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Headlines for Thursday, May 20, 2021


Kansas Governor Vetoes Insurance Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has vetoed a bill that would have let certain types of health insurance plans sidestep regulations.  The bill would have expanded short-term insurance plans that would not be governed by the same rules as traditional health insurance.  Supporters said it would give people an affordable insurance option. Kelly called them "junk plans."  For example, the plans would not have to cover preexisting conditions. Kelly called for Medicaid expansion instead.  Lawmakers could consider a veto override next week, but the bill did not pass with enough votes for an override.


Single Mothers in Missouri Sue over Medicaid Expansion

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Two single mothers are among a group of women suing Missouri for denying them access to Medicaid health care as called for in the state Constitution. The two mothers and a third woman sued Republican Governor Mike Parson's administration Thursday. Last year, Missouri voters amended the Constitution to expand access to the health insurance program to hundreds of thousands more low-income adults, including the three women. But Parson last week dropped plans to expand Medicaid after the Legislature refused to pay for it. The women say they need the health insurance program to get treatment for illnesses including asthma and diabetes.  


Kansas Governor Pressured to Nix Extra Unemployment Funding

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Democratic Governor Laura Kelly is facing increasing pressure from companies, business groups and prominent Republicans to have Kansas stop paying an extra $300 a week in benefits to unemployed workers. The top three Republicans in the Kansas House are calling on Kelly to end the additional benefits. They did so in response to a letter to the governor from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and 180 organizations arguing that many businesses are having problems hiring workers to "return to full capacity" following coronavirus pandemic restrictions. Some unemployed workers say the extra benefit has allowed them more time to look for work and put pressure on employers to raise wages. Kelly has said she's reviewing the issue.  


U.S. Jobless Claims Fall Again as Some States End Federal Aid

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to 444,000, a new pandemic low and a sign that the job market keeps strengthening as consumers spend freely again, viral infections drop and business restrictions ease. The data release coincides with rapid moves by nearly all the nation's Republican governors to cut off a $300-a-week federal unemployment benefit that they and many business executives blame for discouraging the unemployed from seeking jobs. Most of the same states are also dropping out of federal programs that provided benefits to those who are self-employed and to those who have been unemployed for longer than six months.


Bankers Survey for Parts of 10 States Hits New Record High

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The index of a newly released monthly survey of bankers in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states has hit a new record high, just two months after hitting its previous record high. The overall index of the Rural Mainstreet Survey for May reached 78.8.  That's nearly 7 points higher than the previous record set in March.  Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss credits gains in grain prices, record-low interest rates and growing exports, but said labor shortages are holding back the rural economy.  Bankers from Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.


KC Mayor Wants to Change Funding for Police Department

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and some city council members are considering a significant change in how the city funds its police department. Two ordinances to be introduced to the council on Thursday would reallocate about $44 million of the police department's budget to a new fund. The city manager would negotiate with police on spending that money, with an emphasis on prevention, mental health services, and other strategies to address the city's violent crime. Currently, Kansas City does not have local control of the department, which is overseen by a board that includes the mayor and members appointed by the Missouri governor. The council approves the budget but has little say in how the money is spent.


Police Say Woman Killed Crossing Kansas City Street 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police say a woman is dead after being hit by a car as she crossed a Kansas City street. Police say in a news release that the crash happened just before 9 p.m. Wednesday at the intersection of 51st Street and Cleveland Avenue. Police say it was raining at the time of the crash. The driver told investigators she saw the woman crossing the road in front of her car, but was unable to stop before hitting her. Police say the force of the crash knocked the woman onto the hood and windshield of the car. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Police did not immediately release the names of the woman killed or the driver. 


2 Drivers Killed, Teen Critically Injured in KC Area Crash

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) - Police in suburban Kansas City say two drivers were killed and the teenage daughter of one driver was seriously injured in a crash this week.  The crash happened Tuesday evening, when a speeding Porsche tried to pass a car on U.S. Highway 40 in Independence, Missouri.  The Porsche crossed over into incoming traffic and hit another car head-on. Officials say the impact killed the driver of the Porsche, whose name was not immediately released.  The collission also killed Christina Pappas, who was driving the other car.  The 19-year-old daughter of Pappas, MaKaila Pappas, was hospitalized with broken legs, ribs and a broken arm.  A passenger in the Porsche was also injured.


Fewer Residents Vaccinated in Rural Areas

UNDATED (HPM) - Harvest Public Media reports that fewer rural people are vaccinated than their urban counterparts.  The disparity is about seven percentage points, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Alan Morgan is the CEO of the National Rural Health Association. He says if this trend continues, it could be a deadly summer in rural America. “This really has the potential of the rest of America moving on from the pandemic, while we see rural America still struggling with this for the next year," he said.  Morgan says rural Americans are still facing issues surrounding vaccine access.  He also says messaging from the federal government needs to be more targeted to rural communities.


