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Headlines for Tuesday, January 12, 2021

 

Governor: Kansas Officials Must 'Set Example' After DC Riot

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly has told fellow Kansas residents that her usual yearly call for bipartisanship is not enough in light of last week’s mob violence in Washington and said the state’s leaders “must commit ourselves to set an example.” Kelly focused much of the annual State of the State address Tuesday night on the COVID-19 pandemic and avoided outlining broad new initiatives outside of promising to push again for Medicaid expansion. The Democratic governor turned near the end of her speech to the failed insurrection last week in which extremist supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol. She said: “This isn’t like any other moment."

You can watch a video of Governor Kelly's address on her YouTube channel or at the Governor's Facebook page

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Execution of Female Inmate Lisa Montgomery Halted by Federal Judge 

MISSION, Kan. (AP) - A judge has granted a stay in what was slated to be the U.S. government's first execution of a female inmate in more than 67 years.  In December 2004,  then-36 year-old Lisa Montgomery was living in Kansas. She crossed state lines to the Missouri home of 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant.  Montgomery cut the baby from Stinnett's womb and then passed off the newborn as her own. She was sentenced to death in 2008 by a Missouri jury. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Judge Patrick Hanlon of the Southern District of Indiana, granted the stay late Monday. Montgomery's execution was scheduled for Tuesday at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.  Montgomery's lawyers have argued that sexual abuse during Montgomery's childhood led to mental illness. 

(– Related –) 

Mental Illness Issues Could Halt Execution of Lisa Montgomery

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — A judge has temporarily stayed the U.S. government’s plans to execute the first female federal death-row inmate in nearly seven decades. The Kansas woman who killed an expectant mother, cut the baby from her womb and then tried to pass off the newborn was, was due to be put to death Tuesday. When other executions by the Trump administration were similarly stayed in days or even hours before the scheduled execution times last year, the Department of Justice succeeded in getting a higher court to reverse them. Government lawyers also quickly appealed the Monday stay for Lisa Montgomery.

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Police: Topeka Man Killed in Early Morning Shootout with Officers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Topeka say a man died in a shootout with officers following a highway chase early Monday.  Police say the incident began late Sunday night when a 911 caller in Shawnee County reported a domestic threat involving a Topeka man. Responding deputies later stopped a car with the suspect inside.  Law enforcement officers tried to negotiate with the man, later identified as 49-year-old Joseph Howell, but he displayed a gun and fired at least two shots, then fled in the car.  After a brief chase, police forced Howell's car off the road.  Gunfire was exchanged.  Howell was later pronounced dead at the scene. No officers were injured.

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Kansas Lawmakers Open Session Clouded by COVID, DC Violence

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have opened their annual session with new leaders in the Senate, new lawmakers in a quarter of the seats and a top Republican acknowledging that he’s asked for extra security. The House and Senate sessions Monday afternoon were for swearing in members and ratifying Republican lawmakers' selection of each chamber's top leaders. The new Senate president and majority leader are Wichita-area Republicans Ty Masterson and Gene Suellentrop. The new Senate minority leader is Lenexa Democrat Dinah Sykes. Twenty-eight of the House's 125 members are new. Fourteen of 40 senators are new, though seven previously served in the House. The 90-day session began amid the COVID-19 pandemic and under the shadow of last week’s mob violence in Washington. House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, said he has asked for extra security from the Kansas Highway Patrol. A spokesperson for Democratic Governor Laura Kelly said her office is taking all potential threats seriously. The Senate's top leaders were all new to their jobs, and 42 lawmakers were new to their seats.

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GOP Seeks to Push Kansas to Right over Democratic Governor's Objections

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature convenes its annual session today (MON) with the GOP seeking to wrest control of policy from Democratic Governor Laura Kelly.  The session's 90 days will come amid a partisan dispute over how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic and mostly behind-the-scenes political jockeying for the 2022 governor's race. GOP leaders believe they have a mandate to govern after voters elected more conservatives in last year's elections. Top Republicans have outlined priorities that include cutting income taxes and putting a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution on the ballot. The governor has promised to push again for Medicaid expansion.

