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Headlines for Friday, April 1, 2016

Here's a look at the latest Kansas news headlines from the Associated Press.

Kansas Tax Collections in March Close to Hitting Estimates
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is reporting that its tax collections came close to hitting projections in March, falling short by less than $2 million. The report Friday from the Department of Revenue said the state collected almost $447.8 million in taxes last month, when it expected to take in $449.4 million. The shortfall was about four-tenths of 1 percent. Sales and insurance premium taxes exceeded expectations. But since the fiscal year began in July 2015, the state still has collected 1.9 percent less in taxes than anticipated. The $4.13 billion collected is about $81 million less than expected. The department's report came ahead of an April 20 meeting of state officials and university economists to revise the state's revenue projections. Tax collections have fallen short of expectations 11 of the past 12 months.


AP Report: US Elections Official Parlayed Ties to Gain Influence

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas county elections official used his ties to one of the nation's leading advocates of voting restrictions to help secure the top job at a government agency entrusted with making voting accessible, and then used the federal position to implement an obstacle to voter registration.  Documents obtained by The Associated Press show Brian Newby told Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach that he could count on Newby months before the county official was hired to head the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.  Newby then decided residents of Alabama, Kansas and Georgia could no longer register to vote using a national form without providing proof of U.S. citizenship.  Kobach says he recommended Newby to the commission but didn't mention job performance issues in his Kansas job.


Hot Spot Monitoring from Kansas, Oklahoma Blaze Continues

MEDICINE LODGE, Kan. (AP) — Crews continue extinguishing hot spots from a wildfire that has burned hundreds of square miles since starting last week in Oklahoma and spreading into rural Kansas. The heaviest damage is in Barber County, Kansas, where authorities said the fire was 95 percent contained Friday. Officials overseeing the firefight in the county said in a news release that there were at least seven calls for service Thursday and that 10 new acres burned. Authorities also said a high fire weather risk continues through the weekend for the area because of low relative humidity and winds with gusts up to 20 mph. Efforts are underway to calculate the damage. An informational meeting is planned for Wednesday in Medicine Lodge to help connect farmers and ranchers with federal assistance.


Kansas Districts Report Technical Problems with State Tests 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Standardized testing is on hold in more than a dozen states because of Internet problems at the University of Kansas where the test developer is based. The university's Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation provides general end-of-year assessments for students in Kansas and Alaska. It also offers testing for students with significant cognitive disabilities in those states and 14 others. Issues arose Tuesday when a backhoe severed a major fiber cable. Testing was canceled for the rest of the day before resuming Wednesday but was again suspended Thursday afternoon because of service disruptions. After students again experienced problems Friday morning, the testing suspension was resumed. Center director Marianne Perie said she hoped the issues would be resolved by Monday.


KCC Grants Westar Residential Rate Hike Request 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Corporation Commission has granted an electric utility's request for an increase in residential and school transmission rates, while cutting rates for most business consumers. The Wichita Eagle reports that the new Westar Energy rates will be temporary in the wake of a federal regulatory ruling that the company has been over-earning on the transmission piece of its business. There will be bill refunds, but probably not for several months. The new rates include a 31 percent increase in residential rates and a 29 percent increase in school rates. Small businesses will receive a 21 percent cut in their transmission charge, which is about a $31 decrease per month for the average user. The largest industrial and commercial customers will get about a 4 percent decrease, and midsize businesses will pay about 1 percent more.


Kansas Supreme Court: Convicted Killer Needs Resentencing 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered a new sentencing for a man initially ordered to spend a half century in prison for a 2011 killing involving mistaken identity. The state's high court made the ruling Friday while upholding Charles Christopher Logsdon's conviction. Prosecutors contend Logsdon and at least one other man meant to rob a woman of drugs and money but drove to the wrong home and shot Jennifer Heckel while her 5-year-old son was in the house. The boy wasn't injured. Logsdon originally was sentenced by a judge to the "Hard 50," meaning he would have to serve a half century before becoming eligible for parole. The Supreme Court ordered the resentencing because a jury must determine if a "Hard 50" should be imposed, not a judge.


