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Headlines for Friday, May 12, 2023

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Emily Fisher

Governor’s Latest Veto Means No Major Tax Cuts Coming to Kansas this Year

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas Democratic Governor Laura Kelly on Friday vetoed the final tax relief bill to reach her desk this year. It would have given tax breaks to private businesses that compete with government services — like fitness centers and child care facilities. The rejection all but ensures no significant tax changes will be enacted in Kansas this year — unless lawmakers convene for a special session — despite both Republican and Democratic leaders seemingly making it a priority amid a $2 billion budget surplus and rising inflation. (Read more.)


Kansas Governor Vetoes Measure to Help Crisis Pregnancy / Anti-Abortion Centers and a Bill to Limit the Power of Public Health Officials

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/KPR) — Kansas Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has vetoed Republican legislation that would have provided a financial boost to crisis pregnancy centers run by abortion opponents and curbed the power of public health officials during infectious disease outbreaks. The two measures rejected Friday by Kelly were part of a wave of conservative policies passed by GOP-controlled state legislatures this year. The vetoes will stand because Kansas lawmakers have adjourned for the year. The first measure would have granted new state income tax credits for donors to crisis pregnancy centers. The second provision would have stripped state and local officials of their authority to prohibit public gatherings during infectious disease outbreaks or order quarantines for infected people.

The bill she vetoed would have granted up to $10 million a year in new state income tax credits to donors to the more than 50 pregnancy crisis centers across the state. The centers provide free counseling, classes, supplies and other services to pregnant people and new parents. The centers also discourage abortions. Lawmakers included it in a wide-ranging tax bill that also included an expansion of existing tax credits for adoption expenses and purchases from businesses that employ disabled workers. Kelly vetoed the entire bill. Kelly, who supports abortion, narrowly won reelection last year. Last month, she vetoed $2 million in the next state budget for direct aid to the pregnancy centers, but the Legislature overrode that action.

In her latest veto message, Kelly didn't point to any individual provision in the tax bill but said bundling so many proposals together made it "impossible to sort out the bad from the good."

In vetoing direct aid to anti-abortion centers last month, Kelly called them "largely unregulated" and said, "This is not an evidence-based approach or even an effective method for preventing unplanned pregnancies."

Abortion opponents argued that providing financial aid to their centers would help make sure that people facing unplanned pregnancies have good alternatives if they're unsure about getting abortions. House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, accused Kelly in a statement of a "political bias against helping vulnerable new mothers." Even if lawmakers still had a chance to override Kelly's veto, they didn't pass the tax bill initially with the two-thirds majorities required.

The other bill Kelly vetoed was part of an ongoing backlash from conservative lawmakers against how she, other state officials and local officials attempted to check the spread of COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021. They were particularly critical of orders closing schools and businesses during the pandemic's first months and restrictions on businesses' operations and mask mandates later. "She said no to protecting the health freedom of Kansans and curtailing the powers of unelected bureaucrats," Senate President Ty Masterson, another Wichita-area Republican, said in a statement. But Republicans split over the measure because some feared it went too far in curbing state and local officials' powers during outbreaks.

The bill would have stripped local officials of their authority to prohibit public gatherings and repealed a requirement that local law enforcement officers enforce orders from public health officials. Those officials also would have lost their authority to order quarantines for infected people.

The head of the state health department, appointed by the governor, would have lost the power to issue orders and impose new health rules to prevent the spread of disease or to order people to get tested or seek treatment for infectious diseases.

Kelly's veto message said Kansas has been a pioneer in public health policy. A century ago the state's top health official, Dr. Samuel Crumbine, was known internationally for campaigning against unsanitary, disease-spreading practices such as spitting on sidewalks and having common drinking cups on railroads and in public buildings. "Yet lawmakers continue trying to undermine the advancements that have saved lives in every corner of our state," Kelly wrote.

