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Headlines for Wednesday, November 16, 2022



Lawmaker: Kansas Should Cut Ties with Foster Care Contractor

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — The head of a Kansas legislative panel wants to end the state’s contract with its largest foster care contractor, after two former executives were accused of scheming to defraud the organization out of at least $4.7 million. The federal indictments this month against the Rev. Robert Smith, the former CEO of Saint Francis Ministries, and William Whymark, its former chief information officer, capped a string of problems with the group including children being forced to sleep in offices and workers falsifying documents to show family visits that never happened. State Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican who chairs the Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight, said Wednesday that the group doesn't deserve to continue partnering with the state.

(– Related –)

Kansas Episcopal Priest, NY Businessman Indicted in Foster Care Scheme

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - A federal grand jury in Topeka has returned an indictment charging a Kansas priest and a New York businessman in connection with a scheme to defraud a foster care organization of $10 million. Prosecutors say 50-year-old Robert Nelson Smith, an Episcopal priest in Salina, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. Prosecutors say 50-year-old William Byrd Whymark, of Mount Kisco, New York, is facing similar charges. The two men are accused of defrauding Saint Francis Ministries, a faith-based organization in Salina that provides foster care and social services in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas. The FBI is investigating the case.


Kansas GOP Pins Democratic Governor's Win on Lawmaker's Run

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Many Kansas Republicans are blaming state Sen. Dennis Pyle for Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's narrow reelection victory. Pyle ran for governor as an independent candidate, and GOP leaders say he both siphoned votes from Republican nominee Derek Schmidt and decreased GOP turnout by making conservatives less enthusiastic about Schmidt. Pyle was a Republican and one of the Legislature's most conservative members before he left the GOP in June to run for governor. He says he ran to give voters a true conservative alternative and suggests GOP leaders are refusing to confront their own failures. Now the Kansas Republican Party is looking to punish party officials who supported Pyle.


Kansas Will Receive $15 Million in Settlement with Walmart over Opioid Epidemic Allegations

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) – The state of Kansas will get at least $15 million as part of a settlement with Walmart to resolve allegations that the company contributed to the opioid addiction crisis by failing to appropriately oversee the dispensing of opioids at its stores. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt made the announcement saying the Kansas share of this nationwide settlement is likely to increase, perhaps substantially. Schmidt said the settlement will provide more than $3 billion nationally and will require significant improvements in how Walmart’s pharmacies handle opioids. The proceeds from the settlement must be used to provide treatment and recovery services for people struggling with opioid use disorder. Under the agreement, Walmart must fulfill certain, court-ordered requirements including robust oversight to prevent fraudulent prescriptions and flag suspicious prescriptions. Additional national settlements have been reached with CVS Pharmacy for $5 billion and Walgreens Pharmacy for $3 billion. Terms for the state shares of the CVS and Walgreens settlements have not yet been finalized.


Winter is Coming. KDOT Has Shortage of Snowplow Drivers

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - Winter is coming to Kansas. While the first snowfall of the year Monday night was perhaps a shock to the system for many, it's a reminder that lower temperatures and snowy conditions are set to be the rule, rather than the exception, in the months ahead. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that local and state officials insist they are ready to cope with inclement weather and energy companies say they are also preparing for the changing season. Like states across the country, however, the Kansas Department of Transportation warned motorists earlier this month that the agency had 24% fewer snowplow drivers than if it were fully-staffed. KDOT did note, however, that preparations have been underway since September to ensure employees had enough sand and salt and that maintenance work on equipment had been completed.


Kansas Refuses to Increase Legislature’s Power over State Agencies

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas voters have narrowly rejected a proposal to give the Republican-controlled Legislature a bigger say over how the state regulates businesses, protects people’s health and preserves the environment. The Associated Press called the election on Tuesday, a week after Election Day. The failed amendment to the Kansas Constitution would have made it easier for lawmakers to overturn regulations written by state agencies and boards under control of the governor and others in the executive branch. Lawmakers would have been able to revoke a rule with a simple majority vote by both chambers rather than having to pass a bill that the governor can veto. Business groups and advocates of smaller government viewed the measure as reining in unelected bureaucrats.


