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Headlines for Friday, September 15, 2023

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Emily Fisher

KC Area Auto Plants Not Yet Participating in UAW Strike

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP/KPR) — The United Auto Workers Union has declared a strike against all of the "Big 3" automakers. It's unusual for the UAW to stage a strike at all three of the major U.S. automakers at the same time, but the union is staging a limited strike in which workers at only some of the plants involved will walk off the job. Neither the Kansas City, Kansas, General Motors plant nor the Ford plant in Claycomo, Missouri, will be included in the strike, for now. So far, the plants on strike include a Jeep plant in Toledo, a Ford assembly plant in Michigan and a General Motors plant in Wentzville, Missouri, near St. Louis. Members of the UAW Local that represents workers at the Claycomo Ford plant, say they have been asked to maintain "strike readiness."

(Additional reporting...)

Workers Strike at All 3 Detroit Automakers in Battle for Bigger Share of Industry Profits

DETROIT (AP/KPR) — About 13,000 U.S. auto workers are on strike. Their leaders have been unable to bridge a giant gap between union demands in contract talks and what Detroit's three automakers are willing to pay. The United Auto Workers union went on strike against General Motors, Ford and Stellantis simultaneously for the first time in its 88-year history. The limited strike at assembly plants in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri will likely chart the future of the union and of America's homegrown auto industry.

Members of the United Auto Workers union began picketing at a General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri; a Ford factory in Wayne, Michigan, near Detroit; and a Stellantis Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio. While the UAW is striking all three automakers, not all of the 146,000 UAW members at company plants are walking picket lines, at least not yet. Right now, the auto plants in the Kansas City area are not on strike, though workers at the GM and Ford plants in KCK and Kansas City, Missouri, have been asked to be "strike ready."

If the strikes drag on, shortages could push vehicle prices higher and strain an economy already bruised by inflation. Walkouts may even become a factor in next year's presidential election, testing Joe Biden's claim to be the most union-friendly president in American history.

The limited strikes will stretch the union's $825 million strike fund, which would run dry in about 11 weeks if all workers walked out. Strikes at other plants may begin if automakers don't budge.


Kansas Will No Longer Change Transgender People's Birth Certificates to Reflect Gender Identities

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas will no longer change transgender people's birth certificates to reflect their gender identities, the state health department said Friday, citing a new law that prevents the state from legally recognizing those identities.

The decision from the state Department of Health and Environment makes Kansas one of a handful of states that won't change transgender people's birth certificates. It already was among the few states that don't change the gender marker on transgender people's driver's licenses.

Those decisions reverse policies that Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's administration set when she took office in 2019. They came in response to court filings by conservative Republican state Attorney General Kris Kobach to enforce the new state law. Enacted by the GOP-controlled Legislature over Kelly's veto, it took effect July 1 and defines male and female based only on the sex assigned to a person at birth.

Jaelynn Abegg, a 38-year-old Wichita resident, said her heart breaks for fellow transgender Kansas residents who won't be able to experience the joy she felt when her new birth certificate, affirming her female identity, arrived in the mail in 2021. She said the change gave her “a feeling completeness.”

“This is something that I’ve been grappling with my entire life. As far back as I can remember, I have wished that I was that I was a woman,” Abegg said. “And being able to embrace that and take that for myself has been has been life changing.”

Trangender Kansas residents also have said repeatedly in interviews that having ID documents that conflict with their identities makes traveling by airplane, interacting with police and even using a credit card in stores more complicated. Also, studies show that transgender people who don't have their identities affirmed, especially youth, generally are more prone to depression and at a higher risk of suicide.

Kobach publicly chastised Kelly when she initially said that her administration could continue to change transgender people's birth certificates and driver's licenses despite the new law. He said it was her duty to administer the law even though she opposes it.

Kelly said in a statement Friday: “As I’ve said before, the state should not discriminate or encroach into Kansans’ personal lives -– it’s wrong, it’s bad for business.”

She added: "However, I am committed to following the law.”

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, an attorney for Lambda Legal, which represents LGBTQ+ people in lawsuits, said Kelly's administration was forced to act as it did, though he expects the courts to find the law unconstitutional.

“People with a myopic view or a misunderstanding or misapprehension about trans people want to ensure that trans people are not seen by government and the world at large,” he said.