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Kansas Public Radio Will Broadcast Governor Laura Kelly's State of the State Speech Tuesday Night

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — Governor Laura Kelly will outline some of her priorities tonight (TUE) in her State of the State address. Lawmakers started the session yesterday (MON), but the annual speech will let Kelly lay out her plans for Kansas. She’s already said she’ll push again for Medicaid expansion.  The speech has been recorded in advance rather delivered live in the House of Representatives because of the pandemic. The governor’s budget plan will become public later this week. Republicans are already staking out some positions that could clash with Kelly, including pushing for tax cuts and restricting her powers to respond to the pandemic. Kansas Public Radio, along with other public radio stations, will broadcast Governor Laura Kelly's State of the State speech beginning at 7 pm.  The coverage will last about an hour.  Anchored by KPR News Director J. Schafer, the coverage will include the GOP response and analysis from KPR Statehouse Bureau Chief Stephen Koranda and veteran Statehouse observer Jim McLean, of the Kansas News Service.  Coverage is sponsored, in part, by Kansas Action for Children.

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Kansas Abortion Opponents See Mandate from 2020 Elections

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Abortion opponents say elections last year that made the Kansas Legislature more conservative showed that voters support putting a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution on the ballot next year. Anti-abortion lawmakers introduced separate but identical versions of their proposal Tuesday in the House and Senate. It would overturn a Kansas Supreme Court decision in 2019 that declared access to abortion a “fundamental” right under the state constitution. Abortion opponents failed last year to get the same proposal on the ballot when a few House Republicans resisted having voters decide its fate in the August primary instead of the November general election.

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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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Kansas Governor to Try Again to Reorganize Social Services

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly plans to try a second time to reorganize Kansas’s social services after the Republican-controlled Legislature blocked the move last year. Kelly announced Monday that she will issue an order next week creating a single Department of Human Services to administer programs for children, families, the disabled and older Kansas residents. Her plan would combine the Department for Children and Families with the Department for Aging and Disability Services. Kelly said a single department would provide “easier access” to services but Republicans have been skeptical. They can prevent a reorganization by voting it down in one chamber. The House blocked Kelly's plan last year.

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Officials: Weak Earthquake Shook Area in South-Central Kansas

MAYFIELD, Kan. (AP) — Geological officials say a weak earthquake shook an area near Mayfield in south-central Kansas. Television station KAKE reports that the 2.8-magnitude earthquake hit just before 1 am Sunday. The U.S. Geological Survey says the epicenter was just northeast of Mayfield in Sumner County. No damage was reported.  The quake was just one of 40 minor earthquakes reported in Kansas and Oklahoma so far this year. Just two days before the new year, a 3.8-magnitude quake was reported in east Wichita. In December, a Kansas regulatory agency determined that the oil and gas industry wasn't to blame for a spate of Wichita-area earthquakes.

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COVID-19 Caseload in Kansas Closing in on 250,000; Virus-Related Deaths Top 3,200

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health reported Monday that there have been 247,502 cases of COVID-19, including 3,255 deaths, since the pandemic began. KDHE will release another update on Wednesday. 

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Kansas Lawmakers Review State's Lagging Vaccine Distribution

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislators are reviewing Kansas’s distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, though U.S. government data shows the state’s inoculation rate no longer lags behind most other states. Top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature have been unhappy with what they consider a rocky vaccination rollout. The state House and Senate health committees plan to have separate hearings Tuesday on vaccine distribution. A federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report at the end of December showed Kansas ranking last among states for its inoculation rate. A CDC report Monday shows 25 states have a lower inoculation rate than Kansas.

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Kansas Prisoners Among Those to Get Vaccine Next, Prompting Concern

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — COVID-19 ravaged prisons in Kansas are set to be prioritized next for vaccinations. That's frustrating some lawmakers but is encouraging to some inmates' families and activists. The state prison system houses about 8,600 inmates. It's reported 5,320 cases among offenders and an additional 1,076 among staff. Thirteen inmates and four staff members have died. Governor Laura Kelly confirmed last week that people in prisons would be part of the next group to be vaccinated after health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Kelly said they're being prioritized based on guidance from doctors and public health experts.

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Slow Return to Normal for Some Kansas Schools, Bars

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Students in Wichita are resuming in-person learning and some bars and restaurants in the Kansas City area are extending their hours as the bumpy COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues. The Wichita district, which is the state’s largest with about 47,000 students, is bringing elementary students back on Wednesday. These young students had been sent home late last year because of a lack of substitutes and rising COVID-19 cases. The district also plans for middle and high school students, who have been remote learning since the start of the academic year, to return later this month in a hybrid mode.

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Wichita School Board Votes to Let Students Return to In-Person Classes

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) —The largest school district in Kansas voted last night (MON) to let students return to the classroom. Wichita Public Schools closed its doors to all students in early December — not for student safety, but because so many teachers were quarantining that it didn’t have the staff needed for all of its classrooms. The board voted 5 to 2 Monday to bring students back, in part because of the decline in new COVID-19 cases since the November spike. Elementary students will return Wednesday with middle and high school students returning January 25th. Parents who opted to have their students learn remotely can continue that option. Students at other large school districts in Kansas returned to classrooms last week, including schools in Topeka and Olathe. 

