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Headlines for Monday, March 6, 2023

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Emily Fisher

Kansas Democratic Governor on Collision Course with GOP Legislature

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas Democratic Governor Laura Kelly says a package of tax-cut bills recently approved by the Republican-controlled Senate would trigger a budget crisis. In her budget address at the start of the session, Kelly warned lawmakers that she would likely veto any "irresponsible” tax-cuts. That warning, she says, was meant to stop lawmakers from sending her bills like the ones now working their way through the GOP-controlled Legislature. “Yeah, I’d have to quantify those as irresponsible," she said. The bills, which are now in the Kansas House, would make all retirement benefits tax free. Scrap the state’s three-tiered income tax for a flat tax. And remove state and local sales taxes from groceries by the first of next year. Combined, they would reduce state revenue by approximately $1 billion a year. Republicans say a growing budget surplus means Kansas can afford to make its tax system fairer and more competitive with other states.

The governor also says she’s strongly opposed to bills under consideration in the Legislature that, in her view, would undermine public schools. She's particularly concerned about a measure that would require the state to give qualifying families $5,000 to help cover the cost of private school tuition or home schooling. “I am adamant that public dollars should be spent on public schools," she said. Another proposal would expand a tax credit for Kansans who give money for private school scholarships. It would allow them to write off up to $500,000. Supporters of the bills say parents should have more control over their children’s education.


Community Blood Center Declares First Blood Emergency of 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KPR) - The Community Blood Center (CBC) has declared the first blood emergency of 2023. The blood emergency is due to several factors, including cold and flu season, a high number of lapsed blood donors and a decrease in first-time donors. In January, CBC received 2,000 fewer blood donations than the year before and blood donations are below hospital and patient needs. The number of blood donations still are not back to pre-pandemic levels. Compounding the problem is a continued lag in first-time and youth donors, which remain about half of pre-pandemic levels.

In addition to whole blood donors, platelet donors are urgently needed. With a shelf life of just 7 days, CBC relies on dedicated platelet donors to help patients undergoing chemotherapy, those with bleeding disorders, new mothers, and more. Blood donors can give every 56 days, and platelet donors can give twice per month. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently lifted eligibility restrictions for individuals who lived in Europe during certain periods of time. To view current eligibility guidelines, visit savealifenow.org or call 800.688.0900.

The need is constant, but the supply is not. Visit savealifenow.org to schedule an appointment to donate, or call 877-468-6844.

Founded in 1958, Community Blood Center (CBC) provides over 90% of the blood used by hospitals throughout the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area, as well as eastern Kansas and western Missouri.


Freight Train Derails in South Central Kansas, Spills Grain, No Injuries

RIVERDALE, Kan. (KAKE/KPR) - The Sumner County Sheriff's Office says a Union Pacific train with 18 cars filled with grain derailed Saturday evening in the small, south-central Kansas town of Riverdale. KAKE TV reports that no one was injured in the incident and no hazardous materials were involved. Cleanup from the derailment is expected to take several days, as Union Pacific is waiting on cranes and other heavy equipment. The derailment came the same day 20 cars of a Norfolk Southern train derailed near Springfield, Ohio. The rail line says there were no reported injuries and no hazardous materials were aboard the train.


Jurors Resume Deliberations in Topeka Murder Trial

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ/KPR) - Jurors resume deliberations Monday in the trial of a Topeka man charged with first-degree murder. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that jurors were deadlocked 7-5 on Friday in the trial of 24-year-old Clint William Eugene Smith. Smith is charged in the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Emmanuel "Manny" Torres in April 2021. Smith is charged with first degree murder and several other counts.


Oklahoma Man Seriously Injured in Motorcycle Crash

COFFEYVILLE, Kan. (WIBW) - An Oklahoma man was seriously injured late Sunday night after crashing his motorcycle while fleeing from police in southeast Kansas. WIBW TV reports that the crash was reported just before 10 pm in Coffeyville. The Kansas Highway Patrol says the motorcycle was westbound on U.S. Highway 166, while fleeing from law enforcement officers at high speeds when the bike struck a curb and overturned multiple times, coming to rest on the shoulder of the roadway. The rider, 40-year-old Layton Moore, of Pryor, Oklahoma, was not wearing a helmet and was hospitalized with serious injuries.


Ford Announces Plans to Increase Production, Add Jobs at Claycomo

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — The Ford Motor Company says it will increase production of six of its models this year as the company rebounds from sluggish sales last year. The automaker says it plans to build more Mustangs, Bronco SUVs and Maverick small pickup trucks. The company also plans to increase production of the F-150 Lightning electric pickup. Ford says it will add a third shift and more than 1,000 jobs at its plant in Claycomo near Kansas City to keep up with the production increases. U.S. auto sales have been depressed for the last couple of years due to a shortage of computer chips, but the chip shortage is starting to ease and automakers are increasing production and starting to rebuild supplies on dealer lots.


