Kansas Not Planning to Require COVID-19 Vaccine for School Attendance, Despite CDC Recommendation
TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) – Kansas officials say they have no plans to require the COVID-19 vaccine for school attendance, despite a move by federal officials to place the shots on the childhood vaccination schedule last week. The action, taken by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, does not compel Kansas or any other state to require the shots for school attendance, but many states follow the CDC’s recommendations. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that anywhere from five to eight vaccines are required for school attendance, depending on the grade and age. That includes vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella, Hepatitis B, tetanus and chickenpox. There are no plans to add the COVID-19 vaccine to that list, Matt Lara, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said in an email.
Governor Laura Kelly had previously said it was “premature” to have any discussions about the merits of requiring the COVID-19 vaccine until it was fully approved for all ages by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has granted full approval for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids 12 years and older. There is no timeframe for full approval for younger age groups. Still, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who is Kelly’s Republican opponent in the governor’s race this fall, said in a statement that “no Kansas student will ever be forced to receive a COVID vaccine in order to attend school — not on my watch.” He also took Kelly to task for vetoing Senate Bill 34, which would have barred the KDHE secretary from requiring any vaccine or test that had not received full FDA approval and Schmidt said he would support such a measure. It’s likely that such a proposal will be considered when lawmakers return to Topeka in January.
Minimum-Security Inmate Who Walked Away from Lansing Prison Apprehended
LANSING, Kan. (KCTV/KPR) – A minimum-security inmate who walked away from the Lansing Correctional Facility has been apprehended. KCTV reports that authorities in Leavenworth took 39-year-old Joshua W. Renfro into custody Monday night without incident. Renfro had been placed on escape status Sunday night. Renfro is serving a 30-month prison sentence for a violation of a protection order in Allen County from 2020. He has prior convictions dating back to 2001. No additional details have been released. An investigation continues.
Lawsuit Aims to Protect Lesser Prairie Chickens Under Endangered Species Act
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for “failing to protect lesser prairie chickens.” In 2021 the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed adding a Texas and New Mexico population of these birds to the endangered species list, and a separate northern population in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado to the threatened list. But a final rule to enact the listings is nearly five months overdue. Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center, says “the oil and gas industry has fought for decades against safeguards for the lesser prairie chicken, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is late issuing its final rule. “These imperiled birds keep losing more habitat,” Robinson said. “The lesser prairie chicken needs the protections of the Endangered Species Act.”
Republican U.S. Senator Moran and Democratic Challenger Holland: A Portrait in Opposites
UNDATED (KNS) – Kansas has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1932. Democrat Mark Holland is trying to change that, but he faces an uphill battle against incumbent Republican Senator Jerry Moran. The two politicians don’t have much in common. Moran is backed by the National Rifle Association while Holland commended the group for its opposition to any kind of gun control. Moran celebrated the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Holland wants abortion rights put in federal law. Pollsters don’t give Holland, the Democratic challenger, much of a chance. But the pastor and former mayor of the Unified Government in Wyandotte County thinks he can buck the odds. “I think people are fired up. People are very excited,” he said. The Kansas News Service reports that voters have a choice between candidates who talk about very different issues. A vote for Moran would mean efforts to secure the southern border and invest more in U.S.-based energy to combat high gas prices. Picking Holland, meanwhile, would mean investing in more green energy and a push to stop criminalizing gender identity.
Kansas Republicans Connect Fentanyl Epidemic to Border Security as Campaign Issue
TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) – As fentanyl death counts rises, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Kansas Republicans are making the drug a campaign issue, trying to connect rival Democrats to national issues of crime and immigration. From social media to television ads to stump speeches to debates, Republican politicians up and down the ballot have taken particular interest in the synthetic opioid during campaign season. “Who will support our law enforcement, keep our families safe and who will get fentanyl off the streets?” U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall asked the crowd at the Topeka stop of the Kansas Republican Party bus tour. “Derek Schmidt,” the crowd responded. “There is nothing that constitutes a political game in the flow of drugs and narcotics and harm into this state, and that is the responsibility of the governor of the state of Kansas,” Republican gubernatorial nominee and current Attorney General Derek Schmidt said of fentanyl. “If Joe Biden comes up with yet another way to open our borders, to bring in more fentanyl to our streets, what are we going to do?” immigration hardliner Kris Kobach, who is running for attorney general, asked the crowd. “Sue Joe Biden,” the crowd responded.