The bill also reflected vaccine opponents' influence with conservative Republican lawmakers. It would have prevented the head of the state health department from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for children entering school or day care — something Kelly's administration has said it doesn't plan to do. State and local officials also would not have been able to cite a person's lack of vaccination as a reason for recommending that they isolate themselves.


St. Louis Man Enters Plea in 1985 Fatal Stabbing of Father of 3 in Suburban Kansas City

ROELAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A St. Louis man has been convicted in a 38-year-old stabbing death in suburban Kansas City. Sixty-seven-year-old Geter Watson Rhymes pleaded no contest Thursday to second-degree murder in the killing of Gary Watson, a married father of three. He initially was charged with first-degree murder. Watson's body was found on March 13, 1985, in his apartment in Roeland Park, Kansas. Sentencing is set for July 14, with prosecutors asking for seven years under the plea deal, rather than the 20-year maximum. Rymes is asking for five years.

Police at the time said three men were seen entering Watson's apartment about two hours before his body was discovered by a family member. Police conducted more than 200 interviews in the case. Crime scene officials said advances in testing allowed investigators to reanalyze evidence collected from the scene and make the arrest two years ago.


Damaging Storm Rolls Through Northwest Kansas, Weskan School Heavily Damaged

WESKAN, Kan. (KWCH) - An active afternoon into evening for severe weather in northwest Kansas has produced several tornado warnings with confirmed, mostly rain-wrapped tornadoes. KWCH TV reports that one of the affected areas was the small, unincorporated town of Weskan in Wallace County. The Wallace County sheriff confirmed reports of damage to the community’s school, as well as reports of broken vehicle windows and downed trees. There was also a report of a toppled grain elevator. Outside the school, the storm destroyed recently-installed bleachers for this weekend’s high school graduation.

(Additional coverage)

No Injuries Reported in U.S. Outbreak of Small Tornadoes; More Storms Possible

UNDATED (AP) - Storms in parts of the southern Plains produced numerous small tornadoes but no reports of deaths or injuries. The National Weather Service is reporting as many as 10 tornadoes in central Oklahoma on Thursday and nearly 15 in northwestern Kansas. A school in the Kansas town of Weskan was damaged. Homes and businesses were damaged in the Oklahoma towns of Noble, Newcastle, Tuttle and Cole. A tornado in the latter town on April 19 killed three people. The Storm Prediction Center says another round of storms is possible beginning Friday afternoon in the region centering on Omaha, Nebraska.

Weather service meteorologist Ryan Husted, in Goodland, says damage was reported to the roof, windows and football stadium at the high school in the unincorporated community of Weskan in western Kansas, near the Colorado border, Husted said, but other twisters did little to no damage. "All were weak or small ... brief and shorter lived, most of them stayed out across our agricultural lands," Husted said. The weather service will send investigators to assess the damage and rate the strength of the tornadoes.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, says another round of storms is possible Friday afternoon, primarily in the mid-Missouri Valley — a region centering on Omaha, Nebraska. A few tornadoes, large hail and wind damage could occur, the center said, with large hail and strong winds also forecast in the southern Plains.


Former Kansas Lawmaker Convicted of Fraud Gets 2+ Years in Prison

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/KPR) - A former Kansas lawmaker has been sentenced to more than two years in prison for defrauding the federal government of nearly a half-million dollars. Michael Capps, a former Republican Representative from Wichita, was sentenced today (THUR) in federal court in Wichita. Prosecutors say the 45-year-old Capps was convicted of 12 felonies for lying on applications for federal COVID-19 relief funds. A jury convicted him in December of wire fraud, bank fraud, money laundering and other crimes.

(AP version)

Ex-Kansas Legislator Convicted of COVID Relief Fraud Sentenced to More than 2 Years in Prison

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas lawmaker who was convicted of 12 felonies for lying on applications for federal COVID-19 relief has been sentenced to more than two years and three months in prison. Former Republican state Rep. Michael Capps, of Wichita, was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in Wichita. Capps' attorney argued for probation, citing Capps' Air Force service in a combat zone. Prosecutors sought four years and three months in prison and argued Capps shows no remorse over stealing nearly $500,000 in funds meant to help businesses remain afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Capps was ordered to pay more than a half-million dollars in restitution and forfeiture of illegal proceeds.