Kobach and other supporters of the new law have argued that a birth certificate is a record of a historical event and therefore shouldn't change even when a person's gender identity does. Also, some supporters of the law have acknowledged that they don't see transgender girls and women as girls and women.

Kobach said Friday he is pleased that Kelly’s administration is complying with the new law, adding in a statement, “The intent of Kansas legislators was clear.”

The new Kansas law was based on a proposal from several national anti-trans groups and part of a wave of measures rolling back transgender rights in Republican-controlled statehouses across the U.S. Montana, Oklahoma and Tennessee also don't allow transgender residents to change their birth certificates, and Montana and Tennessee don't allow driver's licenses changes.

From 2019 through June 2023, more than 900 Kansas residents changed the gender markers on their birth certificates and nearly 400 changed their driver's licenses. Both documents list a person's “sex.”

Kobach issued a legal opinion in late June saying that not only does the new law prevent such changes, it requires the state to reverse previous changes to its records. The Department of Health and Environment said Friday a transgender person can keep a changed birth certificate and it remains valid, but if another copy is issued in the future, it will revert to listing the sex assigned at birth.

For weeks before the new law took effect,LGBTQ-rights advocates urged trans people to change their driver's licenses and birth certificates before it took effect. Requests for changes surged in the weeks before the law took effect.

Under the conservative Republicans who were governor before Kelly, transgender residents also couldn’t change their birth certificates.

Four trangender residents represented by Lambda Legal sued the state in 2018 over that policy, and months after taking office, Kelly settled that lawsuit. A federal judge signed off on a settlement agreement requiring the state to change transgender people’s birth certificates.

In late June, Kobach filed a request with the same federal judge, asking him to lift the requirement because it conflicted with the new state law. The judge granted the request last month, saying he was leaving it to Kansas courts to determine how the law must be enforced.

Kobach also filed a separate state-court lawsuit in July to prevent transgender people from changing their driver’s licenses. A state district court judge ordered that such changes cease, at least through early January.

In that state-court case, five transgender people argue that the new law violates their rights under the Kansas Constitution.

That issue appears likely to go to the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled in 2019 that the state’s Bill of Rights grants people a right to bodily autonomy.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has set up a website for people to report that they've been harmed by the new state law rolling back trans rights.

“Accurate, affirming identity documents are crucial for the health, safety, and well-being of trans people,” said D.C. Heigert, LGBTQ+ legal fellow for the group.


Lawrence Middle School Teacher's Actions Help Catch Predator

LAWRENCE, Kan. (WDAF) — A middle school teacher in Lawrence is credited with helping to capture a sex predator who was paying young girls for nude photos of themselves. WDAF TV reports that the teacher overheard conversations among a group of 11 and 12-year-old girls about a man on the internet platform Snapchat who was paying pre-teen girls to send him nude photos of themselves. The teacher at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School alerted a school resource officer and the investigation led to the arrest of 43-year-old Kenneth Soap, of Lawrence. Court records say Soap used internet money transfer apps to pay multiple underage girls for explicit photos of themselves. He faces numerous felony charges including sexual exploitation of a child and aggravated trading in child pornography. When booked into the Douglas County Jail, Soap listed his address as the Lawrence Community Shelter.


Kansas Residents File Federal Suit Accusing Gas Companies of Price Gouging

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas residents are suing gas suppliers for jacking up prices during a 2021 winter storm. The two federal lawsuits argue price hikes unfairly took advantage of customers. The complaints say several companies in the gas supply chain raised prices for utilities to more than 100 times the normal rate, adding up to more than $300 million. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly had declared a state of emergency, and the lawsuit says that limits how much companies can increase prices. Attorney Jay Fowler says customers are still paying for the price increases through their monthly bills. “The ratepayers are paying a substantial penalty, because of these price increases. Customers are paying an additional payment to service the debt caused by these prices that we think are unlawful," Fowler said. He says the goals of the lawsuits are to recover the excess charges and redistribute that money to customers.


