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Headlines for Tuesday, September 19, 2023

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Emily Fisher

UAW Gives Friday Deadline for Progress in Strike Talks

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP/KPR) — The leader of the United Auto Workers says that a limited strike targeting plants in Missouri, Michigan and Ohio may be expanded if "serious progress" toward an new contract agreement isn't made by Friday at noon. The UAW for the first time in its history is striking at all three Detroit automakers, but the 13,000 workers on the picket lines for a fifth day Tuesday are hitting only three facilities, one each at GM, Ford and Stellantis. In a video statement late Monday, UAW President Shawn Fain said more factories may be picketed if there is no significant progress in talks by the end of the week. "We're not messing around," he said. The union can stretch the funds it maintains for striking autoworkers if it limits picketing, but the targeted strikes can still ripple through integrated production systems.

The union's strategy hinges on its ability to escalate the strike quickly, and the carmakers are warning of potential layoffs as the limited strike reduces the amount of material needed at plants that remain open.

GM said Monday that 2,200 UAW-represented workers at an assembly plant in Kansas City, Kansas, are "expected to be idled as soon as early this week" because of a shortage of supplies from a GM plant near St. Louis, where workers walked off the job Friday. Workers at the Kansas City plant build the Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac XT4.


Kansas Domestic Violence Shelters Seeing More Abused Pregnant Women

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW/KNS) — The state’s domestic violence shelters are filling up at the same time extra pandemic aid from the federal government is ending. Domestic violence incidents have remained relatively consistent in Kansas over the past 30 years, but homicides are now increasing. Domestic violence is now recognized as a leading cause of maternal mortality. In fact, homicide claims more pregnant and postpartum Americans than any single pregnancy complication. The Wichita Family Crisis Center moved into a new building earlier this year and tripled its capacity. But executive director Amanda Meyers says it’s still not enough. “We are full of women who have just had babies. It’s a very dangerous time," she said. "The threat of more serious physical harm seems to be higher when the person is pregnant.” The rising demand comes as shelter directors say they’re facing a fiscal crisis: cuts to regular federal funding, plus the end of pandemic era aid. Advocates for domestic violence survivors say more attention needs to be focused on long-term violence prevention strategies. (Read more.)


Rising Rents in Kansas City Lead to More Evictions

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KC Beacon) — Rising rents in Kansas City have left more residents facing eviction. The national moratorium on evictions ended two years ago and landlords are looking to make up for lost income by raising the rent. The Kansas City Beacon reports that eviction efforts are now running higher than before the pandemic. So far this year, there have been nearly 1,400 evictions in Jackson County, Missouri.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have influenced landlords to raise rental costs. Many are looking to recoup the money they lost due to the national eviction moratoriums. According to the website Rent.com, the Kansas City area saw the highest yearly increase in rent among the 50 biggest cities in the country. In Jackson County, renters pay an average of $1,044 per month.


Midwest Towns Scramble as Drought Threatens Drinking Water

SEDAN, Kan. (Kansas Reflector) — After more than a year of drought, some Midwest towns are now searching for new sources of drinking water. Some communities are also restricting water usage. Portions of southeast Kansas have suffered under persistent drought. The Kansas Reflector reports that the lack of rain has been so severe in the town of Sedan that it’s now threatening the local water supply, which comes from a nearby lake.

A community of about 900 people, Sedan has taken extraordinary measures to conserve the dwindling water supply. The city pool closed in the middle of the summer. So did the town’s only car wash. Local schools shut off drinking fountains, furnishing bottled water instead. Sedan has also banned residents from using tap water for plants or lawns.

Conservation efforts appear to be working. Sedan has cut its water usage by about 30% since entering a water emergency in early August.

This part of Kansas is suffering what the U.S. Drought Monitor characterizes as exceptional drought, its most severe category. While droughts frequently take a toll on agriculture here, residents are now facing unprecedented challenges with drinking water supplies. The U.S. Drought Monitor's map shows exceptional drought in parts of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Texas, among other states.


Critics: Kansas BOE Watering Down Teacher Qualifications

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS/KMUW/KPR) — People who want to teach in Kansas will no longer have to pass a basic skills exam that has been part of the licensing process for decades. The Kansas Board of Education has voted unanimously to no longer require a test called the Principles of Learning and Teaching exam. It’s part of an effort to get more teachers into the classroom. Board member Ann Mah says colleges already require prospective teachers to demonstrate basic skills, so the exam was unnecessary. “It’s an additional cost to people, and makes it hard for them to get into the profession when they’re spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on tests," she said. Kansas also requires teachers to pass content tests for subject areas. The state board voted to consider an alternative for applicants who fail those tests. Critics say the Board of Education is watering down requirements to become a Kansas teacher, requirements that used to make Kansas teachers among the most qualified in the nation.


Rural Kansas Town Returns Invaluable Peruvian Artifact

PAOLA, Kan. (KAKE) — A rural Kansas town's museum had a Peruvian artifact estimated to be more than a thousand years old. Now, that artifact is returning to Peru. KAKE TV reports that the museum in Paola has started repatriating part of its collection. The Miami County Historical Society and Museum received a 38-piece collection of pre-Columbian artifacts from a Kansas City couple’s trust five years ago. Pre-Columbian is a term used to describe an era of thriving indigenous art in the Americas before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. The museum began efforts to return the items more than a year ago. The artifacts are believed to have come from the Nazca region in Peru.

The collection was authenticated in 1991 and it was determined the countries of origin were Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru. Museum officials reached out to Kansas Congresswoman Sharice Davids’ office, which helped them get in touch with four embassies in Washington, D.C. Peru is the first country to send someone to collect the artifacts but the museum is now in talks with other countries to see if someone can collect the other items.