A jury convicted the 45-year-old former lawmaker in December of four counts of wire fraud, four counts of money laundering, three counts of making false statements on loan applications and one count of bank fraud. The jury acquitted him of six charges, and another charge was dismissed before his trial. Capps served a single term in the Kansas House in 2019-20 and lost his 2020 Republican primary race. Prosecutors said Capps filed forms inflating the number of employees he had at two businesses and a sports foundation, then applied for loans to pay the nonexistent employees.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gordon argued in the prosecutors' sentencing memo that Capps had engaged in "goal-oriented deceit," using fake payroll numbers, employment data and revenue figures in filling out loan applications. "This Court should reject the defendant's continued efforts to avoid responsibility, which signal his likelihood to persist in similar conduct in the future," Gordon wrote.


Central Kansas Residents Object to Placement of Massive Solar Panel Project Near Vital Wetlands

BARTON COUNTY, Kan. (KAKE) - Barton County residents want the county to create tougher rules for solar farms. It comes amidst anger over plans for a solar farm that they say would hurt wildlife at the nearby Cheyenne Bottoms wildlife area. KAKE TV reports that a Spanish company, Acciona, wants to build a more than $300 million solar farm on land between Cheyenne Bottoms and Great Bend.

This week, the Barton County commissioner voted to send a zoning change to the planning commission that would have required any solar farm to be at least six miles away from Cheyenne bottoms. It also passed a moratorium on solar projects until the end of the year. Some residents say they would want the project at least 10 miles back and more east or west of Cheyenne Bottoms so it doesn't disrupt any birds' flight path. Some residents expressed concern that solar panels can have a lake effect, and appear as a body of water to birds looking for a place to land.


Kansas City Declares Itself a Sanctuary for Gender-Affirming Health Care as Missouri Restricts Access

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCUR) - The Kansas City Council has passed a resolution declaring the city a safe haven for gender-affirming care and making enforcement of state bans a low priority. Just a day after the Missouri Legislature approved a ban on gender-affirming care, city council members passed a policy making Kansas City a sanctuary city for the transgender community. The KC Council voted 11-1 Thursday to pass a resolution that declares the city a safe haven for gender-affirming care and adopts an official policy on gender-affirming care. KCUR Radio reports that the policy stands in defiance of recent Missouri actions to restrict the rights of transgender people and their ability to access the healthcare they need.

On Wednesday, the Missouri Legislature passed bills banning gender-affirming care — like puberty blockers, hormone therapy and gender transition surgery — for children under 18. Missouri lawmakers also passed a bill banning transgender athletes from playing on the sports team that aligns with their gender identity, up to the collegiate level.


Kansas Governor Thwarts Small Legal Settlement with Business over COVID-19 Restrictions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas' Democratic governor has scuttled a small legal settlement between the state and the owner of a Wichita fitness studio forced to shut down during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic and then operate under restrictions. The settlement rejected Thursday by Governor Laura Kelly was favored by top Republican officials. It would have cost the state about $4,300 and ended a lawsuit filed in December 2020 by Ryan Floyd and Omega Bootcamps Inc. that has yet to go to trial in Wichita. Kelly met online with eight top lawmakers to review the settlement, and state law required approval from a majority of the legislators, plus the governor. Kelly didn't say why she opposed the settlement, though a spokesperson later said in a text that the settlement "is not in the best interest of the state."

The case has yet to go to trial in Sedgwick County District Court in Wichita, and Attorney General Kris Kobach asked Governor Laura Kelly and eight leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature to sign off, as required by state law. Six of those eight legislative leaders are Republicans, and all six voted to approve the settlement during a live online WebEx meeting that Kelly convened. But Kelly opposed it, along with the House and Senate's top Democrats, and under Kansas law, the governor's action decided the issue.

