Headlines for Thursday, April 7, 2022

Kansas Hopes to Modernize Unemployment Processing System

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) – The Kansas Department of Labor has selected a company to modernize its aging unemployment system. That system failed to keep up with skyrocketing unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic. The backlog of Kansas unemployment claims during the early part of the pandemic led Republicans to criticize Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s administration. But Kelly blamed the problems on an outdated computer system that lawmakers and past governors had failed to update. Tata Consultancy Services will now update the state’s infrastructure for processing unemployment claims. Overhauling the system could cost tens of millions of dollars. The current system was launched over four decades ago. Tata Consultancy has worked on similar projects in Mississippi, Missouri and New York.

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Kansas Lawmakers May Still Move to Reduce State Sales Tax on Food

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) – Kansas lawmakers failed to vote on a measure to reduce the sales tax on groceries before adjourning for a long break. But the bill will be on their to-do list when they come back at the end of the month to wrap up the 2022 session. At the start of the session, Democratic Governor Laura Kelly called on lawmakers to quickly send her a bill exempting groceries from the state’s 6.5% sales tax. That didn’t happen. But with the end of the session looming, House and Senate negotiators buckled down and came up with a compromise. It would reduce the tax to 4% starting in January and then, says Republican Representative Adam Smith, “phase it out.”  “It takes three years to get all the way to zero, but it gets there,” he said. That gradual approach, Smith says, will spread out the impact on the state treasury.  He says while the bill doesn’t follow the governor’s timetable, it’s as close as lawmakers could come. “I think we’ve reached a good compromise and I hope she’d see that favorably,” Smith said. The governor hasn’t yet said whether she would sign the compromise bill.

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Kansas Set to Slash Taxes Again, this Time with Democrats Joining

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature is poised to slash taxes again only a decade after a GOP governor launched a tax-cutting experiment that became nationally notorious for the budget shortfalls that followed. This time, Democrats aren’t warning that big tax cuts will tank the budget. Instead, they’re arguing about how taxes should be cut, favoring proposals from Democratic Governor Laura Kelly to lower the cost of groceries and give Kansas residents $250 income tax rebates. While Republicans remain wary of Kelly’s proposals, legislators could cut taxes by nearly $1.5 billion over the next three years. Proposed tax cuts await them when they return April 25 from their annual spring break.

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Kansas Senators Moran and Marshall Vote Against Jackson Nomination

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) – Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed today (THUR) as the first Black woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Both U.S. Senators from Kansas, Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall, voted against Jackson’s nomination. Marshall announced his no vote in March, saying that Jackson would support President Joe Biden’s quote “left-wing agenda.” In a statement, Moran says he voted against Jackson’s nomination due to her lack of a judicial philosophy. Jackson will begin hearing cases during the court’s next term in October following the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer.

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Son Convicted of Killing Father, a Kansas Sheriff’s Deputy

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man charged in the 2019 killing of his father, who was a Kansas sheriff’s captain, has been convicted. Television station WDAF reports that Zachary Arnold was found guilty last week of involuntary manslaughter in the October 5, 2019, shooting death of 57-year-old Chris Arnold. The elder Arnold was a captain with the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office and a 25-year veteran of the department. Authorities have said Zachary Arnold was 22-years-old when he shot his father in the head during an argument at the captain’s home in Kansas City, Kansas. He is set to be sentenced on May 23.

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Wichita Man Sentenced in Shooting Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for the shooting death of another man in 2020. Television station KAKE reported Wednesday that 26-year-old Donovan Harrington was sentenced to 249 months in prison after earlier being found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. Police say Harrington was in a vehicle with 27-year-old Miguel Tapia and two women in August 2020 when he shot Tapia during an argument. Tapia was later found lying outside the vehicle with gunshot wounds and died at a hospital.

