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Headlines for Wednesday, May 17, 2023

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Emily Fisher

Kansas Public Universities Seek Approval for Tuition Hikes

WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) - The price of a college education in Kansas could soon rise again. After several years with no increase in tuition, all six of the state's regents schools are now asking the Kansas Board of Regents to approve a tuition hike. KAKE TV reports that Fort Hays State is making the biggest request - a 7% increase. Wichita State's request, at 5.9%, is the second largest. All the other public universities in Kansas - KU, K-State, Emporia State and Pittsburg State are asking for a 5% increase. After hearing the full proposals today (WED), the Board of Regents will take the next month to consider its options before making a final decision in June.


Authorities Seize 70 Animals from "Deplorable" Conditions in Southeast Kansas Home

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Two Coffeyville residents have been arrested on charges of cruelty to animals. On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and the Kansas Department of Agriculture served a search warrant at a rural Coffeyville home. KSNW TV reports that detectives seized more than 70 animals, including dogs, cats, birds, snakes, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and a lizard. Several other animals were found dead. Sheriff Ron Wade says the animals had no food or clean water and were living in feces. A veterinarian evaluated the animals. Many are now housed in shelters. The two residents of the home were booked on suspicion of cruelty to animals.


National Group of Professors Censures Emporia State University

EMPORIA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - A national organization of college professors has censured Emporia State University (ESU) over controversial layoffs. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) says Emporia State violated academic freedom and tenure when it fired dozens of faculty members last fall. At a meeting last week, the AAUP’s governing council voted to place Emporia State on its list of censured administrations. Janett Naylor-Tincknell, with the Kansas Conference president of AAUP, says ESU's placement on the list could hurt recruiting. “This looks bad for incoming faculty members," she said. "This looks bad for the faculty members who are there. It’s a tarnish on their reputation.” ESU officials have said they adhered to a Board of Regents rule that let colleges bypass regular policies to address financial problems.

ESU is the only Kansas university on the group's censure list, and one of only 17 added in the past decade. Naylor-Tincknell says the layoffs are part of a larger attack on academic freedom. “Looking into what we teach, how we teach it... just sort of this general tenor towards higher education is concerning," she said. Emporia State officials disagree with the group’s findings and say they will move forward with plans to restructure.


Kansas State Employees to Officially Get Pay Raise

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) — State employees are officially in line for a pay raise, now that Governor Laura Kelly has signed the state's wrap-up budget bill. Lawmakers advanced the multi-billion-dollar proposal to Kelly's desk in the waning days of the legislative session, including a $120 million pay bump for state workers. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that statewide officers - including the governor, attorney general and secretary of state - have already been assured of a pay raise beginning in 2025, as have top judicial branch officials. The Legislature also established a binding committee that could recommend their own compensation rise.

Lawmakers, however, waited to evaluate the best way of raising pay for other state employees. Kelly's budget proposed a flat 5% pay raise but also more targeted boosts to those most behind the going rate. Under the proposal enacted Monday, individuals whose positions are deemed to be 10% or more below the established market will be brought up to that 10% figure or given a 5% raise, whichever is higher. Those making about market rate will receive a flat 5% raise and individuals with a salary above 10% of market rate will get only a 2.5% pay hike.


Mark Gietzen, Abortion Foe Who Forced Recount of Kansas Vote, Dies in Plane Crash at 69

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Mark Gietzen, a longtime conservative Republican and anti-abortion activist in Kansas who forced a recount of the state's decisive vote affirming abortion rights last year has died in a plane crash. He was 69.

The Kansas Republican Party said in a Facebook post that Gietzen, of Wichita, died Tuesday evening in Nebraska.

He was flying a single-engine Cessna 172 Skyhawk when it crashed in a field near O'Neill, Nebraska, about 190 miles (306 kilometers) northwest of Omaha, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's crash log. Gietzen was the only person on board and the log said the plane crashed “in unknown circumstances.”