Total Number of U.S. Farms Declines by Nearly 10,000

UNDATED (HPM) - The USDA’s latest report on farms estimates that the U.S. lost nearly 10,000 farms in 2022. The number of acres of farmland also decreased, while the average size of a farm has gone up slightly, especially for farms making a million dollars or more a year. Tim Gibbons, of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, says that these numbers are part of a larger decline. "Losing nearly 10,000 farms in a year is is a big deal," he said. "And I think it's just the continued downward trend year after year of family farms." He says that the 2023 farm bill is an opportunity to address corporate control of agriculture that is pushing out small farmers.


Kansas Plan Keeping Low Wages for Disabled Angers Advocates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are considering a proposal that many disability rights advocates say could help employers pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage, bucking a national trend. A Kansas House bill would expand a state income tax credit for goods and services purchased from vendors employing disabled workers, so the vendors could have some workers who don't get the minimum wage. The debate over the Kansas measure comes as employers nationally have been moving toward paying at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. More than a dozen states have banned below-minimum-wage jobs for disabled workers and a bipartisan proposal to do so is before Congress.

The House bill would expand a state income tax credit for goods and services purchased from vendors employing disabled workers, doubling the total allowed to $10 million annually. Vendors qualify now by paying all of their disabled workers at least the minimum wage, but the measure would allow vendors to pay some workers less if those workers aren't involved in purchases of goods and services to earn the tax credit. Supporters argue the bill would enable more vendors to participate, boosting job and vocational training opportunities for disabled people.

The Kansas debate comes as employers nationally have moved toward paying at least the federal hourly minimum wage of $7.25. About 122,000 disabled workers received less in 2019, compared to about 295,000 in 2010, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report to Congress in January.

Critics argue that below-minimum-wage jobs exploit workers such as Trey Lockwood, a 30-year-old Kansas City-area resident with autism, who holds down three part-time jobs paying more than the minimum wage. At one of them, The Golden Scoop ice cream shop, he greets customers and makes ice cream with a "spinner," a machine he said is like a washing machine. He has money to buy clothes and other things. "I feel good about that," he said. His mother, Michele Lockwood, said employers who pay less than the minimum wage aren't fostering independence. Neil Romano, a member of the National Council on Disability, agreed, adding, "It is very much against the flow of history."

But other advocates and operators of programs questioned about their wages said the severity of some physical, intellectual and mental disabilities mean such programs can't be eliminated without depriving people of valuable opportunities. Cottonwood Inc., in Lawrence, handles packaging for some companies. Its wages are based on the prevailing industry standard in the area of more than $15 an hour, adjusted for a worker's productivity. As workers get more productive, they earn higher pay. CEO Colleen Himmelberg said Cottonwood helps workers who need one-on-one support that other employers won't provide. "They're likely not going to help someone toilet or clean up an accident. There's the reality," Himmelberg said. "But that person can work here and still earn a paycheck."

Pat Jonas, president and CEO of the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation in Wichita, Kansas, said the goal is a more "user friendly" tax credit program shorn of a big burden for some vendors. If employers currently want to participate, while also maintaining below-minimum-wage jobs as vocational training, they must set up a new, separate company or nonprofit paying workers at or above the minimum wage. "It's just sad that everyone can't be pulling in the same direction," Jonas said, adding that the foundation has always paid at or above the minimum wage.

Thirteen states bar below-minimum-wage jobs for disabled workers, including California, Colorado and Tennessee, according to the Association of People Supporting Employment First, which promotes inclusive job policies. Virginia lawmakers sent a bill last month to Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, and there's a bipartisan proposal for a national ban in Congress.

Andy Traub, a Kansas City-area human resources consultant who works with The Golden Scoop and much larger businesses, said there might be a limited place for sheltered workshops, but "not as a default setting." Groups serving the disabled ought to be required to help them try "competitive" jobs first, he said.

The federal law allowing an exemption from paying the minimum wage dates to the 1930s. It is based on the premise that a lower wage offsets an assumed lower productivity among disabled workers and exempted employers must regularly study how quickly employees do their work. The January report to Congress said 51% of exempted employers' disabled workers make less than $3.50 per hour and close to 2% earn less than 25 cents hourly.

Some advocates argue they're still battling traces of attitudes from decades ago, when many disabled people were put in institutions and not educated. They cite the mid-February meeting of a Kansas legislative committee that highlighted the tax credit proposal's provisions. The chair of the committee handling the bill, state Rep. Sean Tarwater, a Kansas City-area Republican, defended programs paying below the minimum wage. "They are people that really can't do anything," Tarwater told his committee. "If you do away with programs like that, they will rot at home." Days later, Tarwater said he was referring to severely disabled people. But his comments appalled national and state disability rights groups.