The Schmidt campaign has made crime a major talking point with less than a month to go until Election Day with a flurry of TV and digital ads. The campaign’s most recent ad, which focuses on immigration, called out fentanyl and touted former President Donald Trump’s “tough border policies.” “I’m running for governor for the people who know somebody or love somebody whose lives have been disrupted by fentanyl because we won’t secure the southern border in Joe Biden’s administration,” Schmidt said in a debate hosted by the Johnson County Bar Association. He told the group that the biggest threat facing Kansas is “the flow of drugs across the southern border of the United States.”
Democratic Governor Laura Kelly responded by saying she believes in secure borders. “But if we really want to deal with the fentanyl issue and other substance abuse issues facing our state,” Kelly said, “then we need to finally once and for all expand Medicaid so that people can access the services that they need to deal with the issues that they’re suffering from.”
According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, drug overdose deaths rose 73% over the past decade, from 275 in 2011 to 477 in 2020. In 2020, a little over half of drug overdose deaths — 254 — were caused by opioids. Most opioid deaths involved synthetic opioids, which includes fentanyl. In Kansas, fentanyl overdose deaths have increased each year since 2017. But the spike has accelerated with deaths more than doubling in 2020 and 2021. The State Child Death Review Board, which reports to Schmidt, reported last month that 11 Kansas children died from fentanyl in 2020. (Read more.)
Family Claims Horrific Abuse at Hands of Female ISIS Leader
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP/KPR) — Family members of a Kansas native convicted of leading an all-female Islamic State group battalion say they suffered years of horrific abuse at her hands well before she ever became a terrorist. The allegations come in court filings in the case against 42-year-old Allison Fluke-Ekren. The former Lawrence resident pleaded guilty earlier this year to terrorism charges connected to her support for the Islamic State group while she and her family lived in Syria. Two of her now-adult children say in court papers that they were physically and sexually abused by her. Fluke-Ekren denies the abuse allegations. Prosecutors are seeking a 20-year maximum prison term when she’s sentenced next week.
Kansas Undersheriff Faces Trial in Fatal Beanbag Shooting
BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — A rural Kansas undersheriff who shot and killed an unarmed man with a homemade beanbag round faces trial in Kansas City, Kansas. The case against Vergil Brewer is likely to focus on whether his lack of knowledge and training with the munitions amounts to reckless involuntary manslaughter. Jury selection began Monday for Brewer, the undersheriff in Barber County at the time of the deadly encounter with Steven Myers on October 6, 2017, in Sun City, Kansas. Defense attorney David Harger did not respond to messages seeking comment on the case. (Read more in the Lawrence Journal-World.)
Kansas City Man Pleads Guilty to $4.1 Million Meth Conspiracy
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) – A Kansas City, Missouri, man has pleaded guilty in federal court for his role in a $4.1 million drug-trafficking conspiracy linked to two murders. The operation distributed 520 kilograms of methamphetamine in the Kansas City metro area. KCTV reports that 42-year-old Gerald Lee Ginnings admitted that between January 1, 2018 and October 1, 2018, he participated with others in conspiracies to distribute methamphetamine and launder drug proceeds. He also pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm in relation to a drug-trafficking crime and to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The U.S. Justice Department says the drug-trafficking organization with which Ginnings was associated was responsible for two murders in 2018. According to court documents, Ginnings was involved in burning the car of James Hampton, a man who was beaten, kidnapped and transported from St. Louis, Missouri, to Kansas City. Ginnings allegedly helped burn Hampton’s car in exchange for being forgiven of a $5,000 drug debt.
