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Headlines for Monday, May 17, 2021

Governor Declares State of Emergency as Weekend Rains Lead to Flash Flooding in Parts of Kansas  

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Laura Kelly has declared a state of emergency for several Kansas counties hit by flash flooding and severe storms over the weekend. Residents of the north-central Kansas town of Natoma have been assessing damage left by a major flash flood. Rick Dunlap is mayor of the Osborne County town of nearly 300 people. He says the flooding caused more damage than even the flood of 1993. Saline County also saw major damage Sunday, with water in several homes. Residents say the water came up so quickly they had little warning. And in Topeka, lightning downed a tree that fell into a home.

(-Earlier reporting-)

Weekend Rains Lead to Flash Flooding in Parts of Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Parts of Kansas are cleaning up after weekend storms brought flash flooding, along with pockets of wind and lightning damage. Residents of the north-central Kansas town of Natoma were assessing damage TODAY (mon), a day after a major flash flood. Mayor Rick Dunlap told KWCH-TV that the flood caused more damage than even the flood of 1993. The town of about 270 residents is in Osborne County. Saline County also saw major damage Sunday, with water in several homes. Residents say the water came up so quickly they had little warning. Tyler Pfeifer told KSN-TV that he was in the middle of a camping trip when he got a phone call early Sunday from a county dispatcher. In Topeka, lightning downed a tree that fell into a home. The threat of lightning and heavy rains forced administrators at the University of Kansas to cancel all three of the commencement ceremonies scheduled for Sunday.

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University of Kansas Reschedules 2021 Commencements for this Sunday

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Hundreds of University of Kansas graduates who had their graduation canceled Sunday because of severe weather will have another chance to attend commencement ceremonies. Chancellor Douglas Girod announced today (MON) that graduation ceremonies for the class of 2021 will be held Sunday, May 23, at Memorial Stadium. Further details will be announced later, he said. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the university called off all three ceremonies on Sunday for the class of 2021 amid worries about lightning. Class of 2021 KU graduates still made the most of the day. Students and their families congregated on the Hill for photos, and graduates took turns walking through the Campanile. Girod said Monday he realized many people and their families would not be able to attend the rescheduled ceremonies but he said the university wanted to provide a ceremony for the class. It was the second straight year the university had to call off commencement. The 2020 ceremonies were postponed after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The class of 2020 is also scheduled to celebrate its commencement on Sunday.  

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Kansas Lawmaker Charged with 3 Counts of Battery

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - A Kansas House lawmaker has now been charged with three counts of battery against high school students. The complaints allege Representative Mark Samsel, a Republican from Wellsville, caused bodily harm to two students around 16-years-old while substitute teaching. He was initially arrested last month for battery and now faces three charges. Videos from students provided to the Kansas City Star appear to show Samsel pushing a student and lecturing about masturbation, teen suicide and God. Republican House Speaker Ron Ryckman responded in a statement saying he’s concerned about the charges, but the case needs to play out in court before there are any penalties. After the incident, Samsel returned to Topeka where he took part in the end of the legislative session.

(-AP version-)

Kansas Lawmaker Faces 3 Battery Charges over School Incident

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas House member has been charged with three counts of misdemeanor battery. The charges filed today (MON) against Republican Rep. Mark Samsel of Wellsville accuse him of having made "rude, insulting or angry" contact with two teenage students in a classroom while working as a substitute teacher. The charges arose from a student reporting an April 28 incident. Samsel's first appearance in Franklin County District Court by video conference is scheduled for Wednesday morning. A criminal complaint alleges that Samsel made physical contact with two teenage students and harmed one of them. Samsel referred questions to his attorney, who declined to comment.

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Fatal House Explosion in Holton Caused by Propane Leak

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities in Jackson County say an apparent propane leak caused a fatal explosion at a home last week.  Sheriff Tim Morse says a great amount of propane leaked into the home in rural Holton on May 10.  The blast killed 61-year-old Billy "Lu" Griffiths and seriously injured his wife, Teri.  It's unclear exactly what sparked the gas but the sheriff says the explosion was not believed to be a criminal act.

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State of Kansas Providing Loans to Help School Districts Facing Abnormally High Utility Bills

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas businesses and school districts hit with abnormally high natural gas bills from February’s cold snap can now get help from the state. Kansas is making $20 million dollars available to businesses and school districts that saw massive spikes in natural gas bills. The Wabaunsee school district, for example, saw its February gas bill go from about $4,000 to more than $50,000. The loans of up to $500 thousand dollars will be issued by local banks and funded by the state. They’ll need to be paid back within three years. The state has already funded about $80 million dollars in loans to cities in need. The Attorney General’s office is investigating whether natural gas suppliers price gouged during the emergency.  

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Man Charged in Leavenworth Shooting Death

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) _ A Leavenworth man has been charged with first-degree murder in a shooting death of another man in Leavenworth on May 4.  County Attorney Todd Thompson says 21-year-old Cordell Marqueise Stewart has been charged in the death of 31-year-old Floyd Ross Jr. Police say they responded to a report of shots fired in Leavenworth. They found Ross lying in the street suffering from gunshot wounds. He was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead.

