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Headlines for Tuesday, November 14, 2023

A colorful graphic depicting stylized radios with the words "Kansas Public Radio News Summary" written on top.
Emily Fisher
/
KPR

Kansas Lawmakers Will Have Nearly $3 Billion Surplus When They Return for 2024 Session

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) — Kansas lawmakers will have a nearly $3 billion surplus to work with when they return to Topeka for the start of the 2024 session in January. Specifically, the figures from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group indicate the state will have a $2.8 billion budget surplus. In addition, the state will have a rainy day fund worth $1.7 billion. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that many lawmakers are now eyeing tax cut proposals.

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Suspicious Mail Prompts Kansas to Evacuate Secretary of State's Building

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas secretary of state's office received a letter Tuesday containing what Secretary Scott Schwab called “a suspicious substance." Officials evacuated the building for the rest of the day.

Schwab's office serves as the state's top elections authority, and the incident occurred less than a week after election offices in at least five states states received threatening mail. Some of that mail contained the potentially dangerous opioid fentanyl.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation, taking the lead in the case, did not provide further details about the letter received Tuesday, and Schwab did not say what the suspicious substance was.

“With recent events, we take such things as a suspicious substance very serious,” Schwab said in a text to The Associated Press. “Our team is trained if they see something, say something.”

The KBI is working with the Kansas Highway Patrol, the state fire marshal's office and the state Department of Health and Environment, spokesperson Melissa Underwood said in an emailed statement. She said authorities evacuated the building, which also houses the Kansas attorney general's office, “out of an abundance of caution.” The building that was evacuated is located near the Statehouse.

“The investigation is ongoing,” Underwood said, adding that Kansas has experienced only one such incident so far.

An officer inside the building Tuesday afternoon said it still was being secured. Two people who worked there went to the main entrance to have officers retrieve items left behind. They declined to comment afterward.

Local television station WIBW reported that its crews saw Topeka Fire Department hazardous materials teams entering the building shortly after it was evacuated. They were gone by the afternoon.

In June, dozens of Republican officials in Kansas, Montana and Tennessee received threatening letters containing white powder, though tests did not detect toxins and no injuries were reported. Authorities have yet to announce arrests.

Schwab is a Republican who has pushed back against baseless theories about the 2020 election being stolen. The motivation of anyone responsible for suspicious mail delivered in other states last week was unclear.

(–Additional Reporting–)

Officials Order Evacuation for State Office Building

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas officials evacuated a state office building in Topeka Tuesday because of a piece of suspicious mail. The Kansas News Service reports that the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and other agencies are looking into the incident. Memorial Hall houses the offices for Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach and Secretary of State Scott Schwab. The KBI says a piece of suspicious mail arrived for Schwab and the building was evacuated out of caution. The KBI didn’t give any details on the mail but the incident comes after letters containing a white powder were sent to Kobach and 30 state lawmakers over the summer.

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Shawnee City Council Fires City Manager

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KSHB) — The Shawnee City Council voted unanimously Monday night to fire City Manager Doug Gerber. KSHB TV reports that Gerber's job status had been in jeopardy after city staff received emails last month containing a video of Gerber performing a sex act. City officials declined to confirm what was actually in the video, but they initially moved to place Gerber on administrative leave after viewing it. After an hour-long executive session Monday evening, the City Council voted 7-0 to terminate Gerber with cause from his position. Council members said Doug Whitacre will continue in his role as Shawnee's interim city manager.

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Kansas Election Clerks Report Harassment Ahead of 2024 Vote

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and harassment are making it much more difficult to be an election official in Kansas. The upcoming vote next year will be the first presidential election since former President Donald Trump started promoting false claims that widespread fraud had cost him re-election in 2020. A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice found that 30% of election officials in the country say they have personally been harassed, threatened or abused for doing their job. Liz Howard of the Brennan Center says those kinds of stresses threaten the state’s ability to run free and fair elections. “Our election officials are critical to our democracy,” Howard said. “They do incredible jobs under often very challenging circumstances.” As Kansas election officials get ready for 2024, some local officials are taking extra measures to be prepared. Several Kansas counties have announced plans to recruit high school students to volunteer at polls and to focus on mental health resources to help election workers deal with stress.(Read More)

