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Headlines for Thursday, May 21, 2020

 

Kansas Lawmakers Back in Topeka to Conclude 2020 Legislative Session

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) —  Lawmakers are back at the Kansas Statehouse for what is supposed to be a one day wrap-up of the 2020 session.  State tax collections have dropped dramatically since lawmakers abruptly left the capital in mid-March.  As the coronavirus pandemic began,  businesses closed and thousands of Kansans lost their jobs or were furloughed.  The governor and lawmakers are now staring down a deficit and considering budget cuts.  Funding for highways, social services, state pensions and even K-12 education may also fall under the budget ax.  It remains unclear how much work lawmakers will be able to accomplish in just one day but coming back for a special session is always a possibility.  Among other issues on the table, legislators may consider coronavirus liability protections for health care providers and businesses.  Health care providers want to be protected from lawsuits over procedures that were delayed because of the pandemic, and businesses don’t want to be sued by customers who claim they got sick at the business.  

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Kansas AG Doubts Governor's Orders as Lawmakers Seek Limits

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have convened for a single-day session on the coronavirus pandemic with Republican majorities determined to curb Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s power. Lawmakers met Thursday after the GOP state Attorney General Derek Schmidt suggested that Kelly has been on “legally suspect” ground for three weeks. Republican legislative leaders pushed a bill that would require Kelly to get the permission of top lawmakers to extend a state of emergency past Monday’s Memorial Day holiday. It also would greatly limiting her power to close businesses even with an extension. Schmidt contends Kelly couldn't legally keep a state of emergency in place after May 1. 

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Kansas Prosecutor: No Criminal Charges over Pandemic Orders

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Reno County District Attorney Keith Schroeder said Thursday he will not file criminal charges against people who violate executive orders issued by the governor related to the coronavirus pandemic. The Wichita Eagle reports Schroeder attributed his decision to guidance from Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. A legal opinion issued Wednesday by the state attorney general calls the legality of the disaster declaration granting her broad emergency powers “doubtful." Schroeder was among several officials who had asked the attorney general for a legal opinion on the matter.

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GOP Plan Would Keep Kansas Governor from Closing Businesses

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Kansas are pushing to greatly limit Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's power to keep businesses closed during the coronavirus pandemic. They also advanced a plan Wednesday to give the GOP-controlled Legislature's leaders the final say over how federal coronavirus relief funds are spent. GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee included the measures in a bill that the full Senate expects to consider Thursday. That's when the Legislature is scheduled for one, final day in session this year. Republicans tied their proposals to a ratification of Kelly's previous coronavirus orders and an extension of a state of emergency over the pandemic.

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Kansas Policy Lets Exposed Meatpacking Workers Stay on the Job

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP)  — Emails and text messages show Kansas softened its quarantine guidelines for meatpacking plants after industry executives repeatedly pushed state officials so employees who were potentially exposed to the coronavirus could continue working. The Kansas City Star and The Wichita Eagle reports that they obtained messages through an open-records request. The newspapers report the documents show that executives at Tyson and National Beef pushed Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Mike Beam to adopt more lenient guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowing meatpacking employees who have come into close contact with positive cases to stay on the job if they had no symptoms. The state had previously advised contacts to quarantine for two weeks.

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New Meatpacking Safety Recommendations Are Largely Unenforceable

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Federal recommendations meant to keep meatpacking workers safe as they return to plants that were shuttered by the coronavirus have little enforcement muscle behind them. That is fueling anxiety that working conditions could put employees' lives at risk. Extensive guidance issued last month by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls for meatpacking companies to erect physical barriers, enforce social distancing and install more hand-sanitizing stations, among other steps. But the guidance is not mandatory. OSHA's general guidance plainly says the recommendations are advisory and not a regulation or a new legal obligation.