Jim Howell, a county commissioner in Sedgwick County, Kansas, which includes Wichita, told The Wichita Eagle that Gietzen had flown to Nebraska to visit his mother.

Gietzen grew up in the Bismarck, North Dakota, area and served in the U.S. Marines before coming to Kansas in the late 1970s to work for aircraft manufacturer Boeing Corp. He became chair of Sedgwick County GOP after “Summer of Mercy” anti-abortion protests in Wichita in 1991 and recruited anti-abortion activists into the party.

A fellow anti-abortion activist, Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, described Gietzen as “irreplaceable.”

Newman told The Eagle: "He was the hardest-working guy I know in the pro-life movement.”

In August 2022, voters statewide rejected Republicans' proposed amendment to the state constitution to declare that it doesn't protect abortion rights, which would have allowed the GOP-controlled Legislature to ban abortion.

When a handful of anti-abortion activists demanded a hand recount of ballots in nine counties that accounted for more than half the vote, Gietzen used credit cards to cover most of the $120,000 cost so that it could proceed.

The recount confirmed the results of the election, and Gietzen then filed a lawsuit seeking a statewide hand recount, but a judge dismissed it.


Prosecutor in Ralph Yarl Case Says Legal Precedent Favors Keeping Court Records Open

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri prosecutor is asking a judge to carefully consider the public's right to information while determining whether to seal court records in the case of Andrew Lester, a white homeowner who is accused of shooting a Black teenager who mistakenly came to his home.

Lester's attorney, Steven Salmon, filed a motion May 1 asking a judge to seal court records. He argued that local and national publicity surrounding the April 13 shooting of Ralph Yarl in Kansas City had created a bias against his client and would make it difficult to find an impartial jury.

In a motion filed Tuesday, Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson did not specifically oppose the request but said legal precedent has established a “strong presumption” in favor of keeping court records open.

Lester, 84, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree assault and armed criminal action. He is accused of shooting Yarl twice after he mistakenly came to Lester's home looking for his younger brothers.

Yarl, who is now 17, was shot in the head and an arm and is recovering at home after being hospitalized for three days.

“If records are to be closed, the public has a right to know why,” Thompson said. “In cases such as this, the Court must strike a balance between the public’s legitimate interest in access, and the equally legitimate interest in preserving the legal integrity of the case and ensuring a fair trial. If justice is to be served, it must be done in a manner consistent with both due process and public interest.”

Lester admitted that he shot Yarl without warning through his home's front door then shot him again while the teenager was on the ground. He said was “scared to death” the person at the front door was there to rob him.

It is unclear when the judge might rule on closing the records. Lester, who is out on bond, is scheduled for a hearing on June 1.


KC Thieves Suspected of Cutting More Fiber Cables in Misguided Search for Copper

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDAF) — Police say someone deliberately cut another fiber optic cable in Kansas City, likely in search of copper to sell. But there is no copper wiring or tubing in fiber optic cable. Communication companies use the fiber lines to deliver cable and internet to homes and businesses. WDAF TV reports that the recent damage disrupted service to people in areas of Kansas City Tuesday morning. The cable is in the same location where police believe someone cut a Charter Communications cable in April. A $17,000 reward is offered for information leading to an arrest in the cases.


KU Doctors Change Treatment for Babies Exposed to Opioids

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KNS/KMUW) - New research is changing how Kansas doctors treat infants exposed to opioids during pregnancy. This change comes as rates of neo-natal opioid withdrawal are on the rise in Kansas. University of Kansas Medical Center researchers have been testing a new approach for treating those infants that emphasizes parents comforting the infant over drug treatment. Typically, infants are slowly weaned from opioids in the hospital to manage withdrawal symptoms. But the new method was found to be more effective, according to KU’s Dr. Krishna Dummula, one of the study’s authors. “This approach has significantly decreased the total number of hospital days, as well as the number of babies that were ever exposed to any opioid therapy postnatally," he said. Because of that, the University of Kansas Health System has transitioned to the new method. The number of babies born with opioid withdrawal more than doubled in Kansas between 2010 and 2017. “As long as the baby's achieving these three main targets of being able to eat adequately, sleep adequately, and be able to be consoled, then we will try to avoid starting any medical intervention," Dummula said. Neonatal opioid withdrawal rates more than doubled in Kansas between 2010 and 2017.