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Inmate Dead at Hutchinson Correctional Institution

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (TCJ) — An inmate serving time for the murder of a Topeka woman in 1994 died Monday at Hutchinson Correctional Facility. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 55-year-old Michael Rogers was serving a 29 year sentence for first-degree murder in the 1994 stabbing death of a Topeka woman. A spokesman for the Kansas Department of Corrections says the cause of death is unknown and is pending the results of an independent autopsy. Rogers was convicted in the death of 24-year-old Sheila Flowers who was stabbed in December 1994, in southeast Topeka. Court records indicate that Rogers and Flowers had been in a long-term relationship and had a daughter together. Flowers had apparently been trying to get out of the relationship, and had filed for a restraining order against Rogers three days before she died. Corrections department records show that Rogers had been a Kansas prison inmate since April 1995. The corrections department is following its standard protocol by having Rogers' death investigated by both the corrections department and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

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Victim Hospitalized After Shooting in Pottawatomie County

ST. GEORGE, Kan. (WIBW) — An early-morning shooting north of Saint George in rural Pottawatomie County Tuesday sent one victim to the hospital as law enforcement officials continue to investigate. The Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office says emergency crews were called to Blackjack Road just north of U.S. Highway 24 on reports of a shooting at about 6:20 Tuesday morning. WIBW TV reports that when first responders arrived, they found one adult who was suffering from an apparent gunshot wound. The individual was taken to a local hospital. The seriousness of their injuries is not yet known. The Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office and the Kansas Highway Patrol are continuing to investigate.

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One Dead in Monday Afternoon Crash Near Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) — A head-on collision south of Lawrence killed one driver and left another seriously injured just before 4:00 Monday afternoon. WIBW reports that emergency crews were called to the intersection of Kansas Highway 10 and U.S. Highway 59 south of Lawrence on reports of a three-vehicle collision. When first responders arrived, they said they found a 2017 Dodge SUV driven by 27-year-old Natiya D. Williams, of Lawrence. Williams had been heading west on K-10. A 2023 Nissan Sentra driven by 58-year-old Paul C. Duncan, of Lawrence, had been traveling east. The Kansas Highway Patrol says Williams crossed the center-line into the eastbound lane and hit Duncan’s vehicle head-on. The collision left debris in the road which was hit by a 2017 GMC SUV driven by 44-year-old Angela D. Chance, of Lawrence, and caused it to crash. Duncan was pronounced dead at the scene. Williams was taken to the University of Kansas Medical Center with suspected serious injuries. Chance was taken to Lawrence Memorial Hospital with suspected minor injuries.

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Kansas to Expand Mental Health Initiative to Juvenile Justice System

UNDATED (KNS) – The state of Kansas is expanding an existing mental health initiative to its juvenile justice system. The Kansas News Service reports that the initiative is aimed at decreasing the over-incarceration of people with mental illness or substance abuse disorders. Governor Laura Kelly says the initiative will train staff at juvenile justice facilities to better identify youth who could benefit from behavioral health support. Mike Fonkert, deputy director for advocacy group Kansas Appleseed, says there is a large need for behavioral health services in Kansas’s juvenile justice system. The new services are part of a federally-funded national program called the Stepping Up Initiative that is already in use in adult facilities.

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WIC Programs Funded Through December, but Government Shutdown Could Cause Problems Thereafter

UNDATED (HPM) — An emergency resolution passed by Congress back in September funds the food assistance program commonly called WIC, whether the government shuts down or not. However, advocates say a more permanent funding solution is needed. Harvest Public Media reports that USDA officials say the emergency funds dodged the worst case scenario for food assistance programs if the government shuts down. But Congress needs to act quickly and do more in the next funding bill to fully fund WIC and provide certainty for women, infants and children. The St. Louis Area Food Bank’s Melanie Hager says that if things are still shut down by the end of December, families would feel the pinch and agencies could see an influx of people needing food pantry and other services. Hager says it’s important that people continue applying for benefits if they qualify.

