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Headlines for Thursday, September 8, 2022



Kansas Lost $466 Million in Unemployment Fraud but Audit Remains Hidden from Public

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - A forensic audit found up to $466 million in potentially fraudulent unemployment payments in Kansas, but the Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the final report wasn't released to the public during a public meeting. The audit had been long awaited amid differing estimates on how much taxpayer money was paid out to fraudsters. A legislative audit put the figure at up to $700 million while the Kansas Department of Labor estimated $290 million. Despite state law requiring the forensic audit " be made publicly available," the document wasn't made public when it was discussed Wednesday by the Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council.

Committee chair Rep. Sean Tarwater, a Stilwell Republican, said the report would be handed out to committee members then picked up after the meeting. At least for now, the audit isn't publicly available as the law requires. After the meeting, Tarwater told reporters he didn't agree with the decision. He said the entirety of the report should be public. "There's nothing in there that puts Kansas at risk," he said. "Every single redaction, we have already discussed in this room out loud. It's just that the administration does not want the details of this report out because they are damning."

Labor Secretary Amber Shultz told reporters afterward that "I don't know" why the report wasn't released and who made the decision, directing questions to Tarwater. When told of Shultz's answer, Tarwater said it was Shultz and KDOL who wanted to redact the report.  Tarwater said he would have preferred to release an unredacted audit Wednesday but didn't want to be blamed for any fallout.

The attorney general's office advises that, under open meetings law, public records reviewed and discussed during an open meeting generally can't be closed. The report must be disclosed but it could still be appropriate to redact it, said Max Kautsch, a Lawrence First Amendment attorney and legal adviser to the Kansas Press Association. The people making the redactions would have to articulate which exceptions are applicable. He urged the council to release the report. The Topeka Capital-Journal has filed an open records request with KDOL for the complete and unredacted report as provided to the council. ( Read more.)


Wichita School District Plans to Install Special Weapons Detectors

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - The largest school district in Kansas plans to install weapon detectors in all its high schools. The Kansas News Service reports that the move comes after several students were found with handguns. For years, the Wichita district didn’t use metal detectors in school buildings out of fear they’d create bottlenecks at entrances. Now, officials want high-tech machines designed to spot firearms and explosives. The $20,000 devices won’t require students to unload purses or backpacks. District safety director Terri Moses says five students have been caught with handguns in schools in the first few weeks of school this fall. "This is a sign of our times," she said. "The community is experiencing mental health issues and violence, and occasionally it spills over into our schools. So, we’re going to be proactive and take the initiative to make sure that those weapons don’t get into our buildings." The district plans to buy about 45 screeners for about $1.5 million. The Wichita school board will vote on the plan Monday.


Southwest Kansas Bank Gives Employees Time Off to Substitute Teach

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KNS) - A southwest Kansas bank is giving its employees a paid day off to work as substitute teachers in public schools this fall semester. The Kansas News Service reports that the Garden City school district is one of many across the state struggling to find substitute teachers. Western State Bank will give an extra paid holiday this fall for employees to work in schools. About half of the bank’s 60 workers in Garden City have substitute teaching licenses and plan to participate. Bank president Tyler Whitham calls the new program a win-win. "They get paid twice, they get to go hang out with their kid or do something other than sitting in a bank all day," he said.  "Hopefully, they are able to apply their time in a way that’s exciting to them and beneficial to the students.” Western State Bank is spending about $4,000 on the initiative.


Congress Spends Billions to Help States, Including Kansas, Plug Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells

UNDATED (KNS) - Kansas will speed up its work to seal thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells that can pollute groundwater and the atmosphere. The Kansas News Service reports that the state knows of at least 11,000 abandoned oil and gas wells scattered across the state. Many were originally drilled by companies that no longer exist.  Congress has earmarked billions of dollars to address the problem nationally.  Kansas will get about $25 million, which will allow it to plug about 2,300 wells over the next few years. These days, oil and gas companies pay a fee to address the problem of plugging abandoned wells . But finding them is often difficult.  And record keeping was poor or non-existent in the early days of the state's energy industry.  ( Read more.)


Valley Center Will Have First 3D-Printed Community in Kansas

VALLEY CENTER, Kan. (KSNW) — Valley Center is doing something no other Kansas town has done yet. KSNW TV reports the south-central Kansas community is getting a community of 3D-printed homes. Valley Center gave final approval to the plan Tuesday. The community will be called Sunflower Valley. The development company says the name was chosen to honor Kansas and the city of Valley Center. Company officials developing the community say 3D-printed homes provide high-quality, cost-effective and sustainable housing options in less time than traditional construction. The company expects the new homes to be available next year. Brent Clark, the city administrator for Valley Center, says the homes, more than 100 of them, will be built on the southeast side of town.


