Headlines for Thursday, March 2, 2023
Standoff Ends in Kansas City; Body Found in Home Where 3 Police Officers Were Shot
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say three Kansas City police officers were shot and wounded while searching a suspected drug house, prompting a standoff that ended about 18 hours later with the discovery of a body. Missouri Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Bill Lowe said the SWAT team entered around 3:30 Wednesday afternoon, finding the body and an uninjured woman. She has been taken into custody, along with two others who surrendered from the home hours earlier. One of those who surrendered, 50-year-old Jimmie Lewis Jr., was charged Wednesday with federal charges stemming from a November 2021 police pursuit. No charges were immediately filed in the shooting. The names of the other two suspects weren't immediately released, Lowe said. Identification of the slain man and his cause of death also wasn't released, pending an autopsy and notification of his relatives.
It all started around 9:30 pm Tuesday when tactical response team officers forced entry into the house and were fired upon, Kansas City police Chief Stacey Graves told reporters outside a hospital. The officers shot back. They were taken to the hospital, where they were in non-life-threatening condition, Graves said. Lewis surrendered late Tuesday and another suspect early Wednesday. But Lowe said law enforcement waited to enter the home until they could get robotics inside to determine it was safe.
The case began as a federal drug investigation. The patrol said the Jackson County Drug Task Force, which works with federal agencies, requested the assistance of the Kansas City SWAT team to serve the search warrant. The officers had announced that they were police before trying to enter the home, Graves said. "They are highly trained, good men," Graves said of the wounded officers. "And, you know, we're just so thankful tonight that each one of them, I was able to to physically talk to them."
According to an affidavit filed against Lewis in the unrelated federal case, he fled from Independence police after he was spotted driving a pickup truck that matched the description of a stolen vehicle. He reached speeds of more than 100 mph and ran stop signs before he struck a curb and flattened a tire, the affidavit said. Lewis then fled on foot but was apprehended with $2,084 in his pocket. Inside his backpack, officers found a loaded handgun and nine plastic bags filled with methamphetamine. More meth was found under the passenger seat of the truck, the affidavit said.
Lewis is charged with one count each of possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Federal prosecutors said in a news release that he has multiple prior felony convictions.
Hoax Call of an Active School Shooter in Lawrence Just One of Many Made Across the Nation
LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - Lawrence police continue to investigate a hoax call about an active shooter at Free State High School. The that the prank call was just one of several made across the state and nation on Wednesday. A School Resource Officer at Free State High recognized the call as a "swatting" incident. Swatting refers to the act of making a prank call to emergency services in an attempt to attract police officers to a specific address. About 2 dozen Lawrence police officers responded after the call came in just before 8:30 am. Police believe the hoax call came from a phone number outside the area. A high school in Topeka was also referenced in a similar hoax call made to the Topeka Police Department.
In addition, other police departments from across the state, including Wichita, Manhattan, Garden City, Junction City and El Dorado reported similar hoax calls of active shooters. As many as 17 Kansas schools were affected by such hoax calls on Wednesday. Other locales across the nation, including in Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio, reported hoax calls at schools on Wednesday. Last week, more than a dozen Colorado schools entered lockdowns over swatting incidents. Over the last two days, at least eight schools in Minnesota have received hoax calls. Making such calls is a crime.
Extended Food Benefits Coming to an End in Kansas
TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - More than 63,000 Kansas households could see their government food assistance trimmed back. The Kansas News Service reports that advocates for the poor are worried how this will hit families already struggling with inflation. The emergency allotments went into effect during the pandemic. SNAP recipients in Kansas will get one more enhanced payment of food stamps in March. Martha Terhaar is the southwest Kansas anti-hunger advocate for the group Kansas Appleseed. She says community food banks and soup kitchens have already been strained by high food prices. “They're already feeling overwhelmed and really nervous about this upcoming change," she said. "Because it'll put a lot more stress on their programs.” Kansas Appleseed estimates an average reduction in benefits of $82 per person starting in April.
Total Kansas Tax Collections in February Exceed Estimates by Nearly $37 Million
TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) – Total Kansas tax collections for February were $549.8 million, almost $37 million more than had been estimated. Collections were also $47 million more than in February 2022. Governor Laura Kelly touted the economic news Wednesday, saying revenues had exceeded estimates for 30 of the last 31 months. Individual income tax collections were $211 million in February, about $6 million more than expected. Corporate income tax collections were about $15 million.
Complaint: Kansas Agency Probing GOP Broke Open Meetings Law
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two defense attorneys who've questioned the fairness of a yearlong investigation in Kansas into Republican campaign activities accused the state ethics commission Thursday of violating Kansas' open meetings law.