Ginnings was also involved in transporting Brittanie Broyles, a woman who was with Hampton when he was seized and who witnessed his beating and kidnapping. Documents said Broyles was shot in the head twice and died while Ginnings was involved in transporting her around Kansas City. The 42-year-old is among 22 co-defendants who have pleaded guilty in this case. He was ordered by a judge to pay a money judgment not to exceed $4,160,000, which represents the proceeds he received from the drug-trafficking conspiracy. Under federal statutes, the DOJ said Ginnings is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison without parole, but could receive up to a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Driverless Tractor Kills Pedestrian in Southeast Kansas
CHEROKEE COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — A Cherokee County man died after being hit by a driverless tractor in eastern Kansas over the weekend. The Kansas Highway Patrol says an Allis Chalmers driverless tractor struck 73-year-old Joseph Carlson while he was outside of a pickup truck Saturday morning. KSNW TV reports that incident happened northeast of West Mineral. Carlson was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.
Kansas Woman Jailed After Toddler Exposed to Drugs
PHILLIPSBURG, Kan. (KAKE) – Authorities in north-central Kansas have arrested a 27-year-old woman after a toddler was exposed to illicit drugs. KAKE TV reports that deputies in Philips County executed a search warrant Friday at a home in Phillipsburg. Authorities say Victoria Bowers was arrested at the home and booked for aggravated child endangerment and possession of paraphernalia, prescription drugs and methamphetamine. The search warrant stemmed from an earlier call to the local hospital emergency room. A 20-month-old child there was reportedly exposed to drugs. The toddler was transferred from Philips County Hospital to a higher level of care, the sheriff’s office said. The child’s condition was unknown but not believed to be life-threatening. Bowers and the child are not related. The sheriff’s office did not release any additional case information.
Rising Fertilizer Costs Force Farmers to Rethink Fall Planting
HAYS, Kan. (KNS) – In the last two years, fertilizer prices have more than doubled. The Kansas News Service reports that those high prices and ongoing drought conditions are pushing some Kansas farmers to rethink their plans for fall planting. A recent survey by Farmers Business Network says 21% of Kansas farmers plan to use less fertilizer than they did last year. Kevin McNew, chief economist with Farmers Business Network, says the survey aims to bring more transparency to the fertilizer buying process. Usually, prices are not quoted publicly and farmers may not know how local prices compare to those in the next county. Fertilizer has also been hard to come by. “We’re hearing a lot of reports where farmers will get like a text from an ag retailer about, you know, they have fertilizer available at this price but if they don’t respond soon, they may not get it,” he said. The survey says nearly half of Kansas farmers expect to plant more wheat this season than last year. But the amount of corn, which needs more fertilizer and water than wheat, will stay roughly the same.
Small Central Missouri Town Devastated by Destructive Wildfire
WOOLDRIDGE, Mo. (AP/KPR) — Roughly half of a small Missouri town burned Saturday after a wildfire spread quickly from a farm field and destroyed or heavily damaged 23 buildings. No one died and only one person was injured, but residents in the central Missouri town of Wooldridge had to be evacuated. The blaze was sparked in a field by a combine that was harvesting crops. Cooper County Fire District spokesman Jim Gann said Sunday that between 4.6 and 5.4 square miles burned before the fire was controlled. Wooldridge is a town of less than 100 people near Columbia along the Missouri River. A separate fire Sunday prompted some evacuations in the Kansas City area.
Kansas Farmers Continue to Struggle Under Extreme or Exceptional Drought
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – The latest information from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows Kansas is getting drier. Thursday’s report shows most of the state in either “extreme drought” or “exceptional drought.” Kansas farmers say this year’s drought is among the worst they’ve seen, impacting nearly every crop and nearly every county in the state. KWCH TV reports that the extended drought has impacted every corner of the farming industry. With more than two million Kansans now living in areas experiencing extreme or exceptional drought, Kansas Farm Bureau Director of Commodities Mark Nelson said it’s been more than 10 years since we’ve seen conditions like this. But this time, he says, it’s even more widespread.