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Trial Underway in KCK Challenging Kansas Congressional Redistricting Map

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KNS) – An expert witness is arguing in state court that the Kansas congressional redistricting plan gives Republicans a big advantage.  The analysis was presented in a Wyandotte County trial Tuesday where the map is being challenged. Civil rights groups are suing to have the Kansas map thrown out for carving up Democratic strongholds. Christopher Warshaw is a political scientist from George Washington University brought in by opponents of the map. He said in court that the plan cuts the chances of a Democrat winning a congressional seat in Kansas by nearly half. Attorneys defending the map challenged the analysis and asked the judge to stop Warshaw from presenting it. But the judge allowed him and said it was valid. The trial is scheduled to continue today (WED).

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Kansas State Senator Mark Steffen Sends Letters to Physicians on COVID-19

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas physician-legislator who has acknowledged that he is under investigation by the state medical board after supporting the deworming drug ivermectin is instructing doctors on COVID-19 treatment in a letter. The Wichita Eagle reports that Kansas Senator Mark Steffen sent a letter on official Senate stationery to health care providers telling them that the way COVID-19 patients are treated has changed and that they will be shielded from Board of Healing Arts “interference.” The Hutchinson Republican cites the recent Senate passage of a measure that specifically authorizes doctors to prescribe ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, among other drugs, to treat COVID-19. But the proposal remains bogged down in negotiations with the House.

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Kansas Nonprofit Sends Medical Supplies to Ukraine

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas nonprofit is sending medical supplies to Ukraine after hearing alarming accounts of a hospital in Kyiv low on treatments and basic tools. The Kansas City Star reports that Olathe-based Global Care Force raised $21,000 to bring resources overseas. Brenda Poor, a spokeswoman for the organization. said the packages were stuffed into seven large suitcases and checked onto a plane to Warsaw, Poland, alongside the non-profit’s director of operations on Tuesday afternoon. The group has multiple plans for transporting the supplies, which include thousands of doses of antibiotics, over the border.

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Kansas Basketball Fans Welcome Championship Team Back to Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) – Kansas basketball fans packed inside the KU football stadium to welcome their national championship team back to Lawrence Tuesday afternoon.  An hour-long wait and a few rain drops didn’t dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm as Coach Bill Self addressed fans and introduced several of his star players. “There’s only one player that I know that’s had a decorated year as this guy has, in the history of Kansas basketball. Give it up for your man, Ochai Agbaji,” he said.  Agbaji thanked fans for their support. “”I appreciate you all… from the bottom of my heart. We have a really special team, coaching staff… couldn’t be more thankful and Rock Chalk!,” he said. The Jayhawks hoisted their NCAA trophy as several players addressed the crowd. The KU men’s basketball team now has six national championships, four of them earned in the NCAA Tournament. This season, KU also became the winningest college basketball team of all time, outpacing Kentucky by four games. (Read more from Kansas Public Radio.)

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KU’s Victory over North Carolina Most-Viewed Men’s Title Game on Cable TV

NEW YORK (AP) _ Kansas’s comeback victory over North Carolina to win the NCAA men’s basketball championship was the most-viewed title game on cable television. The Jayhawks’ 72-69 win averaged 18.1 million viewers on TBS, TNT and truTV. That’s a 4 percent increase over last year’s title game between Baylor and Gonzaga on CBS. This was the third time the championship game was on Turner, but first since 2018. They were supposed to have the 2020 final, but the tournament was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The entire tournament on CBS and Turner averaged 10.7 million, a 13% increase over last year. 

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Report: Kansas Courts Lacked Resources to Make System More Accessible During Pandemic

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) – Courts in Kansas and across the nation rushed to move their operation online when the COVID-19 pandemic made gathering in person dangerous. But in many states, courts did not do enough to make the online operations accessible to people with disabilities or language barriers. Pew researchers looked at over 10,000 orders mandating virtual court. They found that less than 3% of those mandates included resources for people with disabilities or limited English proficiency. Qudsiya Naqui, with Pew Charitable Trusts, says virtual court hearings can be beneficial if done correctly. Or they can be a barrier to some people. “It can be really challenging. For example, if the teleconference platform the court is using is not accessible with a screen reader if you’re blind or if there is connection issues with the video relay service providing ASL interpretation,” Naqui said. Kansas did work to combat those problems. Courts provided WiFi hotspots and information on requesting help. Kansas also allowed people to file documents online.

