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Headlines for Friday, March 10, 2023

A colorful depiction of stylized radios with text that reads Kansas Public Radio News Summary
Emily Fisher

Kansas Senators Push Bipartisan Bill to End Embargo on Cuba

WASHINGTON, D.C. (KPR) - Kansas Senators Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall are calling on the nation to lift its trade embargo against Cuba. The Republican senators joined several Democrats to introduce the bipartisan legislation. The "Freedom to Export to Cuba Act" would eliminate legal barriers preventing Americans from doing business in Cuba. The act would also be a boost for agricultural exports from farm states like Kansas. While the legislation would repeal key provisions of the existing embargo, it would keep in place laws that address human rights and property claims against the Cuban government. The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba has been in place since 1961.


KU Report: Large Divide in Broadband Access in Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) - A new report from the University of Kansas shows a continuing divide between rural and urban areas when it comes to broadband access. Residents of rural Kansas usually pay more money and get slower Internet speeds. Donna Ginther is director of the KU Institute for Policy and Social Research. She says around one million Kansans live in places that lack access to high-speed broadband. “Repeatedly people would say, ‘I have to drive to town to go to the library or to go to McDonald’s to do my job or to do my schoolwork,' even simple things like downloading a recipe from the internet," she said. Ginther says the private sector often doesn’t want to build into sparsely populated areas because it’s not as profitable. Officials recently distributed nearly $50 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to improve broadband access in Kansas. But KU researchers say the state still isn’t getting its share of federal money because federal maps undercount the number of people without access.


Kansas Senator Voices Support for Nuclear Energy

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW/KNS) - Kansas Republican Senator Roger Marshall says he hopes to see nuclear power become a dominant energy source in the future. He made the comments during a stop Friday in Wichita. "I really think that nuclear modural reactors are the solution," he said. "I can see a time in Sedgwick County and in Wichita, Kansas, where we’re running off of some type of modular nuclear reactor, which are so much safer than the other reactors." Marshall added that he would support replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas to reduce carbon emissions. He also said he supports renewable energy sources like solar and wind but doesn’t think they are reliable enough to stand alone. Harvey County recently placed a six-month ban on renewable energy construction in response to concerns over local wind energy projects. Kansas currently gets nearly 50% of its electricity from wind, 30% coal and 17% from nuclear energy.


Kansas Legislature Bans Transgender Women from Women's Sports Teams

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - The Kansas Senate has voted to bar transgender girls and women from competing in girls’ and women’s sports. The ban would cover elementary school through college. The bill now goes to Democratic Governor Laura Kelly, who has vetoed similar bills in the past. Senator Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican, supported the ban. “The opponents don’t seem concerned about the trophies, placements and championships that are lost by Kansas girls if we don’t pass this." She said. State Senator Pat Pettey, a Kansas City Democrat, disagreed. “This bill is not about fairness or women’s sports. It’s about discrimination," she said. If the governor vetoes the bill, the Kansas House might not have enough votes to override her veto but the Senate likely would.

(- AP version -)

Kansas Approves Ban on Transgender Athletes in Women's Sports

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature has given final approval to a ban on transgender athletes in girls' and women's sports. Supporters appeared Thursday to have the votes to override Democratic Governor Laura Kelly's expected veto. The Senate voted 28-11 to approve the bill imposing the ban for K-12, college and club sports. The House had approved it two weeks earlier. Kelly vetoed two previous versions. She narrowly won reelection last year after Republicans made transgender athletes in girls' and women's sports a big issue. But supporters of the ban appeared to pick up enough legislative seats last year for the two-thirds majorities needed in both chambers to override a veto.

If they are successful, Kansas would join at least 18 other states with laws limiting girls' and women's sports to athletes who had female anatomy at birth. The measure also is part of GOP conservatives' broader national campaign against transgender rights, which includes bans on gender-affirming care for minors, preventing transgender people from using facilities associated with their gender identities and blocking them from changing their driver's licenses and birth certificates. "This is a really, really aggressive backlash — this sort of very pointed, very vicious attack on trans rights," said Jenna Bellemere, a 19-year-old transgender woman and University of Kansas student. "It's a backlash to the fact that the world is changing and it's been changing for a very long time."