Three Jayhawks Welcomed to White House Forum on Native Americans

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) —  Three University of Kansas students took part in the White House Tribal Youth Forum this week. Native youth from across Indian Country joined together to attend the annual event hosted by the White House and Native American groups. Representing KU were undergraduates Kylie Kookesh (Tlingit), Delilah Begay (Diné) and Hayley Harman (Prairie Band Potawatomi).  The students participated in programs with administration officials and discussed issues important to Native communities. Following the forum, First Lady Jill Biden invited the students to visit the White House for a Celebration of Native American History Month.


Federal Court Allows Lawsuit to Proceed for Wrongfully Convicted Kansas Man

UNDATED (KCUR) - A federal appeals court is allowing a civil rights lawsuit filed by a wrongfully convicted man to move forward. Floyd Bledsoe spent 16 years in prison for a murder in eastern Kansas that he didn’t commit. KCUR Radio reports that Bledsoe was exonerated in 2015, after DNA testing and a suicide note by his brother Tom showed that Tom was the killer of Bledsoe’s 14-year-old sister-in-law in 1999. Bledsoe filed his lawsuit in 2016 against Kansas law enforcement officers. He alleged they conspired to fabricate evidence against him and suppressed evidence proving his innocence. The officers argued they were entitled to qualified immunity because the constitutional violations alleged by Bledsoe were not clearly established when the killing occurred. The trial judge rejected that argument and on Tuesday the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. That means Bledsoe can proceed with his constitutional claims against the officers.

(– AP Version –)

Court Rules Against Officers in Kansas Wrongful Conviction

UNDATED (AP) – A federal appeals court has rejected an appeal by several Kansas law enforcement officers who were sued by a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder. Floyd Bledsoe was convicted in the 1999 rape and murder of 14-year-old Camille Arfmann in Oskaloosa, Kansas. He served 16 years in prison before being released after his brother, Tom, confessed in a suicide note to killing the girl. Several officers named in a federal lawsuit filed by Bledsoe argued they should be given qualified immunity for their actions involving Bledsoe. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the officers Tuesday.


Kansas Specialty Courts Aim to Help Veterans in Trouble

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Three new specialty courts are coming to Kansas with the goal of helping veterans avoid jail or prison. The Kansas News Service reports that the new courts are coming to Sedgwick, Shawnee and Leavenworth counties, thanks to millions of dollars in federal funding. These specialty courts involve weeks of supervision and intensive counseling tailored for mental health challenges veterans experience. For someone with a drug charge, that could mean five drug tests a week. The courts have veterans on staff to help build a support network. The courts are tailored specifically toward challenges veterans face, like PTSD. The courts will offer intensive treatment, like counseling, while surrounding veterans with a support network of other service members. These specialty courts are just for use by military members but other options, like drug courts, are available for the general public. All three of the new courts should be running by January.


Kansas City Police Officers Convicted of Assaulting Trans Woman

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KC Star) - Two former Kansas City police officers pleaded guilty Monday to assaulting a transgender woman. The Kansas City Star reports that Charles W. Prichard and Matthew G. Brummett each faced a felony third-degree assault charge for slamming Breona Hill’s head into the ground during a May 2019 arrest. A passerby captured video of the officers assaulting Hill and placing one of their knees on her neck. The two former officers were sentenced to three years on probation. They are barred from carrying firearms and must surrender their police certifications. Five months after the assault, Hill was found fatally shot after an argument.


Google to Pay $5.9 Million to Kansas, Change Location Tracking Practices

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Google is set to pay $5.9 million to the state of Kansas and change its location tracking practices after reaching a settlement with the state.  Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced Monday that a deal had been reached with Google over its location tracking practices in account settings. WIBW TV reports that the settlement resulted in an agreement for Google to alter its business practices to safeguard the personal identification information of users.

Schmidt indicated that the agreement is related to Google’s location data for digital advertising. States raised concerns about privacy and potential violations of privacy laws. He said the multi-state settlement between Google, Kansas and 39 other states will result in a $391.5 million payment from the internet search provider - $5.9 million of which is to be sent to Kansas. Schmidt noted that Google uses the personal and behavioral data collected to build detailed user profiles and target ads on behalf of advertising customers. He said location data is among the most sensitive and valuable pieces of personal information the search engine collects.  Schmidt said the settlement also limits Google’s use and storage of certain types of location information and requires Google account controls to be more user-friendly.