Three Years After Lansing Prison Riot and Still No Charges Have Been Filed

LANSING, Kan. (KNS) — It’s been more than three years since inmates rioted at the state prison in Lansing. In April 2022, inmates fought with corrections officers for almost 12 hours. But so far, nobody has been charged. Prosecutors say this is partly because the prison system has not yet completed its investigation. An investigation by the Kansas News Service and the Topeka Capital-Journal discovered that in some prison riots, no criminal charges are ever filed. Experts say such cases are complicated and difficult to prove. Inmates at the Ellsworth prison rioted in 2018 but no charges were filed. The Ellsworth County DA said the internal prison disciplinary system was just as good a punishment as adding time to their sentence. (Learn more.)


Experts Predict Record Wheat Shortage for Kansas

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KSNT) - Experts say this year's Kansas wheat harvest may be the smallest in 60 years. The Kansas Wheat Commission has started its annual wheat tour and top leaders say recent rains are likely not enough to help save this year's crop. Members of the Wheat Commission will make more than 500 stops during their tour of wheat fields across the state to try to determine what this year's crop will look like. KSNT reportsthat the expected wheat shortage will likely lead to a shortage of flour.


Douglas Commission Considers Wind Farm Request

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) -The Douglas County Commission is considering a permit request for what could become the first solar energy project developed under the county’s new regulations. The Lawrence Journal World reports that commissioners are considering issuing a permit for “Stull Solar Farm.” The small-scale solar project is planned for a 12-acre site south of Lecompton. The project is a partnership between Evergy and Free State Electric, a rural electric cooperative that serves nine eastern Kansas counties. The companies say the project will be unmanned, meaning traffic would be minimal after construction is complete, and the site would be enclosed with 6-foot-tall chain-link fencing.


Missouri Terminates Emergency Rule to Limit Trans Care for Minors, Some Adults

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri officials terminated the Republican attorney general's emergency rule that would have placed limits on transgender care for minors and some adults. The move was announced Tuesday without explanation on the Missouri Secretary of State's website. The website says: "This emergency rule terminated effective May 16, 2023." The rule would have required adults and children to undergo more than a year of therapy and fulfill other requirements before they could receive gender-affirming treatments such as puberty blockers, hormones and surgery. Attorney General Andrew Bailey said his office withdrew the rule because the Missouri Legislature passed a law last week restricting transgender care for minors. Bailey said in a statement Tuesday evening that his office was "standing in the gap" until the GOP-controlled Legislature decided to act on the issue. "The General Assembly has now filled that gap with a statute," he said. "I'm proud to have shed light on the experimental nature of these procedures, and will continue to do everything in my power to make Missouri the safest state in the nation for children."

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said in a statement that Missouri should not have an attorney general "who persecutes innocent Missourians for political gain." "Andrew Bailey grossly overstepped his legal authority, and everyone knows it," she said. "So, it isn't surprising he withdrew his unconstitutional rule knowing another embarrassing court defeat was inevitable."

Bailey had sought to implement the rule on April 27. But the ACLU of Missouri filed a lawsuit to stop it, arguing that Bailey bypassed the Legislature and did not have the authority to regulate health care through Missouri's consumer-protection law. St. Louis County Judge Ellen Ribaudo later granted a temporary restraining order and scheduled a hearing for July 20.

