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Headlines for Tuesday, June 21, 2022

 

Kansas Supreme Court: Kansas Constitution Allows Partisan Redistricting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The highest court in Kansas has declared that the state constitution does not prohibit partisan gerrymandering. The justices split 4-3 Tuesday in explaining their reasons for previously upholding a Republican congressional redistricting law. The Kansas Supreme Court issued only a brief opinion last month in approving the new congressional map. The new map makes it harder for Democratic Representative Sharice Davids to win reelection in her Kansas City-area district. It also moves the liberal northeast Kansas community of Lawrence into a district with conservative western and central Kansas. The court's majority said the Kansas Constitution permits legislators to consider partisan factors in redistricting.

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Kansas Hits Lowest Unemployment Rate in Recorded State History

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Governor Laura Kelly says she's celebrating the lowest Kansas unemployment rate in recorded state history. The rate, now at 2.3%, has been declining, even as the national unemployment rate remains flat. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kansas currently has the sixth lowest unemployment rate in the country. The Kansas rate is more than a full percentage point lower than the national average. Kansas began keeping records of monthly unemployment rates in January 1976. Preliminary estimates from the Kansas Department of Labor revealed a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 2.3% in May.  That's down from 2.4% in April and a decrease from 3.4% this time last year.

(Additional reporting...)

Kansas Records Record Low Unemployment Rate

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - A preliminary labor report shows the unemployment rate in Kansas fell to a historic low of 2.3% in May, the lowest rate in recorded state history. The labor market report shows a slight increase to employment in Kansas. That dropped the state’s jobless rate by a tenth of one percent. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly says that slight decrease means the state reached a record low for unemployment since the state began tracking the rate in 1976. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows Kansas has the sixth lowest unemployment rate in the country. Since May 2021, Kansas has added just over 18,000 jobs to the state’s workforce.

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Kansas Oil Refinery to Pay $1.6 Million for Clean Air Errors

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — An oil refinery in El Dorado where an employee died in 2017 will pay a $1.6 million fine for violating the federal clean air law. The Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday that HollyFrontier's failure to follow the law contributed to a fire that killed the employee. The EPA says the company did not comply with requirements intended to prevent the accidental release of hazardous substances. The federal agency says a heater tube ruptured at the refinery, causing the fire. The agency says a subsequent investigation found HollyFrontier did not design or maintain a safe facility or inspect and replace heater tubes.

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Is it Pot... or Is It Not? Hemp Advocates Want Kansas to Clarify Law

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas hemp advocates want state lawmakers to clear up a legal gray area that could lead to businesses being prosecuted for selling some products derived from cannabis. The calls come after the Douglas County district attorney said her office will join other counties in prosecuting the sale of Delta 8 THC products, a chemical in marijuana that gets users high. Delta 8 THC products are legal in Kansas only if they are derived from industrial hemp and have less than three-tenths of one percent of THC. But District Attorney Suzanne Valdez recently said she will prosecute businesses for selling products containing a controlled substance. Kelly Rippel, a hemp advocate, says Kansas law enforcement can’t tell the difference between Delta 8 THC made from hemp or marijuana. They’re both just different varieties of the same plant. “This is only going to cause, and is causing currently, trust-building issues within communities and law enforcement," Ripple said. Rippel says the Kansas Legislature needs to pass new laws next year to better regulate Delta 8 THC products.

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Cleanup Continues After Massive Coal Train Derailment North of Lawrence

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Kan. (KPR) — Douglas County authorities and Union Pacific railroad officials are investigating a massive coal train derailment north of Lawrence.  The derailment took place late Friday afternoon when coal cars detached from an engine on Union Pacific tracks at North 1900 Road.  The Lawrence Police Department used infrared technology to assist the Douglas County Sheriff’s aerial drone team in determining there were no dangerous hot spots or fires in the massive pile-up of coal.  UAV pilots were also able to share a live link with Union Pacific personnel to help their teams coordinate a response and plan clean up strategies. Clean up efforts are continuing.