Attendance Up as 330,000 Patrons Attend 2023 Kansas State Fair

Hutchinson, Kan. (KPR) — More people attended this year's Kansas State Fair than last year. Despite a few rainy days, the 10-day event drew more than 330,000 people to Hutchinson earlier this month. That's nearly 13,000 more visitors than last year.


Owner Announces Heartland Motorsports Park For Sale

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) — The owner of Heartland Park in Topeka has announced that the facility will shut down after the racing season finishes at the end of October. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that the owner of the racetrack, Chris Payne, says he will put the property up for sale. Company officials are blaming, what they say is an "enormous and ever-increasing tax burden." The move toward closure of the park comes after the Kansas Court of Appeals sided with Shawnee County in July in a long-running tax dispute. Payne owes Shawnee County more than $2.5 in property taxes. Heartland Park has hosted multiple events including the Country Stampede music festival and the Menards NHRA Nationals, a major drag racing competition. Shawnee County officials say the taxes assessed to the Heartland Park property are appropriate.


Amazon Hiring 2,500 in Kansas for Full, Part-Time and Seasonal Jobs

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Amazon is hiring 2,500 people in Kansas. KSNW TV reports that Amazon is looking to fill full-time, part-time, and seasonal roles at its Kansas facilities. Amazon needs 700 people to work in its fulfillment center in Park City and its delivery station in Wichita. The company says there are a variety of open positions, from packing and picking to sorting, shipping, and delivery.

The company plans to hire an additional 250,000 employees nationwide. Amazon employees get health, vision, and dental insurance starting on their first day. In addition, they offer a matching 401(K) retirement plan.

Jobs will be posted soon at amazon.com/apply.


Two Kansas Counties Designated as Primary Natural Disaster Areas

UNDATED (KPR) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated Riley and Wabaunsee counties as primary natural disaster areas due to prolonged drought. The declaration makes ag producers in those counties eligible for emergency loans. The loans can be used to meet a variety of needs including equipment replacement, livestock or to refinance certain debts. The USDA's Farm Service Agency says nine other counties in eastern Kansas are also eligible for emergency loans. Those counties include Clay, Geary, Lyon, Marshall, Morris, Osage, Pottawatomie, Shawnee and Washington. (Read more.)


Shawnee Pastor Accused of Trying to Kill Wife and Children, Burn Down House

SHAWNEE, Kan. (KCUR) — A Shawnee pastor is accused of trying to kill his wife and children and then burn down their house. Authorities say 41-year-old Matthew Lee Richards is charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of arson. Shawnee police say they were called to the Richards’ home for a disturbance and found his children and wife with lacerations and the basement on fire. Richards is the youth pastor at Crossroads Christian Church in Shawnee. In a statement, the church said it’s aware of the investigation and will have further remarks later. Richards has been at Crossroads since 2016 and married to his wife since 2003.


Prosecutors: Man Charged in Pregnant Girlfriend's Murder Searched Online for "Snapping Necks"

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man charged with killing his pregnant girlfriend searched online for information about "snapping necks" and abortion before her body was found in the trunk of his car, newly released court records show.

The Wichita Eagle reports the affidavit showed Alexander Lewis' cellphone web browsing history also included searches about stun guns, lethal weapons and murder. Lewis, who is jailed on $500,000 bond, was charged last month with capital murder in the death of Zaiylah Bronson, a Wichita State University student who was studying to become a math teacher. She was about 16 weeks pregnant. The 22-year-old Lewis has not entered a plea to the capital murder charge. A defense attorney for Lewis declined to discuss the contents of the affidavit with The Eagle and told The Associated Press he had no comment.

The killing happened at Bronson's apartment near campus, according to the affidavit. Surveillance cameras last recorded Bronson alive at 8:13 am on August 26, when the couple took a dog out into the courtyard. Soon after, he searched for "snapping necks" then left to move his car closer to her door and retrieve a backpack containing items that included duct tape and towels, the affidavit said. Other troublesome searches, including for "weapons that can kill," had occurred the day before. At 10:24 am, surveillance video showed Bronson's feet dangling from a blanket-wrapped bundle as Lewis lugged her out of the apartment. He then drove off, searching online for murder before he called 911 about an hour later, the affidavit said.

When officers arrived at Lewis' apartment, he told them Bronson was in his car trunk, saying, "I got scared," according to the affidavit. An ax and shovel were also found in the trunk. He explained to the officers Bronson had broken up with him the day before and that they argued throughout the night. He said eventually "he wanted her to stop talking, so he 'grabbed her'" around the neck with his arm and squeezed "until she stopped moving," the affidavit said.


Kansas Wildlife Officials Set New Limits on Collection of Exotic Turtles

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas wildlife commissioners are trying to crack down on pet smugglers collecting native animals like ornate box turtles. Wildlife commissioners have set new limits on how many native amphibians and reptiles people can possess. The new rules forbid people from having more than two ornate box turtles, for example. Officials worry that exotic pet smugglers are hurting native populations. Lawmakers considered making it illegal to collect any ornate box turtles, but the plan didn’t advance. The new rules don’t apply to three common species of frogs and turtles that people with fishing licenses can capture and eat.


Chiefs, Mahomes Agree to Restructured Deal to Include Big Pay Raise

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two people familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Monday that the Chiefs and NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes had agreed to a restructured contract. The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the contract. Mahomes was signed to a 10-year, $450 million deal that would have kept him under contract through the 2031 season. At the time, Mahomes set the market for quarterback pay, but he has been passed over several times as the market inflated. Joe Burrow of the Bengals recently set the standard with a five-year deal averaging $55 million per year.


This summary of area news is curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Tom Parkinson and Kaye McIntyre. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays 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.