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 and said in a written response but Republican lawmakers saw the audit as likely to be more accurate.
Officials: Woman Critically Injured in Topeka Fire Has Died
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Officials say a woman found critically injured in a fire that consumed an abandoned commercial building in Topeka has died from her injuries. The Topeka Fire Department says 29-year-old Rashawn Brooks died Wednesday in a hospital where she was being treated. Fire crews were called Sunday night to a fire in a single-story masonry commercial building that firefighters believed to be vacant. During a search of the building, firefighters found an unresponsive woman, later identified as Brooks, and rushed her to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. An investigation showed the blaze was likely started by a “warming fire.”
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 (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 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 Wednesday 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 Wednesday 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.
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.
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 the 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.
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.
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.