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Headlines for Friday, January 15, 2021

 

Kansas on Track to Pay Extra Unemployment Benefits

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is on track to pay out an extra $300-a-week federal unemployment benefit as part of a coronavirus rescue aid package enacted late last month. Top Department of Labor staffer Ryan Wright said the agency was in the process of testing the requisite system. Roughly two dozen states have begun paying out the extra benefit, but Wright noted that neighboring states were also not yet up and running either.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that he didn't commit to a firm time frame but said "we are talking days and weeks, not months" and insisted that the state is "not behind."

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Kansas Senate Votes to Extend Coronavirus Emergency, Limit Governor's Power

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Health care workers are working to speed up the vaccine rollout as the Kansas Senate has given first-round approval to a bill that extends a state of emergency for the pandemic while limiting Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s power to direct the state’s response. The law enacted in June limits Kelly’s ability to close businesses and allows counties to opt out of health orders she issues. The law and a state of emergency that makes it easier for officials to deal with the pandemic are set to expire January 26. The bill would extend both through March 31. A final vote is expected in the Republican-controlled Senate later Thursday. Businesses, nursing homes and medical providers are granted some protections from lawsuits under the law.

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Kansas COVID-19 Hospitalizations Fall from Last Month's Peak

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Coronavirus hospitalizations have fallen in Kansas from their high last month. Staffing is under less strain as the shaky vaccine rollout gains momentum. But overall case numbers remain stubbornly high. Kansas Department of Health and Environment data shows that 889 adults were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases as of Tuesday. That's down 30% from a high of 1,282 on December 2. It was the lowest COVID-19 patient count since early November. The drop is good news for fatigued staff, who had to work overtime while co-workers were infected or quarantined. The situation grew so dire that staff at small hospitals were spending hours on the phone looking for places to transfer their sickest patients.

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COVID-19 Caseload in Kansas Tops 255,000; Virus-Related Deaths Surpass 3,500

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health reported Friday that there have been 256,134 cases of COVID-19, including 3,502 deaths, since the pandemic began. That's an increase of 4,093 cases and 147 deaths since Wednesday. KDHE will release another update of the statistics on Monday.

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Missouri Police, More Health Staff Now Eligible for Vaccine

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri is opening up COVID-19 vaccines to public safety workers and more health care workers. Missouri on Thursday activated its next stage of the vaccine rollout. The latest phase includes police, firefighters and other law enforcement officials. It also includes administrators and other health care staffers who weren't previously eligible to be vaccinated. The Governor's Office says the additional vaccinations are possible because the federal government plans to increase supplies next week. Missouri on Monday will allow vaccinations for people age 65 and older and those with illnesses that put them at higher risk of getting seriously sick from COVID-19.

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Majority of Kansas Congressional Delegation Votes "No" on Impeachment

WASHINGTON, DC. (KNS) - Kansas members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted along party lines in the second impeachment of President Trump Wednesday. Republican Representatives Tracey Mann, Jake LaTurner and Ron Estes all voted against impeachment. Democratic Representative Sharice Davids voted in favor. U.S. Senators Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran, both Republicans, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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Kansas Legislators Review Proposed Anti-Abortion Amendment

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Abortion opponents and abortion rights supporters on Friday previewed arguments they’ll make to voters if lawmakers put a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution on the ballot. House and Senate committees heard testimony on a proposal to overturn a Kansas Supreme Court decision in 2019 declaring access to abortion a “fundamental” right under the state constitution. Testimony often moved from the text of the proposal to larger arguments about regulating abortion. Abortion opponents argue that they are trying only to preserve restrictions enacted previously with bipartisan support. Abortion rights supporters argued that the proposed amendment is a step toward a state abortion ban.

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U.S. Carries Out 1st Execution of Female Inmate Since 1953

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — The U.S. government has carried out its first execution of a female inmate in nearly seven decades. Authorities executed a Kansas woman who strangled an expectant mother in Missouri and cut the baby from her womb while the mother was still alive.  Lisa Montgomery was pronounced dead at 1:31 am Wednesday after receiving a lethal injection at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. Montgomery killed 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in Skidmore, Missouri. She was the 11th prisoner executed since July, when President Donald Trump resumed federal executions following 17 years without one. President-elect Joe Biden, a death penalty opponent, will be sworn-in next week. A federal judge on Tuesday halted two other executions scheduled for this week after the inmates tested positive for COVID-19.

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Kansas Expects Protests; Governor Limits Statehouse Access

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Laura Kelly is restricting access to the Kansas Statehouse over the possibility of an armed protest in the coming week. Her office told state lawmakers Thursday that an event is planned for Sunday, with “other potential gatherings” possible next week. The Democratic governor’s chief of staff sent a memo Thursday to the Republican-controlled Legislature’s top Republican and Democratic leaders announcing that access to the building will be restricted from Friday through January 22. The memo said law enforcement also will have an increased presence at the Statehouse. The House speaker told colleagues in an email that officers will be stationed at each door on the first and second floors.