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Officials: 2 Killed in Suburban Kansas City House Fire

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say two people have died and a third has been injured in a house fire in suburban Kansas City, Kansas. The Overland Park Fire Department says fire crews from Overland Park and Lenexa were called to the home around 1:30 am Monday and found the home ablaze. Firefighters also learned that people were trapped inside. Firefighters immediately searched the home while working to extinguish the fire and found two people inside who had died and third person injured. The injured person was rushed to a hospital and later listed in stable condition. Officials have not released the names of those killed and injured. The cause of the fire is under investigation.  

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Officials Find First Likely Case of Monkeypox in Missouri, in Kansas City Area

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Health officials say they have identified what is likely to be the first case of monkeypox in Missouri in the Kansas City area. State and local health officials are waiting for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to confirm the results. In the meantime, officials are notifying people who may have been in contact with the infected person who didn't have to be hospitalized. The disease that first causes flu-like symptoms before progressing to a rash on the face and body is commonly found in parts of central and west Africa. But this year, 1,880 infections have been reported in more than 30 countries where monkeypox isn’t typically found.

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Child Drowns in Pond in Western Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office confirms that a child drowned while swimming in a pond over the weekend in southwest Kansas. KWCH TV reports that the sheriff’s office received a 911 call for a possible drowning of two children at Sam’s Pond, near Syracuse. Hamilton County EMS, City of Syracuse Fire Department and Scuba Ventures, of Liberal, recovered one child. That child was then transported to a nearby hospital. The other child remained missing, but their body was later recovered from the pond.

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Kansas Woman’s Body Found After Fatal ATV Crash

AUGUSTA, Kan. (KSNW) — The body of 21-year-old Carley Bullard was found Sunday after she went missing in the early hours of Saturday, June 18.  KSNW TV reports that Bullard was involved in an ATV crash south of Augusta. According to Butler County authorities, Bullard was involved in the crash around 3:25 am along the Walnut River, about 1.5 miles south of Augusta. After the crash, Bullard could not be located. Family and friends then searched the area and found her.

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Wichita Man Pleads Guilty in Fatal AutoZone Shooting

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and two counts of attempted robbery in the 2020 shooting death of an AutoZone store employee. Television station KAKE reports that Lamonte Lucas entered the pleas last week and will be sentenced on July 22 for the killing of 40-year-old Nick Blue inside the store. Lucas was 18 when police say he went into the store to rob it and shot Blue. Police have said three employees also were inside the business at the time of the shooting, but were in other areas of the building and were not injured. Police say surveillance video showed Lucas walk into the store, up to the counter and shoot Blue in the forehead before running out.

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Ex-Teacher in Wichita Pleads Guilty to Sex with Student

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former teacher at a private Christian school in Wichita has pleaded guilty to one count of having sexual relations with a student under 16 and faces prison time when he's sentenced later this summer. Police arrested Matthew McFarren, who had been a high school teacher and assistant soccer coach at Trinity Academy in Wichita, early last year. Police began investigating after receiving a tip that McFarren, now 43, was in a relationship with a 16-year-old student. McFarren was fired from the K-12 school soon after he was arrested in March 2021. Television station KSN reports that McFarren is set to be sentenced on August 5.

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Adoptive and Foster Families Receive Lower Subsidies in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas officials say they are working to give foster parents in the state a greater incentive to permanently adopt the children they take in. The current system tends to offer less money to adoptive parents. Whether families foster a child or adopt a child from the state, they are paid to care for that child. But adoptive families are paid much less than foster families. That’s why some parents say they cannot afford to adopt. Melinda Kline works for the state and says Kansas is considering changes to monthly adoption subsidies and that could mean giving them more money, “We want families who select adoption, to be able to support and care for and meet the needs of the child that they adopt,” Kline said. Foster families say the issue is worse for higher needs children who may need thousands of dollars a month in support. Kansas says it is considering changes to its system, but did not say what they are or when they could happen. 