Expansion Plans on Hold for Historic Lawrence Hotel

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Expansion plans are on hold for a historic Lawrence hotel that stands on the site of one destroyed in 1856 and again in 1863 by pro-slavery forces. Eldridge Hotel general manager Nancy Longhurst says in an email that the owners have made the decision not to proceed with the project for now. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that plans had called for an approximately 50-room expansion of the hotel. The structures that preceded it were targeted for destruction when Lawrence was an Abolitionist stronghold before the Civil War. Longhurst didn't explain why the ownership group decided to cancel the expansion plans, which also called for more restaurant and banquet space. She says the owners "look forward to investing in this project in the future." But she didn't provide a timeline.


OSHA Cites Russell Stover After Ammonia Release Shuts Plant

IOLA, Kan. (AP) — Federal officials are seeking $193,600 in penalties from Russell Stover Candies after a hazardous chemical was released at an eastern Kansas plant.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also announced Thursday that it was placing the candy maker in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The company's Iola plant closed for more than two hours in September when an air-conditioning pipe broke and released about 22 pounds of anhydrous ammonia into the air. The gas is highly irritating and can burn the eyes, nose and throat in even small amounts.  OSHA official Judy Freeman says failing to properly control highly hazardous chemicals creates the potential for an accidental release that "could result in a tragedy." Russell Stover said in a statement that it was reviewing the OSHA allegations and would work with the regulators to ensure "all appropriate actions are taken to protect our employees and our product."


Ex-KSU President Schulz Drawn to WSU Post by State's Support of Higher Ed 

PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — The new president of Washington State University says he was drawn to the school by its high academic standards and by the new medical school. Kirk Schulz on Friday also said the state of Washington's support for higher education played into his decision to leave the presidency of Kansas State University for the new job. Schulz and his wife Noel were introduced to students, faculty and staff in Pullman, Washington on Friday morning. They answered questions and also met with reporters. They have similar meetings planned later in the day in the Tri-Cities and Spokane. Schulz says Washington State is poised to top $400 million in research grants in coming years, twice what Kansas State had. He was also drawn by the state's decision to slash tuition.


Man Dies in Lawrence House Fire; Blaze's Cause Unclear

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are trying to determine what sparked a house fire that killed a man.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the victim died at the scene of the blaze Thursday afternoon. His name was not immediately released.  Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Division Chief Eve Tolefree says the home is not considered a crime scene.  The fatality was the second involving a Lawrence house fire in as many days. Police said a man died Wednesday during a blaze that police say followed a domestic dispute.  His name also hasn't been released.


Galena's City Attorney Resigns After Drunken Driving Arrest

GALENA, Kan. (AP) — A city attorney in southeast Kansas is resigning after his second drunken driving arrest in two years. Galena Mayor Dale Oglesby says the resignation of 52-year-old Kevin Cure takes effect Friday. The Joplin Globe reports that Cure was charged Thursday with a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated. Cure didn't immediately return a phone message that The Associated Press left at his law office. Police say Cure was arrested Tuesday in the parking lot of a Joplin, Missouri, restaurant. A passenger faces an obstruction charge over accusations that she refused to remain in the car and that she tried to involve herself with the field sobriety tests. Cure has been Galena's city attorney since 2004. In March 2014, he was arrested in Joplin on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.


Man Accused of Deadly Shooting at Olathe Bar 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors in Johnson County, Kansas, have accused a 28-year-old man in connection with a deadly shooting at an Olathe bar. Michael Wayne Chinn Jr. of Augusta is charged with second-degree murder, unlawful discharge of a firearm and aggravated assault. Police say 38-year-old man William Ray Schutkesting of Olathe was shot late Wednesday at the Double Nickel Bar & Grill. He died at the scene, where Chinn was arrested. It was not immediately clear Friday whether Chinn has an attorney.


Man, 19, Charged in Wichita's Latest Homicide

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors have charged a 19-year-old man in the fatal shooting of another man in Wichita. The Wichita Eagle reports that Arturo Jesus Desantiago was charged this week in Sedgwick County District Court with second-degree intentional murder in the death of 19-year-old Samuel Meza. Authorities say Meza was shot in the hip on March 21 following what police have called a long-running gang feud. He died two days later. Wichita police arrested Desantiago last Friday, and he is being held in Sedgwick County Jail in lieu of $350,000 bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 12. It wasn't immediately known if he had an attorney.