Taxpayer Funds Helped Pay for Johnson County Sheriff’s Trip to Far-Right Conference

UNDATED (KC Star) – The Kansas City Star reports that Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden’s expenses during a trip to Las Vegas earlier this year were paid in part by Johnson County taxpayers. Hayden promoted his investigation into baseless allegations pertaining to the 2020 election to a group of law enforcement officials holding far-right political views. Johnson County paid nearly $300 in per diem expenses to Hayden as he attended a conference of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. The fringe group of sheriffs contend that they can refuse to enforce laws they view as unconstitutional. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office had previously said the association paid for the sheriff's trip. While the amount is small, the payment is an example of Hayden’s use of public resources to advance his long-running election investigation, and to build his profile among hard-right sympathizers. No criminal charges were ever filed in Hayden's investigation into voting issues, but Hayden's promotion of it has fueled conspiracy theories and undermined public confidence in local elections. The Star originally reported on Hayden's attendance at the conference in July. A spokesperson for the Johnson County Sheriff's Office told a Star reporter at the time that the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association was paying Hayden's expenses for the trip. Hayden has faced previous criticism for using county resources to investigate elections. 


Second Person Charged After Johnson County Man Stabbed to Death in Merriam in October

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. (KC Star) - A second person has been charged in the fatal stabbing of a man in October in the Johnson County community of Merriam. The Kansas City Star reports that 25-year-old John Daniel Crawford Murray has been charged with 1st-degree murder. On October 21, police were called to a disturbance at a home in the 7300 block of Royalty Way where they found 23-year-old Charles Dillon, who had been stabbed. Dillon died at the scene. Last week, prosecutors also announced charges against 20-year-old Devin Darnell Braswell, of Johnson County. He also faces a charge of 1st-degree murder in Dillon’s death. Bond for both men was set at $1 million.  Dillon’s killing was the second homicide reported this year in Merriam. The first was a fatal shooting in March.


Lawsuit Accuses Largest US Meat Producers of Wage Fixing

DENVER (AP) _ A class-action federal lawsuit is accusing 11 of the United States' largest beef and pork producers of conspiring to depress wages and benefits for its workers. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Denver last week. It alleges that the producers - including National Beef Packing, Cargill, Tyson, and JBS - have worked together since at least 2014 to keep workers' compensation lower than the market would allow in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. It seeks to represent hundreds of thousands of other people who have worked in jobs from slaughtering to production at the companies' collective 140 plants. The lawsuit says they produce about 80% of the red meat sold to U.S. consumers. 


55 Million Americans Expected to Travel for Thanksgiving Holiday

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNT) – Nearly 55 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more for the Thanksgiving holiday.  According to AAA, most travelers will drive to their destinations. KSNT reports that nearly 49 million people are expected to travel by car, with 4.5 million Americans flying. AAA expects more than 581,000 Kansans will travel over the holiday weekend. That's an increase of 1.2% over last year. More than 525,000 Kansans will be traveling by car, the most popular mode of transportation.


Appeals Court Ruling Keeps Biden Student Debt Forgiveness Plan on Hold

ST. LOUIS (AP/KPR) — President Joe Biden's plan to forgive up to $400 billion in college student loan debt lost another court battle this week when a federal appeals court panel agreed to a preliminary injunction halting the program while an appeal plays out. The ruling by the three-judge panel from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis came days after a federal judge in Texas blocked the program, saying it usurped Congress' power to make laws. The Texas case was appealed and the administration is likely to appeal the 8th Circuit ruling as well.


Kansas City Area Hospital Beds Filling Up as RSV, Flu and COVID-19 Cases Hit Residents

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Respiratory illnesses are filling up Kansas City area hospital beds. KMBC TV reports that doctors are warning of a perfect storm of flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19 - all hitting at the same time. Officials with the University of Kansas Health System say COVID-19 and RSV in adults are the biggest respiratory illnesses they are seeing right now. Add in flu cases, and they want people to take precautions: social distancing, washing hands, considering a mask, and staying home if you are sick. Doctors also urge people to get their COVID-19 and flu vaccines. Doctors say three different respiratory illnesses at the same time can overload the system if people don't do their part to protect themselves.


Missouri Approved Recreational Marijuana, Will Kansas Approve Medical Marijuana?