Supporters of restricting transgender athletes argue that it's necessary to preserve fair competition. They also argue that allowing transgender athletes to compete costs cisgender girls and women scholarships and other opportunities, and undoes decades of progress against sex discrimination in sports.

Kansas officials and LGBTQ-rights advocates say only a handful of transgender youth participate in high school activities — and possibly only one trans Kansas girl is on a sports team. But backers of the bill argue that the state should act before transgender athletes become more prevalent.

Republican state Sen. Renee Erickson, a former college basketball player, said that opponents of the bill don't seem concerned about the mental health of cisgender girls "who will be forced to undress" around transgender girls or women. "I'm not willing to wait until a Kansas girl is put into this situation," she said.

In the Senate, supporters on Thursday had one more vote than a two-thirds majority — the minimum needed to override Kelly's expected veto. In the House, supporters need 84 votes for a two-thirds majority. While they had 82 votes last month, two Republicans were absent.

Last year, supporters appeared to be two votes short of a two-thirds majority in the House. But in last year's elections, three GOP freshmen who supported a ban replaced three Republicans who'd voted against overriding Kelly's veto last year. "Who wouldn't vote for fairness in women's sports?" said state Rep. Carrie Barth, one of the three new Republicans, summarizing what she said were bipartisan comments in her eastern Kansas district.

Last year, no Democrats voted to override Kelly's veto. In the House last month, one lawmaker, Rep. Ford Carr, of Wichita, did. While Carr did not immediately respond to a cell phone message seeking comment Thursday, he told the Kansas City Star last month that he had listened to his constituents in deciding how to vote. Opponents of the bill are working to get Carr or a Republican to switch to no for a vote on overriding the expected Kelly veto.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ-rights advocates also are bracing for further legislative battles this year. "Targeting a marginalized population for the sake of political advantage is a time-honored tradition in conservative politics," said Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, which supports LGBTQ rights.

The Senate last month approved a bill aimed at blocking gender-affirming care for minors, and it is awaiting a House committee hearing. The Senate also passed a measure to legally define male and female based only on a person's anatomy at birth, which advocates say would erase transgender people's legal existence. A House committee approved it Wednesday, and a debate in the full House is possible as early as next week. Adam Kellogg, a 19-year-old transgender man and University of Kansas student, said the message from the Legislature is, "We don't want you. We don't care about you." He added: "This hurts real people in real time, and it's an active attempt to take us off the map entirely."


Regulators Cut Pressure on Pipeline After Kansas Oil Spill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — U.S. government regulators have stopped allowing a large part of the Keystone oil pipeline to operate at higher-than-normal pressures following a massive oil spill in northeastern Kansas in December. The order this week from the U.S. Department of Transportation covers 1,220 miles of the Keystone pipeline in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois. Regulators already were requiring lower pressures for 96 miles of the pipeline from southern Nebraska into central Kansas, including the spill site in Washington County. Regulators allowed higher than normal maximum pressures starting in 2017. The latest order comes ahead of the Kansas Legislature's first hearings on the spill scheduled for Tuesday. A TC Energy official is set to face questions from lawmakers Tuesday during a joint meeting of two House committees.

TC Energy said in a statement Friday that it was already operating within the pressure limits set by this week's order and that it would continue to comply.

"Our commitment to the safe operations of our system is unwavering," the company said. But Zack Pistora, a lobbyist in Kansas for the Sierra Club, said Friday that perhaps regulators should reconsider the Keystone pipeline's operation "in its entirety." The system has had more than 20 spills since it began operations in 2010, and the one in Kansas was the system's largest and the largest U.S. onshore spill in nine years, according to the regulators. "There's no confidence that this pipeline won't be breaking again in the near future, even with less pressure," Pistora said.

