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Headlines for Friday, January 13, 2023

News Summary updated image
Emily Fisher
/
KPR

Kansas Governor Doesn't Have COVID After All

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Laura Kelly plans to return to the Kansas Statehouse after learning that a COVID-19 test earlier in the week gave her a false positive result. Kelly has been working in self-isolation at the governor's residence since the false positive Tuesday. Her office announced that she had tested positive for COVID-19 and she postponed the annual State of the State address. Kelly's office said Thursday that she took the test after experiencing "cold-like symptoms." She continued testing and after several negative results, her doctor and state health department experts determined that the first test was a false positive. The State of the State address has been rescheduled for January 24.

Kansas Public Radio will carry the State of the State Address live on Tuesday, January 24, beginning at 6:30 pm.

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Fight over Kansas Budget Surplus: How Much Gets Socked Away?

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly and the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature are headed toward big fights over spending on special education programs, pay raises for government workers and how much the cash-flush state should sock away for worse economic times. Kelly released budget proposals Thursday that include depositing $500 million into the state's rainy day fund, giving state workers a 5% pay increase across the board and phasing in a 61% increase in spending on programs in K-12 public schools for children with special needs.

Top Republican lawmakers want Kansas to set aside at least $1 billion of its current surplus as a hedge against future budget shortfalls. The GOP chairs of the House and Senate budget committees had strong misgivings Thursday about giving an across-the-board pay raise to state workers, and the chair of a House committee on education spending questioned whether the extra money for special education is necessary.

The governor's budget director, Adam Proffitt, told the House and Senate budget committees that Kelly is "looking across the horizon" to ensure that both tax cuts and government programs can be sustained into the future. Kansas endured persistent budget shortfalls during a 2012-2017 Republican experiment in slashing income taxes. "We're building a better Kansas for working families and retirees -- all while maintaining a balanced budget," Kelly said in a statement.

Kelly, who won a second term in November, already was headed toward a clash with Republican legislators over how best to cut taxes. The state is projecting $3.2 billion in surplus cash in its treasury at the end of June 2024 and nearly $1 billion more already in the rainy day fund. The Legislature is set to remain in session until early May.

Kelly's biggest tax proposal is eliminating the state's 4% sales tax on groceries, while GOP leaders want to create a "flat" income tax, rather than having multiple tax brackets for filers.

Putting a larger amount of the current projected surplus into the rainy day fund for future use limits lawmakers' options for tax cuts or new spending.

Kelly proposed a $24.1 billion spending blueprint for state government for the 2024 budget year, which begins July 1. That's $1.2 billion, or 5.3%, more than the current $22.9 billion budget approved by lawmakers last year.

Proffitt expressed confidence that the state's revenue projections will hold up through June 2024. Inflation has eased over the past six months from decades-high levels, but the head of the Legislature's research staff, J.G. Scott, told the budget committees Thursday that eventually, it and the U.S. Federal Reserve's increases in interest rates to contain it will cause "a lot of cooling in the economy." "We keep hearing the word 'uncertainty,'" said Democratic state Sen. Jeff Pittman, of Leavenworth. Proffitt argued that setting aside another $500 million — to build the rainy day fund up to a total of $1.5 billion — would be enough to cover even the worst year's decline in revenues.

But several Republicans said they want the state to have $2 billion on hand, enough to plug $1 billion a year into the budget for two years. Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, told reporters this week that he wants Kansas ready for economic problems as bad as or worse than those of the Great Recession of 2007-08. "I don't want us to take that hit like we did last time," Masterson said.

Kelly's proposed pay increases for government workers would help short-staffed agencies recruit and retain employees, Proffitt said. But Republicans said they want to concentrate first on boosting the pay of workers whose salaries are at least 5% below those of people holding similar jobs with private companies.

Meanwhile, educators are focusing on boosting spending on special education programs after years of increases in the state's general aid to local school districts. Kansas law sets a target of having the state cover 92% of the additional costs tied to special education, but the current spending of $546 million covers only 76%. With special education costs typically rising each year, Kelly's plan would boost the state's spending by $336 million over five years, bringing it to $882 million for the 2028 budget year.

