Here are some local and regional news briefs from around the Kansas / Missouri area.
Kansas Legislative Audit: Bogus Unemployment Claims May Have Cost the State $600 Million
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A legislative audit says Kansas may have paid $600 million worth of bogus claims for unemployment benefits last year. The report released Wednesday by the GOP-controlled Legislature’s nonpartisan auditing division gave a figure that’s more than double the state Department of Labor’s estimate. The report suggested that nearly one in four unemployment claims paid last year could have been fraudulent amid a surge in filings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The department on Tuesday estimated last year’s fraudulent claims as worth $290 million. The department strongly disputed the audit’s figure. But Republican lawmakers saw the audit as likely to be more accurate.
Governor’s Aide: GOP Plan May Slow Kansas Emergency Response
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A top aide to Democratic Governor Laura Kelly warned Republican legislators Thursday that a proposal to curb the power of the governor and other Kansas officials could seriously hamper the state’s response to future public health emergencies. Kelly’s chief of staff Will Lawrence objected to key portions of a bill from the state Senate’s top Republicans that would rewrite the state’s emergency management laws. He said the oversight by the attorney general and the Legislature required by the bill could delay a response to an emergency. Republicans were skeptical of that argument. Lawrence also urged legislators to extend a state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Police: Man Charged in 2018 Death of Kansas City Woman
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police have announced that a man has been charged in the 2018 killing of a Kansas City woman whose body was found in rural wooded area months after she disappeared. Television station KCTV reports that 32-year-old Kenneth Wilson Jr., of Cameron, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of 18-year-old Vernece Brown. Brown’s remains were found by mushroom hunters in May 2018 in a wooded area near Harrisonville, about 35 miles south of Kansas City. She had been missing since Valentine’s Day of that year. Police say cellphone data shows Brown had been communicating with Wilson and that their cellphones were in the same location about the time she disappeared.
Kansas Records Nearly 293,000 COVID-19 Cases, Including 4,724 Deaths, Since Start of Pandemic
TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (link is external)(KDHE) reports there have been 292,837 cases of COVID-19, including 4,724 deaths, since the start of the pandemic. Johnson County has the highest number of recorded cases, with more than 54,000. KDHE will provide another update on Friday.
Kansas Plan Puts $450 Million in COVID Funds in Unemployment System
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Kansas have advanced a new proposal to put $450 million in COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government into the state’s unemployment program to help cover losses from fraudulent claims. GOP members of the House commerce committee included the measure Friday in a bill aimed at overhauling the unemployment system. The committee approved the bill on a voice vote, sending it to the full House for debate, possibly as early as next week. GOP lawmakers are worried that employers, which pay taxes to finance unemployment benefits, will be on the hook to cover fraudulent claims. Some Democrats were wary of the proposal to set aside federal dollars.
Kansas Lawmakers Consider Legislation to Respond to Issues Arising from Pandemic
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are moving ahead with two measures that are a response to issues arising during the COVID-19 pandemic. One measure considered is designed to help courts and prosecutors deal with a backlog of criminal cases. Another is a proposal to limit state and local officials’ power in setting restrictions in future pandemics. The House gave first-round approval to a bill that would suspend, until May 2024, a law that sets deadlines for criminal trials to protect defendants’ constitutional right to a speedy resolution of their cases. The Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on a bill rewriting the state’s emergency management laws.
Bill Addressing Collegiate Sports Name-Image-Likeness Issues Would Allow College Athletes to Return from Draft
UNDATED (AP) — The latest federal bill related to college sports would allow athletes to earn money from endorsements, loosen restrictions around transfers and permit players to return to school after entering a professional league’s draft. The proposed legislation introduced by Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran also would require the wealthiest athletic programs to increase spending on long-term medical care for athletes. The bill is the fourth to emerge from the Senate since December and second from a Republican. Most recently, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy introduced a bill narrowly focused on giving college athletes the right to earn money off their names, images and likenesses.
Kansas Health Officials: 88% of Nursing Homes Vaccinated; Staff Only 65%
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KCUR) — Kansas health officials say 88% of their nursing and long-term care residents have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Lee Norman says the rollout in nursing homes is wrapping up with the exception of some second doses for residents and staff. He says the state is concerned that only 65% of nursing and long-term care staff have opted to take the vaccine. “The uptake by those staff, it seems to be a little lower than other healthcare settings. So we’ll need to think through how to increase the use there.” The University of Kansas Health System has reported much higher vaccination numbers within their hospitals, with 84% of their staff getting the vaccine. While vaccine distribution ramps up in Kansas, health officials say their COVID-19 testing numbers are on the decline. Dr. Norman says the decrease in testing could be due to the decrease in the number of infections. He says the state plans to continue mass testing and is also looking to include some at-home testing options. As of now, Norman says the state’s positive rate of infection has dropped to about 5%.
Kansas Republicans Propose Amendment Aimed at Limiting, Blocking State Regulations
TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR/KNS) – Republican state lawmakers have introduced a constitutional amendment that would let the Kansas Legislature block regulations from agencies controlled by the governor and other state officials. State regulations cover everything from health and safety policy to environmental protections and voting rules. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt wants to amend the state constitution so lawmakers can block regulations if they don’t approve. “There simply is no check and balance that’s functional over agency regulations,” Schmidt said. Democrats argue it’s a move by Republicans to grab more power and undermine the Democratic governor. Republican lawmakers and Democratic Governor Laura Kelly have clashed over some of her policies, but supporters of the amendment say the legislation is not directly aimed at her.
