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Headlines for Thursday, November 17, 2022



Lawrence Police: Two People Found Fatally Shot in Oak Hill Cemetery Wednesday Morning

LAWRENCE, Kan. (WDAF) — Police have identified two people shot and killed inside a Lawrence cemetery. WDAF TV reports that officers arrived at Oak Hill Cemetery Wednesday morning to check out a call about people arguing. When officers arrived, they found 36-year-old Robert Sowders, of Overland Park, and 22-year-old Ana Marie Jessee, of Lawrence, suffering from gunshot injuries. Police say both Sowders and Jessee died before they could be transported to a hospital. The case is being investigated as a possible murder-suicide.


Rural Hospitals Face Rising Costs, Smaller Profit Margins

SHAWNEE COUNTY, Kan. (KCUR) - Rural Kansas hospitals and health centers are struggling to cope with tightening margins. That’s making it hard to provide services and keep their doors open. KCUR Radio reports that officials with Holton Community Hospital, about 30 miles north of Topeka, say their costs for bringing in outside providers and services are going up – a lot. Rural hospitals rely on contracts for specialties like cardiology and dermatology. Holton Hospital CEO Carrie Saia says contracts usually increase 3 to 4%. But lately, those requests are around 7 to 10%. A 2020 study from the Chartis Center for Rural Health found nearly half of rural hospitals are financially in the red. Saia says fewer specialty doctors are coming into their organization, and more of these providers are retiring or quitting. and that's putting financial pressure on rural hospitals to work together. “We're collaborating with our competitors in typically environments that you wouldn't have seen before," she said. "How can we possibly recruit a dermatologist to come into our area?” Rural health providers gathered in Salina this week for a statewide summit to address these financial dilemmas.


Kansas Education Officials Rethinking College Math Requirements

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - About one in three students fail college algebra in Kansas. And that cuts into university graduation rates. Now, the board that oversees the state’s public universities wants to rethink math requirements. Daniel Archer is vice president of academic affairs for the Kansas Board of Regents. He told board members Wednesday that college algebra is designed to prepare students for calculus, but only 20% of majors require higher-level math. “We’re sending students down a road that’s not practical, that’s not really needed, not relevant for their field. So, this is something that doesn’t work very well," he said. Regents are considering a system where math requirements would align with a student’s major. Students studying political science or social work, for example, would take statistics instead of algebra.


Rift in Kansas GOP Boils over After Loss in Governor's Race

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A push by top Kansas Republicans to punish party officials who backed an independent candidate for governor is shining a spotlight on an internal rift. The conflict involving state Sen. Dennis Pyle could hinder GOP leaders’ efforts to steer the state back to the right over Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s objections. Many Republicans blame Pyle’s campaign for Kelly’s narrow reelection victory November 8 over three-term Republican state Attorney General Derek Schmidt. But five hard-right lawmakers said in a Facebook statement this week that GOP “establishment manipulations” were the culprit. They denounced the state party's chair for moving to sanction party officials who violated a party ban against supporting non-Republicans.


Feds Drop Effort to Seize Money from KC Marijuana Dispensaries

UNDATED (KCUR) - Federal prosecutors in Kansas have dropped their effort to seize money from a company that was transporting cash from legal medical marijuana dispensaries in Kansas City, Missouri. In 2021, a sheriff’s deputy in Kansas stopped a van operated by Empyreal Logistics and seized nearly $166,000 in cash it was hauling to Colorado. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas later filed a forfeiture action against Empyreal, arguing the money came from sales that violated federal law. After Empyreal sued over the Kansas stop and similar stops in California, the Justice Department agreed to return more than $1 million it had seized in California to Empyreal. On Tuesday, federal prosecutors in Kansas moved to dismiss their forfeiture action and a federal judge granted the motion. The prosecutors gave no explanation for the move.


19-Year-Old Woman Arrested Following Multiple Arson Fires in North Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - Lawrence police have arrested a 19-year old woman on suspicion of setting multiple fires at or near several North Lawrence businesses Wednesday night, one of which devastated a printing business. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the fires caused significant damage but no injuries at Lunar Graphix. Fire officials say the fires started around 9 p.m. and spanned the 700-1000 blocks of North Second Street. Crews fought dumpster fires at All Stars, Johnny’s Tavern, Ten10 Liquor, and in the woods in the 100 block of Maple Street at various times Wednesday evening. As a result of the large number of calls, Overland Park’s fire department was dispatched to send a fire engine to Lawrence to increase Lawrence’s fire-fighting capacity. Booking logs at the Douglas County Jail show 19-year-old Abie Schnacke was arrested on multiple arson charges late Wednesday. On Sunday, Schnacke was arrested in a different case where she is alleged to have set a fire at Lawrence Family Vision Clinic.


Uncertain Future for Library in Small Kansas Town

ST. MARYS, Kan. (KNS) - The future of a public library in one small Kansas town is in question after complaints about LGBTQ books. Since the 1980s, the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library has operated out of a building in St. Marys, northwest of Topeka. But the Kansas News Service reports that city leaders have threatened to not renew the library’s lease unless it pledges to remove materials dealing with race, sex or LGBTQ topics. The debate started after a parent complained about the book “Melissa,” which is about a transgender child. Vice-mayor Francis Awerkamp says he supports a short-term lease for the library, but only if a citizen committee can review library materials. At a meeting this week, Commissioner Matthew Childs proposed a review committee to monitor library materials. “I don’t think we can run the library any better, and it’s never been a goal to shut the library down — never. We just want to try to have some community standard established on what goes into the library," he said. Several residents spoke in favor of keeping the library open. The city commission will vote on the lease next month. If it isn’t renewed, the regional library will have to move to a different town.


