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Headlines for Wednesday, November 15, 2023

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Emily Fisher

Topeka City Council Discusses Homeless Camping Ordinance

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Days ahead of Topeka’s new ordinance limiting outdoor camping in some areas, the city council is still discussing how to deal with the numerous homeless encampments across Topeka. KSNT TV reports that the Topeka City Council discussed the issue at its meeting Tuesday. Council members say the city will be using a phased approach to implement the amended camping ordinance that is set to go into effect on Friday. The city says the hard deadline is necessary because winter weather is coming soon and sleeping outside in below-freezing temperatures can be deadly. The city’s approach will focus on certain restricted areas within city limits including camps near bus shelters, bridges, and buildings, and in business areas like downtown Topeka and the NOTO entertainment district. The city says it will prioritize helping people who need housing assistance and other services.


Kansas Lawmakers Continue Discussions on Special Education Funding

UNDATED (KNS) — Kansas education leaders say schools need more money for special education. The Kansas News Service reports that these leaders are also willing to discuss changing the funding formula itself. A task force created by the Kansas Legislature will meet in January to talk about how the state funds special education and how schools use that money. State school board member Jim Porter says lawmakers should fund special education at the level set in state law. Current funding is below that. But Porter also hopes they look beyond the contentious school funding debate that has stymied the Legislature over the past few years. Republican leaders say public schools get more money for special education than their budgets reflect.


Kansas Educators Listen to Testimony on Social-Emotional Learning

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — Some Kansas parents and political leaders are pushing back against a program known as S-E-L, or social-emotional learning in public schools. The Kansas Republican Party recently passed a resolution calling for districts to stop funding social-emotional learning, which teaches “soft skills” like empathy and conflict resolution. Opponents say the programs take time away from academics and undermine parental rights. During the open forum portion of the Kansas Board of Education meeting, parent Mary Means told the board that schools should leave character development to parents. “School is not the place for underage children to be bombarded with information that could exacerbate their natural inner turmoil. Growing up is hard enough,” Means said. But school board member Betty Arnold says S-E-L is crucial for students’ overall well-being. “This was a concern brought up by students talking about not having adequate coping skills," she said. Kansas was one of the first states to develop standards for social-emotional learning.


Kansas Board of Education Supports Bill Allowing Cameras on School Buses to Catch Drivers Who Violate No-Pass Law

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) — The Kansas Board of Education is once again supporting a bill to let school districts attach cameras to buses to help catch drivers who illegally pass a stopped bus. The Kansas News Service reports that the cameras would work much like red-light cameras, capturing photos of license plates. Tickets would be mailed to the owners of vehicles that pass a stopped bus. Under current law, a police officer has to witness a driver passing a school bus to write a ticket for the offense.

Deputy Education Commissioner Craig Neuenswander says he hopes lawmakers will approve the measure. A driver passing a stopped school bus killed an Abilene girl in 2020. A similar bill was introduced last year but did not make it out of committee.


Authorities: Suspicious Letter Sent to Kansas Officials Appears Harmless

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The substance in a suspicious letter sent to the top elections agency in Kansas doesn't appear to have been hazardous, and the mail appeared unrelated to threatening letters sent to election offices in other states, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said Wednesday.

The letter delivered Tuesday to the Kansas secretary of state's office prompted authorities to evacuate its building just before noon and keep it closed for the rest of the day. The KBI said it has identified a suspect in Tuesday’s incident, though no arrest was announced.

The KBI also said it has no reason to believe the letter was connected to threatening letters containing a harmless white powder sent in June to dozens of Republican legislators in Kansas, Montana and Tennessee.

While authorities are still waiting on final tests of the substance in Tuesday's letter, preliminary testing indicated it was not harmful, KBI spokesperson Melissa Underwood said in an emailed statement. The secretary of state's building reopened Wednesday morning.

“Law enforcement has identified the person they believe sent the suspicious letter,” Underwood said. “The investigation is ongoing.”

Tuesday's incident in Kansas occurred less than a week after election offices in at least five states received threatening mail, some containing the potentially dangerous opioid fentanyl. The motivation of anyone responsible for suspicious mail in the other states was unclear.

The KBI did not disclose a potential motive for the latest Kansas letter, and no arrests have been announced over the letters sent in June. Secretary of State Scott Schwab is a Republican who has pushed back against baseless theories about the 2020 election being stolen.

The secretary of state's building is near the Kansas Statehouse and also houses the offices of the state's attorney general.

“Threats such as this and all forms of political intimidation are unacceptable and must always be strongly condemned,” Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, tweeted Wednesday morning.


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.


Drought-Related Crop Insurance Payments Increase in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW) — Crop insurance payments to Kansas caused by drought increased by more than 1000% from 2001 to 2022, according to a new report. The D.C.-based Environmental Working Group analyzed how much states received in crop insurance payments in the last 20 years due to drought, hail, heat, freezes and excess moisture. KMUW reports that Kansas received more than $9 billion dollars in payments due to these five weather-related causes, with the majority coming from drought. The state had the second-most drought payments nationally. Anne Schechinger, the Environmental Working Group's Midwest director, says crop insurance payments have increased due to climate change, which causes extreme weather. "In Kansas, 87% of crop insurance payments to farmers came from just these five weather related causes of loss," she said. Changes in crop prices and farmer participation can also increase the amount of crop insurance payments to a state.


Lawrence Receives Perfect Score on LGBTQ Inclusion Policies

LAWRENCE Kan. (LJW) — The City of Lawrence has received a perfect score on an index designed to inform municipal officials on how well cities include LGBTQ+ citizens in their laws, policies and services. For the second year in a row. Lawrence earned a score of 100 points on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Municipal Equality Index. The Lawrence Journal World reports that last year Lawrence became the first city in Kansas in the history of the Human Rights Campaign to earn a perfect score. The group has issued its annual index since 2012, ranking cities on a scale of zero to 100 based on criteria covering nondiscrimination laws, city employee domestic partner benefits, services to people living with HIV or AIDS, and protection of youth from conversion therapy. This year, the campaign ranked 506 cities, with a national average of 71 points per municipality. Lawrence tied with Overland Park for the highest ranking in Kansas. The Human Rights Campaign is a national education and advocacy organization working to achieve equality for LGBTQ+ people. The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city on a searchable database, is available on the Human Rights Campaign website.


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 claimed widespread fraud had cost him re-election in 2020. A survey by the left-leaning 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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


Federal Program Designed to Bring Physicians to Rural America 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.


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.


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.


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.


Kansas Jayhawks Beat Kentucky in “Champions Classic” Exhibition Game

CHICAGO, Ill. (KNS) — The top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks overcame a halftime deficit to beat No. 17 Kentucky Tuesday night in Chicago by a score of 89-to-84. The Kentucky Wildcats had a seven-point halftime advantage and extended their lead to 14 early in the second half. But KU’s Hunter Dickinson, the transfer center from Michigan, helped the Jayhawks seal the game down the stretch. Dickinson became the first player to have at least 20 points and 20 rebounds vs. Kentucky over the last 25 years. Kevin McCullar Jr. became the third Jayhawk in program history to record a triple-double, finishing with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. KU senior point guard DaJuan Harris added 23 points, a career-high. KU’s next games will be in Hawaii early next week.


Sporting to Face Houston in MLKS Playoff 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.


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.


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.