UNDATED (KNS) - A vote in Missouri to allow recreational marijuana use could put pressure on Kansas lawmakers to take action. The Kansas News Service reports that Kansas lawmakers have been debating the issue of medical cannabis for years, but have yet to pass legislation due to opposition from some Republican lawmakers. Kansas Cannabis Coalition advisor Kelly Ripple says with most of the state population living close to Missouri, that could push Kansas lawmakers to act. “To really move forward with protecting the provider and patient’s relationship by allowing a medical cannabis program to be enacted," Ripple said. The Kansas Speaks 2021 survey from Fort Hays State University found about 70% of people supported legalizing recreational marijuana for people over 21.


Changes Made to Lawrence-Run Homeless Camp After Public Outcry

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KSNT) – The City of Lawrence says changes have been made to a controversial homeless camp that generated a public outcry. KSNT reports that city officials have made two changes to the homeless camp, located behind Johnny's Tavern in North Lawrence. First, a fence has been added to provide both wind screening and visual screening from nearby businesses. Second, staff will be placed on-site to provide additional help to those staying at the camp. These actions come as members of the Lawrence community raised concerns about the city-run homeless camp.


No. 6 Kansas Rallies Late to Beat No. 7 Duke 69-64

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jalen Wilson scored a career-high 25 points and Gradey Dick made three crucial baskets in the final 2 1/2 minutes to lead No. 6 Kansas past No. 7 Duke 69-64. The defending national champions extended the nation's longest active winning streak to 14 games. Wilson also grabbed 11 rebounds as coach Bill Self missed his third straight game because of a school-imposed suspension stemming from a 2017 infractions scandal. Duke was led by Kyle Filipowski, who scored a season-high 17 points and had 14 rebounds to become the first player in school history to register double-doubles in each of his first three games.


Royals Considering Several Sites for New Stadium, Owner Says

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman says the team is considering several sites to build a replacement for the aging Kauffman Stadium. In a letter to fans posted on social media Tuesday, Sherman estimated the new stadium could cost $2 billion. He says that would make it the most costly project in Kansas City history. Sherman bought the team in 2019. He announced last year the organization was considering options to replace Kauffman Stadium, which will be 60 years old when the team's lease ends at the end of the decade. Sherman said the sites under consideration are in downtown Kansas City or close to it.


Undefeated Pittsburg State Gorillas Prepare for Playoffs

PITTSBURG, Kan. (KPR) - After completing an undefeated regular football season with an 11-0 record, the Pittsburg State Gorillas are now preparing for the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Gorillas are seeded third in their region and will host the University of Indianapolis Saturday at 1 pm.  This is the first playoff appearance for the Gorillas since 2014.


Chiefs Missing Top 3 Wide Receivers to Injuries, Illnesses

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was missing his top three wide receivers in practice Wednesday because of injuries and illness, and the situation might not be a whole lot better when Kansas City visits the Chargers this weekend. JuJu Smith-Schuster remained in the concussion protocol after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from Jacksonville safety Andre Cisco in last Sunday’s win over the Jaguars. Mecole Hardman is out with an abdominal injury and Marquez Valdes-Scantling with an illness. That leaves Mahomes with backup Justin Watson, rookie Skyy Moore, newcomer Kadarius Toney and special teams standout Marcus Kemp to catch passes as the Chiefs prepare for their visit to Los Angeles on Sunday night.


No. 19 K-State Looks to Move Closer to Title Game, Faces WVU

UNDATED (AP) – Kansas State has the inside track at earning a spot in the Big 12 championship game against No. 4 TCU. The Wildcats are alone in second place and will play for the title if they win both of their remaining games. They also could get in with a win Saturday and a loss by Texas at Kansas. West Virginia needs two more victories to become bowl eligible _ and perhaps save embattled coach Neal Brown’s job. Kansas State quarterback Will Howard will get his second start of the season in place of injured Adrian Martinez. Howard has thrown for nine touchdowns with one interception.


Kansas Public Radio Still Seeking Kansas Statehouse Bureau Chief to Join KPR's Award-Winning News Team

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas Public Radio, located at the University of Kansas, is looking for a new Kansas Statehouse Bureau Chief to cover all aspects of state government in Topeka for KPR and its statewide reporting partners. This exciting position requires skill, professional experience and curiosity. To apply, log on to:   https://employment.ku.edu/staff/23463BR. A review of applications began in October and will continue until a robust pool of qualified applicants is identified.

KU is an EO/AAE. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), age, national origin, disability, genetic information or protected Veteran status.


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.