The latest order from regulators directed TC Energy to lower the maximum pressure by 10% on the pipeline from North Dakota's border with Canada to northern Oklahoma, as well as the system's spur from southern Nebraska through Missouri into central Illinois. That would bring the maximum pressure into line with what's normally allowed after TC Energy had received a special permit to exceed it six years ago. A pipeline rupture December 7 dumped nearly 13,000 barrels — each with enough crude to fill a standard household bathtub — in a creek through rural pasture land in Washington County, in northern Kansas.

No one was evacuated following the spill, and officials said it did not affect the two larger rivers and reservoir downstream from the affected creek. With regulators' permission, the company reopened the affected segment a little more than three weeks after the spill. However, in a separate January 6 cleanup order, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the amount of oil spilled was "a harmful quantity" violating the nation's clean water laws. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the EPA order through a Freedom of Information Act request.

TC Energy must notify the state and the EPA's on-site coordinator before shipping out any hazardous materials. Also, the company will pay the U.S. government's costs from the cleanup and faces a fine of nearly $52,000 a day if it violates the EPA order. A U.S. Governmental Accountability Office report to Congress in July 2021 noted that pipeline regulators had allowed the higher-than-normal maximum pressure on the Keystone system starting in 2017. The regulators concluded the operating at the higher pressures was safe if TC Energy met more than 50 conditions. TC Energy said last month that a flawed weld caused a crack that grew over time because of the stress on a bend in the pipeline where the rupture occurred. The company has estimated that the cleanup will cost $480 million, and it has an average of 800 people on site in any given 24-hour period. "We continue to progress," on the cleanup and investigating the root cause of the pipeline rupture, the company said in its statement.

The entire 2,700-mile Keystone system carries heavy crude oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to the Gulf Coast and to central Illinois. Concerns that spills could pollute waterways spurred opposition to plans by TC Energy to build another crude oil pipeline in the same system, the 1,200-mile Keystone XL, across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. President Joe Biden's cancelation of a permit led the company to pull the plug on the project in 2021.

The pipeline regulators' order this week also requires TC Energy to review the pipeline pressure and consider potential problems each month on the 291-mile Keystone segment from southern Nebraska into northern Oklahoma. The order said that not reducing the pressure on more of the pipeline and requiring other measures would make pipeline operations "hazardous to life, property or the environment."


Kansas City Chiefs Legend Otis Taylor Dead at 80

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KNS/KPR) - Otis Taylor, one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of the Kansas City Chiefs, has died at the age of 80. Taylor is best remembered for his 46-yard touchdown catch when the Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings for their first Super Bowl championship in 1970. In an interview in the early ‘90s, Taylor said despite the Vikings being heavy favorites to win, they knew they were in for a tough battle. "All this hype about us being underdogs and... we might embarrass the league and everything... I think that sort of brought our team even closer together," he said. Taylor is in the Chiefs Ring of Honor, but not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, despite lofty receiving numbers in his 10-year career.


Woman Guilty of Abusing Children at Shawnee Mission Day Care

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KSHB) — A Johnson County woman has pleaded guilty to abusing children while working at a Shawnee Mission day care in 2021. KSHB TV reports that Rachel Beth Schrader was caught on camera kicking, hitting and shaking children under the age of 1 year old at the Shawnee Mission Christian School Wee Care. Other staff members reported Schrader to authorities after noticing injuries on an infant and reviewing surveillance video. Investigators reviewed additional surveillance video and found 140 instances of Schrader abusing children over a one-month period. She pleaded guilty yesterday to four counts of abuse of a child less than 6 years old. She will be sentenced at a later date.


Johnson County Bans TikTok on County Devices

OLATHE, Kan. (KSNT) - Johnson County has begun restricting employee access to the popular smartphone app TikTok. KSNT reports that county employees will be prohibited from using the app on all Johnson County Network computers. County Commissioners made the announcement Thursday during their weekly meeting. There will be a few exceptions, including for employees of the Sheriff’s Office, which will continue to have access to the platform to monitor the app for potential cybersecurity issues. The issue surfaced when federal and state bans on the platform were enacted. Governor Laura Kelly announced a TikTok ban on state-owned devices in December and the federal government told employees to delete the app from all work devices by the end of this month.


