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Headlines for Monday, January 16, 2023

News Summary updated image
Emily Fisher

Kansas Farmers Raise Concerns over Feral Hogs

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Feral hogs have been spotted roaming around parts of Kansas. According to KWCH TV, a Garden Plain police officer posted a video of the animals to the department's Facebook page after receiving reports of people seeing the hogs. On Saturday, more feral hogs were reported near Lake Afton. Farmers in the area north of Garden Plain say they’ve dealt with feral hogs on their property before and they’re hoping it won’t become a major problem. The animals can cause major damage to crops. The American Farm Bureau federation says feral hogs have caused more than $2.5 billion in damages to agriculture, livestock and the environment.


Canadian Oil Company Will Have to Reimburse Kansas for Some Funds Associated with Cleanup

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Kan. (KNS) - The Canadian energy company that spilled nearly 600,000 barrels of crude oil in north-central Kansas will have to reimburse some of the taxpayer money spent on the cleanup, but not all of it. The Kansas News Service reports that TC Energy has to repay what the state of Kansas and the Environmental Protection Agency spend on supervising the cleanup of the oil spill. But not all costs will get reimbursed. For example, the federal government can’t bill TC Energy for the cost of sending workers from the agency that regulates pipelines. Local emergency crews also helped when the pipe broke last month. Washington County says TC Energy will reimburse its costs.


Tensions Mount Between Kansas Democratic Governor and GOP Legislature over Budget Surplus

TOPEKA, Kan. (Fox News) - 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 last week 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. Fox News reports that the GOP chairs of the House and Senate budget committees have misgivings 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.

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.


Kansas Senator Jerry Moran: FAA Systems May Need Updates, Modernization

UNDATED (KNS) - The Federal Aviation Administration is working to find the exact cause of a major computer outage that grounded all planes in the country for several hours last week, causing numerous flight delays. Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran says the system likely needs more updates. The outage last Wednesday occurred in the FAA’s NOTAM, or Notice to Air Missions system, which informs pilots about weather conditions that could impact the safety of their flights. The failure delayed more than 7,000 flights across the country. Moran says the FAA already gets funding to upgrade its safety systems on a regular basis. “The question that needs to be answered is, is that updating occurring fast enough? And the answer to that question will be better determined by (finding out) why this system shut down,” he said. Federal officials say there’s no indication the outage was caused by a cyber attack. Some reports indicate that a corrupted file may have been inadvertently uploaded into the NOTAM system, leading to the shutdown.


Compact Could Help Out-of-State Teachers Get Kansas Licenses; State Board Not Yet Convinced

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - A proposed interstate compact could streamline the process for out-of-state educators to receive Kansas teaching licenses, but members of the Kansas State Board of Education aren't convinced and fear the agreement might degrade the quality of teachers in Kansas. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the proposed compact is one of several measures the Kansas Department of Education has explored to help reduce a teacher shortage in some districts across the state.

A year ago, representatives from the Kansas Department of Education helped in creating the Interstate Teaching Mobility Compact, a legally binding measure that would allow the department to recognize, in reciprocity, licenses granted to teachers from other states that join the compact. It would streamline a process that many out-of-state teachers have said can be grueling and lengthy, and it would remove some licensure requirements and assessments needed for those teachers to receive Kansas licenses. While the decision had been listed as an action item on the board’s most recent agenda, no board member moved to join the compact, and no vote was taken. Education commissioner Randy Watson pointed out to the board that while it may choose not to act on joining the compact, the Kansas Legislature could unilaterally move to have the state join it anyway.

Still, state board members were hesitant to the proposal. Jim McNiece, a Wichita Republican, said he and others recognized a teacher shortage in the state, but he remained torn on the board creating even more pathways and alternatives to the state’s existing licensure system. “We’ve done a lot of — “gerrymandering,” I guess would be a word — with licensure paths and regulations,” he said. “We’ve waived a lot of things, and we’re changing the to the point where I’m not sure we have even requirements anymore. I know that’s a generalization and probably not totally correct, but it’s just a feeling I have.”


KCK Public School Workers Training to Use Narcan for Overdose Emergencies

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (WDAF) — Educators in Kansas City, Kansas are training to use Narcan, the emergency spray that’s used to save anyone who’s overdosed on fentanyl. Officials call the training preventative and proactive. WDAF TV reports that 50 doses of the life-saving tool are now owned by KCK Public School administrators and that 153 district employees have been trained to administer the drug. District employees were trained just before students went on holiday break in December. So far, the district’s police officers and nursing staff are among those who’ve been trained. Kansas state officials will provide Narcan only to high schools for the time being, and not elementary or middle schools.


Micron Semiconductor Could Be Establishing Center at WSU

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - A leading U.S. semiconductor manufacturer, Micron Technologies, based in Boise, Idaho, hopes to set up a research center at Wichita State University. Company officials say the potential center could help address the shortage of computer chips that has plagued technology companies in the U.S. Micron officials visited Wichita State’s Innovation Campus to get an idea of what a potential partnership with the university could look like. Lawmakers in Topeka say they want to try to lure microchip manufacturers to the state, after securing a multi-billion dollar deal last year with Japanese technology company Panasonic to manufacture electric vehicle batteries in DeSoto.


Kansas Distributes Bonuses for Child Care Workers But $20 Million Remains in Fund

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas had $53 million in federal money to use for one-time child care bonuses. But the Kansas News Service reports more than $20 million of that money remains unspent. The workforce appreciation grant gave one-time bonuses between $750 to $2,500. The goal was giving a financial boost to the state's poorly-paid child care workers. Despite all the leftover cash, workforce advocacy groups say a lot of people did apply and Kansas officials worked hard to alert people about the program. Emily Barnes is the vice president of the Child Care Providers Coalition of Kansas. She says the state did what it could to give away the money. “Good effort was legitimately put forth to make sure information was out.” The remaining money will be rolled over into other child care initiatives, like grants to improve health and safety.