The law's termination comes less than a week after the Missouri Legislature approved a ban on minors starting care. Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, who threatened to call a special session if lawmakers did not pass that bill and another banning transgender girls and women playing on female school sports teams, is expected to sign the law. Bailey's proposed rule would have required people to have experienced an "intense pattern" of documented gender dysphoria for three years and to have received at least 15 hourly sessions with a therapist over at least 18 months before they could receive treatment. Prospective patients also would have been required to be screened for autism, and any psychiatric symptoms from mental health issues would have to be treated and resolved.

Legal experts and transgender advocates have said the rule would have made Missouri the first state in the country to restrict gender-affirming care for adults and the first to enact such restrictions through emergency rules rather than a new law.

Bailey said he proposed the rule to protect minors from what he called experimental medical treatments, though puberty blockers and sex hormones have been prescribed for decades and the rule would also apply to adults.

Bailey issued the restrictions after he began an investigation in February into Washington University's Transgender Center at St. Louis Children's Hospital after a former employee alleged the center was providing children with gender-affirming care without informed consent, not enough individualized case review and wraparound mental health services. The university's internal review found the claims were unsubstantiated.


Missouri Woman Arrested for DUI After Allegedly Driving 110 MPH on Kansas Interstate

RUSSELL CO., Kan. (WIBW) — Authorities say a Missouri woman was arrested and taken to jail after she was found to be intoxicated while driving down Interstate 70 at 110 mph. The Kansas Highway Patrol says troopers clocked a vehicle speeding along I-70 in Russell County late Sunday morning. The speed limit for this stretch of roadway is 75 mph. WIBW TV reports that the driver, identified as 41-year-old Carie M. Ketterer-Schaefer, of Wentzville, Missouri, was pulled over. During the traffic stop, officials say the woman was found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. She was arrested and booked into the Russell County Jail on a DUI.


Prosecutors: Jackson Mahomes Grabbed and Kissed Woman Against Her Will Three Times

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Prosecutors say Jackson Mahomes, the brother of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, grabbed and kissed a Kansas woman three times without her consent earlier this year. A partially redacted affidavit released Monday provides new details about the alleged assault at a Kansas restaurant in February. The owner of Aspens Restaurant and Lounge in Overland Park told investigators Mahomes left a bruise on her neck while forcefully kissing her, and then asked her not to tell anyone. On Tuesday, a Johnson County judge agreed to allow Mahomes to talk to three of four witnesses in the case, who are his friends. He is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing on August 31.

Mahomes declined to comment before and after Tuesday's hearing. He has been free after posting $100,000 bond. The hearing came a day after a redacted affidavit provided more details of the alleged assault on the restaurant's owner, Aspen Vaugh. Investigators said Mahomes shoved a waiter at the restaurant who tried to come into a room where he was with Vaughn. After the waiter left, Mahomes grabbed her by the throat and forcefully kissed her three different times without her consent, according to the court document. She told police Mahomes was a friend of her stepdaughter and had caused trouble and been asked to leave the restaurant in the past.

According to the affidavit, two servers in the area did not hear her call for help but later confirmed that she told them about the assault and showed them a bruise on her neck. Mahomes, who is a social media influencer on TikTok and Instagram, asked Vaughn not to tell anyone what happened and then said he could help her business because he has a "large social media following," investigators said.

Vaughn's boyfriend came to the restaurant and, after finding out what happened, ordered Mahomes and his friends to leave.

At Tuesday's hearing, Johnson County District Judge Thomas M. Sutherland said Mahomes could not speak to one of the witnesses, who had direct knowledge of the incident. He warned the other three witnesses they could not talk to Mahomes about the case, Kansas City media reported.


Kansas State Employee Virtual Job Fair Today!

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The state of Kansas is hiring. Job-seekers are invited to attend the State of Kansas Agencies Virtual Job Fair today (WED) until 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.

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

More state employment opportunities can be found at jobs.ks.gov.