New CDC Data Show Rural Areas Lagging Behind in COVID Vaccinations

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the rates of COVID-19 vaccinations show rural parts of the country are lagging behind urban areas. 49.7% of the population is vaccinated in Kansas urban areas while the rate in rural areas is 41.3%. George Diepenbrock, spokesman for the Lawrence-Douglas County Department of Public Health, told KSHB-TV that large vaccination events initially helped inoculation rates but demand for the shots has dwindled.  New guidance from the CDC recommends that public health departments work with doctors, pharmacies, and faith groups in rural areas to address the disparity.


Drop in Demand Prompts Kansas to Change COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is changing its strategy for reaching herd immunity from COVID-19 from holding mass immunization clinics to doctor's offices and pharmacies give shots. Public health officials say the change will make getting the shots more convenient for some people or tap into their existing trust in their doctors to overcome hesitation about getting vaccinated. Kansas has seen its rate of vaccinations drop. It has ratcheted back on ordering more shots from the federal government. This week, Kansas sought only 2.3% of its allotment. The state health department is now allowing health care providers to order as little as a single vial of the vaccine at a time.


KHI Report Sheds Light on Vaccine Hesitancy in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - A new survey shows fewer Kansans are uncertain about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, but at the same time there’s more worry about possible side effects.  Federal data compiled by the Kansas Health Institute shows 22% of Kansans were uncertain about getting the vaccine in April.  That's down from 30% in March.  After use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was temporarily paused for a safety study, the number of respondents concerned about possible side effects increased by 15 percentage points.  Kansas Health Institute analyst Emily Burgen says more needs to be done to convince people that the vaccines are safe.  "That Johnson and Johnson pause, even though it is a normal part of clinical trials, really affected how people are viewing all three vaccines - and not just the Johnson and Johnson vaccine,” she said. According to the KHI study, the percentage of people who said they definitely would not get the vaccine has remained steady at about 8%.


Kansas COVID-19 Case Count Reaches Nearly 312,600; Death Toll Rises to 5,053

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported Wednesday that there have been 312,591 cases of COVID-19 including  5,053 virus-related deaths. That's an increase of 518 cases and 13 more deaths since Monday. Another update on case numbers is expected Friday. 


Douglas County Commission Keeps Mask Mandate Intact

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - The Douglas County Commission has decided to keep the county-wide mask mandate in place... for now.  The Lawrence Journal World reports that the public health department recommended that the county rescind the mask mandate, but commissioners decided Wednesday night to to let the order remain in place and to discuss it again at their meeting next week. Douglas and Wyandotte are the only two Kansas counties with mask mandates still in place.


Kansas Students Suffering from Depression, Thoughts of Suicide

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - New data shows increased depression and thoughts of suicide among Kansas middle- and high-schoolers.  A survey of nearly 71,000 Kansas students is an annual snapshot of their safety and well-being. This year showed double the normal increase in feelings of sadness or hopelessness.  About 30% of students reported thoughts of depression or suicide, and about two thirds of those were girls.  The survey has been tracking mental health in Kansas young people over the last five years. The number of students saying they feel depressed has risen by about two-and-a-half percentage points each year.  According to the survey, nearly 300 11-year-olds reported having tried to kill themselves.  Rachel Phillips, project manager at the Greenbush Southeast Kansas Education Center, which administers the survey, said, "While this information is quite sobering, it’s critical to realize that the conversation with kids is important to have in discussing healthy ways to manage these thoughts. So when we look at students and we worry about what they may do later on, down the road, I think this data tells us it’s important to act now." Phillips says participating school districts will get specific data to address issues in their communities.  


Man Charged in Killing of Kansas City Personal Trainer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A 29-year-old man is charged with first-degree murder in a shooting death in Kansas City's historic 18th & Vine district. Jerronn Anderson has been charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the killing of 34-year-old Gary Taylor on April 25. Three other people were shot and injured. Prosecutors said surveillance video showed Taylor walking with two friends shortly before the shooting when Anderson approached and shot Taylor. Prosecutors said Taylor's friends began shooting toward Anderson, who fled and then later showed up at a hospital with a gunshot wound. Prosecutors asked that Anderson's bond be set at $250,000.


Tuition at Kansas Colleges Likely to Stay About the Same

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Students at public universities in Kansas might pay nearly the same tuition for the upcoming year as they did last year. Tuition proposals submitted to the Board of Regents were generally the same as the last academic year. The regents will vote on the proposals next month. This would be the third straight year that Kansas public universities kept tuition flat.  And it comes despite concerns of major budget problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic. For 2021, most colleges proposed keeping existing costs. Kansas State proposed a $57 increase for in-state students, while Emporia State proposed a nearly 30% decrease in out-of-state tuition.