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Washburn, Kansas State Universities Start Semester Late Due to COVID-19

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State and Washburn universities will begin the spring semester online as the pandemic rages. The first two weeks will be virtual at Kansas State, but it isn't clear when in-person learning will resume at Washburn. Dr. JuliAnn Mazachek, vice president of academic affairs at Washburn, said in a statement that the decision about classes will be reviewed weekly and that "the university will return to face-to-face classes as soon as possible." Kansas State said in a statement that the goal was to mitigate continued spread of COVID-19.

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More Coronavirus Relief on the Way for Small Businesses

NEW YORK (AP) — Millions of business owners are about to get additional help weathering the coronavirus outbreak. The Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department are reviving the Paycheck Protection Program five months after its first two rounds of funding ended. Businesses that received loans last year will be able to borrow up to $2 million as long as they have no more than 300 employees and suffered at least a 25% drop in quarterly revenue. First-time borrowers with no more than 500 workers will be able to borrow up to $10 million. The loans, which can be forgiven, will have five-year terms and carry an interest rate of 1%.

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Kansas City Councilman Calls for Police Chief's Resignation

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City Councilman says Police Chief Rick Smith should resign or be fired. Councilman Eric Bunch on Tuesday said Smith should leave office because of his department's use of force against citizens and increasing gun violence in the city. Some civil rights leaders have wanted Smith to resign for years, and the calls grew louder after social unrest demonstrations during the summer. Bunch said Smith is “not doing the job we need him to do.” Police spokesman Capt. David Jackson said Smith does not intend to resign. The city council has no authority over the police department, which is governed by a board appointed by the governor.

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Judge Suspends Evictions in Jackson County, Missouri for Two Weeks

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A judge has suspended evictions in Jackson County, Missouri for the next two weeks. Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs said Monday he was halting evictions until January 24 because the coronavirus pandemic and recent social unrest could endanger the lives of county employees who deal with evictions. The order comes after two Jackson County court deputies shot and injured a man last week during an eviction in Blue Springs. Police said the man aimed at gun at workers serving an eviction notice. KC Tenants, a tenants' rights organization, has repeatedly urged court and government officials to halt evictions to help tenants hurt by the virus and economic downturn. 

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Hallmark Cards Asks Hawley, Marshall to Return Donations

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Hallmark Cards is asking U.S. Senators. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Roger Marshall of Kansas to return donations that company employees made to their campaigns. The Kansas City-based greeting card manufacturer made the request Monday after the two senators opposed certifying Joe Biden's presidential win, even after a mob broke into the U.S. Capitol. The company says employees donated to political candidates at all levels through its PAC. In the last two years, the PAC donated $7,000 to Hawley and $5,000 to Marshall. A company spokeswoman says the actions of Hawley and Marshall don't reflect Hallmark's values.

(-Related-)

Republicans Recoil from Missouri Senator Josh Hawley After Capitol Riots

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Senator Josh Hawley is being scolded and even blamed for Wednesday's riots at the U.S. Capitol. Hawley's political mentor, former Senator John Danforth, says supporting him was the "worst decision" he's ever made. The 41-year-old first-term senator has rapidly emerged as one of President Donald Trump's most loyal backers in Congress.  He also challenged votes in the Electoral College during the certification of the presidential vote.  The certification became the focus of a violent siege of the Capitol. At least one major donor has turned on Hawley, now calling him a "political opportunist" and urging the Senate to censure him. And the editorial board of one home-state newspaper, the Kansas City Star, declared he has "blood on his hands."

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Kansas House Dems Move to Oust Member over Issues with Women

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have started the process to oust a newly elected lawmaker over multiple issues that include the 20-year-old’s rhetoric on Twitter and allegations that he harassed and threatened girls and women. House Democrats filed a formal compliant Tuesday about State Rep. Aaron Coleman, kicking off a bipartisan investigation culminating in a recommendation and vote on his future in the Legislature. A two-thirds majority in the House would be needed to oust him. Coleman, of Kansas City, Kansas, was elected as a Democrat, but he tweeted Tuesday that he was unaffiliating with the party.

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Police Find Large Stash of Stolen Property in Kansas

SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — Law enforcement agencies in Kansas and Missouri expect to spend most of the week sorting through stolen property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Police say officers found hundreds of items at a property in Shawnee — including ATVs, tools, trailers and weapons. The property was found after Lenexa police received a tip during the weekend. On Monday, Kyle Davey, of Shawnee, was charged with two counts of felony theft and two drug charges. The items were stolen from several cities in Johnson County and from Jackson County, Missouri. Investigators have returned items to 11 victims so far.