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9-Year-Old Shot, Wounded in Junction City While Playing with Gun

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a 9-year-old boy was shot and wounded while playing with a gun with his 11-year-old brother. The Junction City police department said in a news release that the shooting happened Tuesday. Police said the 9-year-old was flown to a Wichita hospital, where he is in stable condition. Police have determined that the shooting is accidental and urged the public to teach children about gun safety and store firearms with care.

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Kansas City Police Say Someone Shot at Officers During Stop

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police say someone fired a gun at officers who were conducting a traffic stop, but no one was injured in the shooting. Television station WDAF reports that the shooting happened late Monday morning along Denver Avenue as officers were checking a car. Police spokesman, Sgt. Jake Becchina, says a gray car pulled up at an intersection near the traffic stop, and someone in the car fired a shot toward officers. The car then fled. Police said the officers did not return fire. Police have not made an arrest in the shooting and are searching for suspects.

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Board Faults Discipline for Wichita Police Who Joked About Violence

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new report has found that Wichita law enforcement officers weren’t adequately punished for joking about police violence and exchanging racist comments and images in a series of text messages. The Wichita Citizen’s Review Board released the 27-page report Tuesday. It details officers sharing an image of a naked African American male sitting on another African American male behind a police vehicle. There also are negative references to Mexicans, Muslims and gays, and officers joke about violence and share images of a Confederate flag. The issues were first uncovered by The Wichita Eagle. (Read more from KMUW Radio.)

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Hundreds Help Clean Up Kansas City’s Blue River

KANSAS CITY, MO. (KNS) – Hundreds of volunteers picked up an estimated 30 tons of trash along Kansas City’s Blue River over the weekend. Litter and garbage illegally dumped in the Blue River watershed travel many miles, and even reach the ocean. Armondo Alvarez gathered trash in eastern Jackson County and found everything from stuffed animals to household appliances and lots of plastic. “Just the amount of plastics around this area – just getting seeped into that water and traveling down eventually into the Missouri River – is very unsettling,” he said. Groups like his – the Heartland Conservation Alliance – are also trying to restore native vegetation and wildlife habitat along the river.

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Study: Broadband Internet Elusive in Rural Kansas

HAYS, Kan. (KNS) – A new study has pinpointed where fast internet is most elusive in Kansas – in rural parts of the state. In 95 Kansas ZIP codes, people lack what the federal government defines as broadband. That includes nearly 90,000 people in rural areas from Jefferson County in the northeast to Stevens County in the southwest, who can’t get 25 megabits per second. Donna Ginther, who led the University of Kansas survey, says those slow speeds can disrupt the lives of the people who live in rural areas. “They have to drive to town and sit in the parking lot outside of McDonald’s or go to the library to do their homework,” she said. The study also says more than one million Kansans — including some near Wichita and Topeka — still don’t have internet speeds of 100 megabits per second, the baseline for doing things like attending school remotely or getting telehealth services.

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Federal Lawsuit Seeks to Stop the End of Asylum Limits on Immigration

PHOENIX (AP/KPR) — Conservative-led governments in Missouri, Arizona and Louisiana have sued sued President Joe Biden’s administration to prevent federal officials from ending a public health rule that allows many asylum seekers to be turned away at the southern U.S. border. The lawsuit was filed over the weekend in a Louisiana federal court challenging the planned May 23rd end to border controls known as Title 42. The order was imposed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over coronavirus concerns. The lawsuit claims the order is only thing preventing a chaotic situation on the border from getting even worse. Officials say up to 18,000 migrants could show up daily if Title 42 is removed. Border patrol officials have already reported record numbers of immigrants have entered – or tried to enter – the U.S. illegally since Biden became president.