But state Rep. Kristey Williams, an Augusta Republican who chairs the House's committee on K-12 spending, has repeatedly questioned how the state calculates excess special education costs and the dollars available to cover them. And she said Thursday, "Money's not always the answer to every problem."

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Water Quality Recovering Downstream After Keystone Oil Spill in Northern Kansas

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Kan. (KNS) - State officials say water quality is improving downstream of the Keystone oil spill area in northern Kansas. When the pipeline burst last month in Washington County, emergency crews built dams to contain the oil. But the Kansas News Service reports that those dams couldn’t fully stop the flowing stream. The state found benzene and other chemicals farther downstream in Mill Creek and the Little Blue River. Last week, Canadian oil company TC Energy diverted the creek to temporarily bypass about four miles of the area that needs intensive cleanup. Now, state officials say chemical levels downstream are improving, but people and livestock should still stay out of Mill Creek downstream of the oil spill.

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KU Grad Becomes President of Washburn University

TOPEKA, Kan. (LJW) - A University of Kansas graduate has been chosen as the next president of Washburn University in Topeka. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that JuliAnn Mazachek, who received a doctorate of accounting from KU, most recently served as president of Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. Prior to her time in Texas, Mazachek spent 30 year at Washburn in various leadership roles, including serving as its chief academic officer and leader of the university’s alumni association. She'll become the first woman president of Washburn, which has about 6,000 students. Mazachek replaces Jerry Farley, who served as president for 25 years before retiring in September.

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Lenexa Police Suspect "Road Rage" After Driver Found Shot Dead Along I-435

LENEXA, Kan. (KC Star) - Police in Lenexa are investigating a possible case of "road rage," after the discovery of a man found shot to death in a crashed vehicle off Interstate 435 in Johnson County. The Kansas City Star reports that officers were first called around 5:45 Thursday morning to investigate a report of a vehicle off the roadway that had struck a light pole. Kansas Highway Patrol troopers responded to assist. Investigators learned that the man, who was the driver and sole occupant of the white Jeep Grand Cherokee, had suffered a gunshot wound. The exact circumstances that led up to the shooting and crash are still unclear. Police are asking anyone with information to contact the Lenexa Police Department at (913) 825-8040.

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KBI: Body Found in Attic of Brown County Home

HORTON, Kan. (KPR) — Authorities say a body has been found in the attic of a home in Brown County. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) says the local sheriff's office received a 911 call from a woman in Horton on January 10, requesting assistance. When deputies arrived, they discovered a man’s body, later identified as 56-year-old Gene Dunlap, in the attic of the house. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The KBI is calling this a suspicious death. An autopsy is scheduled. Anyone with information related to this case is asked to call the KBI at (800) KS-CRIME or the Brown County Sheriff’s Office at (785) 742-7125.

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Sexual Abuse Survivors Push Kansas Lawmakers to Change Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Survivors of childhood sexual assault have been pushing Kansas lawmakers to remove the statute of limitations for child sex crimes. A bill to do just that has been introduced. This is the fourth year lawmakers have tried to erase the statute of limitations for child sex crimes. Legislators joined survivors of sexual assault this week to argue for the change. Tess Ramirez says she was sexually assaulted, and that the statute of limitations prevented others from reporting the actions of an abuser years before Ramirez was molested. “We have the opportunity and power to protect these survivors and prevent pedophiles from continuing to sexually abuse children. It’s time to remove the statute of limitations for these acts," she said. State law requires child abuse survivors to pursue a case by the age of 21. Some survivors who spoke at a Statehouse press conference Wednesday said they did not report the crime until well after that age, sometimes waiting until their 50s to speak out.

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Topeka Man Accused of Child Abuse, Homicide in Death of 16-Month-Old

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - The death Sunday of a 16-month-old boy has been declared a homicide and a suspect has been arrested. Topeka police announced the news late Thursday. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 40-year-old Dustin J. Kelley, of Topeka, was arrested Thursday in connection with crimes linked to the boy's death. The boy's name hasn't been made public. Police began investigating after learning January 4 that the boy may have been a victim of child abuse and was a patient at a Topeka hospital, where he subsequently died. Kelley was booked into the Shawnee County Jail on various charges, including first-degree murder. Formal charges have not yet been filed. Further details weren't made public. The homicide was one of two recorded so far this year in Topeka.