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Kansas Public Radio Is Hiring a New Membership Director and a New Receptionist

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas Public Radio is hiring a new Membership Director. In addition, the University of Kansas-based radio station is hiring a new Operations Coordinator (receptionist+administrative assistant). The Membership Director position is open due to an internal promotion.  Former Membership Director Joanna Fewins has become the station's new Development Director.  Learn about both positions here. 

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Kansas Employers Struggle to Offer Affordable Health Insurance

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas employers are struggling to offer affordable health insurance. The Kansas Health Institute says premiums for health insurance climbed twice as fast as general inflation from 2010 to 2020. That’s for health insurance plans through jobs in the private sector. Workers now shoulder a bigger chunk of the cost, too. Average premiums in Kansas were nearly $12,000 as of 2020. That’s typical nationwide, but it takes a bigger bite out of paychecks in Kansas, because wages here run below the national average.

Editor's note: The Kansas Health Foundation is funded by the Kansas Health Foundation (link is external) in Wichita, which also provides funding for the Kansas News Service and its partner stations, including Kansas Public Radio.

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Toxic Algae Blooms Appear in Dozens of Kansas Lakes

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Toxic algae blooms are back and will probably hit about 30 or 40 Kansas lakes this summer. Not all algae are dangerous, but several lakes across the state are going through algae blooms now that can make people sick and can kill dogs that swim in it. The blooms can look like foam, paint or scum floating on the water, in a variety of colors. They’re fueled by fertilizer runoff. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) says people can check before heading to the lake. They can also ask park managers if algae are blooming or check the state’s website for algae reports.

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What Will Hosting the World Cup Cost Kansas City?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KNS/KCUR) - Kansas Citians are celebrating the big news that the city will host World Cup games in 2026. But staging the event in Kansas City for an international audience will take massive resources. The games for the men’s World Cup tournament will be held at Arrowhead Stadium. KCUR Radio reports that KC Mayor Quinton Lucas said on Twitter updating the 50-year-old stadium will require about $50 million dollars, which he said would be paid for with both public and private money. Kathy Nelson of the Kansas City Sports Commission says the World Cup will require a lot of human resources as well. “When we have, you know, tens of thousands of fans in our city, when you think about the hoteliers, the housekeepers that will be needed, the transportation people, all of that matters," she said. Nelson says next steps include forming a private committee in Kansas City to oversee logistics of the World Cup games. (Read more.) 

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Five More Lawsuits Filed Against Missouri Boarding School

NEVADA, Mo. (AP) — Five additional lawsuits have been filed accusing a southwestern Missouri boarding school of abusing students. The lawsuits alleging physical and emotional abuse at Agape Boarding School were filed Wednesday in Vernon County. All told, 19 lawsuits have been filed against the boarding school since early 2021. Agape’s doctor, David Smock, was charged in December with child sex crimes. He pleaded not guilty in March. Meanwhile, five employees were charged in September with abusing students. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has said he thinks many more workers should have been charged. The latest lawsuits were filed by former students who attended Agape at various times between 2014 and this year.

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Inflation Taking Bite Out of New Infrastructure Projects

UNDATED (AP) - Inflation is taking a toll on infrastructure projects across the U.S. Rising prices for materials such as asphalt, steel and iron pipes are driving up the costs to build roads, bridges, rail lines and water mains. The prices for some infrastructure materials have risen even faster than general consumer prices. State and local officials say inflation is diminishing the value of a $1 trillion federal infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden just seven months ago. Some officials say inflation has forced them to delay or scale back the scope of projects.

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Dave Wickersham, Oldest Former Royal Dead at 86

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KNS) - Dave Wickersham, the oldest former Royal, died over the weekend at the age of 86. Wickersham pitched for the Kansas City Athletics before he joined the Royals in 1969. That was the Royals' inaugural year and Wickersham's final season in the big leagues. By then he'd been playing for a decade.  Wickersham was originally from Pennsylvania, but made Kansas City his home after breaking in with the Athletics in the early 1960s. 

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These area headlines are curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Kaye McIntyre, and Tom Parkinson. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays, 11 am weekends. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today.

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