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Zoos Hiding Birds as Avian Flu Spreads in North America

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Zoos across North America are moving their birds indoors and away from people and wildlife as they try to protect them from the highly contagious and potentially deadly avian influenza. Penguins may be the only birds visitors to many zoos can see right now, because they already are kept inside and usually protected behind glass in their exhibits. Nearly 23 million chickens and turkeys have already been killed across the United States to limit the spread of the virus. Zoos are working hard to prevent any of their birds from meeting the same fate. Birds spread the virus through droppings and nasal discharge. Experts say it can be spread through contaminated equipment, clothing, boots and vehicles carrying supplies.

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New App Helps Bring Comics to Life for Visually Impaired

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) – A researcher at Wichita State University is developing an app to bring comic books to life for visually impaired readers. The Kansas News Service reports the technology could have uses far beyond superhero stories. Wichita State English Professor Darren DeFrain and former student Aaron Rodriguez created Vizling — an app that uses audio narration along with sensory clues to describe image-heavy materials.
Visually impaired readers drag their fingers across a screen to get a full description of what’s on the page. That’s helpful with comics, but DeFrain says it could also help with charts, medical illustrations — even IKEA instructions. “So you would get little triggers that would give you like a ‘bzzz-bzzz,’ you know, telling you, ‘Oops, you’re moving in the wrong direction with the narrative,” he said. DeFrain’s team has received nearly $400,000 in grants to develop the app. They’re testing a prototype and hope to release the app for free this summer.

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Royals Agree with All-Star Whit Merrifield on Restructured Deal

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — All-Star outfielder Whit Merrifield and the Kansas City Royals agreed to a restructured contract late Wednesday in which the club exercised its option for next season and the two sides added a mutual option for 2024. Merrifield, who made his second All-Star team last season, will earn $7 million this season and $2.75 million in 2023, a figure that would escalate by $4 million if he spends 109 days or fewer on the injured list this season. The mutual option is for $18 million with a $500,000 buyout.

The 33-year-old Merrifield hit .277 with an American League-leading 40 stolen bases and 42 doubles last season, becoming the first player since Charlie Gehringer in 1929 to lead the AL in both categories. Merrifield also had 40-plus doubles and 40-plus steals in 2018, making him one of seven players in big league history with at least two such seasons. Merrifield’s value to the Royals is more than just his bat and baserunning ability. One of baseball’s most versatile players, Merrifield is also capable of playing first base, second base and third base along with all three outfield positions.

The growth of second baseman Nicky Lopez last season, and the arrival of top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. at third base this season, means Merrifield will play mostly in the outfield again. That is where he’ll start Thursday’s opener against Cleveland, extending his club record — and the longest active streak in the majors — to 470 consecutive games played.

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Royal Expectations: Greinke, Witt and KC’s Hopes for 2022

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Not since the Kansas City Royals were winning back-to-back American League pennants in 2014 and ’15 under former manager Ned Yost, and went on to win their first World Series in three decades, has the long-suffering, small-market franchise begun a season with the same amount of optimism that they carry into Thursday’s opener against Cleveland at Kauffman Stadium. Zach Greinke will be back on the mound, the game’s No. 1 prospect will be at third base and manager Mike Matheny and the young, exciting club will take the first step toward what they hope is a return to the playoffs.

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Royals Top Prospect Witt Jr to Start Opener at Third Base

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Bobby Witt Jr., widely considered the best prospect in baseball, has made the Kansas City roster and will start at third base in the Royals’ season opener against the Cleveland Guardians on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. The move with the 21-year-old infielder was widely expected, especially after he hit well in spring training. Witt batted .290 with 33 homers and 29 steals across Double-A and Triple-A last season. The Royals chose to go with Witt at third base, even though his natural position is shortstop, so they could keep Adalberto Mondesi there. Witt was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 first-year player draft. His father, Bobby Witt Sr., pitched for 16 years in the big leagues with several different franchises.

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These area headlines are curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Kaye McIntyre, and Tom Parkinson. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays, 11 am weekends. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today! 

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