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Headlines for Wednesday, November 30, 2022



Midwest Drought's Wide-Ranging Impact

UNDATED (KNS/HPM) - As climate change fuels more frequent, more intense droughts, it’s hard to count all the ways this historically dry, hot, windy year is wreaking havoc. In the Great Plains, widespread drought has dried up lakes and rivers, decimated crop harvests and left cattle with no grass to eat. And as farmers pump more water from underground aquifer to make up for a lack of rain, some areas are considering new limits on irrigation. Nate Jenkins, with the natural resources district in southwest Nebraska, says a year like this highlights the need to conserve. “When it gets this hot and dry and windy, you know, I think some people kind of shake their head and say ‘Geez, it’s getting kind of ridiculous, isn't it? When's it gonna stop?," he said. ( Read more.) 


Kansas Ag Industry Struggles to Find Workers

UNDATED (KNS) - Kansas agriculture businesses are struggling to find enough skilled workers to do things like drive trucks and operate equipment. That could hamper the growth of one of the state’s largest industries. A recent survey from the Kansas Department of Agriculture shows that most companies have had to offer better pay to fill jobs the past two years. Companies are also turning to workers outside the traditional workforce — hiring high school students, retirees and formerly incarcerated people. Another option is bringing in seasonal workers from other countries. But KDA marketing director Russell Plaschka says it’s not always easy. “It's a government program. It takes a lot of paperwork, it takes a lot of cost to get those workers over here, and any way we can alleviate that pressure is a benefit to our economy," he said. The Kansas agriculture industry contributes more than $75 billion to the state economy and supports 14% of the state’s jobs.


Kansas Scores Low on Health Care Affordability

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - Health care is less affordable in Kansas than nearly anywhere else in the country, according to a new report by the nonprofit research group Altarum. The Kansas News Service reports that's partially driven by overpriced medical care. Kansas ranked 49 out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., indicating that state policies are doing little to make health care affordable. One figure — private payers in Kansas pay nearly triple Medicare rates for the same medical services. Dr. Justin Moore with the Kansas Business Group on Health helps employers design health insurance plans. He says high prices make people less likely to get the care they need. “It's simple math," he said. "If it's going to cost you more out of pocket to go see your family doctor, you're just less likely to do it.” To curb prices, the report recommends changes like health care price transparency tools and creating a state health spending oversight group.


President Biden Taps Native Kansan as New U.S. Attorney for Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KCUR) - President Joe Biden’s pick to be the next U.S. Attorney in Kansas is a former Missouri prosecutor who helped free a man last year wrongly convicted of murder.  Kate Brubacher, a native of North Newton, Kansas, served in the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office from 2016 until August of this year. She was part of a team of Jackson County prosecutors who fought for the exoneration of Kevin Strickland, who spent 43 years in prison for a triple murder he didn’t commit. He was exonerated in late 2021.  Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker hailed Brubacher’s selection. “I will tell you she’s one of the best lawyers I have met," she said. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Brubacher will oversee about 50 prosecutors and 50 support staff at offices in Kansas City, Kansas, Topeka and Wichita.


Biden Calls on Congress to Head Off Potential Rail Strike

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — President Joe Biden is calling on Congress to pass legislation to intervene and block a railroad strike before next month's deadline in the stalled contract talks. Biden said Monday that a tentative agreement approved in September provided a pay raise for workers, protected their health care benefits and improved their leave policy. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers will take up legislation to impose those terms this week. If Congress acts, it will end the negotiations between four rail unions that rejected their deals and the railroads. Eight other rail unions have ratified their deals that include 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses.


Railroad Unions and Their Employers at an Impasse

UNDATED (THE CONVERSATION) - The prospect of a potentially devastating rail workers strike is looming again, prompting the Biden administration to call on Congress to intervene by passing legislation that would force them to agree to a new contract. Fears of a strike in September saw the White House pull out all the stops to broker a deal between railroads and the largest unions representing their employees. That deal hinged on ratification by a majority of members at all 12 of those unions. So far, eight have voted in favor, but four have rejected the terms. If even one continues to reject the deal after further negotiations, it could mean a full-scale freight strike could start as soon as the deadline passes on December 9, 2022. "Let me be clear: a rail shutdown would devastate our economy," President Joe Biden said in a statement November 18. "Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down." Any work stoppage by conductors and engineers would surely interfere with the delivery of gifts and other items Americans will want to receive in time for the holiday season, along with coal, lumber and other key commodities. Strikes that obstruct transportation rarely occur in the United States, and the last one involving rail workers happened three decades ago. But when these workers do walk off the job, it can thrash the economy, inconveniencing millions of people and creating a large-scale crisis.

(Provided by the AP, The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news and analysis from academic experts. Read the original article here.)