Kansas Settles Lawsuit with Former Prison Employee Who Claimed Discrimination

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - The state of Kansas has settled a lawsuit with a former prison employee who says she was discriminated against because of her gender. The Kansas News Service reports that Erin Peppiatt was fired for having a relationship with a subordinate and lying about it to investigators. But she claimed many other male officers had similar relationships and never got in trouble. State lawmakers agreed to settle the lawsuit behind closed doors. The exact details of the settlement are not yet known.


ESU Brass to Seek Authority to Begin Workforce Restructuring 

TOPEKA, Kan. (Kansas Reflector) — Administrators at Emporia State University are preparing to seek permission from the Kansas Board of Regents to put a controversial workforce management policy into effect. The Kansas Reflector reports that ESU president Ken Hush said he will ask KBOR for the authority to put a framework developed by the Board into effect. That set of policies, put in motion by the Board of Regents during the COVID-19 pandemic, was made available to the six state universities through December of 2022. It includes guidelines for the dismissal of some staff, tenured faculty, and for modifying the academic courses on offer at the schools. Hush, who was named as the ESU president nearly a year ago, says the objective of implementing the policy would be to realign campus resources “to address the university’s structural deficits that have been ongoing for several years.”  A statement from the university did not reveal the details of any potential workforce reduction or the possibility of closing down specific academic programs. The proposal will be reviewed by the Regents on September 14th.  Officials at the University of Kansas say they will not use this policy before it expires in December.


Kansas Will Get Nearly $10 Million in Settlement with E-Cigarette Company Juul

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — The cut for Kansas in a national settlement with electronic cigarette maker Juul Labs comes to nearly $10 million. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says Juul will pay Kansas $9.8 million dollars out of a nearly half billion-dollar national settlement for marketing its vaping products to teens. The money will be paid over six to 10 years. The company still has major lawsuits pending and is facing strict rules on its marketing.


CNN Lists Kansas City as Top Underrated Travel Destination

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KC Star) — CNN’s travel division has listed Kansas City as one of the nation’s top underrated travel destinations. The Kansas City Star reports that the city made CNN's list of 22 lesser-known vacation spots.  CNN travel reporter Joe Yogurst says that Missouri’s second largest city is all about sound and flavor. He writes that Kansas City is a cradle of American jazz, boasting more than 40 venues where people can listen to live jazz, blues and other music.  The CNN article also touts the city's numerous barbecue joints, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the National WWI Museum and the Steamboat Arabia Museum.


More than 30,000 Kansas Drivers with Suspended Licenses Could Legally Drive Again

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — More than 30,000 Kansas drivers with suspended licenses could have had some driving privileges last year. The Kansas News Service reports that the state program giving those privileges has hardly been used.  Kansas will suspend a driver's license if someone fails to pay off a ticket. That means no driving whatsoever. But those drivers can apply for a restricted license, which allows for some driving to work, school or medical appointments. Only 4% of people eligible for those restricted privileges get them. Marilyn Harp of Kansas Legal Services says the application process is too confusing. “The number of people who have suspended drivers' licenses jumps right to the top as a problem," she said. The state says it has now simplified the application process and even removed fees. ( Read more.)


Man Ordered to Stand Trial After Allegedly Beating KU Student Unconscious

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) — A man has been ordered to stand trial after witnesses described a violent attack at a college bar after a 2021 University of Kansas football game. Prosecutors say 24-year-old Dagan Richard Haehn, of Flower Mound, Texas, is charged with one felony count of aggravated battery. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the charge stems from an incident on November 6, 2021, when Haehn is alleged to have beaten a KU student at Bullwinkles Bar in Lawrence. The student says he was hospitalized and diagnosed with a broken nose, deviated septum and a concussion.  Haehn is scheduled for a status conference on the case on October 11. He remains free on a $20,000 bond.


Lawrence City Leaders Hear Ideas on Plan to Open Campsite for Homeless People

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) — Lawrence city leaders heard various perspectives about a plan to create a temporary, city-run campsite for those experiencing homelessness. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that city commissioners received an update on the city's strategic plan Tuesday. One idea involves creating a temporary campsite on a city-owned parcel of land in North Lawrence, located between the Johnny’s Tavern back parking lot and the levee trail.  City commissioners were not voting on the plan for a temporary campsite at Tuesday's meeting.  Instead, they were told that specifics about a plan for a longer-term campsite would come back to them for discussion later.


Experts: Kansas Water Resources in Peril

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) — Kansas aquifers are being depleted by irrigation. Reservoirs are filling with sediment. Fertilizer runoff is contaminating water and feeding toxic algae. The  Topeka Capital-Journal reports that experts recently provided lawmakers with a sobering overview of water quantity and quality issues facing all areas of the state. While more money and bureaucratic reshuffling were floated as solutions, the Special Committee on Water left Topeka last week without a clear path forward for the 2023 Legislature. "I think it's pretty clear: If we continue business as usual, it's not going to end well," said Jim Butler, a Kansas Geological Survey geohydrologist. "The high plains aquifer in Kansas has been heavily pumped for decades, and that intensive use has come at a price," Butler said. He also said Kansas has only one real option at this point: Reduce pumping and stabilize the water level.