(– Related –) 

Kansas Officials Increase Capitol Security Ahead of Threats 

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) —State government officials in Topeka are increasing security in the capital in preparation for rumored protests next Wednesday when President-Elect Biden is sworn in as president in Washington. Governor Laura Kelly says officials are keeping an eye on the situation. “We will step up security precautions as necessary," Kelly said.  National law enforcement agencies have warned that extremist groups may be planning violent protests at some state capitals. House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, said he has asked for extra security from the Kansas Highway Patrol.  A spokesperson for Governor Kelly said her office is taking all potential threats seriously.  Assurances from the governor and other Kansas officials that Statehouse security is being heightened haven't dispelled concerns that the state isn’t doing enough to prepare for a possible armed protest in the coming days. State Senator Cindy Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat, says she’s frustrated by the lack of information being provided and that if security is being heightened, it's not noticeable.

States Declare Emergencies, Close Capitols Ahead of Rallies

UNDATED (AP) – Governors in some states have called out the National Guard, declared states of emergency and closed their capitol buildings over concerns about potentially violent demonstrations. Though details remain murky, demonstrations are expected at state capitols beginning Sunday and leading up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday. State officials are hoping to avoid the type of mob violence that occurred last week at the nation's Capitol, which left five people dead, including a police officer. Some state legislatures also have canceled or limited their work next week because of security concerns.

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Kansas Governor's Budget Includes Proposals GOP Has Rejected

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has outlined a proposed annual budget that includes a tax increase and two other major initiatives likely to be rejected by the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature. This week, Kelly outlined a $20.9 billion spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1. Among other things, it would protect a previously promised increase in spending on public schools. But the governor also proposed expanding Medicaid and cutting the state's annual contribution to pensions for teachers and government workers, and GOP leaders oppose both ideas. Kelly wants to impose the state sales tax on online music and movie purchases.  Republicans criticized the idea last year.

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Kansas Lawmakers Move Quickly on Local Tax 'Transparency'

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are moving quickly to try a different approach in seeking to limit city and county taxes. The Senate voted 34-1 on Thursday for a proposed transparency law that would require local officials to notify their constituents and hold a public hearing if they intend to spend extra dollars raised with property taxes. The bill would repeal what many lawmakers see as an ineffective lid on city and county property taxes that took effect in 2017. The Republican-controlled Legislature approved a similar transparency bill last year, but Democratic Governor Laura Kelly vetoed it, saying she was worried about administrative burdens for local officials.

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Legislative Hotline Now Open for Kansas Residents

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The State Library of Kansas is reminding Kansans that information about the 2021 Kansas Legislature is only a phone call away.  The number for the Legislative Hotline is (800) 432-3924.  The Hutchinson News reports that calls are answered by state librarians who are experienced with the legislative process.  Frequently asked questions include, "Who is my legislator?" and "What is the status of this bill?"  Reference librarians at the State Library take questions by phone, email and chat. Kansans can leave brief messages for their legislators or request copies of bills and other legislative documents.  In addition to calling the hotline, Kansans can chat with a librarian in real-time through the library’s Ask A Librarian service.  The Legislative Hotline is available weekdays from 8 am to 5 pm.  

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Haskell Indian Nations University Withdraws Directive Muting Student Newspaper

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The president of Haskell Indian Nations University has walked back a directive instructing the school’s student newspaper editor not to contact any government agency for information while representing the newspaper or “attack” any student, faculty member or staff in copy. Haskell President Ronald Graham wrote that the university “took an incorrect approach” in sending out that Oct. 16 directive to Jared Nally, editor of The Indian Leader. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Nally received Graham's letter on Wednesday. The about-face comes after advocacy groups complained that Graham's directive violated the First Amendment.

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Wichita Man Sentenced to 225 Years in Prison for Child Abuse

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 61-year-old Wichita man will have to serve up to 225 years in prison for sexually abusing three children of women he knew or dated. Nathan Brazille was sentenced this week for the abuse of three children as young as 6 or 7 between 2016 and 2018. Brazille was convicted on nine counts in September 2019. Sedgwick County District Judge Jeffrey Syrios ordered Brazille to serve nine consecutive life sentences. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said that because the sentences are consecutive, Brazille would not be eligible for parole for 225 years.

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Wichita Woman Who Stole from Elderly Man Given Probation

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 60-year-old Wichita woman who persuaded an elderly man with Alzheimer's to make her beneficiary of nearly all his assets was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to repay nearly $61,000 to the man's family. Laurie Nowlin was sentenced Thursday. If she violates her probation, she would face a 13-month jail sentence. Prosecutors say she persuaded the 88-year-old man to make her his power of attorney and beneficiary after isolating him from his family. Prosecutors allege she took more than $80,000 from the man. His family claimed in a lawsuit that he wrote checks and made cash withdrawals from his accounts totaling about $143,000.