Westar Customers Will Get Refunds Under Multi-Million Settlement

Topeka, Kan. (AP) — Westar Energy will return millions of dollars to Kansas energy customers under a settlement with regulators.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved the settlement between Westar Energy and the Kansas Corporation Commission. The settlement lowers the return on equity the company had previously included in its Transmission Delivery Charge tariff.  On customer bills, it shows as a line item "Transmission Delivery Charge," and is designed to allow utilities to recover money spent on transmission.  The exact refund is being determined in the company's rate department, but for 2015 it was $14 million.  Westar says customers won't immediately see the refund because there are still steps in the process to be completed.


Kansas Man in Critical Condition After Grain Bin Fall 

FOWLER, Kan. (AP) — A man has been flown to a Wichita hospital with critical injuries after falling inside an empty southwest Kansas grain bin. Meade County Sheriff Mark Miller says the worker was on a ladder at the Fowler Equity Exchange when he fell a few feet Thursday and hit his head. KAKE-TV reports that getting the man out of the bin was challenging. Miller says there is a point of access to the bin from the side of the elevator, but the opening is small.


Potential Kansas Casino Clears Another Legal Hurdle

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas judge has declined to intervene in legal efforts by a county and development group to block a planned state-owned casino after the plaintiffs' bid to build and operate it was rejected.  The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks rejected the lawsuit's claims the decision by state gaming regulators to award the project to Kansas Crossing developers was arbitrary.  Thursday's ruling is another setback for southeast Kansas' Cherokee County and would be Castle Rock Casino developers behind the lawsuit. It was not immediately clear if they planned to appeal.  Kansas Crossing developers have gotten several 90-day extensions on the project, which was to be completed this summer.  Kansas Crossing's $70 million proposal was dwarfed by Castle Rock's plans for a $145 million development.


Report: Kansas Growers Planting Lots More Corn this Season

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A government report shows Kansas farmers are planning to plant a whole lot more corn this year.  The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Thursday that Kansas growers intend to plant 4.8 million acres of corn. That is a 16 percent jump from a year ago.  Its prospective plantings report shows farmers are seeding fewer acres of the state's other major crops.  The 8.5 million acres of winter wheat planted last fall for harvest later this year are down 8 percent from the previous season.  Soybean planted acres are down just 1 percent to 3.85 million acres compared to a year ago in Kansas. Anticipated sorghum acres are down 7 percent to 3.15 million acres.  Sunflowers and hay acreages in the state are also expected to be down this season.


Midwest Economic Survey Index Rises for 3rd Time in 3 Months 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Figures from a survey of supply managers in nine Midwest and Plains states have risen for the third month in a row, suggesting more improvement in the regional economy. A report issued Friday says the Mid-American Business Conditions Index rose to 50.6 in March from 50.5 in February and 48.3 in January. The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests economic growth. A score below that suggests decline. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the survey, and he says a strong U.S. dollar and economic weakness among the nation's chief trading partners continues to slow regional growth. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.


Kansas City Transit Alliance Sued over Open-Records Request 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A watchdog group is suing the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance, alleging that entity has refused to release documents related to plans for expanded streetcars in the city. The Kansas City Star reports that Citizens for Responsible Government alleges in the Jackson County lawsuit that the alliance has refused a request for records under the Missouri Sunshine Law. The plaintiffs argue the alliance gets public funding and in 2015 made a presentation about streetcar expansion to the Downtown Council. The lawsuit claims that the city and the alliance refused the plaintiffs' subsequent request for documents related to that. An attorney for the KCRTA, Robert Pitkin, says the alliance is a private, nonprofit corporation not subject to the state's open-records law.


George Mason University Becomes a Favorite of Charles Koch

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — George Mason University has become a conservative powerhouse in economics and law thanks in part to the millions of dollars it gets every year from billionaire Republican donor Charles Koch.  The CEO of Koch Industries is one of several billionaires who donate large amounts to higher education. But the Koch Foundation gives far more to Mason than it does to any other school.  Some critics say the funding raises questions about academic independence at the public school outside the nation's capital. Mason uses the money primarily to fund free-market think tanks ideologically aligned with Koch.  Supporters say Koch's philanthropy is criticized only because of his political influence.  Tax records show the Charles Koch Foundation has given roughly $45 million to Mason over the past four years. That accounts for more than half of the foundation's entire giving over that span.


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