Top Kansas Transportation Official to Step Down December 23

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The top transportation official in Kansas is stepping down just before Christmas. Governor Laura Kelly's office announced Tuesday that Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz plans to return to private business and that her last day leading the state Department of Transportation is December 23. It's the first major change at a state agency since the Democratic governor narrowly won reelection earlier this month. Lorenz spearheaded Kelly’s successful push in 2020 for a new, 10-year program of highway and bridge projects. Before Lorenz became the state's transportation chief in 2019, she was an executive at the Kansas City engineering and architectural firm Burns & McDonnell.


Ex-Majority Leader Jailed for DUI Is Leaving Kansas Senate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas lawmaker who was forced out of one of the state Senate’s most powerful jobs following a drunken driving arrest is planning to leave the Legislature in early January. Republican state Sen. Gene Suellentrop, of Wichita, confirmed Tuesday that he plans to retire January 2. He said in an email that his 13 years as a lawmaker “is long enough.” GOP senators picked Suellentrop in December 2020 to be Senate majority leader but stripped him of the job four months later. He was arrested in March 2021 and later pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless driving and driving under the influence charges. He served two days in jail.

(– Earlier Reporting –)

Former Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop to Resign from Kansas Senate

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) – Republican state Senator Gene Suellentrop will resign from his seat in January. The Kansas News Service reports that it's the latest move in Suellentrop's career since the longtime Kansas Republican lawmaker stepped down from his position as state Senate majority leader last year. Suellentrop was arrested in 2021 for driving drunk and traveling the wrong way on I-70 in Topeka. He eventually pleaded no contest to charges of driving under the influence and reckless driving.  Sedgwick County Republicans will choose his replacement. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that they will pick a new senator next month. 

Kansas Providers Cautious About Providing Telemedicine Abortions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas providers might not be ready for months to do telemedicine abortions. That's the case even though a state-court judge has blocked the state from enforcing its ban on teleconferencing with patients seeking pregnancy-ending medications. Planned Parenthood Great Plains operates three Kansas clinics and said Wednesday that it is evaluating its options following the order last week from Shawnee County District Judge Teresa Watson. A spokesperson for Wichita clinic operator Trust Women said it hopes to resume telemedicine abortions but will move slowly. It provided them for a few months in 2018, filing a lawsuit challenging the ban just before it took effect at the start of 2019.


Kansas Court Order Allows for Telemedicine Abortions

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - A Kansas court decision last week will allow abortion clinics in the state to provide medication abortions through telemedicine. On Wednesday, a Shawnee County District Court judge stopped the enforcement of legislation that prohibited doctors from prescribing abortion pills via telemedicine. The state law passed in 2011 required doctors to have a physical presence when initially administering medication to induce an abortion. KWCH TV reports that the FDA-approved medication abortion is a two-pill process that can be used up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy. The temporary injunction is a win for abortion rights supporters in the state. Data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) shows last year, medication abortion accounted for 68% of abortions in Kansas. The latest order doesn’t settle the law, as the case is still pending in Shawnee District Court.


KPR Still Seeking Kansas Statehouse Bureau Chief to Join Station'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.


Kansas Lawmakers Will Try Again at Reauthorizing Mural of Black Soldiers in U.S. Civil War

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - After more than two decades of efforts to honor Black soldiers in the Civil War with a mural at the Kansas Statehouse, legislators will try again next year. The plan? To again propose legislation similar to what didn't pass last year and, the creation of a subcommittee. "Maybe we'll finally get somewhere," said Patrick Zollner, chair of the Capitol Preservation Committee, at a meeting last month. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first unit of Black soldiers in the Civil War and has long been the subject of a proposed Statehouse mural. "This regiment is often referenced as the 'first to serve' and it holds a distinctive place in Kansas and the nation's Civil War experience," said Melissa Renick, a legislative researcher. "Kansas was the first northern state to recruit, train and send Black soldiers to combat during the war between the states."

State law has called for a mural since 2000, but delays brought on by Capitol renovations and a lack of funding have now run into a technical hurdle that can only be fixed through new legislation. Kansas Historical Society archivists this summer discovered a batch of documents from 2008 on the mural, including a draft call for artists and request for qualifications. ( Read more.)


Junction City Native Advances on “The Voice”

LOS ANGELES (KSNT) – Justin Aaron of Junction City successfully moved into the semi-finals of the television singing contest “The Voice” Tuesday night. The 34-year-old Aaron, who works as a para-professional at Junction City High School, received enough votes to advance to the next round. He will perform again Monday, December 5 for the live semi-finals. Aaron was born and raised in Junction City. He told KSNT TV that his love for music got its start after watching his mother sing at the Second Missionary Baptist Church.


KU Football Great John Hadl Dead at 82

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - College Football Hall of Famer John Hadl has died at the age of 82. He was a football star for the University of Kansas in his hometown of Lawrence before turning pro.  Hadl was a standout athlete, particularly on the gridiron where he had a successful college football career playing quarterback, running back and punter. After leading KU to a Bluebonnet Bowl victory as a senior in 1961, Hadl began a long pro career. He played 16 years as a professional quarterback for the San Diego Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers and Houston Oilers. After his pro career ended, Hadl eventually made his way back to his hometown of Lawrence, where he served as an assistant KU football coach. He retired in 2018 after working as a fundraiser for the KU athletics department. ( Read more.