The two attorneys represent people investigated by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, and they filed their complaint with state Attorney General Kris Kobach. The complaint said internal documents show that commission members had illegal, secret “serial communications” by email in April 2022 and took official action without a public meeting.
Records obtained by them and The Associated Press show commission members and staff decided by email how to counter a short-lived effort by Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature to oust the commission's executive director.
That ouster effort came less than six weeks after the commission subpoenaed at least seven Kansas Republican Party officials in February 2022, demanding that they turn over seven months' worth of communications in 2020 with more than 20 other people.
A commission report justifying those subpoenas suggested that it is investigating whether Republicans funneled national GOP funds through various committees to the state party and legislative candidates in 2020 to avoid contribution limits.
The attorneys filing the opening meetings complaint, Kansas City-area law partners Ryan Kriegshauser and Joshua Ney, also argue that the commission has a history of enforcing ethics rules inconsistently and violating people's constitutionally protected rights to free speech and fair treatment under the law.
Some Republican lawmakers believe the commission is on a fishing expedition, and the Kansas House is considering a bill to overhaul campaign laws and reduce the commission's power over issues raised by Krieghauser, Ney and others.
“Ninety-five percent of the punishment is just the cloud of having an ethics investigation, and so ultimately, the process is the punishment,” Ney said in an interview Thursday. “There is something seriously broken and dysfunctional with this agency.”
The ethics commission's executive director, Mark Skoglund, dismissed the complaint as an effort “to rally support for an absurd bill” that he said would “unleash an endless stream of dark money into Kansas."
Both Kobach and local District Attorney Mike Kagay, who also could wade in, are elected Republicans.
Several people who received the commission's subpoenas are asking a state district court judge to quash them. The commission report justifying the subpoenas listed transactions in 2020 involving Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson and House Speaker Dan Hawkins, both Wichita-area Republicans, before they had those offices.
The report didn't accuse Masterson or Hawkins of wrongdoing, and no complaints have been filed with the commission over such transactions. Masterson said the commission dropped a demand for records from him, while Hawkins said last week that he was never subpoenaed.
Kriegshauser is the attorney for a GOP consultant under investigation and Ney has long represented people facing commission investigations and complaints. They filed an open records request with the commission in late January to obtain more than 100 pages of emails and other communications.
Skoglund released the same documents Wednesday to The Associated Press and said in emails to the AP that the commission already had reported the email chain questioned by the two attorneys to Kagay, the local district attorney. Skoglund said the commission has "a persistent interest in transparency.”
“There has been no determination of a violation and it is entirely possible that no violation occurred in this instance,” Skoglund said in email Thursday.
Kobach’s office confirmed that it received the attorneys’ complaint electronically but said it could not comment further. Kagay did not immediately return telephone and email messages seeking comment.
Internal documents show that on April 4, 2022, three days after legislators tried to oust Skoglund, the commission's general counsel, Brett Barry, emailed commission members a “reminder” that the Kansas Open Meetings Act greatly restricts discussing public business by email. Skoglund told The AP on Wednesday that the commission also had an open-meetings training session in October.
The documents also show that after Skoglund notified commission members about the legislative effort to oust him, one of them, Wichita banker Jane Deterding, emailed back, “Well, that sucks!!”
“I'm all in to help,” she added.
Hours later, after the ouster attempt fizzled, another commission member, Kansas City-area attorney Kyle Krull, suggested an “unofficial” commission-and-staff meeting “at an offsite venue” to host lawmakers and discuss the matter “socially.” His email also said “we can even dip into” commission funds to cover such an event.
That message prompted Skoglund to ask Berry to “gently remind” commissioners of the Open Meetings Act's restrictions, though he said of Krull, "I think he is likely joking.”
But Kriegshauser said such an email shows a troubling “cavalier attitude” from commission members about the power they wield.
Abortion Opponents Seek Smaller Changes in Kansas After Vote
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/KPR) — Seven months after a statewide vote affirmed abortion rights in Kansas, the Republican-controlled Legislature's annual session in some ways looks a lot like previous ones, with multiple anti-abortion proposals. But key players are focusing on incremental changes, instead of a ban. Their biggest goal this year is getting more financial help for centers that discourage abortions while offering free pregnancy and post-pregnancy services. An income tax credit for donors is one of three proposals that have gained traction in the state's Republican-controlled Legislature. The other two deal with medical malpractice insurance and telemedicine abortions. But abortion-rights supporters argue even the limited changes being sought defy the will of voters.
"These extreme legislators think they know better than us what our families need to stay safe and healthy," Ashley All, the main spokeperson for the campaign against the August ballot measure that would have allowed lawmakers to restrict or perhaps ban the procedure, said in an email.
But abortion opponents contend that vote didn't preclude any new restrictions. "You don't have a full understanding of what that vote said about Kansas because of the complexities behind it," Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, told reporters. "So, I just disagree that that's the case, that it cuts against the grain of Kansas."