Health Insurance Coverage Rises Nationally and in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW/KNS) — Health insurance coverage rose nationally and in Kansas last year. That's according to newly released U.S. Census data. The increase in coverage is partially due to pandemic subsidies that made it cheaper to buy certain coverage plans. But Hispanic Kansans were more than three times more likely to be uninsured than non-Hispanic whites. And 2022 marked the second year in a row that Kansas had a lower rate of insured residents than the U.S. overall. Linda Sheppard, with the Kansas Health Institute, says the data comes as the state dis-enrolls thousands of people from Medicaid each month, marking the end of special pandemic programs. “That will certainly increase the number of people we have in the state who no longer have health insurance coverage," she said. She says some people are no longer eligible for Medicaid, but others don’t return renewal paperwork in time.

According to the Census data, Kansans are now less likely to have medical insurance than Americans overall. Around 9% of Kansans were uninsured in 2022. Sheppard says the change is notable because, for years, Kansas outperformed the rest of the U.S. Sheppard says the state's failure to expand Medicaid is likely to blame. Kansas is one of only 10 states that have not expanded the health insurance program for low-income residents.


High Risk of West Nile Virus Activity in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) has issued a high-risk warning for West Nile virus infections for most of the state. Health officials say all regions of the state are at high risk except southeast Kansas, which is at a moderate risk level. The virus is carried and transmitted by mosquitoes and can infect humans, horses, birds and other species. Most infections occur in the late summer and early fall. There are no vaccines to prevent - or medications to treat - West Nile Virus in humans.

According to KDHE, 22 human cases of West Nile Virus have been reported so far this year, including three deaths. In addition, the Kansas Department of Agriculture has reported seven equine cases. Confirmed equine cases of West Nile Virus have been reported in Barber, Butler, Douglas, Ford and Pratt counties.


Kansas Cancels Its Fall Turkey Hunting Season Amid Declining Populations in Pockets of the U.S.

UNDATED (AP) — Kansas has canceled its fall turkey hunting season, state officials announced Friday, amid a decline in turkey populations across the Midwest and Southeast.

Kansas has documented “consistent declines” in turkey populations over the last 15 years, the state's Department of Wildlife and Parks said in a statement.

That's because fewer turkeys are reaching adulthood in Kansas and other states, said Kent Fricke, the department's small game biologist.

Possible reasons include turkey habitat destruction from urbanization and habitat loss from extreme weather events like drought and flooding.

It's unclear which factors are impacting turkey populations to what extent, Fricke said. A number of states — including Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi — are funding turkey research projects to try to figure it out.

Mississippi also canceled its fall turkey hunting season this year, according to The National Wild Turkey Federation.

Strong turkey populations are considered indicators of good habitat quality, Fricke said, adding that turkey habitat is typically also good for quail, deer and other non-game wildlife like songbirds and small mammals.

Turkey hunting is also an important economic driver to Kansas, because it brings thousands of visitors to the state, Fricke said.

(–Additional Reporting–)

Turkey Hunting Suspended in Kansas this Season

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Officials with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks say turkey hunting season has been suspended due to declining turkey populations at state and regional levels. KSNW TV reports that the decision comes after recommendations from staff members over the course of four public meetings. Wildlife officials say there have been consistent declines in turkey populations over the last 15 years in Kansas and other states across the Midwest and Southeast.

In 2017, KDWP commissioners voted to reduce the statewide bag limit from four birds to one bird. In 2019, fall turkey season dates were reduced from 123 days (October 1 through January 31) to 41 days (October 1 through November 10).


Nearly 700 Refugees Resettled in Kansas Since Last October

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Federal officials say nearly 700 refugees have been resettled in Kansas since October of last year, not including citizens who have fled Ukraine. According to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, 691 refugees have been resettled in the state. KSNT reports that most of the refugees coming to Kansas are from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Refugees fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo accounted for nearly half of those resettled in the state since last October. Ukrainian refugess are not included in the refugee resettlement number as they don’t have the same legal status as refugees who arrive through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.


Feds Spread $1 Billion for Tree Plantings Among U.S. Cities to Reduce Extreme Heat and Benefit Health

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Hundreds of communities around the country will share more than $1 billion in federal money to help them plant and maintain trees under a federal program that is intended to reduce extreme heat, benefit health and improve access to nature. U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce the $1.13 billion in funding for 385 projects at an event this (THUR) morning in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The tree plantings efforts will be focused on marginalized areas in all 50 states as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and some tribal nations. In announcing the grants in Cedar Rapids, Vilsack will spotlight an eastern Iowa city that lost thousands of trees during an extreme windstorm in 2020. Cedar Rapids has made the restoration of its tree canopy a priority since that storm, called a derecho, and will receive $6 million in funding through the new grants.