Officials Plan to Truck 6,000 Gallons of Water from Missouri River Across Kansas
UNDATED (Missouri Independent) – A plan is underway to truck 6,000 of gallons of water from the Missouri River nearly 400 miles across Kansas and almost to the Colorado border. The Missouri Independent reports that half of the 6,000 gallons drawn from the river will be poured onto a property in Wichita County. The other half will be taken into Colorado. Groundwater Management District 3, in southwestern Kansas, received a permit from state water authorities for the project, which is expected to cost the district $7,000. The district manager Mark Rude said it’s designed to prove large-scale movement of water could be a tool to keep the Ogallala Aquifer from drying up. Other groundwater management officials say the effort is a distraction from the far more urgent task of conserving water that’s quickly disappearing from under the feet of western Kansans.
The Ogallala Aquifer, America’s largest underground reservoir, has been in decline for decades — since soon after farmers started pumping the underground water to cultivate crops following World War II. Some parts of the aquifer have half the water they had before irrigation on the aquifer began. In some areas, there’s only about 10 years of water left.
Douglas County Authorities Investigate Dozens of Suspicious Grass Fires
LAWRENCE, Kan. (WDAF) — Authorities in Douglas County are investigating six suspicious grass fire incidents that have occurred over the past two months. WDAF TV reports that firefighters say all six fire incidents are in the same area southeast of Lawrence and south of Eudora. Investigators told reporters that the fires have other similarities and authorities believe they may have been intentionally set, and they are especially interested in vehicles that may have been in the area of one of the fires.
The locations of some of the most recent suspicious fire incidents include:
- October 21 – A grass fire in the 1800 block of N 1000 Road.
- October 17 – Three fires started within minutes of each other between the 1700 block and the 2100 block of N 900 Road.
- October 10 – Seven fires started within 30 minutes of each other between the 1400 block of N 1100 Road and the Johnson County line.
- October 6 – Five fires in the afternoon in the 1500 block to the 2400 block of N 1100 Road.
- September 29 – Eight fires in the afternoon in the 1400 block to 2400 block of N 1100 Road.
- September 25 – Several grass fires along K-10 in the area of E 1900 Road.
Douglas County Sheriff Jay Armbrister said none of the fires have caused any significant damage to property or resulted in any injuries, but they are suspicious in nature and their proximity to Kansas Highway 10 is a cause for concern. Consolidated Fire District No. 1 has increased staffing and is performing patrols of the area in hopes of catching whoever is responsible. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office asks anyone who may have noticed something suspicious in the area of one of the fires to call the Sheriff’s Office at (785) 841-0007, or Douglas County Crime Stoppers at (785) 843-TIPS (8477). The State Fire Marshal and Kansas Highway Patrol are also involved in the investigations.
Missouri Arbitrator: Kansas City Firefighter Lied About Fatal Crash
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An arbitrator ruled that a Kansas City firefighter lied to police after he drove through a red light and crashed into several vehicles, killing three people last year. Judge Miles Sweeney said in his findings that the evidence from eyewitnesses, traffic cameras and the scene of the crash contradicted what Dominic Biscari told investigators about slowing down as he approached the intersection and slamming on the brakes when he saw an SUV pull in front of him. Sweeney recommended that Biscari pay $32 million to the victims’ families and the owner of a building that was destroyed when the fire truck slammed into it last December. A separate civil lawsuit remains pending against the fire department and the city.
Federal Appeals Court Temporarily Blocks President Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A federal appeals court has issued a stay temporarily blocking President Joe Biden’s plans to forgive student loan debt. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued the stay Friday evening. Attorneys for six Republican-led states, including Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, are asking a federal appeals court to reconsider their effort to block the Biden administration’s program to forgive billions of dollars in student loan debt. It’s unclear what the decision means for the 22 million borrowers who already applied for the relief. The Biden administration had promised not to clear any debt before October 23 as it battled the legal challenges, but the soonest it was expected to begin erasing debt was mid-November.
The challenge to the plan is being brought by the attorneys general of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas, and South Carolina. The attorney general of Iowa is a Democrat, but the Iowa governor, who is a Republican, signed on the state’s behalf. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt is currently running for governor in Kansas; Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat.