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Kansas Man Arrested for Alleged Child Rape

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Kan. (KAKE/Hutch News) - A man suspected of child rape has been taken into custody, following a weekend standoff with police in southeast Kansas. KAKE TV reports that detectives with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office and agents from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation were called Sunday night to serve an arrest warrant for 32-year-old Niklas Nelson for raping a child and making a criminal threat. Nelson's father told authorities his son was hiding in a large shop on the property and that he may be armed. Law enforcement surrounded the shop and attempted to contact Nelson. The Montgomery County Emergency Response Team was activated and the KBI deployed an armored vehicle. The Kansas Highway Patrol also deployed a helicopter in case Nelson ran. After a standoff, Nelson was taken into custody and booked on charges of rape, possession of meth and interfering with law enforcement. Nelson has prior convictions for aggravated assault and obstruction.

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Special Prosecutor Named in Case Involving Alleged Sex Crimes at Lawrence School

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - A special prosecutor has been appointed to handle the case of a former Raintree Montessori School employee in Lawrence who’s accused of committing child sex crimes at the school. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that 20-year-old Mateo Emilio Clavel Wills is charged with four counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child under the age of 14 — two counts involving a 3-year-old and two counts involving a 4-year-old. The charges are off-grid felonies. A special prosecutor, Jeannette Wolpink, has been appointed to take over the case. Wolpink works for the prosecutor’s office in Jackson County, Missouri.

It’s not clear why a special prosecutor had to be appointed or whether there was a conflict in the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office that necessitated that. The Journal-World reached out to the DA’s office via email, and a spokesperson said the office was unable to comment. In general, little information has been available about Wills’ case since his arrest last year. The arrest affidavit in the case, which would have detailed the evidence police gathered in support of the arrest, was sealed by the court. Wills has been held in the Douglas County Jail since his arrest in July 2022.

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Missouri Boarding School Under Investigation Will Shut Down

UNDATED (AP) – A Christian boarding school in Missouri that's been under intense scrutiny over abuse allegations will close later this month. It's citing financial hardship. Agape Boarding School in Stockton has been the subject of state and location investigations and several lawsuits filed on behalf of former students. A statement from the school for boys says it will stop providing service effective January 20. Attendance at Agape has plummeted to just 12 students since the abuse allegations surfaced. A former student who has alleged abuse says the closure means that “the healing process can start."

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Bed, Bath & Beyond Stores in Lawrence and Manhattan Closing, Topeka's Remains Open

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - Bed Bath & Beyond has announced it will shutter hundreds of stores across the country, amid talks of filing for bankruptcy protection. The Topeka store (at 1900 S.W. Wanamaker Road) isn't on the list. But the store in Lawrence recently closed and the one in Manhattan is set to close. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the retailer will close 62 Bed Bath & Beyond stores in addition to the 56 stores announced in September. The company revealed a net sales decline of 33%. The decline in net sales versus last year was driven by "lower customer traffic and reduced levels of inventory availability, among other factors," the company said in a public notice to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The retailer expressed uncertainty of its fate, adding that the company faces "substantial doubt" about its ability to continue operating on its own.

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Dozens Attend Public Meeting on Proposed Wind Farm Regulations in Douglas County

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) -The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission held a public meeting Thursday night about proposed regulations for wind farms in Douglas County. Dozens of residents attended and some spoke out against commercial wind energy projects. The Lawrence Journal World reports that the Florida-based company, NextEra Energy has previously said that it’s exploring whether a wind energy project would be viable in southwest Douglas County. The meeting was one of the first steps in a process intended to bring regulations for wind energy in line with the county’s new solar regulations that passed last year. Some opponents said they wanted the county to mandate more space between residential areas and wind turbines. Others said they were concerned about noise levels.

The public’s next chance to comment on the proposed regulations will be Monday, January 30 at City Hall. The public comment period for the draft regulations closes at the end of the day February 5. Comments can be submitted via email to windregs@lawrenceks.org.