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Police ID Man Arrested in Fatal Wichita Restaurant Shooting

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police have identified a man arrested on suspicion of fatally shooting another man outside a Wichita restaurant and say the suspect has a long criminal history. The shooting was reported around 1:30 pm Thursday in south Wichita. A police investigation revealed that the shooting stemmed from a disturbance outside Berrieria Tito restaurant and that the man who was shot made his way back into the restaurant, where he died. Police have not yet released the victim's name. Police have arrested 26-year-old Adrian Nicholas Zongker, who is currently on parole on a separate conviction. The Wichita Eagle reports that Zongker has five prior convictions in Sedgwick County, including for assault and weapons counts.

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3 Kansas City Area Law Enforcement Officers Charged in Hit-and-Run Crash

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas sheriff’s office investigator has been charged in a hit-and-run crash and two other law enforcement officers have been charged with interfering with the investigation. Wyandotte County Prosecutor Mark Dupree says sheriff’s office Detective Michael Simmons Jr. is charged with a misdemeanor count of leaving the scene of the December 13, 2019, crash on Interstate 70 involving a county-owned vehicle. Two others – former Kansas City, Kansas, police detective Sarah Panjada and Wyandotte Sheriff’s Office Major Andrew Carver – were charged with one count each of official misconduct and interference, both misdemeanors.

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Kansas City Police Have Body Cameras, More Are Coming 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Kansas City police officials say all patrol officers in the city are expected to be equipped with body worn cameras by March. Police spokesman Sergeant Jacob Becchina says 340 officers are already using the cameras, and another 475 cameras should be ordered soon. Community leaders have pushed for officers to wear body cameras for years, and the effort grew after social unrest protests last year. The city had delayed buying the cameras because of funding issues. In June, the police department received a $1 million donation from the DeBruce Foundation, with another $1.5 million from other groups to fund a body camera program. 

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Kansas Man Sentenced to Prison, Fined $310,000 for Poaching

MEDICINE LODGE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man has been sentenced to prison and fined $310,000 for poaching 60 deer over several years. John Blick Jr., of Sharon, pleaded guilty in November to 139 charges after killing deer by using artificial light and hunting from a vehicle. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism said Thursday Blick was sentenced to 14 months in prison. He must pay the state agency $310,000, which is the estimated value of the deer. The 139 charges originated in Barber County. Blick also was charged with 33 misdemeanors in Harper County after the killing of three trophy deer there.

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Recovered Midwestern Bird Soars off Endangered Species List

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Federal officials say a bird called the interior least tern is being dropped from the endangered species list. The small, fish-eating bird lives along rivers, lakes and wetlands in the Great Plains and Lower Mississippi Valley. Its numbers plummeted in the late 19th century as its feathers became popular for women's hats. Later, it was harmed by dam construction and other river engineering. Conservation efforts have boosted the interior least tern's numbers in recent decades. Environmental groups support the decision to remove federal protections. Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico and several other states are all known to have colonies of the bird.

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Lawrence Police: Woman Dies After Being Hit by Train 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ Police in Lawrence say a woman has died after being hit by a train late Wednesday night. The incident happened at the BNSF tracks near Second and Indiana streets. Officers and medics were called to the scene by someone reporting that a person had been hit by a train. Arriving officers found a gravely injured woman. Medics attempted life-saving measures, but the woman died at the scene. Her name was not immediately released. 

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Kansas City Police: Man Found Dead After Standoff

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police say a man has been found dead following an hours-long standoff and fire at a Kansas City apartment complex. Police say the incident began around 1 am Thursday when a woman called 911 to report an escaped fugitive in her apartment. Police say the man refused to peacefully leave the apartment, telling officers he had a gun. A SWAT team was called in, and police believe the man started a fire inside the apartment. Fire crews worked to extinguish the blaze, and both firefighters and police entered the apartment, where they found the man dead. Police did not immediately release his name. No one else was injured in the standoff or fire. 

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Kansas Game Warden Frees Tangled Deer with Single Gunshot

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas game warden is getting attention for a video that shows him firing a single shot from a handgun to disentangle the antlers of two whitetail stags. The Kansas Wildlife, Parks & Tourism agency released the video from the warden's body camera showing his sharpshooting skills. Neither deer was hurt in the effort. The agency says a bow-hunter contacted a game warden about the entangled deer. Two game wardens responded and threw a towel over the animals' heads to get them to freeze. One warden then took careful aim and shooting part of one deer's antler off, freeing the animals.

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