LGBTQ Advocates Take Aim at Proposal Regarding Trans Athletes
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – LGBTQ-rights advocates are warning Kansas legislators that their discussion of a proposed ban on transgender students in girls’ and women’s school sports will lead to bullying. The American Civil Liberties Union is promising to sue the state if such a law is enacted. The state Senate Education Committee had a hearing on a bill backed by some athletes, Republican lawmakers and conservative groups. Supporters portrayed the bill as an attempt to ensure that girls and women aren’t deprived of scholarships and other opportunities in sports. But critics say even having a hearing tells transgender students that they’re not wanted and could encourage harassment.
Spirit AeroSystems Loses Nearly $900 Million
WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW) — Spirit AeroSystems lost nearly $900 million dollars in 2020 because of the pandemic and the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max. The aviation manufacturer issued its fourth quarter and full-year earnings report Tuesday morning. Spirit says it laid off 8,000 employees last year, part of $1 billion dollars in cuts. The 737 Max returned to service last December. Spirit delivered about 70 of the 737 Max units to Boeing last year, a drop of about 90 percent from 2019. Spirit was also hurt by the reduction in commercial air travel caused by the pandemic. Company officials hope that commercial air travel will rebound as more people are vaccinated. Spirit expects its defense business to continue to grow in 2021. It also expects growth in its business jet and aftermarket service sectors.
Anti-Hunger Groups, Agriculture Advocates Fight to Save Program Launched by Trump Administration
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Agricultural groups and anti-hunger organizations are pushing the Biden administration to continue a program launched by President Donald Trump that spent $6 billion to prevent farmers from plowing under food and instead provide it to millions of Americans left reeling by the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture began the Farmers to Families Food Box program in April 2020 after many people were shocked to see farmers destroy crops even as food banks were being overwhelmed by demand from people suddenly out of work. If the USDA extends the program, it will be a rare example of the new administration retaining rather than dismantling a Trump initiative.
Man Exits Church After Years Living in “Sanctuary from Deportation”
MAPLEWOOD, Mo. (AP) — A Honduran immigrant who has spent 3 1/2 years living inside a Missouri church to avoid deportation has finally stepped outside. Alex Garcia left the church in suburban St. Louis after a promise from President Joe Biden’s administration to let him be. Garcia is a married father of five. He was slated for removal from the U.S. in 2017. But Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood gave him sanctuary. Sara John of the St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America said Garcia’s emergence came after Immigration and Customs Enforcement declared it would not pursue his detention or removal.
Kansas Member of Kansas City Proud Boys Chapter to Remain in Jail
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge in Washington D.C., has ruled that the alleged leader of the Kansas City-area chapter of the Proud Boys should remain in custody until his trial on charges arising from the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. This week, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ordered 47-year-old William Chrestman to be taken from Kansas to Washington to be held until his trial. Chrestman, of Olathe, is charged with conspiracy and several other counts. Federal authorities allege he led members of the Kansas City-area Proud Boys who stormed the Capitol last month. Howell’s ruling reversed a decision last week from a federal judge in Kansas that Chrestman should be released until trial.
Another Kansas Man Linked to Proud Boys Charged in Connection with Capitol Riot
LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas man linked to the Kansas City metro chapter of the Proud Boys is charged with participating in the riots at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. FBI agents arrested Ryan Ashlock, of Gardner, this week without incident. Federal authorities allege in an affidavit that he was with several members of the Proud Boys who are already charged in the attack. The affidavit says Ashlock conspired with other Proud Boys members and helped knock down metal barricades between police officers and protesters outside the Capitol. The FBI says Ashlock separated from the group when he was hit with pepper spray and it was unclear if he went inside the Capitol.
Police: Body Found in Wreck that Likely Happened Days Ago
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Kansas, say officers found the body of a man at the site of a wrecked car that had likely crashed days earlier. Police say officers were called Wednesday morning to investigate a report of a vehicle lying in a creek bed along Riverview Avenue. Arriving officers found the body of a man in his 60s. Police say an investigation led them to believe the man had been driving the vehicle Sunday night when it left the road, hit an embankment and landed in the partially frozen creek bed. Police say the area where the crash occurred is in a wooded area, making it difficult for passing motorists to have seen the wreckage.
5 Officers, Deputies Cleared in 2019 Killing of Wichita Man
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County’s top prosecutor has cleared five Wichita officers and county sheriff’s deputies of wrongdoing in the fatal 2019 shooting of a Wichita man outside his home. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Tuesday that the officers are “immune from prosecution” in the May 27, 2019, death of 49-year-old Robert Sabater. Police say Sabater twice called police to his home in the hours before he was killed, claiming people were outside. Bennett said officers returned a third time and fatally shot Sabater after he had fired a gun and pointed it at police. The investigation showed officers fired 46 rounds at Sabater.
Missouri House Passes Voter Photo ID
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Republican-led Missouri House has passed another bill to require voter photo identification at the polls. Lawmakers voted 109-46 in favor of the legislation. The bill is aimed at addressing a Missouri Supreme Court ruling last year that permanently blocked a central provision of a 2016 voter ID law. That law required voters without a photo ID to make a sworn statement to cast a regular ballot. The new bill would give voters two options: either show a photo ID to cast a regular ballot or cast a provisional ballot.
Missouri House Advances Private School Funding Bill
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Poor Missouri families could get money for private school through a tax credit program advancing in the state House. The Republican-led House voted in favor of the measure Wednesday. Under the program, private donors would give money to nonprofits that would dole out scholarships to low-income families. Donors would get state tax credits equal to the amount they donate. Only students in cities with populations of 30,000 people or more could access the scholarships. Democrats argued Republicans are imposing the program on big cities and urban areas even though some don’t want it in rural Missouri.