Kansas voters were the first in the U.S. to weigh in on the abortion issue after U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June. They defeated a proposal to add an amendment to the Kansas Constitution stating that it does not grant the right to abortion. That vote reset the national debate because the state leans Republican and has elected strong anti-abortion legislative majorities since the 1991 "Summer of Mercy" protests outside a Wichita clinic that performed third-trimester abortions.
The ballot measure was abortion foes' attempt to overturn a 2019 decision of the Kansas Supreme Court declaring access to abortion a matter of bodily autonomy and therefore a "fundamental" right under the state's Bill of Rights.
Some state restrictions remain despite the vote. Patients must wait 24 hours before getting an abortion, and minors must have the written consent of a parent or guardian. Most abortions are banned at 22 weeks. But other restrictions are on hold, with two separate lawsuits before the Kansas Supreme Court over banning a second-trimester abortion procedure and imposing special health and safety rules for abortion providers. A state law requiring the doctor to be in the same room with a patient taking their first dose of abortion medication also is on hold in the state courts.
One bill approved by the Senate last week would require the doctor to be physically present to write a prescription for pregnancy-ending pills — banning online or teleconference prescribing. Another would prevent abortion providers who can't get their legally required malpractice insurance in the private market from turning to a state fund providing it.
The proposed income tax credit is an attempt to strengthen the state's 50-plus network of pregnancy crisis centers that discourage women from having abortions through counseling or by providing free services, including pregnancy tests, sonograms and even housing. Arizona, Mississippi and Missouri have such credits.
Supporters say the centers address the financial needs of vulnerable women, girls and families. But opponents say they coerce women and provide inaccurate information — a contention the centers deny.
Jeanne Gawdun, a lobbyist for Kansans for Life, the state's most politically influential anti-abortion group, said opponents of the August ballot measure assured voters that rejecting still would leave limits on abortion "because they knew for decades, Kansans have supported reasonable regulations." "There are things that can be passed, but when those are brought up, all of a sudden, oh, well, 'The vote, the vote, the vote,'" Gawdun said.
Topeka Marketing Firm Celebrates 25 Years in Business by Fighting "Period Poverty" in Public Schools
TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - A Topeka marketing and public relations firm is celebrating its 25th year in business by launching a campaign to address community health issues. MB Piland Advertising and Marketing will launch "Punctuating the Period" - a campaign designed to fight period poverty in Topeka Public Schools. "Our purpose is to improve the health and well-being of people and communities," said Martha Bartlett Piland, the firm’s president and CEO. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that for some students, a lack of access to menstrual products can mean forgoing classes and activities, with low-income families having a more difficult time being able to afford such products.
According to the advocacy nonprofit group Alliance for Period Supplies, one in seven Kansas women and girls, between the ages of 12 and 44, live below the federal poverty line. The group says one in four teens had missed class due to lack of access to period supplies. Alexandra Reilly, MB Piland's vice president and agent principal, said Punctuating the Period will focus on those still in school to help have positive impact on their growth.
In one phase of the campaign, online donations will be collected through RightGift.com, an online donation platform. Supporters can purchase a quantity of menstrual products, with prices ranging from $2.17 to $64.98, through March 17. At that time, the products will be shipped to MB Piland, where they will be assembled into kits and distributed among all Topeka Public Schools in late March. Piland and her team are hoping for about 490 people to donate to the cause.
Four-Day Lawrence Busker Fest Set for May 26
LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - The Lawrence Busker Festival is set to return to downtown Lawrence in May. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the annual event, now in its 15th year, features a variety of street performers. The festival will take place over four days, starting on Friday, May 26. The Busker Fest features musicians, acrobats, magicians and other performers, along with food vendors and a beer garden. Organizer Richard Renner says the event brings street performers from around the world to showcase their talents.
Kansas Senator Cosponsors Legislation to Prevent Foreign Adversaries from Buying American Farmland
WASHINGTON (KPR) – Kansas Senator Jerry Moran has cosponsored legislation to prevent China, Russia, Iran and North Korea from acquiring American farmland. “Our adversaries should not be allowed to take ownership of American farmland,” said Moran. “Kansas plays a crucial role in producing food for the American people, and we cannot allow malign actors to disrupt or manipulate these supply chains by taking possession of farms, ranches or the agriculture industry." The legislation was introduced by fellow Republican Senator Mike Rounds, of South Dakota, and Democratic Senator Jon Tester, of Montana.
The Promoting Agriculture Safeguards and Security, or PASS Act, would add the Secretary of Agriculture as a member of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to consider agriculture needs when making determinations affecting U.S. national security. This legislation would also require the president to submit a report to Congress on any waiver granted to a prohibited country and require reporting from the Secretary of Agriculture on the risk of foreign purchases of ag companies. Companion and bipartisan legislation has also been introduced in the House of Representatives.