The governor and the lawmakers had no public discussion of the settlement but met in private for 35 minutes with two members of Kobach's staff. The governor cut off public discussion before the private session with Kobach's staff, even though House Democratic Leader Vic Miller asked to have the case verbally summarized in public. The Associated Press requested by email before the meeting that the discussion be held in public.

"We had this meeting here today, and you voted 'no,' " Republican state Sen. Rick Billinger, who chairs the Senate budget committee, told Kelly, as she moved to adjourn the meeting immediately after the decision. "I mean, I don't understand that."

Ryan Kriegshauser, an attorney representing Floyd and Omega Bootcamps, called Kelly's action "an insult to common sense," and Floyd said the settlement amount represented the rent he still had to pay during 53 days he remained closed because of COVID-19 restrictions. "All the dude ever wanted was his rent back," said Josh Ney, another attorney representing Floyd. "Now the state will likely spend untold thousands to continue litigating this case."

The state asked the judge handling the lawsuit to dismiss it without a trial in October 2021. But the judge has not ruled on that request. Miller, a veteran attorney, said he expects the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. "Just in general, when we become an easy target for cases that have no merit, it encourages other cases with no merit to be filed," Miller said. "You have to look at the bigger picture."

The lawsuit argued that the state used Floyd's and his business' private property "for the benefit of the general public" when it and local officials imposed restrictions to check the spread of COVID-19. Statewide restrictions started with Kelly's order shutting down most businesses for five weeks, starting in late March 2020.

The lawsuit cited part of the state's emergency management law that says people can seek compensation in court if their property is "commandeered or otherwise used" by state or local officials. Miller said that language doesn't cover COVID-19 restrictions, while the lawsuit contends it does.

Kriegshauser said it's notable that the judge has been "struggling" for more than 18 months with a decision on whether the case should go forward. Also, the Legislature whittled away over time at the power of the governor and local officials to shutter businesses or issue mask mandates in response to criticism of their actions. "Of course there is merit to this action," Kriegshauser said of the lawsuit.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, Omega Bootcamps received two pandemic relief loans totaling about $24,000 in 2020 and 2021. In his lawsuit, Floyd said he wants an appraiser to be appointed to set the amount of damages owed by the state. Kelly spokesperson Brianna Johnson noted those loans in defending the governor's action.

Kobach was elected attorney general last year but served as secretary of state, Kansas' top elections official, from 2011 to 2019, and Kriegshauser worked for him as an attorney and policy deputy in 2011-12. Lawyers outside the attorney general's office have handled the state's defense in the lawsuit.

Kelly's action came the same day as the formal end of the U.S. national public health emergency for COVID-19. In Kansas, Republican legislative leaders forced an end to a state of emergency in June 2021, about three months earlier than Kelly wanted.

The lawsuit was put on hold by the judge in 2021 so that Kriegshauser could urge Kansas lawmakers to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to compensate small businesses for their financial losses during the pandemic. Republican lawmakers approved a plan that could have set aside tens of millions of dollars, but Kelly vetoed it, arguing that the "well-intentioned" measure violated a national coronavirus relief law.

In 2022, Kelly and lawmakers agreed on providing up to $50 million worth of refunds on the local property taxes paid by retail "storefront" businesses shut down or restricted during the pandemic, up to $5,000 for each business.

But critics have said the process of getting the aid is difficult, and the $5,000 cap discourages businesses from applying. The state Department of Revenue reported Thursday that it had approved 23 applications worth more than $22,000 in aid.


SCOTUS Sides with California's Decision Requiring More Space for Raising Pigs

UNDATED (HPM) - The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to a California law requiring more space for pigs. Harvest Public Media reports that could mean big changes for pork producers in the Midwest. California’s Proposition 12 says pork sold in that state must come from pigs whose mothers were raised in at least 24 square feet of space. That would rule out the use of gestation crates, the metal enclosures commonly used now. Jennifer Zwagerman, director of the Agriculture Law Center at Drake University in Des Moines, says economics will dictate how pork producers raise their pigs. “If they want to remain in this business that they may find themselves in a position where they have to get on board in order to remain viable in the market and maintain their contracts," she said. The National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation sued to block the California rule. In a statement, the Council said the high court’s move will drive up prices for consumers and drive small farms out of business.