Other grant recipients include some of the nation's largest cities, such as New York, Houston and Los Angeles, and much smaller communities, such as Tarpon Springs, Florida, and Hutchinson, Kansas. The federal money comes from the Inflation Reduction Act.

"We believe we can create more resilient communities in terms of the impacts of climate," Vilsack told reporters in previewing his announcement. "We think we can mitigate extreme heat incidents and events in many of the cities."


Republicans Worry Widespread COVID-19 Mandates Will Return to U.S.

UNDATED (KPR/AP) — A late summer spike in COVID-19 cases has many people worried about a return to widespread government-issued lockdowns and mask mandates. GOP presidential hopefuls have already expressed this fear.

While some individual schools and colleges have implemented mask requirements, there are few signs that anyone in federal or state leadership is considering the kind of widespread COVID-19 lock-downs and other restrictions put in place at the peak of the pandemic. Democratic governors in several states, including Kansas, are downplaying the prospect of such restrictions. Some have denied that any such moves are even under consideration. The overriding sentiment is to leave the decisions to individuals.

Last month, a Black liberal arts college in Atlanta announced it had reinstated a mask mandate in response to student COVID infections. The school, Morris Brown College, has since lifted the requirement but is keeping in place other policies, including contact tracing and temperature checks on campus.

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed new vaccine shots for everyone 6 months and older. The vaccines will be available at pharmacies, health centers and some doctor offices as soon as this week. But a new federal vaccine mandate is not under consideration, according to a White House official who requested anonymity to discuss the administration's thinking.

Reinstated mask requirements across the country have so far been limited to a few local schools and businesses. One example is a Maryland elementary school that required students who were exposed in a classroom's outbreak to wear masks at school for 10 days.


KC's Minor League Monarchs Headed to Playoff Finals

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas City Monarchs minor league baseball team has advanced to the American Association finals with a come-from-behind 9-6 win over the Sioux City Explorers. The Monarchs rallied for four runs in the seventh to wipe out a three-run deficit. It was a hot-tempered night filled with four umpire ejections - three players and Monarchs third base coach Bill Sobbe. But manager Joe Calfapietra says he’s pleased the team pulled off the comeback. "When you’re playing so many games and it comes down to such a short period. That’s what it is and those were two really good teams that were playing. We had to keep on fighting," he said. The Monarchs will play the Chicago Dogs in a best-of-5 series that starts Saturday in Chicago. Game 3 of the series will return to Kansas City, Kansas, on Tuesday.


Missouri's Pro Sports Teams Push for Legal Sports Gambling

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP/KPR) — A coalition of Missouri's professional sports teams is backing a new effort to legalize sports betting that could put the issue to voters on the 2024 ballot. After missing out on millions of dollars in betting revenues over the past several years, the sports teams decided they are done waiting for the Missouri Legislature to act and instead have taken the first step toward an initiative petition drive that would circumvent lawmakers.

The effort is spearheaded by the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, and also includes the Kansas City Chiefs football team, the Kansas City Royals baseball team, the Kansas City Current and St. Louis City soccer teams, and the St. Lous Blues hockey team. Gathering petitions signatures and running an advertising campaign for a ballot measure can cost millions of dollars — a price the teams are committed to collectively help cover, said Mike Whittle, the Cardinals' senior vice president and general counsel, on behalf of the coalition. Legalized sports betting would "provide our fans a good, new exciting way to enjoy sports and root for our teams," Whittle said Tuesday.

Sports betting has expanded rapidly — it's now legal in all but one of Missouri's neighboring states — since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for it five years ago. Kentucky became the 35th state with active sports betting when the NFL season began last week. Maine and Vermont have legalized it but are still working to set up their betting systems.

The last state to put sports betting on the ballot was California, where supporters and opponents of two competing proposals raised a record of around $460 million last year. Voters defeated both measures.

Earlier this year, the Missouri House voted 118-35 in favor of sports betting legislation, but it never received a Senate vote. Similar bills have repeatedly stalled in the Republican-led Senate because of a dispute about whether to pair sports betting with the regulation of slot-machine-style games that have been popping up in convenience stores.