Parents Accused of Child Abuse After Emaciated Infant Found Dead in Missouri Home

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (KC Star) - The parents of a two-month-old girl are charged with felony child abuse after authorities say their baby was found dead of severe malnutrition and dehydration Monday afternoon inside their Independence, Missouri, apartment.  The Kansas City Star reports that 19-year-old Austen M. Taube Hack and 20-year-old Sarah M. Stone are each charged with a single count of abuse and neglect of a child resulting in death. Both were in the custody of Independence police as of Wednesday afternoon. Police officers were dispatched Monday afternoon to an apartment for a medical call. The 911 caller told dispatchers the victim, identified as D.S. in court documents, was “unresponsive, not breathing, and cold to the touch.” The infant was pronounced dead by a paramedic roughly 30 minutes after they arrived on scene.

The couple told police detectives that Stone had delivered the child inside their apartment on August 28 without any medical supervision. They also said the baby had never received any immunizations or seen a doctor. The baby was last known to be alive late Monday morning. Stone said she found her limp inside the bedroom and the couple attempted to perform CPR after conducting a Google search on how to do so. Detectives noted the baby was found on the floor inside a bedroom and “appeared extremely malnourished and emaciated.” Police say the infant's ribs and collarbone were protruding through her skin. The Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office found that the baby had suffered “severe dehydration and malnutrition.”  During a subsequent search warrant executed at the residence, detectives reported finding concentrated THC, the chemical found in marijuana, and an apparent “grow operation of illegal hallucinogenic narcotic mushrooms.” During a police interview, Taube Hack allegedly told detectives they did not allow anyone to visit the child at their home and never brought her out of the apartment because “the world is a scary place.”


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.


U.S. Gives Protections to Rare Midwest Bird as Prairie Suffers

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. government says it will protect two populations of a rare prairie bird found in parts of the Midwest, including one of the country’s most prolific oil and gas fields. The lesser prairie chicken’s range covers a portion of the oil-rich Permian Basin along the New Mexico-Texas line, and extends into parts of Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas. The bird's habitat has diminished about 90% from historical levels. Officials say the prairies where the birds live are in peril as they get broken up and developed. (Read more.) 


Lawsuit Accuses Largest U.S. Meat Producers of Wage Fixing

DENVER (AP) _ A class-action federal lawsuit is accusing 11 of the nation's 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. 


Sedgwick County Commission Approves New Paid Holiday

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW) - Sedgwick County employees will have a paid holiday on Juneteenth. County Commissioners voted unanimously to replace President’s Day with Juneteenth on its list of 10 paid holidays. Democratic commissioners proposed adding Juneteenth as an 11th holiday, but the conservative majority opted to replace President’s Day out of cost concerns. A survey of more than 1,300 county employees shows that nearly 83% support adding Juneteenth as a paid holiday. But more than half said they did not want to replace another holiday. The State of Kansas and the City of Wichita already recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday. Larry Burks, president of the Wichita NAACP, spoke in favor of adding Juneteenth as a new holiday. “Instead of having 10, we recommend that you would allow this to be the 11th paid holiday supported by the county," he said. The conservative majority on the commission opted instead to replace President’s Day. County officials say an 11th holiday would cost more than $800,000 dollars in labor costs.


KU's Dole Institute Announces Panelists for Post-Election Conference

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — The Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas has announced the panelists for its 2022 Post-Election Conference. Dole Institute Director Emeritus Bill Lacy returns to moderate this conference that delves into the key strategies of elections. The conference features political experts, state and national strategists, pollsters, journalists and campaign officials who analyze how and why elections were won and lost, and what that will mean for the next two years. The conference takes place in three parts: a Kansas session on December 6; a national session on December 7; and a second national session on December 8. All sessions are free and open to the public. A free livestream will be available at doleinstitute.org.

Panelists for the Post-Election Conference:

Kansas session:

    Katie Bernard, reporter for the Kansas City Star
    Evan Gates, executive director at Kansas Values Institute
    Alexandra Middlewood, assistant professor of political science at Wichita State University
    Patrick Miller, associate professor of political science at KU
    Representative from Laura Kelly’s campaign
    Representative from Derek Schmidt’s campaign

National sessions:

    Gerald Seib, former executive editor of The Wall Street Journal
    Brendan Buck, former aide to then-House Speaker Paul Ryan
    Mike Shields, founder and partner of Convergence, Republican strategist
    Molly Murphy, president of Impact Research, Democratic strategist
    Joshua Jamerson, East Coast Bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal
    Jessica Taylor, Senate and Governors editor for The Cook Political Report

More information on the program is available on the Dole Institute’s website, doleinstitute.org.


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.


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. ( Read more.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.


KC Area Food Pantries Struggle to Keep Shelves Stocked

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCUR) - Food pantries in the Kansas City area say they’re struggling to stock shelves ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday because of inflation and supply chain issues. Zach Sellers, the director of pantry operations at Jewish Family Services, says fresh produce and dairy, plus items like paper products, are harder to come by. Canned goods and other staples are still supplied from Harvesters Community Food Network, but Sellers is asking the public to step up with donations of food or money. Sellers says that families should expect that turkeys and other meats will only be available in limited quantities this year.


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.


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.


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.