(– AP Version –)

Longtime NFL Quarterback, KU Star John Hadl Dies at 82

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Longtime NFL quarterback John Hadl, who starred for his hometown Kansas Jayhawks before embarking on a professional career that included six Pro Bowl appearances and an All-Pro nod, died Wednesday. He was 82. The university, where Hadl returned after his playing days as a coach and fundraiser, announced his death in a statement, citing his family. No cause was given. Hadl spent most of his professional career with the San Diego Chargers, leading them to three AFL title games before the league merged with the NFL. He also played for the Packers, Rams and Oilers.


KU Women’s Basketball Team to Face Texas A&M

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - The University of Kansas women’s basketball team is 5-0 heading into its biggest non-conference game tonight (WED) against Texas A&M. This will be the first meeting in women’s basketball between KU and Texas A&M since the Aggies left the Big 12 and moved to the SEC in 2012. That was before Brandon Schneider became KU's head coach, so he wasn’t around when the Aggies built an 11-game winning streak against KU. The Aggies are 4-0 this season under Joni Taylor, who took over for the legendary Gary Blair. In 2011, Blair guided the Aggies to the women’s basketball national championship.


Chiefs-Broncos Game “Flexed” from Sunday Night Football to Sunday Afternoon

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KSHB) — The Kansas City Chiefs game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, December 11, has been moved from evening to afternoon. The NFL made the announcement Tuesday. KSHB TV reports that Kansas City was scheduled to play the Broncos at 7:20 pm on Sunday Night Football on NBC. Instead, the NFL announced that the Miami Dolphins will play the Los Angeles Chargers in the Sunday night game. Kansas City's game against Denver will now air in the afternoon on CBS with the first kick set for 3:05 pm.


KU Football Coach Lance Leipold Signs Lucrative Contract

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas Jayhawks football coach Lance Leipold has been promised more than $5 million a year through 2029. Starting next year, Lance Leipold will command between $5 and $6 million a year. Leipold said in a statement that he’s proud of the progress the football team made in the last year and a half. KU started with a 5-0 record and finished the regular season at 6-and-6. It’s eligible for a bowl game for the first time since 2008. Depending on what bowl game KU plays in, Leipold will get paid at least a $100,000 bonus under the terms of his new deal.  

(AP version)

Kansas Head Football Coach Leipold Signs Lucrative Contract Extension

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lance Leipold has signed his lucrative contract extension at the University of Kansas, which includes a massive pay raise for the Jayhawks’ football coach along with his assistants and staff, and could keep him tied to the school through the 2029 season. Under terms of the contract, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, Leipold will make $5 million in the first year of the deal with annual $100,000 increases. That averages out to $5.3 million and tops out at $5.6 million in the final year. Leipold gets a $750,000 signing bonus while his buyout rises to $12.5 million. Leipold led the Jayhawks to a 6-6 record in his second year and their first bowl game since 2008.


Coach Chris Klieman Winning Games, Winning over Fans at No. 13 K-State

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Chris Klieman received a rather tepid reception when Kansas State hired him away from North Dakota State. Wildcat fans pined for someone from the Bill Snyder coaching tree, and the longtime small college coach hardly fit the bill. Four years later, Klieman has the No. 13 Wildcats playing third-ranked TCU for a Big 12 title. Everything about his program, from the hard-nosed and mistake-free football to the lack of ego or selfishness, also seems to fit seamlessly in his new home. And wouldn't you know it? Klieman has won over even the most ardent of naysayers.


AP Source: KC Chiefs Adding Ex-Broncos RB Melvin Gordon

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs are signing two-time Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon to their practice squad, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press, adding some much-needed depth with a player that was recently released from the AFC West rival Denver Broncos. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Monday because the signing was not yet official. Gordon was cut by the Broncos last week amid fumble issues that plagued the 2015 first-round pick during his time in Denver. He had five in 10 games this season.


Kansas Volleyball Team Makes the NCAA Tournament

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - Pairings for the NCAA Division I women's volleyball tournament were announced Sunday and the Kansas Jayhawks are in the field. KU plays Thursday in Lincoln, Nebraska, against the University of Miami. The match will start at 4:30 pm.


Big 12 Title Game RBs Look Different, Have Similar Results

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — TCU’s Kendre Miller and Kansas State’s 5-foot-6 dynamo Deuce Vaughn have much different body types. But the third-year running backs that will be featured in the Big 12 championship game Saturday look pretty similar in what they do on the field. Like Vaughn, the 6-foot, 220-pound Miller can be shifty, elusive and quick. Vaughn can also be hard to tackle and doesn’t shy from contact even though he is nearly 50 pounds lighter. Vaughn has 1,295 yards rushing. Miller has rushed for 1,260 yards and 16 touchdowns, running for a score in every game this season for third-ranked TCU.


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.