Kansas Coach Bill Self Sidelined After Medical Procedure

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Bob Huggins knows as well as anyone how difficult it must be for Kansas counterpart Bill Self, who went to the emergency room before the Big 12 Tournament and was hospitalized following an undisclosed procedure. Now the coach at West Virginia, Huggins went through his own health scare just over 20 years ago, when he suffered a massive heart attack while on a recruiting trip. It taught Huggins the importance of slowing down, difficult as that might be, and underscored the perils that the strain of college coaching can put on one's health.

Just over 20 years ago while on a recruiting trip to Pittsburgh, Bob Huggins collapsed at the airport while catching a flight home, awaking to find himself surrounded by strangers who were lifting him into an ambulance. Then the coach at Cincinnati, Huggins drifted in and out of consciousness on the ride to the hospital, where doctors told the future Hall of Fame coach that he'd suffered a massive heart attack. Huggins wound up having a device implanted to help normalize his heartbeat, and he was told to make some lifestyle changes — exercise more, watch what he was eating, lose some weight and try to lower his stress level. That last one? That might have been the toughest one.

Long days and longer nights, coupled with the increasingly high stakes of major college basketball, naturally put the health of coaches in peril. Huggins is just one of many who have dealt with issues over the years. So when Huggins, now the coach at West Virginia, learned Thursday that longtime friend and Kansas counterpart Bill Self had gone to the emergency room ahead of the Big 12 Tournament — and subsequently admitted to the hospital for an undisclosed illness — he could relate in a way that struck him close to home.

"There are times when you don't have any choice (but to slow down). And I went through that. I had no choice," Huggins said, shortly after his Mountaineers were beaten by Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals. "I was in the hospital with a whole bunch of tubes and somebody coming in, seeming like every 15 minutes, and sticking me with something," he recalled. "You know, I want Bill to get well — I want to say as soon as he can, but really, I think what I need to say or mean to say is, I want him to come out of there the way he's always been."

Officials from Kansas have been short on details of what led Self to be admitted to the hospital late Wednesday. Dr. Steve Stites, the chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, said in a statement that Self did not suffer a heart attack, which some outlets had reported, but that he had a procedure done.

The school initially said Self would miss the Jayhawks' postseason opener with an illness, then announced Thursday night that he would miss the remainder of the Big 12 Tournament as well. The defending champion Jayhawks are due to play Iowa State Friday night for a spot in the championship game.

Longtime assistant Norm Roberts intends to lead Kansas for as long as Self is out. Whether that will include the NCAA Tournament, where the Jayhawks are a likely No. 1 seed and also the defending champions, is entirely unknown.

"Coach is doing good," Roberts said Thursday night. "I talked to him on the phone (after beating West Virginia). He's doing well. He already wants to watch film and all of that. He's doing well. He's doing better."

Whether the stress of the season — and playing in arguably the toughest league in college basketball — contributed to Self's health problems is purely conjecture. But there have been plenty of examples that drive home the point that the profession, by its very nature, puts at risk those that demand the most from it. Huggins is one of them. So is Skip Prosser. The Wake Forest coach suffered his own heart attack after taking a midday run in 2007, and was found slumped on his office couch and unresponsive; he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The stressful lifestyle isn't exclusive to basketball, either. Football coach Urban Meyer has said on several occasions that the strain of the job has contributed to his health issues and accompanying leaves of absences and retirements. "It brings to reality how short life is," Baylor coach Scott Drew said.

Self is expected to make a full recovery, his doctors said, and the 60-year-old Hall of Fame coach could be in charge of the Jayhawks for years to come. His rolling contract basically gives him the freedom to decide when he hangs it up. Only he knows when that will be. And what factors he will take into consideration.

"I'm sure at some point in time we'll talk," Huggins said. "He and I talk. I've been through those things and it's not any fun. Especially, I think it would be really hard for Bill this time of year, because of them trying to make another run at a national championship, and him being in the state he's in now. I think that would be very difficult for him.

"He's a great competitor," Huggins said. "A tremendous competitor."