Kansas Man Wanted for Child Sex Crimes Shoots Himself as Joplin Police Try to Arrest Him

JOPLIN, Mo. (KSNF) — Police in Joplin, Missouri, say a Kansas man with active felony warrants shot himself as officers attempted to apprehend him early Thursday morning. Just after midnight Thursday morning, officers with the Joplin Police Department received information about a Kansas man wanted for child sex crimes sitting inside his vehicle in the Planet Fitness parking lot. KSNF TV reports that the man, 36-year-old Andrew Hegwald, of Chanute, has active felony warrants out of Neosho County, Kansas, for statutory rape and child molestation. As officers approached Hegwald’s vehicle, police say he grabbed a handgun and shot himself. Hegwald was given first aid at the scene and then taken to a hospital, where he remains in critical condition.


Saving Abandoned Kansas Wells from Environmental Disaster

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Around 11,000 natural gas and oil wells drilled over the last century-and-a-half have been plugged. Oil and gas drilling started in the late 1800s and spread east to west through Kansas. Development of drilling regulations didn’t begin until the late 1930s with comprehensive regulation not established until the 1970s, according to a Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) report. According to the KCC, many of the state's oil and gas wells were never properly plugged, leaving behind potential environmental consequences. One fear is that wells could leak dangerous chemicals into the ground or groundwater. KSNT reports that many wells, especially in eastern Kansas, weren’t documented and have been buried or overgrown, making them hard to find. Wells found in the eastern part of the state are typically older and have very little industry or historical documentation.

In 1996, the Abandoned Well Plugging and Site Remediation Fund was established, creating a plan to address abandoned oil wells around Kansas. At the federal level, President Joe Biden signed a bill November 15, 2021, creating an orphaned well plugging, remediation and reclamation program with the Department of Interior. Kansas was made eligible to receive $58.6 million to address abandoned wells. Twenty-five million dollars was received for initial grants and the KCC is eligible for another $33.6 million from formula grants. In total, $4.7 billion has been allocated to plug wells across the U.S., according to the KCC.

The average cost to plug a well has been estimated at nearly $11,000. At this price, the remaining 5,290 abandoned wells in Kansas would cost roughly $56 million to plug. The KCC expects more wells to be added to the list of abandoned wells as companies go bankrupt, new well-locating techniques are created and as staff respond to additional complaints. Experts say there are still more abandoned wells needing plugs than federal funds can provide.


U.S. News & World Report: KU Law, Medical Schools Among Nation’s Best

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - The University of Kansas Law School and KU Medical School are among the best in the nation, according to the latest rankings released by U.S. News & World Report. The KU School of Law entered the overall Top 50 for the first time in history with a No. 40 ranking among all law schools, as well as a No. 18 ranking among public universities. These rankings reflect a notable jump from last year – 27 spots among all schools and 18 spots among public schools. The KU School of Medicine has two programs – medicine-primary care and medicine-research – ranked in the top 50 among public schools. Thursday's announcement from U.S. News & World Report follows the organization’s initial April 25 announcement, which didn’t include law and medical school rankings. In the earlier announcement, KU had 37 programs ranked in the top 50. KU officials say the university now has 51 graduate programs in the top 50 among public universities, including nine programs in the top 10.

Here is a partial list of KU graduate programs ranked in the top 10 among public universities:

1. Local Government Management
1. Paleontology
1. Special Education

5. Public Management and Leadership

6. Physical Therapy
6. Speech-Language Pathology

9. Occupational Therapy

10. Audiology
10. Education

(See the full list here.)