After Toddler Dies from Fentanyl, Kansas City Police Warn of “Rampant Overdose Problem”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KC Star) – Kansas City police say fentanyl-related overdoses have significantly increased over the past two weeks. A toddler was among the most recent victims. Officer Donna Drake, a spokeswoman for the KC Police Department, said law enforcement has responded to four fentanyl overdose deaths, 17 nonfatal fentanyl overdoses and several other suspected fentanyl deaths. The Kansas City Star reports that fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine.
While fentanyl can be produced in many forms, Drake said police are seizing counterfeit pills most often, which include fake oxycodone, Xanax or Adderall pills laced with the deadly drug that can look identical to prescription pills. She cautioned the public not to take pills that aren’t prescribed to them. Drake said fentanyl overdoses disproportionately affect Kansas Citians between the ages of 16 and 30. “I would emphasize parents talking to their kids and having a conversation. You could potentially save your own child’s life by just saying, ‘Hey, this, this is dangerous. Please don’t be involved in this,’” she said.
In September, Kansas City police made its largest seizure this year, 40,000 pills, and seized fentanyl in brick form on multiple occasions. In March, the KCPD announced that accidental overdoses from fentanyl had climbed nearly 150% from 2019 to 2020 in the metro area, particularly among young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
KDOT Facing Snowplow Staffing Shortages as Winter Approaches
TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – KSNT reports that the Kansas Department of Transportation says it doesn’t have enough workers for the upcoming winter season. KDOT is currently hiring seasonal workers. Snowplows become a major part of road safety during the winter. As part of a plan to help cope with the staffing challenges, KDOT will be making snow and ice preparations hours before any snow is anticipated. KDOT Highway Maintenance Superintendent David Studebaker told KSNT that workers pre-treat roadways with a salt brine or a combination of salt brine and beet juice to prevent ice accumulation. The transportation department says it has experienced winter staffing shortages before and is confident its crews will be able to clear the roads efficiently.
Kansas Economic Policy Conference Will Explore Policies for Economic Resilience
LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — The 2022 Kansas Economic Policy Conference at the University of Kansas this week will explore “Building a Resilient Kansas Economy.” The conference takes place October 27 at the Burge Union on the KU campus in Lawrence. Organizers say the conference will bring together community leaders, policymakers and experts to consider timely and relevant questions. “This year’s conference focuses on economic resilience,” said Donna Ginther, director of the Institute for Policy & Social Research, the conference organizer. “Now that we’re moving past the pandemic, as a state, our focus should shift to making investments that position us for growth and prosperity in the next decade.”
Kansas Public Radio’s Statehouse Bureau Chief, Jim McLean, and Deb Miller, of the KU Public Management Center, will moderate the conversations. Registration for in-person or online attendance is available through the conference website. KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research is organizing the event.
Kansas City Current Ready for National Women’s Soccer League Championship
UNDATED (KPR) – In only its second year of existence, the Kansas City Current women’s professional soccer team will be playing for the league championship. The Kansas City Current will face the Portland Thorns in the title match of the National Women’s Soccer League. AD Franch, a Salina native, played for the Thorns last season before she was traded to Kansas City. Franch says the team regrouped after a last-place finish in 2021. “This team came together, had a goal and ambition of what they wanted to do and that’s the biggest part—being able to go to this championship with this team. These players have committed to each other and to the process to get here,” she said. The championship match will take place this Saturday at 7 pm. It’ll be held on a neutral field in Washington, D.C.
Help Wanted: Kansas Public Radio Seeks New Statehouse Bureau Chief
TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) – Kansas Public Radio is seeking a new Statehouse Bureau Chief. This position works primarily at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka. Duties include managing all aspects of KPR’s capital news bureau, which provides broadcast and digital news reports to a number of radio stations in Kansas and Missouri. This position is primarily responsible for reporting on all aspects of state government. The KPR Statehouse Bureau Chief researches, writes, reports and produces spot news, digital stories and long-form audio features for KPR and its reporting partners. Learn more about this position.
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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. Follow KPR News on Twitter for breaking news and links to other stories and issues of local and regional interest.