Miller Moths Becoming Extra Nuisance in Kansans

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Moths by the masses are now hiding in many Kansas garage doors, cars, and patios. Experts say these Army Cutworms are native to Kansas but KSNW TV reports that two contributing factors are making the moths more of a nuisance this year. The problem has brought a surge of calls to Patton Termite and Pest Control in Wichita. President Gerry Marsh says he's been in the business for nearly 20 years and has never seen anything like it. Warmer temperatures are allowing the insects to grow longer, and the drought isn’t helping either. Experts said the moths won’t lay eggs or do damage to your home and soon, the pesky problem should be gone. Over the next few weeks, the moths will head west to pollinate flowers and become a source of food for grizzly bears. As we wait for them to migrate, experts said turning off unnecessary lights at night can help remove them. Experts said the moths should die off or migrate by sometime in June.


Raw Milk Now Legal in Iowa, as Well as Most Midwestern States

UNDATED (HPM) — Raw milk, milk without any pasteurization, is sold legally throughout the Midwest. The sale is already allowed in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Harvest Public Media reports that Iowa is now the latest state to legalize the sale of raw milk on the farm direct to consumers. But not everyone thinks drinking raw milk is a good idea. Angela Anandappa, with the Alliance for Advanced Sanitation, worries it puts vulnerable people at risk of salmonella, E.coli and even tuberculosis. "Primarily children and young children who don't have the choice to make that decision for themselves," she said. "They're the ones who are going to be exposed to this milk. It’s a public health risk that is opening the door for more and more cases of illness." Federal law does not allow raw milk to be sold across state lines because of those risks but allows the sale of raw milk within state borders.


AAA: Expect Crowded Roads over Memorial Day Weekend

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — If you’re planning a road trip over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, you will not be alone. A new report released by AAA Kansas is predicting an uptick in road travel over the holiday. KSNT reports that an estimated 385,000 Kansans are expected to travel 50 miles or more over the holiday weekend. This marks an 8% increase in Kansas from Memorial Day weekend last year. In addition to the crowds of motorists on the state’s roads, more than 32,000 Kansans say they will be taking flights for the holiday.


New Book Explores State's Deadliest Tornado, Udall 1955

UNDATED (KPR) — This month marks the anniversary of the deadliest tornado in Kansas History. On the night of May 25, 1955, a massive tornado tore through the small, south-central Kansas town of Udall, killing 77 people. A new book tells the story of that fateful night. Without Warning, written by Jim Minick, details the night of the tornado as well as the aftermath. The book is published by University Press of Nebraska.

Listen to KPR Commentator Rex Buchanan reviewWithout Warning.


EPA: Oil Cleaned from Kansas Creek

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Kan. (KNS) - Federal inspectors say a creek in northeast Kansas that was polluted with oil in December’s Keystone pipeline break is now at least visually clear from the spill. The Kansas News Service reports that the spill in Washington County was the Keystone pipeline’s biggest ever. Pipeline operator TC Energy had to isolate and drain part of Mill Creek to clean up more than 500,000 gallons of crude oil. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) helped inspect the work. It says the creek is now visually free of oil. State officials oversee lab work on water, soil and sediment at the site that would confirm the pollution has been cleaned up. State officials didn’t immediately respond to questions.

(Additional coverage)

Consultants: Design Issues, Operations Lapses Led to Big Kansas Oil Spill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/KPR) — Pipeline design issues, lapses by its operators and problems caused during its construction led to a massive oil spill on the Keystone pipeline system in northern Kansas. That's according to a report for U.S. government regulators. An engineering consulting firm said in the report that the bend in the Keystone system where the December 2022 spill occurred had been "overstressed" since its installation in December 2010 — likely because construction activity itself altered the land around the pipe. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration posted a redacted copy of the report online Monday, about three weeks after it was completed by RSI Pipeline Solutions, based in the Columbus, Ohio, area.

The report raised questions about Canada-based TC Energy's oversight of the manufacturing of its pipeline, saying the report's authors could find no record of a pre-installation inspection of the welds on the Washington County bend. The report concluded that TC Energy underestimated the risks associated with the bend going from its round shape when installed to a more-restricted oval shape within two years and didn't replace the bend after excavating it in 2013.

