the state’s Republican attorney general. Opponents - mainly Democrats - argue the bill could give the current KanCare companies what amount to no-bid contract extensions. To ensure they had the votes, Republicans combined the contracts bill with one that prohibits the governor from closing down religious services during disease outbreaks. Representative Brenda Landwehr. “That occurred right here in the state of Kansas. This bill assures us that that cannot happen again," she said. With the override vote, the combined bills are now state law.


Kansas Plans to Provide Pandemic Relief to Businesses

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas plans to provide $50 million in relief to businesses forced by state or local officials to shut down or restrict their operations during the first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. Today (MON), the Republican-controlled Legislature approved a bill setting up the new program and sent it to Democratic Governor Laura Kelly. The measure is aimed at small businesses and would allow them to receive up to $5,000 for 2020 and 2021 if state and local officials imposed COVID-19 restrictions.


Bank Analysts: Nationwide Gas Prices Could Hit $6 a Gallon by August

UNDATED (CBS) - Analysts at a top U.S. bank are warning that nationwide gas prices could skyrocket from their current $4.59 average per gallon to more than $6 per gallon by the end of summer. According to CBS News, Natasha Kaneva, head of global oil and commodities research at JPMorgan, wrote in a research document that the U.S. was in for a “cruel summer,” as gas prices were expected to continue smashing records. Kaneva wrote that U.S. retail prices could surge to a $6.20 per gallon by August. The news comes as some places have already started to experience gas prices of more than $6 per gallon, including Los Angeles County and Orange County.  Regular unleaded gasoline in Kansas is now averaging $4.04 per gallon.

Kaneva's forecast is just one view of where the market is going, and it is dependent on the typical summer trend of Americans getting behind the wheel for vacations and road trips. Motorists aggrieved by skyrocketing fuel prices could cut back on driving, putting the brakes on fuel demand. Other analysts, such as GasBuddy's petroleum analyst Patrick De Haan, said they don't see gas prices hitting $6 nationally.


California Couple Gives McPherson College $25 Million Gift

MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) - A California couple known for their philanthropy is donating $25 million to McPherson College in central Kansas. Melanie Lundquist announced the gift from her and her husband, Richard, during her commencement address Sunday at the small liberal arts college. The Lundquists did not attend or graduate from McPherson but have been supporters since 2012. The gift is the largest donation in McPherson's 135-year history. Richard Lundquist owns Continental Development Corporation, a property development firm based in California.


Starbucks Employees in Wichita Hope to Form Union

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW) - Workers at a Starbucks in Wichita hope their store will become the first in the city with a union. Employees at the Starbucks at 21st and Amidon (AM-ih-dun) filed for a union vote with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last week. It’s the second store to file in Kansas, joining a store in Overland Park. Maia Cuellar Serafini (Maya Kway-ar Sara-fee-nee) is a barista at the Wichita location and a lead organizer in the union drive. She says about 70% of her coworkers support the union. “Why are we getting the bare minimum when we are the backbone of this company? If we all left, this company couldn’t function," she said. About 56 Starbucks locations have formed unions since the first store unionized in December. The NLRB has filed a number of complaints against Starbucks for anti-union activity in the past year, including a complaint that three pro-union workers in Overland Park were illegally fired.


Kansas Unemployment Rate Unchanged; Still Lower than the National Average

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - The Kansas unemployment rate remains unchanged from last month but is under 3%, which is still lower than the national average. Early in the pandemic, Kansas unemployment spiked to more than 12%. Within a year, the jobless rate had dropped back to levels similar to before COVID-19 - between 3 and 4%. And it continued to decline. Now, two years after that unprecedented unemployment spike in 2020, the jobless rate is 2.4 percent for two months in a row. Kansas added more than 23,000 private-sector jobs in the past year and lost 500 government jobs.


Abilene to Display World’s Largest Belt Buckle

ABILENE, Kan. (KNS/KCLY) - The world’s largest belt buckle could be on its way to Abilene, Kansas, thanks to a $22,000 grant. The size of the buckle has not been revealed yet, but it’s intended to beat one in Texas that’s 10 feet by 14 feet. The idea started when Julie Roller-Weeks, director at the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau, was trying to find a way to add tourism to the city.  “I started looking at belt buckles, and found that there was one in Missouri that was the world’s largest and then some folks down in Texas were working on the World’s Largest and they announced the size of it and I thought you know what… I think we can do better.” With the help of Fluters Creek Metal Works in Abilene and a Kansas Tourism Attraction Development grant, the project has started to take shape.  The design on the buckle will showcase Abilene Icons like Dwight D. Eisenhower and Wild Bill Hickok.  The hope is to showcase the belt buckle during the Central Kansas Free Fair and Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo in August.  