Kansas Makes Fentanyl Test Strips Legal

WICHITA, Kan. (KNW/KMUW) - Advocates working to prevent opioid-related overdoses in Kansas are praising legislation signed into law by Governor Laura Kelly to legalize fentanyl test strips. The test strips are cheap, made of paper, and can detect fentanyl in various drugs. The strips had been considered drug paraphernalia. Kansas Representative Stephen Owens of Hesston chairs the committee where the new law was introduced, and he supported its passage. “We need to make sure that people have access to those, so that they can live another day to get clean," he said. Opponents of legalization say the strips can lead to increased drug use. But advocates say more studies are needed to analyze the strips' effects.


Teachers' Union and Wichita School District at Impasse on Contract Talks

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - Contract talks between the Wichita school district and its teachers union have broken down. Both sides could seek a federal mediator to settle the dispute in the state’s largest district. At issue is what say Wichita teachers will have when a disruptive student is removed from the classroom. District officials want principals to decide when a student can return. They say removing a child for too long could run afoul of federal special-education laws. But teachers union president Katie Warren says teachers need the ability to keep out unruly students. “We’ve really been focusing on behavior right now. And our teachers are tired, and this might be something that causes some people to leave," she said. Representatives for the district and union declared an impasse this week. They haven’t said when contract talks might resume.


U.S. Approves $42 Billion in Loan Forgiveness for Public Service Workers

UNDATED (AP) - The U.S. has approved more than $42 billion in federal student loan debt forgiveness for more than 615,000 borrowers over the past 18 months. It's part of a program aimed at getting more people to work in public service jobs. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is open to teachers, librarians, nurses, public interest lawyers, military members and other public workers. It cancels a borrower's remaining student debt after 10 years of public interest work, or 120 monthly payments. Stringent rules meant that many applicants were rejected, but a recent waiver made it easier for people to apply and get their debt forgiven.

The program is separate from President Joe Biden's student debt relief plan, which would wipe away or reduce loans for millions of borrowers regardless of what field they work in. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether that plan can go ahead.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, known as PSLF, was launched in 2007, but stringent rules meant that more than 90% of applicants were rejected, the Department of Education said in 2019. In October 2021, the government temporarily relaxed the requirements, making it easier for people to apply and be approved. Those relaxed requirements ended in October 2022. However, borrowers can apply for the one-time account adjustment until the end of the year.

Here's what you need to know if you want to apply:


If you are or were previously employed at least 30 hours per week with the following types of organizations, you qualify:

— Government organizations at any level (U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal). This includes the U.S. military, all work in public education, and full-time volunteer work with AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps.
— Any not-for-profit organization that is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
— If you work for a not-for-profit organization that is not tax-exempt, you may still qualify for PSLF if the organization provides certain types of qualifying public services such as emergency management, legal aid and legal services, early childhood education, service to individuals with disabilities or the elderly, public health, including nurses and nurse practitioners, public library and school library services, and public safety such as crime prevention and law enforcement.

To demonstrate that your job in public service qualifies you for forgiveness, you'll file an employer certification form with your servicer, listing jobs you've held. You must have direct loans or consolidate other federal student loans into a direct loan. You must also make 120 qualifying payments or 10 years of payments.


Any federal student loan received under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan program is eligible. If you have either a Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) or a Federal Perkins Loan, you'll need to consolidate those into direct loans with your servicer. Payments made on these loans before you consolidated them do not count as qualifying PSLF payments. Private student loans are not eligible.


You can apply to the program using the PSLF help tool. If you want to do it manually, you can print and mail a PSLF form.


First, visit studentaid.gov to see if you have loans made under the Federal Family Education Loan or Perkins Loan Program. Those are the loans you'll consolidate. Next, apply online or by mail. The process is free and takes about six weeks to complete, but you can submit the Public Service Loan Forgiveness form after consolidation is complete.


A qualifying monthly payment is a payment that you made after Oct. 1, 2007, while you were employed by a qualifying employer. The 120 qualifying monthly payments don't need to be consecutive. For example, if you have a period of employment with a non-qualifying employer, you will not lose credit for prior qualifying payments.