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State of Kansas Approves Millions of Dollars for Water Projects

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (KNS) — Kansas officials on Monday signed off on nearly $16 million of water projects in the state, including $7 million for the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. The Kansas News Service reports that the approval comes after federal and state officials said they would work to resolve a fight over dwindling water supplies at the refuge. Water streams to the refuge are used by Kansas farmers, but the refuge holds senior water rights. The funding will be used to find solutions like water right buyouts and new irrigation technology. Agriculture Secretary Mike Beam says the project details are not yet finalized. But they should begin in early 2024. The remaining funding will support projects such as repairing dams, cleaning contaminated water and improving sewers in rural towns.

(–Related–)

Federal Funds to Help Garden City Conserve Groundwater

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KNS) — Nearly $20 million in federal funding will help Garden City reduce water use and stabilize Ogallala Aquifer levels. The goal is for Garden City to become water neutral. Agriculture is responsible for most groundwater use in western Kansas. The city will help offset that with existing treated wastewater and water removed from milk at a dairy plant. That water will go to farmers so they can use it instead of pumping from the aquifer. Fred Jones, the city’s water resources manager, says sustaining the aquifer will mean all water users need to cut back. “We also want to assist all the other water users in trying to find new ways to be innovative, because I firmly believe we can find a balance out here," he said. Jones hopes aquifer levels will stabilize after the project is completed in 2026.

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Number of Kansas Kids with Vaccine Exemptions Rises

UNDATED (Side Effects Public Media) — New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows more than 3% of Kansas children have exemptions from at least one routine childhood vaccine this year. Side Effects Public Media reports it’s a national trend. Three percent of kindergartners nationwide are now exempt from routine school vaccines. That’s the highest rate of vaccine exemptions ever, according to new data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some public health experts say this is one of the ripple effects of pandemic-fueled mistrust and misinformation. The data also reveals that non-medical exemptions – such as religious and personal belief exemptions – are entirely behind that jump. Already, childhood vaccination coverage has dipped in the last two school years compared to before the pandemic. Right now, 93% of kids are up to date on their shots. That’s also 2 percentage points lower than the healthy people target - that's the rate of vaccination in a community that experts say makes the community safe and protected against disease outbreaks.

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Federal Program Designed to Bring Physicians to Rural Areas Not Working as Intended

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) – Researchers say a federal program designed to draw doctors to rural areas and other underserved regions has not worked as intended. The Kansas News Service reports that Chautauqua, Gray and Wallace counties were among the 25 in Kansas that researchers analyzed. For decades, they’ve been designated as Health Provider Shortage Areas, meaning doctors get financial incentives like loan forgiveness for practicing there. But Justin Markowski, a public health data analyst at Yale University, says most of these largely rural areas continue to see doctor shortages. He says other potential solutions might to more to address rural health provider shortages, like enabling physician assistants and nurse practitioners to practice independently.

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KU Researchers Study Project to Return Native Lands

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) — Faculty members at the University of Kansas have launched a project documenting cases where land has been returned to Native American tribes. Sarah Deer, a professor of gender and Indigenous studies at KU, worked with urban planning professor Ward Lyles to create an interactive map. It shows more than 90 examples of land returned to tribes, including three properties in Kansas returned to the Iowa, Kaw and Prairie Band Potawatomi nations. The site offers information on how to return land to the Native tribes that were displaced forcibly or deceived or pressured into selling their territory.

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Kansas Officer Who Shot and Killed Man Armed with a BB Gun Won't Face Charges

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita-area police officer will not be charged with a crime for shooting a man walking toward him and refusing to drop a weapon that was later found to be a replica BB gun, the local prosecutor announced Monday. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said that under Kansas law, the Goddard police officer, whose name has not been released, is immune from prosecution over the death in February of 39-year-old Michael James Trask, of Lake Afton.

Bennett issued a 16-page report noting that state law protects an officer from being prosecuted for using deadly force when the officer “reasonably believes” it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to the officer or another person. The shooting occurred about 5 miles (8 kilometers) south of Goddard.

Bennett's report said the officer tried to stop Trask for a traffic violation when a short pursuit began. After the vehicle eventually stopped and Trask left his vehicle with what appeared to be a gun, the officer repeatedly told him to drop the weapon, the report said.

Trask refused and continued walking toward the officer in what the report called a “deliberate” manner. The officer then shot at him eight times, hitting him twice.

A woman who said she was Trask's wife later called dispatchers and said he was suicidal and armed with a loaded gun, according to the report.