Connecticut state Rep. Jane Garibay, a Hartford-area Democrat, said being paid fairly is "part of being valued as a human being." She lives with an adult niece with Down syndrome and is sponsoring a bill that would require Connecticut employers to pay workers with intellectual disabilities the state minimum wage, $15 an hour, if they can do a job. "It's as if, as a woman, I would get paid less than a man for doing the same job. We've been there, right?" Garibay said. "If you're doing the same job, it should be the same wage."

In the Kansas City area, the nonprofit Golden Scoop ice cream shop opened in April 2021 paying its workers $8, plus tips — higher than the state's $7.25 minimum wage. Amber Schreiber, its president and CEO, praises disabled workers as loyal and enthusiastic. Golden Scoop hopes to open another shop and a plant making ice cream to sell wholesale.

In the Washington D.C. area, a nonprofit, Melwood, phased out below-minimum-wage jobs starting in 2016. President and CEO Larysa Kautz said Melwood had to shut down a print shop with disabled workers doing menial tasks, but it started a recycling sorting service. The organization does government landscaping jobs across the area, and between 900 and 1,000 of its 1,300 workers have significant disabilities, she said.

The report to Congress in January said the number of employers with exemptions allowing them to pay below the minimum wage dropped to fewer than 1,600 in 2019 from more than 3,100 in 2010. Romano said it should fall to 1,300 this year. "It requires innovative thinking," Kautz said. "But there are so many of us that have done it."


Efforts to Legalize Medical Marijuana in Kansas Face Uphill Battle

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Efforts to legalize medical marijuana in Kansas this year appear to face an uphill battle after several days of Statehouse meetings last week. The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee only took testimony from opponents of legalization. Ed Klumpp is with three associations representing Kansas law enforcement. “In essence, what we're doing is we are - by state law - authorizing someone to violate federal law," he said. Lawmakers have not scheduled formal hearings on related bills, including one that would allow veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder to use medical marijuana. That could be a signal that the legislation might fail again this year. Kansas is one of only three U.S. states that doesn’t allow for any sort of marijuana use.


Missouri Posts Sales Figures for First Month of Legal Recreational Cannabis

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KSHB) — The state of Missouri has announced that sales of cannabis in that state exceeded $100 million in February, the first month of legal recreational sales. KSHB TV reports that the Missouri Department of Health released the sales figures as part of its monthly report. Nearly $72 million came from adult-use recreational marijuana sales while sales for medical use topped $31 million. The owners of From the Earth, which operates five locations in Kansas City say each of their stores is seeing about 100 medical cannabis patients daily buy since recreational sales started last month, some locations are serving as many as a thousand customers a day.

Pot Vote Has Oklahoma Hungry to Rake in Money from Texas

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma voters are deciding whether to legalize recreational marijuana sales for those 21 and older. Supporters say many in Oklahoma's medical cannabis industry are struggling because of a limited market. Industry proponents hope an influx of Texas consumers will be a boon for a market that's become saturated. But the question that's on Tuesday's ballot is being opposed by a group of law enforcement officers, clergy and prosecutors. That group is led by former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, an ex-FBI agent. Current Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt also opposes the state question. If approved, Oklahoma will become the 22nd state to legalize cannabis for adults.

Tens of thousands of Texans from the bustling Dallas-Fort Worth area routinely drive across the Red River to gamble in glitzy, Las Vegas-style tribal casinos or to relax at cabins or swim and ski in lakes that dot southern Oklahoma. Soon, they could come north for another draw: recreational marijuana. Oklahoma voters will decide Tuesday whether to approve a ballot measure that legalizes consuming the plant for adults 21 and older. The conservative state already has one of the nation's most robust medical marijuana programs, and industry proponents hope an influx of Texas consumers will be a boon for a market that's become saturated.

"I want to be able to sell legal, regulated and taxed marijuana to those Texans over the age of 21, and take their tax dollars and invest them in Oklahoma schools and Oklahoma health care," said Ryan Kiesel, a former state lawmaker and one of the organizers of State Question 820.

Oklahoma is expected to see an increase of $1.8 billion in recreational sales that would generate about $434 million in excise tax revenue alone from 2024 to 2028 if the measure passes, according to an economic impact study sponsored by the cannabis industry. By far the largest number of out-of-state consumers would be from Texas, followed by Arkansas and Kansas, the report shows.

Oklahoma already has one of the most liberal medical marijuana programs in the country, with roughly 10% of the state's adult population having a medical license. Unlike most other states, Oklahoma has no list of qualifying medical conditions, allows patients to get a recommendation from a doctor online, and gives licenses that are valid for two years.