Student loan payments are currently paused because of the COVID pandemic. Payments are set to resume, along with the accrual of interest, 60 days after the current Supreme Court case about student loan forgiveness is resolved. If the case hasn't been resolved by June 30, payments will start 60 days after that. Borrowers will get credit toward PSLF for payments they would have made during the pause as long as they meet all other qualifications for the program, according to the Education Department. For the qualifying payments to show in your account, you must submit a PSLF form that certifies your employment during the pause.


As of mid-April of this year, more than 615,000 borrowers have qualified for forgiveness under the limited PSLF waiver, which ended in October. Some borrowers who submitted their applications prior to the end date may continue to have their applications processed from the waiver period.


If you have a specific question about your application, it's best to call or email a representative. For general questions about student loans, the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) hosts a contact center that allows borrowers to live chat, call or email.


Kansas City Suburb's Ban on Having More than Three Roommates Challenged in Court

SHAWNEE, Ks. (AP/KPR) — A Kansas City suburb's rule prohibiting more than three unrelated roommates from living together is being challenged in court. The lawsuit was filed by a property management company that wants to be able to rent homes to several roommates and a homeowner who said that Shawnee's ban made her living arrangement illegal last year because her son's girlfriend was living with the family at the time. The rule that Shawnee passed last year prohibits more than three unrelated people from living together in a single residence. The only exception for more people living together is if they are all related. If even one person in a home isn't related to everyone else in the household, the city considers everyone in the household to be unrelated. Attorney David Deerson said it's none of the government's business who people decide to live with.

"There is a serious housing affordability crisis and Shawnee is making it worse. This unconstitutional ordinance would even outlaw the living arrangement of television's 'Golden Girls.' " City officials declined to comment on the lawsuit and said they haven't yet received a copy of it.

But when Shawnee approved the ban last year, officials said they were trying to eliminate situations where homeowners were treating their homes like apartment buildings and renting rooms to several people. Critics of the ban said the rule just made it harder for people to afford to live in the upscale suburb. The company that filed the lawsuit, HomeRoom Inc., said it tries to make housing more affordable by renting homes to people who want to be roommates. After the ban passed, the company said it had to evict some of its tenants at the two homes it owns in Shawnee.


Prosecutors Reveal Link Between Terror Defendant in Virginia and Islamic State 'Empress' from Kansas

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP/KPR) — Prosecutors say a northern Virginia man arrested last week on terrorism charges has a husband-wife relationship with another American who was dubbed by prosecutors as an "empress of ISIS" for her work to establish an all-female Islamic State battalion. Thirty-three-year-old Mohammed Chhipa, of Springfield, Virginia, is charged with providing material support to a terrorist group. Prosecutors say he transferred tens of thousands of dollars to the Islamic State. At a detention hearing Wednesday, prosecutors also disclosed a relationship between Chhipa and Allison Fluke-Ekren, an American from Lawrence, Kansas, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence after admitting she organized and led an Islamic State battalion.

Fluke-Ekren pleaded guilty last year to organizing and leading the Khatiba Nusaybah, a battalion in which roughly 100 women and girls — some as young as 10 — learned how to use automatic weapons and detonate grenades and suicide belts.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Aminoff told the judge that Chhipa considers himself to be married to Fluke-Ekren, although the marriage was apparently conducted online and has no legal status in the U.S. He said Chhipa, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from India, has been trying to adopt Fluke-Ekren's children.

Court documents in Fuke-Ekren's case do not mention Chhipa by name, but also indicate that Fluke-Ekren considered herself to be married to a man she met online. It is not clear that the two have ever met in person.

Whatever the relationship between Chhipa and Fluke-Ekren, the charges against Chhipa appear unrelated to that relationship. Prosecutors say that between November 2019 and July 2022, Chhipa used virtual currency to transfer more than $188,000 to accounts known and unknown. An FBI affidavit states that some money remains unaccounted for but that $18,000 went to wallets known to be used by ISIS women located in Syria, while $61,000 went to cryptocurrency wallets in Turkey. The affidavit states that money intended to arrive in Syria is often routed through Turkey.

