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Headlines for Monday, January 9, 2023

A graphic representation of eight radios of various vintages, underneath the words "Kansas Public Radio News Summary"
Emily Fisher

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly Embarks on New Term; Kris Kobach Begins as Attorney General

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/KPR) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly's successful reelection campaign in Republican-leaning Kansas wooed centrist voters with ads showing her standing in the middle of a rural road. She is starting her second term facing a skeptical, GOP-led Legislature and a new, hard-right state attorney general. Kelly and other statewide elected officials took their oaths of office in a ceremony at noon Monday that included her inaugural address. She's often used her major public speeches to promote bipartisanship. The ceremony also caps a big political comeback for Kris Kobach, the new attorney general. Over two decades, he gained a national reputation by advocating for strict immigration and election laws but became a lightning rod for controversy. He lost the 2018 governor's race to Kelly and then a GOP primary for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2020.

Both Kelly's and Kobach's victories last year were narrow, as Kansas voters sent decidedly mixed messages. Voters in August decisively rejected a proposed change to the state constitution that would have allowed lawmakers to ban abortion, but Republicans maintained their super-majorities in both legislative chambers — keeping conservatives firmly in charge.

The Legislature convened at 2 pm Monday for House and Senate sessions of mostly housekeeping and swearing in new members. Kelly is scheduled to outline her legislative agenda in the annual State of the State address Wednesday evening. The speech will be carried live by Kansas Public Radio and other public radio stations in the state beginning at 6:30 pm.

"I knew from the very get-go that if I wanted to accomplish anything in public life, that I was going to need to establish relationships across the aisle," Kelly said in a recent interview. "I will continue to work in a bipartisan manner to get things done." Kelly's centrist credibility has rested on a few high-profile moves, such as breaking with President Joe Biden on COVID-19 vaccine mandates in November 2021 and signing a bill to ban "sanctuary" cities for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Last month she banned the use of TikTok by state workers on state-issued devices, following similar action by Congress and a slew of Republican governors such as South Dakota's Kristi Noem.

But she's also clashed frequently with Republican lawmakers on budget issues, tax cuts and education and public health policy. She twice vetoed their proposals to ban transgender athletes from girls' and women's K-12 and college sports. Her proposals to expand the state's Medicaid coverage for another 150,000 people have been dead letters for top Republicans. "I've never thought she lived in the middle of the road," state Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said after fellow Republicans named him the next House speaker last month, adding that his chamber, "if anything, moves a little bit further to the right."

Kobach lost a congressional race in 2004 before winning the first of two terms as Kansas secretary of state in 2010. He was the first prominent Kansas elected official to endorse Donald Trump's bid for president in 2016 and served as vice chairman of a short-lived Trump commission on voter fraud. His unsuccessful 2018 and 2020 races crashed his political career and left many Republicans believing that he couldn't win a statewide race. But many GOP leaders and activists said his 2022 campaign was better organized and more focused, generating less drama or outrage. The more combative Kobach could return: He's promised to file lawsuits to challenge Biden administration policies. He's already identified as potential targets a listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species and an expansion of waters covered by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

(–AP Reporting–)

Democratic Kansas Governor Laura Kelly Urges Civility; Kobach Sworn in as AG

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly is calling for leaders in Republican-leaning Kansas to emulate the state's residents and make politics more civil. Kelly was sworn in Monday for a second term as governor. She is facing a skeptical, Republican-led Legislature and a new, hard-right state attorney general. Kelly's inaugural address followed a pattern of her using major public speeches to promote bipartisanship. New Attorney General Kris Kobach was also sworn in.


Kansas Legislature Has State's $2 Billion Surplus to Wrangle over this Year

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas has a budget surplus of more than $2 billion. The Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Governor Laura Kelly will likely spar this session over how to use that money. While Kelly calls for cutting some taxes, she’s also proposing funding increases in health care and education. But Republican lawmakers have rarely backed any of her plans. Instead, the Republican leadership may look at different tax cuts and spending hikes while also looking to pass conservative laws. With such a large surplus in state coffers, cutting taxes will surely be a major discussion. Kelly recently proposed a plan that she said will provide $500 million of tax relief over the next three years. The plan includes speeding up the current phase-out of the food sales tax.