Police-Related Shooting Injures Man in Junction City

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (KWCH) - The Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) is looking into an officer-involved shooting that left one man injured in Junction City Saturday evening. KWCH TV reports that around 5:30 pm, a woman called 911 to report that a man was outside her home, waving a handgun and threatening her (near the 700 block of West 11th Street). Junction City Police responded and spotted the man fleeing the area and proceeded to chase the man on foot. During the chase, the man aimed his gun at officers. One officer then fired at the man, striking him multiple times. EMS responded and took over life-saving measures. The man has now been identified as 36-year-old Carlton Solton. No others involved in the incident were injured; however, Solton underwent surgery and is receiving treatment in the intensive care unit at an area hospital.

(AP version...)

Kansas Authorities Investigating After Man Shot by Junction City Police

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is probing the police shooting of a Junction City man over the weekend. The agency says the shooting happened late Saturday afternoon. That's when officers were called to a Junction City home by a woman who reported that a man was outside her house waving a gun and threatening her and another woman. Arriving officers chased a man running from the scene. The officers said they heard gunshots and saw the man later identified as 36-year-old Carlton Solton Jr. pointing a gun at them. An officer fired several shots, hitting Solton multiple times. Solton was taken to a Topeka trauma center for surgery and remained in the intensive care unit Sunday.


Six Juveniles Charged in Man's Shooting Death in Olathe

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Six young Kansas teenagers have been charged with shooting and killing a 19-year-old man at a park in suburban Kansas City. The Johnson County District Attorney's office says it wants to try four of them, who are 14 years old, as adults. The other two suspects are 13 and cannot be tried as adults under Kansas law. Marco Cardino, of Smithville, Missouri, was found shot to death inside his car on Saturday at a park in Olathe. The Kansas City Star reports that Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said the shooting was the result of a marijuana purchase that “went horribly wrong.”


Report: Rural Kansas Airports at Risk of Closing

HAYS, Kan. (KNS/HPPR) - A nationwide pilot shortage has put some rural Kansas airports in danger of losing their only commercial airline carrier. The Kansas News Service reports that the uncertainty is already affecting local economies.  For Kansans living in Liberal, Dodge City and Hays, there’s only one airline that flies to and from the local airport: SkyWest. So when that airline filed paperwork this spring to terminate services, it sent shock waves through these communities. Liberal area economic development director Eli Svaty says small towns like his still need air service — and not just for the convenience of travelers, but to draw the new businesses and workers that grow the local economy. “Not to say that you lose the airport, you lose the town. But it is critical that… we find something that can assure people that it's okay to live out here in rural Kansas because we still have great air service," he said. For now, the federal government is forcing SkyWest to continue some service to these towns while the airports try to find a replacement airline. ( Read more.)


Adoptions Another Facet of Life Halted by War in Ukraine

LEEDS, Maine (AP) — The ripple effects of Russia's invasion of Ukraine have been devastating for families of all kinds, including those who have seen their prospective adoptions put on hold. Ukraine has stopped all international adoptions as the country copes with the turmoil unleashed on its courts by the war. Children, including orphans, have also fled or been displaced. The National Council For Adoption says there are more than 300 children previously hosted by American families that were seeking to adopt them at the time the war started. U.S. families meanwhile are trying to keep the bonds with the children in Europe strong.


Kansas Ordered to Pay $63 Million to Former Pizza Magnate

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered the state to pay more than $63 million to settle a 16-year tax dispute with former pizza magnate Gene Bicknell. The court ruled Friday that Bicknell was a Florida resident in 2005 and 2006, when he sold NPC International, which at the time was the largest owner of Pizza Huts in the world. State officials argued that Bicknell, a longtime resident of Pittsburg, was a Kansas resident when he sold the company, which would have meant millions in sales tax revenue for the state. In 2020, Bicknell said Kansas owed him $63 million — his original tax bill plus interest.


Wind Energy Plants in Kansas, Iowa Closing, Could Reopen

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Siemens Gamesa wind-energy plants in Hutchinson and Fort Madison, Iowa, will close down while the company waits for new orders. Officials with the company announced Friday that most employees at the two plants will be laid off. The blade manufacturing plant in Iowa will close in June, followed by the Kansas plant in July. Siemens said 171 people work at the Iowa plant, with 92 in Kansas. The company said it is possible the plants could reopen if market conditions improve. The Iowa plant manufactures wind turbine blades. The Kansas plant manufactures nacelles, which house the turbine's generating components.