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UPDATED: Kansas COVID-19 Case Count Exceeds 312,000; Death Toll Hits 5,040

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported Monday that there have been 312,073 cases of COVID-19, including 5,040 deaths related to the coronavirus, since the pandemic began. That's an increase of 368 cases and two deaths since Friday. Another update is expected Wednesday.

(An earlier version of this story contained a typo from KDHE regarding the total COVID-19 case numbers to date, which also affected the case number increase since last Friday.)

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Kansas Follows CDC Guidance on Mask Wearing, COVID-19 Vaccines

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas will follow new federal guidance that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer need to wear masks or socially distance, with some exceptions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the new guidelines Thursday. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly said the state will adopt the policy, effective immediately. The CDC said fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks in outdoors in crowds and indoors, except in crowded settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters. Kelly announced Wednesday the state will offer the Pfizer vaccine to children 12 and older, after the CDC approved the change.

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First Week in May, 1 in 4 New Kansas Virus Cases Involved Children

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - In the first week of May, one in four of new COVID cases in Kansas involved children. So pediatricians recommend the vaccine to protect kids and others around them. For months, parents have been asking pediatricians like Gretchen Homan in Wichita when their kids can get the COVID vaccine, and whether they should. “They understand it’s important and they’re thinking about it and they’re asking questions. And we’re really glad to have the conversations with them,” Homan said, adding that many pediatric offices hope to be able to give the shots soon. “The vaccine is safe and it works really well.” Local health departments have already started vaccinating kids 12 and up. Pfizer plans to seek FDA authorization to give the shot to younger kids as well. Even if you can’t yet find the COVID vaccine at your local pediatrician’s office, you can get the shots for kids 12 and up at other places -- such as local health departments.  

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Kansas Schools Offer Summer Programs for Kids to Catch Up

WICHITA (KNS) — Some Kansas schools are offering summer programs to help kids catch up with course work after schools moved to virtual learning during the pandemic. But some school administrators say they are disappointed by a lack of interest among students and parents. Wichita schools invited more than 21,000 students to free K-8 summer camps aimed at boosting reading and math skills but only about 20% of those invited say they plan to attend. That mirrors a nationwide trend, as many burned-out families are declining offers of free summer school. Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson says recovering the learning time lost during the pandemic is going to be difficult….but it can be done. “We’re hopeful that with multiple summer schools, multiple extended school years and tutoring services, we can make this up” Watson said. Kansas schools will get about $1.3 billion in federal aid over the next three years for summer school and other programs.

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Union Working to Get Southwest Kansas Meatpackers Vaccinated 

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KNS) — The union representing thousands of Kansas meatpacking workers is trying to convince hesitant members to get the COVID vaccine. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union has launched a virtual town hall series emphasizing the safety of the vaccines. Local UFCW president Martin Rosas says Spanish speakers in rural areas struggle to find answers to their vaccine questions so the union has sent extra personnel to the plants to help. “Person-to-person engagement is going to be instrumental to get more people vaccinated because they can hear from someone they can trust” Rosas said. Statewide, the rate of vaccination among Latinos continues to lag about 20% behind non-Latinos.

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Kansas Chamber Cuts Ties with U.S. Chamber over Endorsement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Chamber of Commerce has cut ties with its national counterpart over the national group's support last year for reelecting the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Representative Sharice Davids over Republican challenger Amanda Adkins in last year's campaign to represent the Kansas 3rd Congressional District. The national chamber's support for Davids prompted the state chamber to not renew its membership in the national group. Adkins is a former Kansas Republican Party chair who served 12 years on the Kansas chamber's board. Kansas chamber President and CEO Alan Cobb said some of the state group's members were frustrated by the U.S. Chamber's endorsement of Davids.

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200 Rally in KC in Support of Palestinians

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - More than 200 people rallied in Kansas City Saturday in support of Palestine. The Kansas City Star reports that KC Rally for Palestine came together as Israel has stepped up airstrikes in Gaza. The event was organized by 23-year-old Ahmed Hana, who has family that live in Palestine. KSHB-TV reports that the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City issued a statement condemning the actions of one protester who tore down an Israeli flag at Brush Creek in connection with the rally. Hundreds of people turned out this weekend for rallies in support of Palestine in cities across the United States.

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Driver Killed When Car Splits in Half After Hitting Tree

FAIRWAY, Kan. (AP) - One person is dead after their vehicle slammed into a tree in the Kansas City area with enough force to split the car in two. The crash happened Sunday morning along Shawnee Mission Parkway near 55th Street in Fairway, Kansas. The Johnson County Sheriff's Office said that because of excessive speeds, the vehicle appears to have split in half after it struck a tree on the side of the road. The driver died in the crash. The driver's name wasn't immediately released Sunday. The crash remains under investigation. 
  