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Chancellor: University of Kansas Faces $120 Million Shortfall

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod says the university faces a shortfall amounting to more than a quarter of its general operating budget after the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close its campuses. The Lawrence Journal-World reported Thursday the $120 million shortfall stems from losses in research dollars, event fees and student housing and dining revenue. Girod said “all options must be on the table.” Those include sweeping vacant position budgets, using reserve funds and keeping in place a hiring freeze. He also hinted furloughs and layoffs are likely after the new fiscal year begins July 1.

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Miami County Sheriff's Office:  3-Year-Old Girl Killed in Rural Paola; Hit by Delivery Truck

PAOLA, Kan. (KCTV-TV) — Authorities in eastern Kansas say a 3-year-old girl has died after being hit and killed by a delivery truck in a driveway in rural Paola. Television station KCTV reports that deputies with the Miami County Sheriff's Office were called to the home late Wednesday morning for a report of an injury accident. Investigators say a delivery truck was backing out of the home's driveway when it hit the child. The girl was pronounced dead at the scene. The girl's name has not yet been released. The Miami County and Johnson County sheriff's departments, as well as the Kansas Highway Patrol, are investigating.

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Three People Injured in Westport Shooting
 
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Authorities are investigating a shooting Wednesday that injured three people in the Westport bar and entertainment district in Kansas City, Missouri. The Kansas City Star reports none of the injuries are considered to be life-threatening. Police dispatch said the call came in after 3 pm. Officers responded to multiple crime scenes in connection to the shooting in the Westport area. No further details were immediately available.

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Missouri Teenager Charged in Fatal Shooting at Convenience Store

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri teenager is charged with second-degree murder after a fatal shooting outside an convenience store. Seventeen-year-old Camryn Wilkins, of Independence, is accused of killing Jason Juszczyk outside a Truman Mart gas station on Sunday. KSBH-TV reports witnesses told investigators the two men got into an argument before Juszczyk pulled out a gun and shot Wilkins. Wilkins surrendered Tuesday to Jackson County authorities.

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Trump: Kansas Governor Doing "Fantastic Job" on Coronavirus

WASHINGTON (AP / WDAF) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has received the kind of praise from President Donald Trump that Republicans in her home state of Kansas would love to hear about themselves. Kelly met with the Republican president Wednesday in Washington to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, along with GOP Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas. Trump said both have done "a fantastic job." A YouTube video of a session with reporters showed Trump touting his administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Kelly remained quiet as Trump said she speaks her mind on White House calls.  As WDAF TV reports, Kelly praised the Trump administration for its response to outbreaks in meatpacking plants.  She also said swift action from the federal government on coronavirus saved lives in her state.  “I appreciate what your team has done,” Kelly told the president.  “When we put out a cry for help with our meatpacking plants, you sent in a (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) SWAT team,” she said.  The Republican president said praise from Kelly, a Democrat, proves his administration stepped up in the middle of the crisis.

With the rate of infections and deaths in her state slowing, Kelly said she’s looking forward to beginning phase two of reopening the economy. In that phase, Kansas residents will be able to go to places like arcades, movie theaters and even sports tournaments by Friday. Places like bars and nightclubs will still be off limits.  If infection rates continue to trend down, Kelly said, the state will begin phase three of reopening June 8.

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Kansas Reports More than 8,500 COVID-19 Cases, Including 178 Deaths 

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — As of Wednesday morning, state health officials reported 8,539 cases of COVID-19, including 178 deaths.  Cases have been reported in 84 of the state's 105 counties.  (The latest COVID-19 case numbers for Kansas are released here Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.)  

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Kansas AG Doubts Legality of Governor's May COVID-19 Executive Orders

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican attorney general of Kansas says the most recent state of emergency that Democratic Governor Laura Kelly issued for the coronavirus pandemic is “legally suspect.” Attorney General Derek Schmidt's legal opinion questioned orders she’s issued this month and her plan for reopening the economy.  It came hours before the GOP-controlled Legislature reconvened Thursday. Schmidt’s opinion is not legally binding, but the Legislature’s Republican leaders are likely to cite it as they seek to pass a bill curbing Kelly’s power to direct the state’s response. Kelly issued two disaster declarations. But Schmidt says state law clearly gives a governor the power to issue only one.