While many in Oklahoma's cannabis industry are eager for recreational sales, opponents include a group of clergy, law enforcement and prosecutors led by former Republican Governor Frank Keating, an ex-FBI agent. Current Governor Kevin Stitt and nearly all the Republicans in the Oklahoma Senate also have announced their opposition.

Opponents cite an increase in the amount of Oklahoma marijuana being exported out of state and sold on the black market, as well as criminal activity associated with some marijuana grows, including the execution-style slayings of four Chinese nationals at an illegal marijuana farm in rural Oklahoma. "SQ 820 throws a match into the middle of what already is a powder keg in rural Oklahoma," said Logan County Sheriff Damon Devereaux, president of the Oklahoma Sheriffs' Association.

Not everyone in law enforcement is overly concerned about legalized marijuana. Sheriff Ray Sappington in Cooke County, Texas, which borders Oklahoma and includes a major north-south interstate, I-35, said that while his deputies may end up arresting more people for bringing marijuana into Texas from Oklahoma, it's not his top priority. "Our issues are not marijuana, to be honest with you," said Sappington, who said most people caught with less than 2 ounces of cannabis are issued a citation and released. "Fentanyl is so deadly, and we're facing that all across the nation. That's the battle. It's not marijuana."


Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley Take Veiled Jabs at Trump in CPAC Remarks

OXON HILL, Md. (AP/KPR) — Leading Republicans took veiled jabs at Donald Trump at an annual gathering of conservatives as they urged a party course correction ahead of the 2024 presidential contest. But their refusal to call him out by name underscored the risks faced by potential and declared challengers worried about alienating Trump's loyal base. The remarks by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley offered a snapshot of how the former president's fellow Republicans are trying to delicately navigate his dominant role in the party while looking for ways to differentiate themselves in what could be a nasty and crowded primary contest.

"We can't become the left, following celebrity leaders with their own brand of identity politics, those with fragile egos who refuse to acknowledge reality," Pompeo, a former Kansas Congressman, said in an afternoon speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Haley, who launched her campaign last month, hit on similar themes, noting the party has lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. "Our cause is right but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans. That ends now. If you're tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation. And if you want to win — not just as a party, but as a country — then stand with me," Haley said. While she received polite applause throughout her speech, several attendees chanted "Trump! Trump! Trump!" as she walked through the venue.

It was a sign of the dissonance at the event as potential and declared challengers tried to make inroads at a gathering that has become closely aligned with the former president. While other declared and likely candidates were offered speaking slots, Trump has been given top billing as the Saturday evening headliner, and his son Donald Trump Jr. has been mobbed throughout the conference by excited fans. Haley and Pompeo were among a handful of announced or potential Republican presidential candidates who attended the CPAC event, which was once a must-stop for GOP hopefuls but has been less of a draw this year.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Tim Scott, of South Carolina, skipped the event this year as it's been dimmed by controversy and its overt homage to Trump.

Like Haley, Pompeo noted recent Republican losses over the years and blamed the party for its shortcomings. "We lost race after winnable race. It's because voters didn't trust us to do any better than the tax-and-spend liberals," he said, echoing a criticism raised by some attendees. "Every recent administration, Republican and Democrat alike, added trillions in dollars to our debt. That is deeply unconservative."

In an interview before his speech, Pompeo told The Associated Press that he had chosen to attend this year's event because it's "a great group of people who represent a broad swath of our party." He brushed aside the significance of Saturday's straw poll of CPAC attendees on their 2024 presidential preference, an unscientific survey that Trump is expected to win, while noting that the election is more than a year and a half away. "There's a long way to go. There's lots of ground to cover and I think everyone who decides to get in the race will have a lot of opportunity in the fall to make their case," Pompeo said. "I've been in straw polls. I've done great. I've done less great. I don't think it says a whole lot about how this will end." Pompeo, one of a long list of potential candidates, said he is still mulling a decision about whether to challenge his former boss for the nomination.

Vivek Ramaswamy, a tech entrepreneur and author of the book "Woke, Inc." who is also running for president, addressed the convention Friday and told the AP later in an interview that he saw himself as a successor to Trump. "I'm building on the foundation he laid," Ramaswamy said, adding that he'd focus more on ending affirmative action and climate change mitigation than the former president. He also said he would support the eventual GOP nominee "if everybody else makes that commitment."


KU's Jalen Wilson Unanimous Choice for Big 12 Player of the Year

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas Jayhawks basketball standout Jalen Wilson has been named the Big 12 conference Player of the Year. Wilson was the unanimous choice by the league’s coaches. He led the Big 12 in both scoring and rebounding during the season that wrapped up Saturday. Wilson finished the regular season averaging 19.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Wilson is just the seventh player in the 27-year history of the Big 12 Conference to lead the league in both scoring and rebounding in the same season. He becomes the 11th Jayhawk to win Big 12 Player of the Year.


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.