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17-Year-Old Dies After Being Shot by Police at Kansas City Area Park
 
GRANDVIEW, Mo. (AP) - Authorities say a 17-year-old who was shot by police in suburban Kansas City, Missouri after confronting officers with a gun has died. The Missouri State Highway Patrol says Lantz Stephenson Jr., of Grandview, south of Kansas City, was shot about 6:45 a.m. Sunday at a park in Grandview, and died at a hospital. The patrol said in a post on Twitter that an "apparent suicidal" person was at the park with a gun. Highway patrol spokesman Sgt. Andrew Bell says the person called 911 and said he had a gun and wanted to confront officers. Bell says he approached the Grandview officers aggressively before two officers fired. No officers were injured. 

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Nine Human Trafficking Victims, Two Children Rescued in Missouri Hotel Operation

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Law enforcement agencies say they rescued nine human trafficking victims and two children during an operation at a Missouri hotel. The Missouri Attorney General's office says that the police operation Friday night at the Holiday Inn hotel in Columbia resulted in two suspects being detained. Law enforcement authorities released few details, citing the ongoing investigation.

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Two Kansas City Officers Hurt When Driver Tries to Flee 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Two Kansas City officers were injured when an impaired driver tried to flee police Saturday. The incident happened shortly before 5 pm Saturday when officers were trying to arrest the driver of a Cadillac CT5 near Flora Avenue and East 44th Street. Kansas City Police Department spokeswoman Donna Drake said the driver refused to exit his vehicle. Two officers were trying to get the driver out of the Cadillac when the man started driving and drug the officers along with the vehicle. Drake said the Cadillac sideswiped a parked Nissan Sentra before colliding with a Ford Escape. 
  
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Wichita Police Arrest Sister of Murder Victim

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police have arrested the sister of a 40-year-old woman who was found fatally shot inside a Wichita home. Police arrested 34-year-old Joy Wilson on suspicion of first-degree murder stemming from the shooting of Shawna Webb. Officers responding to an assist call at St. Joseph Hospital Saturday morning contacted Wilson and learned that Webb was shot and needed help. Officers saw a handgun inside Wilson’s vehicle. They located a crime scene at a Wichita home where Webb was found inside unresponsive. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

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Wichita Health Club to Pay $15,000 for Violating No-Call-List

WICHITA (AP) — A Wichita health club company has agreed to pay $15,000 in civil penalties and fees for making unsolicited telemarketing calls to consumers on the Kansas do-not-call registry. the Kansas Attorney General’s Office said in a news release that the consent agreement with Genesis Health Clubs Management, Inc. also enjoins the company from further violations of state and federal consumer protection laws. The judgment was approved by Judge Mary Christopher in Shawnee County District Court.

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Kansas City Works to Preserve Satchel Paige Home

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KNS) - Kansas City, Missouri has issued a request for proposals to restore and redevelop the house of legendary Negro League and Major League Baseball pitcher Satchel Paige.. Beth Breitenstein with city planning and development says they hope to find a contractor to restore the home. “It’s a historic property” Breitenstein said. “It’s something that this community deserves to have as an asset for years to come.” City officials say the RFP stressed that the redevelopment should be something that benefits the area. They would like to see the home rehabilitated as a community center or museum. Paige purchased the house in the Santa Fe neighborhood in 1950, and he lived there until his death in 1982. The 111-year-old house has sat vacant since about 2004. It was damaged by fire in 2018 but was purchased by the Kansas City Homesteading Authority which used a $150,000 grant for repairs. 

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Missouri Lawmakers Pass COVID Business Protections

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers have approved new legal protections against coronavirus lawsuits as one of the final actions of their 2021 session. The bill would shield hospitals, manufacturers and other businesses from lawsuits over alleged wrongdoing during the pandemic. The bill now goes to Governor Mike Parson, who made it one of his priorities. If signed by Parson, it would take effect in August. The bill would prevent lawsuits against businesses unless someone can prove they were exposed there and sickened by the coronavirus, and that the business was acting recklessly.

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Missouri to Collect Taxes on Out-of-State Online Sales

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri is set to become the last state to require out-of-state online stores to collect sales taxes on residents' purchases. The GOP-led House voted 145-6 Friday to send a bill mandating online sales tax collection to the governor. Missouri is the only state with a sales tax that hasn’t approved some kind of requirement that out-of-state online stores collect them on items sold to residents. Buyers currently are still required to pay that tax even if online stores don’t collect it. But many people don’t know that, and it’s challenging to enforce without the help of retailers.

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Missouri Legislators Allow Citizens to Sue over Police De-funding

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers have passed legislation taking aim at the defund-the-police movement. A bill given final approval Friday would allow people to sue local governments that cut police budgets by more than 12% compared to other departments over a five-year period. The bill also includes other protections for police, including a ban on probation or parole for people convicted of dangerous crimes against law officers, firefighters or emergency service providers. Another part of the bill would make it a misdemeanor crime to vandalize a public monument. The bill primarily drew support from Republicans. Many Democrats spoke against it.

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