"We're not optimistic that kind of dynamic within the Missouri Senate will change," Whittle said.

Several versions of a sports betting petition were filed Friday with Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft's office, which must approve an initiative summary before supporters can start gathering the roughly 180,000 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot by a May deadline.

Under the proposed initiative, Missouri would impose a 10% tax on adjusted gross sports betting revenue, after the payout of winnings and promotional bets to customers. A similar legislative proposal had been estimated earlier this year to generate around $30 million annually when fully implemented. The proposed initiative would allot $5 million to a compulsive gamblers prevention fund, with much of the rest going to K-12 schools and higher education institutions.


KU Basketball Player Arterio Morris Ends Assault Case in Texas with Plea Deal

DENTON, Texas (AP) — An attorney for University of Kansas guard Arterio Morris says the player has entered a plea deal to end a misdemeanor assault case against him in Texas. The move cancels a trial scheduled for October. Morris was initially charged in June 2022 with a Class A misdemeanor on allegations he assaulted an ex-girlfriend shortly before he enrolled at the University of Texas. Morris transferred to KU after last season. The original charge could have carried up to a year in jail. Attorney Justin Moore said on Thursday that Morris entered a no contest plea to Class C misdemeanor assault and must pay a $362 fine.


Kansas Football - a Heavy Favorite to Beat Nevada and Remain Undefeated

UNDATED (AP) — The University of Kansas plays at Nevada on Saturday night. The Jayhawks are 2-0 after victories over Missouri State and Illinois. Nevada is 0-2 after losses to USC and Idaho. Kansas is a near four-touchdown favorite over the Wolf Pack. This is the first meeting between the teams. Kansas will be short-handed because of suspensions for targeting and is battling some injury concerns. A 3-0 start will be the Jayhawks second in a row, the first time they have put together such starts in consecutive years since 1991 and 1992.

Here's the latest analysis, by the numbers.

Kansas (2-0) at Nevada (0-2), Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)

Line: Kansas by 27 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: First meeting.


Barring a major upset, Kansas will be able to run its nonconference record to 3-0 before entering Big 12 Conference play. If the Jayhawks live up to expectations and win big, that should set them up as serious contenders to make a bowl for the second year in a row. Nevada is trying to find something positive after losing 66-14 at No. 5 USC and 33-6 to FCS team Idaho.


Kansas’ offensive line versus Nevada’s defensive front. The Jayhawks’ veteran line has allowed just one sack and keys a run game that has averaged 253.5 yards. It’s a lot to ask out of a Nevada defensive front that has allowed 6.3 yards per rush.


Kansas: QB Jalon Daniels completed 21 of 29 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s 34-23 victory over Illinois. It was a great sign for the Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year, who missed the season opener against Missouri State after dealing with back tightness in training camp.

Nevada: WR Jamaal Bell. He has been on the few bright spots for the Wolf Pack. Bell has 16 receptions for 188 yards and a touchdown through two games. That includes an impressive eight catches for 121 yards and a 77-yard TD against USC.


The Jayhawks are attempting to open 3-0 for the second year a row, which would be the first time since 1991 and 1992. … Kansas will be short-handed for at least part of the game. CB Cobee Bryant and DE Austin Booker will not play in the first 30 minutes after they were flagged for targeting in the second half against Illinois. A handful of other players are battling injuries, including Daniels and RB Devin Neal. Neal has rushed for 214 yards and two touchdowns. … The Jayhawks gained more than 500 yards in each of their first two games. They have reached that figure in eight of their past 15 games. Kansas 530-yard average is second in the Big 12 and 10th nationally … The Jayhawks’ six sacks against Illinois was their highest total in 14 years. … Neal rushed for 120 yards against the Illini, making him the 13th player in program history to surpass 2,000 yards in his career. He has 2,011. … Kansas will become the first Big 12 team to play in Reno, Nevada, since Missouri in 2009. The Tigers won that meeting 31-21. Purdue was the last power-conference team to play at Nevada, which beat the Boilermakers 34-31 in 2019. … Since moving up to FBS (then Division I-A) in 1992, the Wolf Pack are 0-7 against the Big 12.


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. You can also follow KPR News on Twitter.