Global Shortage of Medical Dye Prompting KC Hospitals to Ration Supplies

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KNS) - A global shortage of medical dyes used for procedures like CAT scans has prompted Kansas City area hospitals to start rationing the supplies. Contrast fluids contain iodine that helps doctors look for abnormalities on X-rays and CAT scans. But there’s a shortage – yet another example in a long string of supply problems since the pandemic hit in 2020. The KU Health System says COVID lockdowns affecting Chinese manufacturing plants triggered this latest shortage. KU Health System is using its contrast dyes on critical patients. It delays scans for non-urgent patients or uses alternatives, like MRIs, whenever possible.


No Tuition Hikes, but Kansas College Students May Face Higher Fees

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Students attending public universities in Kansas will not have to pay higher tuition next school year. The Kansas News Service reports that most colleges are proposing hikes in student fees instead.  A provision in the Kansas budget bars schools from increasing tuition. Lawmakers approved $37.5 million in additional funding to keep student costs down. But some university leaders say the new funding won’t make up for rising inflation, so they’ll be increasing some student fees. Ethan Erickson is the chief financial officer at Kansas State University. He says the school needs to raise pay for faculty, whose salaries average about 15% below market rates. “We’ve got to invest in our people. It’s as important or more important than just your standard utility bill," he said. Most universities want to raise student fees for certain programs or across the board. Proposed increases range from less than $1 per credit hour to $100 or more. The Board of Regents will vote on the plans next month.


Kansas Supreme Court Disbars Former Prosecutor

UNDATED (AP) – The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday disbarred former prosecutor Jacqie Spradling over her conduct in a Topeka murder case. The court found Spradling engaged in unethical misconduct during the 2012 trial of Dana Chandler, who was convicted of killing her ex-husband and his fiance. Chandler's convictions were later overturned because of Spradling's misconduct. In June 2021, a state board unanimously recommended that Spradling be disbarred over her conduct in the Chandler case and the 2017 conviction of Jacob Ewing, of Holton, on rape and sodomy against two women. The Supreme Court's said Spradling did not violate ethical standards in the Ewing case.


Kansas City OKs Settlement in Arrests During 2020 Protests

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Kansas City leaders have approved a change to city laws regarding arrests during protests. An ordinance approved last week by the city council settled a federal lawsuit filed after racial injustice protests in the city in 2020. Three women sued after they were arrested during protests near or on the Country Club Plaza area. They alleged the city's ordinances involving resisting or interfering with an officer were unconstitutionally vague. The new ordinance says witnessing or recording police officers doesn't violate city law unless the offender is substantially impeding the officer's duties. The settlement did not require the city to pay any monetary damages. 


Kansas Troopers Report Big Increase in Motorists Driving More than 100 MPH

WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) - Tickets for drivers speeding in excess of 100 miles-per-hour (mph) have nearly doubled in the last two years, according to the Kansas Highway Patrol.   KAKE TV reports that the patrol issued more than 3,300 tickets last year, up from around 1,700 in 2019. The uptick in motorists driving faster than 100 mph may not be limited to Kansas.   KAKE TV also reports that an Oklahoma driver was recently handed a $449 ticket for driving 90 mph over the speed limit.  The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said a trooper stopped a Dodge Challenger Hellcat going 165 mph on the H.E. Bailey Turnpike, a toll road in the southwest region of the state, where the speed limit is 75. Motorists who see any unsafe driving on Kansas highways are asked to dial *47 to report it to the highway patrol.


Invasive Jumping Worms Spreading Across Kansas, Missouri, other Midwestern States

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDAF) — A species of wiggling worms can jump a foot in the air, and they’ve spread to more than a dozen states in the Midwest, including Kansas and Missouri.  WDAF TV reports that the jumping worm, also known as Alabama jumpers, snake worms and other names, are invasive earthworms, originally native to east Asia. They thrash wildly when disturbed, have snakelike movements and sometimes shed their tail in defense, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. These worms have experts increasingly worried as they spread across the country. The U.S. Forest Service says Asian jumping worms eat a lot. “They are never satiated,” the agency writes. And in the end, after feeding their unending appetites, the Missouri Department of Conservation says established populations of jumping worms can make the soil look like coffee grounds. That soil won’t be able to retain moisture, and Smithsonian Magazine reports the topsoil will be depleted of nutrients, making it difficult for plants to grow. To make matters worse, jumping worms grow twice as fast and reproduce more quickly than other earthworms, a Cornell University study says. The worm’s tiny eggs can even survive a Midwest winter. ( Read more.)


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