Kansas Lawmakers Battle over Transgender Issues
TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS/KPR) - Another fight over bills targeting transgender rights will be a major political issue for the Kansas Legislature in the coming weeks. The Kansas News Service reports lawmakers returned to Topeka Wednesday for the second half of the 2023 legislative session. Republican lawmakers are pushing bills that would ban biological males from competing in women’s sports and prohibit doctors from providing gender-affirming health care to transgender children. But the bills will likely turn on whether lawmakers can rally enough votes to override a veto from Democratic Governor Laura Kelly. The recent votes to pass the bills failed to reach veto-proof majorities. Lawmakers will also spend the rest of the session sparring over taxes and the state budget.
Tennessee Pushes to Define 'Sex,' Could Risk Federal Funding
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Republican lawmakers have advanced legislation that would prevent transgender people from changing their driver’s licenses and birth certificates. It's a move that officials warn could cost the state millions in federal funding, but the bill's supporters on Thursday argued they didn't care about the potential costs. If enacted, the proposal would define male and female in state law and base people’s legal gender identities on their anatomy at birth. A handful of Republican-led state legislatures have introduced similar bills — including Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma — as GOP lawmakers have put transgender issues at the forefront of their legislative agenda. Legislative officials tasked with calculating the fiscal impact of bills have stated that the Tennessee bill would likely open the state to “civil litigation and could jeopardize federal funding” because it could conflict with federal rules.
As Spring Approaches, Kansans Worry About Wildfires
MANHATTAN, Kan. (KNS) - Weather experts are predicting an average to above-average wildfire season for Kansas this spring when storms bring strong winds and warmer temperatures before the grass turns green. The ongoing drought could both help and hurt the level of fire danger in parts of the state. Western Kansas doesn’t have much grass for fires to burn, because drought kept it from growing last year but if the drought continues to stunt growth this spring, it might extend the region’s peak fire season. That peak period normally lasts from March through early May.
Chip Redmond, a meteorologist with the Kansas Mesonet, says fields of dead crops that were abandoned in the drought last fall could still provide the fuel a fire needs to get going. Redmond says he’s also concerned about parts of eastern Kansas. The region got enough rain last year to grow lots of grass that could now fuel potential fires. Redmond says people can lower their fire risk by mowing down areas of tall grass around their homes, trimming back bushes and trees so they don’t touch the house and removing dry leaves from gutters.
Harvey County Temporarily Halts Construction of Wind Farms
HARVEY COUNTY, Kan. (KNS) – Harvey County Commissioners have voted to temporarily ban wind energy projects in the county, following intense backlash from rural residents. Commissioners previously approved plans to allow NextEra Energy to develop a wind farm in western Harvey County. Now, they’ve implemented the ban for six months as the county government prepares to conduct a citizen's advisory vote on the issue. Michael King lives in rural Harvey County. He says he’s concerned about the impact on bald eagles who roost there. “I have pictures of them at our farm," he said. "So, they’re distributed completely throughout the county.” A subsidiary of NextEra was ordered to pay $8 million in fines and restitution after at least 150 eagles were killed by its turbines in eight other states. In 2019, Reno County commissioners voted to deny a NextEra project after backlash there.
Push to Require Clergy to Report Abuse Stalls in Mormon Utah
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A push to mandate members of religious clergy report child sexual abuse when it's brought to their attention is facing pushback from churches throughout the United States. That's the case in Utah, where four separate proposals to narrow the so-called clergy-penitent privilege loophole have not received hearings in the statehouse as lawmakers prepare to adjourn for the year. Religious groups who want to maintain the status quo argue the First Amendment protects the seal of confession and have revisited a years-long lobbying strategy that includes circulating questionable studies about the effects of reforms. Similar proposals are also under debate in states including Vermont, Washington and Kansas.
NFL's Kamara, Lammons Plead Not Guilty in Vegas Assault Case
LAS VEGAS (AP) — New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara and three other men have pleaded not guilty in Nevada to charges they beat a man unconscious at a Las Vegas Strip nightclub before the NFL’s 2022 Pro Bowl. Kamara appeared along with Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Chris Lammons and two other co-defendants in state court Thursday. A judge scheduled trial for July 31. The alleged attack happened the day before Kamara played in his fifth Pro Bowl. His attorneys say Kamara was defending himself. The man who was injured has a $10 million civil lawsuit pending against Kamara in a New Orleans court. Lammons has played in the NFL since 2018 for the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs. He was claimed off waivers in January by the Cincinnati Bengals.
This summary of area news is curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Tom Parkinson and Kaye McIntyre. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays. These ad-free headlines are made possible by KPR members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.