KBI Releases Report on Catholic Clergy Abuse

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - A Kansas Bureau of Investigation report released late Friday documents a chronic pattern of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the state, and the church’s history of protecting its clergy. The report released by the state attorney general’s office said dioceses across Kansas frequently failed to follow church policies regarding allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. The task force that conducted the overview said efforts to prosecute cases was frustrated by actions of the church, by expiring statutes of limitations and the deaths of both alleged abusers and their victims.


EPA, Pipeline Operator Reach Deal to Clean Up Kansas Spill

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that it has reached an agreement with a pipeline operator to clean up a spill that dumped nearly 600,000 gallons of crude oil into a rural Kansas creek. The agency said in a news release that the December 7 rupture of the Keystone pipeline affected 3 and a half miles of a creek as it flows through rural pastureland in Washington County, about 150 miles northwest of Kansas City. The order requires TC Oil Pipeline Operations Inc. to recover oil and oil-contaminated soil and vegetation and contain the further spread of oil in the creek.


U.S. Supreme Court Won't Hear Appeals from Convicted 'Wichita Massacre' Attackers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeals of two brothers who were sentenced to death for four fatal shootings in a soccer field in December 2000 known as “the Wichita massacre.” Outgoing Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Monday that the high court’s decision means Jonathan and Reginald Carr no longer have any direct appeals of their death sentences. However, Schmidt says they can still file lawsuits in state and federal courts to try to prevent their executions by lethal injection. The U.S. Supreme Court’s action come a little less than a year after the Kansas Supreme Court upheld their death sentences.


KCK Man Arrested for Allegedly Killing 16-Year-Old Girl in 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KSHB) — A Kansas City, Kansas, man has beens taken into custody for allegedly killing a 16-year-old girl in 2014. An investigation by the KBI and the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department led to the arrest of 38-year-old Billy I. Dupree. KSHB TV reports that Dupree is currently being held at the Lansing Correctional Facility due to prior convictions. Nearly eight years after the young girl's death, the Kansas Attorney General’s Office requested that the KBI join Kansas City police in investigating once it was “determined that the murder had taken place in Kansas City, Kansas. The victim's body was located December 21, 2014, near 24th Street and Monroe Avenue in KCMO. The Kansas Attorney General’s Office expects to prosecute the case.


New Principal at Topeka-Based Youth Prison School Fired in Arkansas over Sex Scandal

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - A school at a Kansas juvenile prison hired a leader who had previously been fired from a post in Arkansas. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Matthew Wendt had been dismissed in Arkansas over sexual harassment allegations stemming from an affair with a subordinate. In July, Topeka's Lawrence Gardner High School, which serves youth at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex, hired Wendt as its new principal. Wendt was terminated from his position at the Fayetteville School District in 2018, following a complaint from a former secretary, who alleged that Wendt stalked her, used her employment as a means of controlling her and berated her with expletives. Wendt has denied the allegations.

A school district investigation framed the relationship as a consensual sexual one that eventually soured but dismissed Wendt for violating school policies. It's unclear whether the Kansas Department of Corrections knew about Wendt's background when he was hired. A spokesperson for the agency wouldn't comment. According to his LinkedIn page, Wendt, a Kansas native, also served as a principal at a foreign school in China, as well as working as an international education consultant based in Topeka.


2 Dead After Weekend Shooting in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KSHB) - Police in Kansas City say two people have been killed in a shooting near a residence. KSHB TV reports that shortly before 1 am Sunday, officers responded to reports of a shooting (in the 2000 block of East 73rd Street). Police located two victims in the front yard. One victim, an adult male, died on the scene. An adult female died later at an area hospital. An investigation continues.


KCK Police: 1 Person Killed in Crash as Suspected Car Thief Flees

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KMBC) - A police chase across state lines turned deadly in Kansas City early Sunday morning. KMBC TV reports that officers from Kansas City, Kansas, were chasing a GMC Terrain that someone reportedly stole at gunpoint around 2 am Sunday. Authorities say the vehicle was stolen. They began a pursuit that crossed into Kansas City, Missouri, and sped down Independence Avenue. Police say the driver didn't stop at a red light and hit another vehicle, a Nissan Altima, killing a passenger in the Nissan. The driver of the Nissan has life-threatening injuries. The suspect was taken to the hospital with serious injuries.