The affidavit quotes text messages sent by Chhipa indicating he wanted the money to be used to bribe guards at detention camps where families of Islamic State fighters are still being held. The affidavit says Chhipa also met with an FBI "controlled persona" — either an undercover agent or a confidential source — and accepted cash from the individual. Chhippa then transferred the money to Bitcoin and sent it directly to a known ISIS member, according to the affidavit.

Chhipa has been under investigation for years. Indeed, prosecutors say he fled to Egypt in August 2019, fearing he would be arrested after his home was raided. He was brought back to the U.S. after authorities contacted Interpol, but he was not charged until Monday. Prosecutors say Chhiipa continued to engage in illegal conduct after he returned to the U.S., even though he know he was drawing authorities' scrutiny. Family members who attended Wednesday's hearing did not comment, but passed out a written statement supporting him. The statement described Chhipa "as tirelessly working for the betterment of women and children" and said he "has been targeted by false allegations. U.S. Magistrate Judge John Anderson ruled at the conclusion of Wednesday's hearing that Chhipa should remain jailed while he awaits trial.


Kansas Communities Launch "Gunsmoke Trail"

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - With a message of “get the heck into Kansas,” four Kansas towns, including Wichita, have rolled out their new “Gunsmoke Trail.” The trail winds through four Kansas towns -- Abilene, Dodge City, Hays and Wichita - featured in the long-running television series “Gunsmoke.” KWCH TV reports that the iconic western series was based in and around Dodge City and is one of the longest-running shows in television history. “Despite being over 50 years old, the series still has a large and loyal fanbase,” said Julie Roller Weeks, of the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This trail gives fans fun places to see to relieve the show’s storylines.” Gunsmoke featured 635 original episodes when it first aired from 1955-1975.


Program Gives Kids Free Access to Kansas Attractions

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - The state of Kansas is again giving students free admission to more than 100 museums, zoos and other attractions through the Sunflower Summer program. The program, now in its third year, runs through a smart-phone app and is funded with federal COVID-relief money. Kids from preschool through 12th grade can get free tickets, along with any two adults who go with them. Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson says the program has helped keep kids learning over the summer months, so state lawmakers voted to extend it. “The Legislature did pass some dollars to go to Commerce and other people to run this program after the federal money runs out, and that will start next year," he said. Sunflower Summer starts May 26th and runs through August 13th or whenever funding runs out. There’s more information at SunflowerSummer.org.


Super Bowl Champion Chiefs Announce June Visit to White House

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Super Bowl 57 Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs will head to the White House next month to meet with President Joe Biden. The Kansas City Star reports that team officials announced the visit Wednesday night. The Chiefs won their second Super Bowl in four seasons on February 12, with a 38-35 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Chiefs are set to meet with the president at the White House on June 5th.


Kansas State Employee Virtual Job Fair Set for May 17

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The state of Kansas is hiring. Job-seekers are invited to attend the State of Kansas Agencies Virtual Job Fair Wednesday, May 17 (8:00 am to 5:00 pm). This virtual fair, which is hosted by KANSASWORKS, will focus on highlighting employment opportunities within many of the state’s 98 government agencies.

Registration is required to participate in the event, regardless of previous participation. The Virtual Job Fair portal features a job-seeker training video, a list of participating employers, and channels for attendees to register and log in. Job-seekers are encouraged to dress professionally, as employers might request to engage in a video interview. Candidates can participate via any digital device. Any individual with a disability may request accommodations by contacting their nearest workforce center at (877) 509-6757 prior to the event.

Click here to register for the May 17 State of Kansas Agencies Virtual Job Fair.

KANSASWORKS links businesses, job candidates and educational institutions to ensure that employers can find skilled workers. Services are provided to employers and job candidates through the state’s 27 workforce centers. KANSASWORKS is free for all Kansans to use. State employment opportunities can be found at jobs.ks.gov.


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 and updated throughout the day. These ad-free headlines are made possible by KPR members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.