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Three Charged with Murder in Double Homicide in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Three people are charged with first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of a man and woman near Wichita. The charges were filed Monday against 32-year-old Michael Wilking, 34-year-old Joshua Halstead, and 28-year-old Jacquellyn Arthur, all of Wichita. They are suspects in the deaths of  43-year-old Bradley Reece and 22-year-old Kayla Schmidt. The victims' bodies were found Dec. 29 at a home southwest of Wichita. All three suspects are also charged with aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery. Authorities have not said what motivated the shootings.

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Red Tape Delays Law Making Voting Easier in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas law designed to allow voters to cast ballots at any polling place in their county may not be implemented until 2023 because of bureaucratic delays. The law was passed in 2019. People currently just vote at their assigned polling place. The law directed Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab to write the rules and regulations to implement the change. But it included no deadlines. The Wichita Eagle reports that officials in Sedgwick County had hoped to have the new rules in place for the 2020 election cycle. But they're only now coming up for approval by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Rules and Regulations.

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Kansas Supreme Court Upholds Workers' Compensation Law

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld a state law which governs how much money workers who are injured on the job can collect. The court ruled Friday that an amendment to the Kansas Workers Compensation Act was constitutional because it did not alter the requirement that a worker's impairment be "established by competent medical evidence." The court said the reference to American Medical Association guidelines does not make the statute unconstitutional because they are merely a guide and only serve as a starting point for any medical opinion. It reversed a 2018 ruling by the Court of Appeals that had found the updated law unconstitutional.

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Ex-Webb City Teacher Pleads Guilty to Molestation of Student

WEBB CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former southwest Missouri junior high teacher has pleaded guilty to third-degree child molestation. Twenty-nine-year-old Nicholas Popejoy, of Arma, Kansas, agreed to a plea agreement Monday. A second count of sexual contact with a student was dropped. Popejoy was a science and math teacher, freshman boys basketball coach and coed track coach at Webb City Junior High School before he was fired in November 2019. A probable cause statement said Popejoy inappropriately touched a boy under the age of 14 on school grounds. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for March 1.

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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. Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas are all known to have colonies of the terns.

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Missouri Lake Where 17 Drowned Could Get New Duck Boat Tours

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — A company says it is planning to bring “unsinkable” amphibious boat tours back to a Missouri lake where 17 people drowned. The owners of Branson Duck Tours say they want to restart the tours on Table Rock Lake in Branson this spring. They say their boats will not resemble the World War II-era amphibious duck boats in use when a boat sank in July 2018 during a storm. The company plans to use Hydra-Terra amphibious vessels, which include foam-filled compartments in the hull for buoyancy. However, Branson spokeswoman Melody Pettit said the city has not received a business license application or heard anything about the proposal from Branson Duck Tours.

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Garden City Police Search for Suspect in Shooting Death

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Garden City police are looking for a suspect after a 39-year-old man was shot and killed. Police say emergency responders found Jose Gonzalez suffering from a head wound and a gunshot about 3 a.m. Monday. He died at a hospital. A preliminary investigation determined that Gonzalez got into an altercation with someone during a small gathering at his home and was shot. The suspect fled before officers arrived.

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Environmentalists Fight Move to Reduce Beetle's Protections

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An environmental group is challenging a recent U.S. government decision to reclassify a large scavenging beetle as threatened instead of endangered with a lawsuit. The Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity said Tuesday it plans to sue over last fall's move to list the American burying beetle as threatened. It had been considered an endangered species since 1989, and the location of its habitat in Plains states helped create issues for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Federal officials have said that conservation efforts over the past 30 years have helped the beetle’s population recover. It can now be found in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Massachusetts.

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St. Joseph Officials Worried About Low Missouri River Level

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Flooding has been a consistent concern in the St. Joseph, Missouri area, but this year, leaders of the community have the opposite worry — the unusually low level of the Missouri River. The St. Joseph News-Press reports that Buchanan County commissioners have sent a letter to U.S. Representative Sam Graves raising worries about the river level, which was just about 3 feet on Monday. It was just two years ago that record flooding along the Missouri River swamped parts of northwestern Missouri, southwestern Iowa, northeastern Kansas and southeastern Nebraska. But in recent months, shipments through the St. Joseph Port Authority have been grounded by low water.

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KPR's daily headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays and updated throughout the day. KPR's weekend summary is usually published by 1 pm Saturdays and Sundays.
 

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