University of Missouri Tuition to Increase in the Fall

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) _ Tuition will rise in the fall at all four campuses for the University of Missouri, with increases ranging from 2% to 5%. Curators on Wednesday approved the increases. For undergraduates, the Columbia campus will see an increase of 5%. At UMKC, the increase is 4.1%. The increase will be 3.5% at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. The increase at the University of Missouri-St. Louis will be 2%. Graduate student tuition will rise by 5% in Columbia, 4% at UMKC and 2% at UMSL. Missouri S&T grad students will not see an increase. 


Kansas Governor Signs Legislation Keeping Carry-Out Cocktails

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - People will be able to get beer and cocktails "to go" in Kansas after the coronavirus pandemic thanks to a measure signed into law Wednesday by Governor Laura Kelly. The new law will allow to-go beer and alcoholic drinks from clubs, bars and restaurants until 11 pm, as long as the drinks are in sealed containers and clear bags that discourage tampering. Lawmakers approved the measure earlier this month, and it takes effect later this month. It continues a policy Kelly set by executive order in April 2020 when Kansas was under a statewide stay-at-home order, which remained in effect through March. 


Wichita Police: 2nd Video Sighting of Mountain Lion Confirmed

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Another mountain lion sighting has been captured on a doorbell camera in the Wichita area.  Kansas wildlife officials suspect it's the same big cat that was caught on camera last week sauntering through a Wichita alley.  The most recent video was captured Tuesday night, showing the cat walking along a sidewalk in front of a house in Andover. That's about 12 miles away from the site in Wichita's Riverside neighborhood where a doorbell camera captured a cougar trotting through an alley early in the morning on May 10.  State wildlife biologist Matt Peek confirmed the cat in the latest video is a mountain lion and likely the same one as spotted last week.


Kansas House Member Pleads Not Guilty to Battery Charges Stemming from Incident at School

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP / KNS) A Kansas House member has pleased not guilty to battery.  Republican Representative Mark Samsel, of Wellsville, was arrested after videos began circulating online of him arguing with teenage students and pushing one of them while he was working as a substitute teacher.  Samsel pleaded not guilty Wednesday to three counts of misdemeanor battery.  He was also given three weeks to undergo a mental health evaluation.  His next hearing was set for July 12.  The charges against Samsel arose from a student reporting an April 28 incident involving the state lawmaker in what videos showed to be a noisy classroom in his hometown of Wellsville.


Wichita Tax Preparer Sentenced for $100,000 Fraud

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita tax preparer has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for defrauding the Internal Revenue Service out of more than $100,000. Sonia Hernandez-Smith, also known as Sonia Raquel Vazquez, was sentenced Tuesday. She had pleaded guilty to one count, after originally being charged with 20 counts. Hernandez-Smith admitted she knowingly prepared income tax returns that falsely claimed tax credits for children that her clients should not have received. The federal public defender had sought probation for Hernandez-Smith, saying a prison sentence was harsher punishment than necessary for the crime.


Man Charged with $127,000 Fraud Involving COVID-19 Aid

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Federal prosecutors allege a Manhattan man defrauded a Wichita bank out of more than $127,000 in COVID-19 assistance.  Clifford Townsend has been charged with two counts of bank fraud, two counts of making a false statement to a bank and two counts of money laundering.  Prosecutors say Townsend filed a claim with the Paycheck Protection Program, saying that his business had 15 employees. In reality, the company (Global Network Corporation) did not have any employees.  Townsend allegedly used about $27,000 of the money to buy a BMW and wired $80,000 into a brokerage account in the name of the business. Townsend's initial court appearance is scheduled for Monday.


Kansas Statehouse, History Museum Will Reopen to the Public in June

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Statehouse and the state Museum of History in Topeka will reopen to visitors next month. The reopening of both buildings was announced Wednesday by the State Historical Society. The society provides tours in the Statehouse near downtown Topeka and operates the museum in west Topeka. Both had been closed to the general public because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Statehouse visitor center will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday starting June 1. The Museum of History will reopen June 2, with visitors allowed from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. 


Douglas County Traffic Court Back in Business

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - Douglas County traffic court is resuming operations after more than a year.  The District Attorney’s Office says court is again being held at 8:15 am every Friday. Traffic court had been on hold since March of 2020 due to the pandemic. Due to confusion regarding the reopening of traffic court, the DA’s office is not currently requesting that the court issue driver’s license suspensions or warrants for failing to appear. The ultimate decision, however, rests with the court itself.  Officials say anyone issued a citation with an appearance date should appear in court on the date and time shown unless the citation has been resolved through a plea arrangement or diversion agreement ahead of time.  Those with outstanding citations may contact the DA's office at (785) 838-2443 or via email:


New Missouri License Plate to Honor Negro Leagues Museum

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missourians will soon be able to purchase license plates highlighting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, after Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation creating the plate. The museum was founded in 1990 and spotlights the league that began play in 1920 and remained popular through the 1940s. Major League Baseball's color barrier was broken when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. On Saturday, Parson will hold a ceremonial bill signing for the plate at Kauffman Stadium before a Royals game. 


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