“When the officer made the decision to pull the trigger, he was doing so in self-defense,” Bennett told reporters during a Zoom briefing.

Bennett said his office received the case about a month ago and authorities had to wait on the results of Trask's autopsy, which was done in July.

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Kansas Public Radio Searching for New Statehouse Reporter

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — Kansas Public Radio is seeking a new Kansas Statehouse Bureau Chief (SBC) to manage all aspects of KPR’s capital news bureau in Topeka. This position works primarily at the Kansas Statehouse and is responsible for reporting on all aspects of state government. Our previous Kansas Statehouse reporter, Joe Blubaugh, has taken a position with the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs. The SBC researches, writes, reports, and produces spot news, digital stories, and long-form audio features for KPR and its reporting partners at the Kansas News Service. To be considered, one must apply online at https://employment.ku.edu/jobs/staff/kansas-statehouse-bureau-chief/26495br. Application review begins in November and continues until a pool of qualified applicants is identified. KU is an EO/AAE. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), age, national origin, disability, genetic information or protected veteran status.

(-Related-)

Kansas Public Radio Seeks New Membership Director

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — Kansas Public Radio is seeking a new Membership Director to serve on its Development team. This position oversees various campaigns to raise funds to support KPR. Together with the Development Director, they will work to find new, innovative fundraising techniques and explore potential new revenue channels. Responsibilities also include accounting for contributions, maintaining the membership database, and organizing on-air membership drives. To be considered, one must apply online at https://employment.ku.edu/jobs/staff/membership-director/26505br. Application review begins in November and continues until a pool of qualified applicants is identified. KU is an EO/AAE. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), age, national origin, disability, genetic information or protected veteran status.

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Sporting to Face Houston in Semifinals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KPR) — Sporting Kansas City will continue its 2023 Major League Soccer playoff run on Sunday, November 26. And we now know that Sporting's opponent will be the Houston Dynamo. The KC team secured its place in the playoffs by defeating St. Louis City in the quarterfinals, winning the best of three series 2-0. Houston qualified for the semifinals on Saturday when it defeated Real Salt Lake. The first match in the MLS Western Conference Semifinal is set for November 26 in Houston. The winner will advance to the Western Conference Final against the winner between the Los Angeles and Seattle teams.

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KU Remains at No. 1 in AP Top 25; No. 3 Arizona Jumps 9 Places

UNDATED (AP) – The first Associated Press men's basketball poll of the regular season is typically a jumble of teams swapping positions as preseason expectations meet the reality of playing actual games.

The first poll of the 2023-24 is no different.

Kansas remained at No. 1 and received 51 first-place votes from a 62-person media panel in the poll released Monday, but the rest of the AP Top 25 was filled with teams moving up and down.

No. 2 Purdue moved up a spot with two easy opening wins and received seven first-place votes. No. 3 Arizona took a giant leap from 12 after beating Duke and had three first-place votes.

No. 4 Marquette moved up a spot as did defending national champion Connecticut, which received a first-place vote to round out the top five. No. 24 James Madison moved into the poll for the first time ever after taking down Michigan State in overtime.

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No. 1 Kansas to Face No. 14 Kentucky in Champions Classic Tuesday

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — No. 1 Kansas (2-0) will face No. 14 Kentucky (2-0) in the State Farm Champions Classic, Tuesday night (8:30 pm). The contest from the United Center in Chicago will be televised on ESPN. Kansas and Kentucky are the top-two winningest programs in college basketball history.

The Champions Classic began in the 2011-12 season. Kansas is 7-5 in the Champions Classic and the Jayhawks have won six of their last seven appearances in the event after last year’s 69-64 win against Duke in Indianapolis. Duke is 7-5 in the Champions Classic, while Kentucky is 5-7 and Michigan State 5-7.

Kentucky leads the all-time series with Kansas, 24-11, and this will be the 11th time in the last 13 seasons these two blue bloods will meet (since 2011-12). Kansas has won five of the last seven meetings. The series is tied at 2-2 in the Champions Classic.

Kansas’ and Kentucky’s home facilities are named after Kansas greats. Kentucky’s Rupp Arena is named after Adolph Rupp, a KU graduate who played at Kansas in 1923 under coach F.C. “Phog” Allen, of which Allen Fieldhouse is named. Rupp was a member of the 1922 and 1923 Helms Foundation National Championship teams while at Kansas.