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U.S. Farmers Leaning More Heavily on Government Loan Programs

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — U.S. farmers leaned more heavily upon the federal government last year to finance their agricultural operations amid low commodity prices and trade disputes. And more of the money they borrowed is now delinquent. The Agriculture Department said it has not seen significant change in loan delinquency rates because of the coronavirus pandemic. But it does expect an impact if the the economic fallout continues. Farm foreclosures have not increased. The department is taking a number of measures to help borrowers, including extending repayments for operating loans. The department says it also temporarily suspended loan accelerations and non-judicial foreclosures

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3 Men Charged with Federal Hunting Violations at Fort Riley

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged three men with violating federal laws by hunting deer at Fort Riley in an area where explosives are discharged. U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said Wednesday that the men violated the hunting laws several times since 2015 by disregarding off-limit areas on the base. The charges are misdemeanors. McAllister says the men would enter the base before daylight and leave after dark. Investigators recovered deer mounts, antlers, phone data and equipment allegedly used to harvest eight whitetail deer. The suspects are two men from Wamego and another from Watertown, New York.

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Nation's Top Educator Taught Kansas Preschoolers Alongside Retirees

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — A teacher who instructed preschoolers inside a Kansas nursing home before the coronavirus pandemic has been named the nation's top educator. Tabatha Rosproy was chosen as the 2020 National Teacher of the Year for bridging the worlds of her community's oldest and youngest. The year saw the retirement community where she taught in Winfield close to visitors to protect the residents as the state also shuttered its schools. Her selection from among 55 award-winning teachers around the country was announced Thursday by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Rosproy says her students were "well connected and well loved" and the retirement residents engaged.

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This Week Marks Odd Tornado Anniversary for Small Rooks County Town

LAWRENCE, Kan.  (KPR) — This week marks an odd weather anniversary for the small western Kansas town of Codell.  The community north of Hays was hit by a tornado, on the same date, for three consecutive years.  On May 20th, 1916, the Rooks County community was hit by an F2 tornado.  On the same date the following year, an even stronger tornado - an F3 - came through Codell.  And then, on May 20, 1918, the town was hit for the third year in a row, this time by an F4 tornado, which destroyed much of the town.  About 100,000 thunderstorms develop across the United States each year and most don't produce tornadoes, making the odds exceedingly small that this exact same weather event will ever occur again.
 
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K-State Graduate Selected to Lead Missouri Southern State University in Joplin

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Southern State University in Joplin has chosen its new president. The university's board selected Dean Van Galen Monday to become the school's sixth president, beginning July 1. Van Galen most recently served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He also taught and was an administrator at Truman State University in Kirksville and the University of West Florida. Van Galen earned a doctorate at Kansas State University. His base salary will be $270,000, with other allowances. He succeeds Alan Marble, who is retiring.

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Rural Bankers Survey Index Remains Low in Face of Outbreak

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new survey of bankers in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states inched upward in May from April's record low, but still remained profoundly low as efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the rural economy. The overall index for the region rose slightly to 12.5 from April's record low of 12.1. Any score below 50 suggests a shrinking economy. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says nearly three of every four bankers surveyed reported restructuring farm loans to deal with weak farm income. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

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Forecast: Kansas Farmers to Harvest 284.4 Million Bushels of Wheat

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas farmers are projected to harvest 284.4 million bushels of winter wheat this year, industry leaders said Thursday. The forecast from the annual Wheat Quality Tour came during a virtual wheat tour held via Zoom this week amid the coronavirus pandemic. The group’s forecast pegged the anticipated wheat yield in Kansas this year at 44.5 bushels per acre.

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