Wichita Nurses Vote to Unionize

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW/KNS) - Nurses at St. Joseph hospital in Wichita have voted to unionize. About 62% of the votes cast Wednesday were in favor of organizing with the National Nurses United. The bargaining unit at St. Joseph includes more than 350 nurses. This comes as the union is negotiating a contract for more than 650 nurses at St. Francis. A majority of those nurses voted to unionize in November. Nurses at both hospitals say they are organizing in order to bargain for equitable pay, safer working conditions and adequate staffing levels.


Advocates Worry Tax Credits for Disabled Kansans Reward Kansas Businesses for Paying Low Wages

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas lawmakers are considering legislation they say would increase tax credits for employing disabled Kansans. But disability rights groups say the bill rewards businesses that pay workers less than minimum wage. A Kansas bill aims to expand tax credits to businesses that buy things from groups that employ people with disabilities. Laws allow some workers with disabilities to be paid below minimum wage. Disability rights advocates don’t oppose the current tax credits, but raised concerns about the proposed expansion. Sarah Hart Weir, with the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities, said at a hearing last month that the change rewards businesses paying people less than minimum wage. “Employment isn’t charity," she said. "It’s not a social experience. Work is work.” Nationally, there has been a push to end sub-minimum wages. Some states and the U.S. Congress are considering changes.


Kansas Dedicates More Money for Suicide Prevention

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW/LJW) - Kansas is sending more money to community-based services to address the rising number of deaths by suicide. According to federal data, the annual number of deaths from suicide in Kansas rose more than 60% from 2000 to 2020, reaching 530 that year.

Fifteen organizations across the state will get $35,000 each and continued support. The groups will asses their communities and design a framework for reducing suicides. Governor Laura Kelly says the grants are part of the state's effort to improve mental health. She also says the number of psychiatric beds in Kansas is up by more than 30% over the last four years. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that two Lawrence agencies will each receive a grant.


Food Price Forecast for 2023: 8% Inflation Likely

UNDATED (HPM) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts food prices won’t rise as sharply in 2023 but still could climb 8% over last year’s rates. Harvest Public Media reports the higher prices are affecting grocers as well as consumers. Robert Kimball owns Wohlner’s Neighborhood Grocery & Deli in Omaha. He says business has slowed down as his costs have risen up to 15% in the past year. Kimball says he’s doing his best to keep the lights on and limit price increases for customers. But still, he’s seeing fewer folks in the check out lines. "I'm losing some customers just because they can go to a big box chain store and purchase their weekly groceries cheaper than what they could purchase here," he said. Just getting product to the store is a big expense. Kimball says fuel costs were up $8,000 last year, and he expects it to increase more this year.

The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma has been seeing the impacts of high food prices since last summer. More people needed help feeding themselves and their families. The food bank’s Cathy Nestlen says it’s not just high prices hurting diets. The government recently stopped providing extra food benefits (SNAP) - removing at least 95 dollars from monthly budgets. "The timing could not be worse, with inflation still what it is," she said. "People are scared. People are already down to one or two meals a day." Nestlen says the food bank is also grappling with high prices. Donations are down and they have to foot the bill for increasingly pricy pantry items. Similar situations are reported at food banks in Kansas.


Kansas Lawmakers Look to Cap Length of Trains Traveling Through State

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - For many Kansans, waiting 15-plus minutes at a train crossing isn’t an unusual experience. KWCH TV reports that some Kansas lawmakers are now looking to cap the length of trains traveling through the state. There's a dispute regarding who has the authority to make such regulations - state lawmakers or the federal government. Nonetheless... a bill under consideration in Kansas would limit the length of trains to 8,500 feet, or about 1.6 miles. A hearing on the bill was held Tuesday.


Jaded with Education, More Americans Are Skipping College

JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) - Americans who came of age during the pandemic are skipping college in big numbers. Many have shunned traditional college paths, turning instead to hourly jobs or careers that don't require a degree. Still others feel locked out, deterred by high tuition and the prospect of student debt. Colleges nationwide saw undergraduate enrollments drop 8% from 2019 to 2022, with continued declines even after the return to in-person classes, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse. Economists say the impact could be dire. Fewer college graduates could worsen labor shortages in fields from health care and engineering to information technology.


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.