Kansas is No. 1 in the Associated Press poll for the fourth time in poll history, with all coming four in the Bill Self era – 2004-05, 2009-10, 2018-19 and 2023-24. KU has been ranked in the AP top 10 in each of the last 39 polls dating back to the 2021-22 preseason poll. The 39 consecutive is the longest active streak in men’s college basketball. Kansas is celebrating 126 years of men’s basketball in 2023-24.

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Big 12 Quarterbacks Have Taken More than Their Fair Share of Lumps; 8 Teams Have Lost Starters

UNDATED (AP) – Starting quarterback has been a precarious position in the Big 12.

Whether due to injuries or coaching decisions, staying on the field has been a challenge for many of the league's quarterbacks who started the season No. 1 for their programs.

Injuries have knocked out starters at some point in the season for Texas, Kansas, BYU, Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU, West Virginia and Central Florida — more than half the league.

Oklahoma State's quarterback carousel lasted through the first few games before coach Mike Gundy settled on Alan Bowman. Even Kansas State, which won last season's Big 12 championship game behind veteran Will Howard, put in freshman Avery Johnson when Howard struggled. The senior responded with his best play of the season.

The position has been as jumbled as the league standings. Seven teams are within two games of conference leader Texas.

Oklahoma and Iowa State have been injury- and rotation-free and the Sooners and Cyclones are still in the mix for the league championship. Dillon Gabriel has been exceptional at times for the Sooners, leading a win over Texas and setting school records last week against West Virginia,

Iowa State's Rocco Becht was thrust into the starting role because Hunter Dekkers was snagged by the state investigation into Iowa and Iowa State athletes engaging in sports wagering. Dekkers pleading guilty to underage gambling and paid a fine, and hasn't played while serving an NCAA suspension.

League front runner Texas won two games with backup Maalik Murphy in for injured starter Quinn Ewers. Ewers returned last week for the 29-26 win over TCU, but Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian praised his team's ability to win with Murphy.

Texas has Ewers back on the field for two critical games, against Iowa State and Texas Tech. Texas is pursuing its first Big 12 title since 2009 in what will be the program's last season in the league before heading to the Southeastern Conference along with Oklahoma next summer.

“I think he was a little sore” after the TCU game, Sarkisian said. “But as the weeks go on, if we can continue to protect like we did the other night, he’s going to continue to get healthy.”

BYU's first season in the Big 12 included a plan to redshirt junior college transfer Jake Retzlaff as an understudy to Kedon Slovis. That plan blew up with an injury to Slovis' throwing arm, and Retzlaff struggled in losses to West Virginia and Iowa State.

UCF's Big 12 debut saw starter John Rhys Plumlee knocked off the field for a month with a knee injury.

TCU has lost three in a row behind freshman Josh Hoover, who took over for Chandler Morris (knee sprain). Morris was the starter in 2022 when he was injured in the first game. Max Duggan took over and led the Horned Frogs to the national championship game.

“I think that's just kind of the nature of college football and, you know, just look around the league and again, starting with us, there's a lot of starting quarterbacks that have gone down,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said. “It's just kind of the nature of the beast.”

No team has had more hard luck at quarterback than Kansas.

The Jayhawks had the preseason offensive player of the year in Jalon Daniels in Lance Leipold's emerging program. But he has played only three games because of back problems and was a pre-game scratch before a 40-14 loss to Texas. He hasn't returned.

Jason Bean has started in his place and led the program's historic win over Oklahoma. Bean sustained a head injury last week against Texas Tech. That left the Jayhawks with walk-on Cole Ballard, the son of Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard, playing most of the game in a 16-13 loss.

Leipold said he is “very optimistic” Bean will return this week.

Texas Tech can almost match that misery and musical chairs at QB.

Starter Tyler Shough broke his left leg at the end of September. It was the third consecutive season the sixth-year transfer has missed significant time due to injury. Since then, Behren Morton took over, then had a shoulder sprain and freshman Jake Strong had to start a game.

Morton has returned but Texas Tech is one of nine schools to start at least three quarterbacks this season.

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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.