"We're running out of water," said Burke Griggs, a Washburn University law professor and expert on Kansas water law. Griggs was one of many witnesses whose testimony highlighted groundwater depletion in the high plains aquifer. It "should haunt your dreams," he said.  In some places, the water will be gone within a generation. In others, it is already depleted to the minimum threshold.

About 2 million acres of farmland sit atop the Ogallala Aquifer, said Earl Lewis, the chief water engineer at the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Much of that is corn, which supports ethanol plants, dairies, feedlots and meatpacking plants. "We've got a multi billion-dollar industry built on that water-based economy," Lewis said.  ( Read more.)


Some Health Experts Worry About Effect of Abortion Bans on Black Community

UNDATED (KNS/KCUR) — Some maternal health experts are worried about the far-reaching effects of abortion bans on Black women. Maternal mortality rates nationwide for Black women are already three times higher than they are for white women. Rachel Hardeman, of the Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity at the University of Minnesota, says abortion bans could lead to more Black mothers dying.  “When you have more people that are forced to be pregnant, you have more people in the risk pool for adverse outcomes, right? And so from a sheer numbers perspective, what we're going to see is continued rising rates of maternal mortality," she said. The Kansas News Service reports that a peer-reviewed study published last year predicted the rate of Black women who would die from pregnancy-related causes would increase 33% in the years following a total abortion ban. Kansas voters rejected a measure last month that might have opened the way to an abortion ban.


Missouri Renews K-State Rivalry with Non-Conference Match-Up

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — It’s been more than a decade since Missouri and Kansas State played each other in football. On Saturday, the longtime conference rivals will finally meet again in an important non-conference game. The Tigers are coming off a season-opening win over Louisiana Tech while the Wildcats are fresh off a blowout of South Dakota. But along with improving to 2-0, the winner also earns some important bragging rights, particularly on the recruiting trail. The game means a lot to players and coaches as well as fans, many of whom still remember the days when Missouri and Kansas State met every year.


KC Chiefs Aim to Improve to 9-1 in Openers Under Andy Reid

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs head into their game at Arizona on Sunday having won seven consecutive openers. That includes three against teams that were destined for the playoffs and one that reached the Super Bowl. Overall, Chiefs coach Andy Reid is 8-1 since taking over the franchise before the 2013 season, including a perfect mark in five openers played on the road. Reid doesn't hazard a guess as to why the Chiefs have been so successful in Week 1, but players such as Chris Jones believe a lot of it has to do with the work they put in during training camp.


Cardinals Place QB McCoy on IR Ahead of KC Chiefs' Season Opener 

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals have put backup quarterback Colt McCoy on injured reserve heading into Sunday’s season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said McCoy strained a calf at practice on Monday. McCoy’s absence means Trace McSorley is starter Kyler Murray’s primary backup. Injured reserve sidelines players for at least four games. The 36-year-old McCoy went 2-1 as a starter last season for the Cardinals, filling in mid-season when Murray was out with an injury. He completed 75% of his passes for 740 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.


Chiefs' Clark Pleads No Contest to Los Angeles Gun Charges

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark has pleaded no contest in Los Angeles to two counts of misdemeanor possession of an assault weapon. Clark was sentenced Thursday to one year of probation and 40 hours of community service. The three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher was arrested in March 2021, when he was pulled over while riding with another man in a vehicle that did not have a front license plate. An officer noticed a weapon in the car and recovered two loaded firearms. Three months later, Clark was pulled over for a code violation and officers discovered another gun in his vehicle. Clark is due back in court early next year, when he will need to show proof that he completed his sentence.


Chiefs' New Wide Receivers Have Experience with Elite QBs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs rebuilt their wide receiver room after trading Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins, but it’s not as if the newcomers are inexperienced, especially when it comes to catching passes from stars. JuJu Smith-Schuster used to catch them from Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. Marquez Valdes-Scantling did the same from Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Justin Watson has two seasons of experience catching throws from Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. And that gives another elite quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, a sense of comfort heading into the Chiefs’ opener Sunday in Arizona.


NASCAR Prepares for the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KPR) - The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are underway. The 2022 Hollywood Casino 400 will take place Sunday and is the second of three races in the Round of 16. The Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas will host the race for the 22nd year in a row. Practice and qualifying will take place Saturday. The race will run at 2 pm Sunday.


NASCAR Calls Car Fires 'Unacceptable' after Kevin Harvick Inferno

UNDATED (AP) – NASCAR is investigating a spate of car fires that left one championship contender fuming after his Ford erupted into an inferno during the opening playoff race. Kevin Harvick lashed out at NASCAR and the new Next Gen car after it inexplicably caught fire in the playoff opener at Darlington Raceway. The car fire dropped Harvick to last in the 16-driver playoff field. Headed into Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway, NASCAR has ordered some safety changes as it attempts to address the fires. A NASCAR official said “it’s unacceptable for the cars to catch on fire."


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.