El Dorado Prison Inmate Dies Unexpectedly

EL DORADO, Kan. (KPR) – An inmate at the El Dorado Correctional Facility (EDCF) has died unexpectedly. Officials say 42-year-old Erik Lawrence DeLeon died Friday. The cause of death is unknown but an independent autopsy has been scheduled. Per protocol, when a prison inmate dies, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation examines the death. DeLeon was serving time for aggravated robbery and weapons violations in Ford County.


Kansas Democratic Party Executive Director Steps Down

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW/KNS) - A leader of the Kansas Democratic Party has stepped down after an investigation into allegations he fostered a toxic workplace. The Kansas News Service reports that Ben Meers stepped down from his role as executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party two weeks ago. The move comes nearly a year after the party investigated complaints by employees that Meers bullied them. The party told those employees it “largely corroborated” the allegations. The current Vice Chair of the party, Edgar Pando, has been serving as the party's interim executive director.


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 last week said they did not report the crime until well after that age, sometimes waiting until their 50s to speak out.


Kansas City Zoo Says Oldest Polar Bear in U.S. Captivity Dies

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDAF) - The oldest polar bear living in U.S. captivity has died. According to the Kansas City Zoo, the 33-year-old animal, named "Berlin," lived at the zoo for a decade. WDAF TV reports that zookeepers believe she may have been the oldest bear captive in North America. Zoo officials say her longevity "is a testament to the extraordinary care she received from her animal care and veterinary health teams." According to the zoo's Facebook page, Berlin had been experiencing hypertension and renal failure. Treatment for her was exhausted, and the difficult decision was made to euthanize her. Berlin was born at the Cincinnati Zoo on December 11, 1989, weeks after the Berlin Wall fell, hence her name in honor of the historic event. She arrived in Kansas City in December 2012.


Congress Fails to Deliver Labor Reforms for Migrant Farm Workers

UNDATED (HPM) - Legislation for farm labor reform did not move past the finish line last month in Congress, meaning migrant farm workers still have no path to legal status in the U.S. Harvest Public Media reports that this means immigration reform is unlikely to come up in the new Congress. The bill would have established a years-long path to legal status for some migrant guest workers, as well as adding some longer term visas. But in the end, the legislation failed to be attached to an appropriations package. Daniel Costa, with the Economic Policy Institute, says with the new Republican-led House, it’s unlikely to be revisited any time soon. The proposed legislation would have frozen wages for migrant workers for one year and capped increases for floor and ceiling wage rates. Despite that, many worker advocacy groups supported the bill.


5th-Grade Student Killed in School District's Rollover Crash

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A 5th-grade student has been killed in a rollover crash east of Mankato in Jewell County. WIBW TV reports that the Kansas Highway Patrol was called to the accident (near the intersection of U.S. 36 and Randall Road) Friday morning. Troopers found a 2011 Chevrolet Suburban, which had rolled into a ditch, overturned and landed on its top. Troopers say the Chevy was a Rock Hill School District vehicle on its regular route. Five students were involved in the accident, along with the driver. One student was pronounced dead at the scene. Four other students and the driver, identified as 42-year-old Audra Wilburn, of Portsmouth, were taken to a local hospital for medical evaluations. No injuries were reported among the others.


Topeka’s Evel Knievel Museum Still Appears to be Headed to Las Vegas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – One popular tourist destination in Topeka may soon be on the move. KSNT reported in August 2021 that the Evel Knievel Museum was planning to move to Las Vegas. And while the moving date remains unknown, it appears plans are still in the works. In 2021, Mike Patterson, co-founder of the museum, told KSNT that the museum "deserves to be in a tourism destination... and Las Vegas makes the most sense" because of the daredevil's history in that city. Patterson was recently contacted again and said that “there could be some news in the next couple of months."


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 retailer expressed uncertainty of its fate, adding that the company faces "substantial doubt" about its ability to continue operating on its own.


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.


Houston, KU Stay Atop Top 25 While FAU Enters for 1st Time

UNDATED (AP) – Houston and Kansas remain firmly atop The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll after a record weekend of Top 25 losses. Florida Atlantic took advantage of the chaos to crack the rankings for the first time in school history. Eleven ranked teams went down Saturday, tying a record that has stood for nearly 12 years, while UConn and Marquette lost Sunday to help give the AP poll one of its biggest shakeups in recent history. Clemson, Baylor and Rutgers joined FAU in entering the poll. That came at the expense of San Diego State, Duke, Wisconsin and Missouri.


Jayhawks Celebrate 125 Years of Basketball

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - The Kansas Jayhawks celebrated 125 years of basketball history over the weekend during KU's game against Iowa State. On Saturday afternoon, about 160 former KU players and coaches returned to Allen Fieldhouse, including Roy Williams, Larry Brown and Ted Owens. The second-ranked Jayhawks held on for a 62-60 win over the 14th-ranked Cyclones. On Tuesday, the Jayhawks take on Kansas State in Manhattan. The Wildcats are coming off a weekend loss to TCU.


Chiefs' Rookie Regulars Ready for Playoff Debuts

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Only one team had more games played by rookies in the NFL this season than the Kansas City Chiefs, and that was the three-win Chicago Bears. Only four teams had more games started by first-year players. So while it's easy to think that the same franchise that has won seven straight AFC West titles and been to the past four conference championship games is a hardened group of veterans, the reality is strikingly different. Kansas City plays Jacksonville in the divisional round of the playoffs on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium.


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.