The company said in February that a faulty weld in the bend caused a crack that grew over time under stress. The spill dumped nearly 13,000 barrels of crude oil — each one enough to fill a standard household bathtub — into a creek running through a rural pasture in Washington County, about 150 miles northwest of Kansas City. It was the largest onshore spill in nearly nine years.

"When you have a pipeline that is spilling and having as many problems as Keystone One, it is clearly a red flag that there are bigger issues going on," said Jane Kleeb, who founded the Bold Nebraska environmental and landowner rights group that helped fight off TC Energy's plan to build a second pipeline, the Keystone XL. The U.S. Department of Transportation has documented 22 leaks along the Keystone pipeline since it was built in 2010. The one in Washington County was by far the largest. "At what point, does the federal government step in and say this has reached a point where we need to shut the full line down to do a full review of the pipeline?" Kleeb said.

The 2,700-mile Keystone system carries heavy crude oil extracted in western Canada to the Gulf Coast and to central Illinois. Concerns that spills could pollute waterways ultimately scuttled TC Energy's plans to build the Keystone XL across 1,200 miles of Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.

In Kansas, no one was evacuated because of the December spill. State and U.S. government officials have said it didn't affect two rivers and a lake downstream from the creek.

In response to a request Tuesday for comment, TC Energy pointed to a statement it issued when the report was finished in April but not public. In it, Richard Prior, president of TC Energy's Liquids Pipeline operations, said the company was confident in the pipeline's reliability. TC Energy has said the cleanup will cost the company $480 million, and it announced last week that it had finished recovering oil from the creek.

Prior said last month: "We are unwavering in our commitment to fully remediate the site."

But Bill Caram, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust watchdog group, said that with the history of problems along the Keystone pipeline, the public has plenty of reasons to doubt its safety. "I would certainly like to see PHMSA come up with a plan to work with TC Energy to develop a plan so that the public can be ensured that TC Energy will be able to operate this pipeline safely going forward. I don't think the public has that kind of trust in this pipeline right now," Caram said.

Richard Kuprewicz, who has five decades of experience in the pipeline industry and consults with governments about them, said problems like this flawed weld need to be found during construction but TC Energy clearly missed it amid the pressure to get the multibillion-dollar project built quickly. "It looks like the quality control got out of hand at least in this segment. I can't say for the whole line," said Kuprewicz, who is president of Washington-based Accufacts Inc.

The consultants' report said the pipeline rupture and oil spill occurred only days after TC Energy began testing for increasing the pressure in the Keystone system, though the Kansas section was operating about 16% below the top pressure allowed by U.S. government regulators. At the same time, the company was running a device through the pipeline to look for potential leaks.

Pipeline valves were left open so that the leak-testing tool could pass through the pipeline, the report said, and that could have contributed to the size of the spill.

The report said a March 2021 engineering assessment of Keystone's pipeline from southern Nebraska to northern Oklahoma showed five bends, including Washington County's, had the same oval "deformation." The report noted that the industry generally does not see so-called "ovalities" as a threat, so the "obvious" focus in Washington County in 2012 and 2013 when that abnormality was found there was ensuring that a leak-detecting tool still could pass through the bend. "Yet this focus may have caused the Pipe Integrity team and senior management to overlook a potential concern of added stress on the elbow and its possible impact on future integrity," the report said.

The report added that 108 other pipe fittings manufactured for the Keystone system in 2010 could have "imperfections" similar to those in the Washington County bend. All of them were replacements for other fittings found to be deficient. Because other bends made on the same day had weld flaws that were repaired, the report found it "plausible" that the Washington County bend also had flaws "repaired but not recorded." The lack of an inspection report means that, at a minimum, record-keeping procedures were not followed and, at worst, the report said, "The weld inspections were never performed."


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.