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Facebook Parent Company Meta Amasses 900 Acres Around Northland Data Center

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KC Business Journal) - Facebook's parent company, Meta, has already announced an $800 million data center set to open in the Kansas City area in 2024. But the project may get even bigger. The Kansas City Business Journal reports that Meta has queitly acquired nearly 900 acres around the area where the data center will be located. The Journal reports that property purchases between July 2020 and December 2022 could allow Meta to build a far larger campus in Kansas City's Northland.

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Experts: Kansas City-Area Homeowners Could See More Rats as Weather Turns Colder

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDAF) — Experts warn a higher number of rats may soon try to move into homes and apartments across the Kansas City metro. WDAF TV reports that a pest control company says its been unseasonably warm recently, but colder weather is on the way. And just like other animals, rats will be looking for warmer areas to escape the winter chill. Zachary Smith, owner of The Pest Dude, says rodents, above all other pests, are a public health concern as they can cause considerable damage to both residential and business properties. Smith says they are seeing an increase in service calls as rats continue looking for somewhere warm to spend the winter. Orkin, Inc., the Atlanta-based pest control company, agrees. It ranked Kansas City, Missouri, as the No. 27th “Rattiest City” in the country in 2022. While Kansas City fell out of the top 25 on the list in the latest ranking, it still comes in higher than St. Louis at No. 30.

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Kansas Has Nine Inmates on Death Row. Will Any Ever Be Executed?

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Currently in Kansas, nine men are on death row. But many are wondering whether the state will every carry out another execution. With the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear appeals from convicted murderers Jonathan and Reginald Carr, questions have been raised regarding their status and the status of other Kansas inmates who were sentenced to death. KWCH TV reports that the last time anyone was executed in Kansas was in 1965. While Kansas reinstated capital punishment in 1994, some inmates have now been on death row for decades.

Ron Wurtz, vice chair of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, says the process for an execution can take years, even decades, due to a lengthy appeals process. The appeals go back and forth between local, state and federal courts. After all appeals are exhausted, the issue would then head to the governor who might consider clemency. If the governor decides not to intervene, the Kansas Supreme Court would set an execution date. The Lansing Correctional Facility has a death chamber to be used for lethal injection. Currently, Wurtz says, no one is sure when the next execution in Kansas could happen.

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Big 12 Conference Hasn't Had Top-to-Bottom Start Like This in a Decade

UNDATED (AP) – Big 12 men's basketball is off to roaring start. No. 11 Kansas State has already surpassed last season's overall win total at 15-1 and is 4-0 in conference play along with No. 2 Kansas and No. 14 Iowa State. That comes as Texas Tech and West Virginia have lost their first four conference games. The last time the Big 12 had multiple teams open league play 4-0 with multiple other teams going 0-4 was 2012-13. The Big 12 is still the only league in the county with half of its teams ranked, and every team still has a winning record.

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NFL Picks Atlanta as "Neutral Site" for Possible Chiefs / Bills Playoff Game

UNDATED (KPR/KCUR) - The NFL has announced a neutral game site in case the AFC Championship comes down to a match-up between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta will be that neutral site if the Chiefs and the Bills advance that far. The plan to play the AFC Championship at a neutral site aims to mitigate what the league calls “competitive inequities”caused by the cancellation this month of a game between the Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals. The NFL said in a statement that Atlanta is almost equidistant from Buffalo and Kansas City, which officials considered when making the decision.

(-Related-)

No. 1 Seed Chiefs to See Familiar Route Through Postseason

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs will have a familiar route through the playoffs no matter what direction it goes. In the divisional round, the Chiefs could face former Andy Reid assistants now leading the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens, an AFC West rival in the Los Angeles Chargers or longtime star Tyreek Hill with his new team, the Miami Dolphins. And in a potential AFC title game, the Chiefs would face the Bills in a rematch of two years ago or the Bengals in a rematch of last year. Kansas City also played Buffalo in last year's divisional round in an epic overtime thriller before losing to Cincinnati in overtime with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line.

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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.