John Deere Reaches Deal with Farm Group on Fixing Equipment

MOLINE, Ill. (AP) _ Equipment manufacturer John Deere and the American Farm Bureau Federation have signed an agreement that ensures farmers and ranchers have the right to repair their own farm equipment. They say the deal signed Sunday at the Farm Bureau Federation convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico, follows several years of discussions between the two sides. Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall says the deal ''addresses a long-running issue for farmers and ranchers when it comes to accessing tools, information and resources while protecting John Deere's intellectual property rights and ensuring equipment safety.''


Kansas Senator Jerry Moran Visits Southern Border

WASHINGTON, D.C. (KPR) – Kansas Senator Jerry Moran is visiting the southern border. The Republican is in El Paso, Texas, today (MON). “There is a humanitarian, public health and national security crisis at our southern border,” he said. "I look forward to learning more about the challenges our border agents are facing and the steps that can be taken to start solving this crisis.” Moran joins a bipartisan group of senators that will tour various points along the border, meet with U.S. Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations, tour Border Patrol processing centers and meet with non-profit leaders, local government leaders and local law enforcement personnel.


Warning about Aquifer's Decline Sets Up Big Fight in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/KPR) — Kansas water experts are sounding an alarm decades in the making: Farmers and ranchers in western Kansas must stop pumping so much water out of the vast Ogallala Aquifer. If they don't, experts warn, they risk the economic collapse of a region important to the nation's food supply. That warning is setting up a big and messy fight for the annual session of the Kansas Legislature, which begins Monday. The Kansas Water Authority is telling lawmakers that Kansas needs to break sharply with its decades-long policy of slowing depletion while still allowing water levels to drop. Ogallala Aquifer covers roughly 175,000 square miles in the western and Great
Plains states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and South Dakota.


Once-in-a-Lifetime Comet Returns to Kansas, Missouri Skies

TOPEKA, Kan. (WDAF) — A rare comet will soon be visible across the skies of Kansas and Missouri. The last time anyone saw this astronomical event was during the time of the Neanderthals - and that was 50,000 years ago. WDAF TV reports that now, the comet is returning to Earth's orbit. The comet was discovered in early March 2022. The comet is embarking on a trip through our inner Solar System and will make its closest pass to the sun on January 12. It will then make its closest pass to Earth on Wednesday, February 1. This means that there will be numerous opportunities to see this phenomenon. If the comet continues brightening at its current pace, then there’s even a chance you’ll be able to see it with your naked eye.


AFC Title Game Will be at Neutral Site if the Bills Face the Chiefs

UNDATED (AP) - The AFC championship game will be played on a neutral site if the Chiefs and Bills reach that point. Buffalo's 35-23 win over New England on Sunday coupled with Kansas City's 31-13 victory at Las Vegas on Saturday means the No. 1 seed Chiefs can't host the conference title game against the Bills because the teams played an unequal number of games. NFL owners approved a resolution Friday that implemented new rules for this postseason in response to the cancellation of the Bills-Bengals game after Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field Monday night.

The Bills were trailing the Bengals 7-3 in the first quarter when Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and needed to be resuscitated after making a tackle. The league chose to cancel the game to avoid disrupting the start of the postseason and impacting the remainder of the playoff field. The 24-year-old Hamlin is breathing fully on his own while also able to speak, though he was still listed in critical condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. His neurological function was deemed excellent on Saturday.

If the Bills would've defeated the Bengals, they would have earned the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs because a 24-20 win in Kansas City in October gave Buffalo a tiebreaker edge. Instead, the Bills finished with the No. 2 seed and will host the Miami Dolphins (9-8) in a wild-card game next weekend.

The Bills lost a thrilling overtime game at Kansas City in the divisional round last year. The Chiefs have hosted the last four AFC championship games, going 2-2. They would host it again if their opponent is not Buffalo.


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. This news summary is made possible by KPR members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.