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Headlines for Friday, February 5, 2016

Kansas news headlines from the Associated Press, as compiled by the KPR news staff.

Kansas House Panel Passes Bill to Balance Next State Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas House committee has approved a bill that would eliminate a projected deficit of nearly $200 million in the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The measure approved Thursday by the Appropriations Committee includes many of Governor Sam Brownback's proposals for closing the gap by shifting state funds and finding efficiency savings. But the committee also added $2.4 million to the next budget so the state can give uniformed corrections officers at state prisons a 2.5 percent pay raise. Several committee members said the state needs to boost pay for corrections officers because the turnover rate at state prisons is almost 30 percent. Their starting hourly pay is $13.61. The bill goes next to the House for debate as early as next week. 


Kansas House Rejects Change in Selecting High Court Justices 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has rejected a proposal to give the governor and legislators more control over appointments to the state Supreme Court. The vote Thursday on a proposed amendment to the state constitution was 68-54. But supporters were 16 votes short of the two-thirds majority of 84 needed for passage in the 125-member chamber. The measure would allow the governor to nominate new justices while requiring the state Senate to approve the appointments. Currently, a nominating commission screens applicants for the court and names three finalists. The governor must appoint one, and legislators have no role. Governor Sam Brownback and other GOP conservatives argue that the process isn't democratic. But supporters of the current system accuse him and his allies of trying to control the state's courts.


Kansas School District Consolidation Draws Opposition

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Opponents of a measure that would consolidate school districts expressed their opinions in a Kansas House committee meeting this week. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the bill would require 98 of Kansas's 105 counties to have one unified school district per county. Twenty-two counties already fit that requirement. The seven most populous counties in Kansas would be allowed to have multiple districts if each has more than 1,500 students. Tom Benoit, a member of a coalition of rural districts called Schools for Quality Education, said that any consolidation should be decided by local school officials. Democratic state Representative John Bradford says Kansas residents are receiving incorrect information, making them believe the bill would close schools. Bradford defended the bill, saying it wouldn't lead to the effect that people who live in rural and small districts fear. 


Kansas House Panel Adds $3M to Budget for Mental Hospitals

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The two state mental hospitals in Kansas would receive an additional $3 million in their current budgets under a proposal approved by a legislative committee. The House Appropriations Committee added the money Thursday to budget legislation to help Larned and Osawtomie state hospitals fill staff vacancies and address other issues. A total of more than 350 positions are vacant at the two hospitals. Republican Rep. Will Carpenter of El Dorado said his proposal would let the Department on Aging and Disability Services determine how the extra money would be spent at the hospitals. A critical survey of the Osawatomie hospital in November prompted the federal government to decertify it, costing the state between $500,000 and $1 million a month in federal funds. 


Kansas Senate Committee Passes Medication 'Step Therapy' Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Senate will consider a bill that would require Medicaid patients to try lower-cost drugs before moving to more expensive treatments. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee passed the step therapy legislation Thursday, after adding a provision that current patients won't be forced to stop taking their medications. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the bill would require the state's managed care organizations to use the lowest-cost, most effective drugs before trying more expensive, less-proven medications. Health care providers have opposed the bill. Senator Laura Kelly, a Democrat from Topeka, also objected, saying the state shouldn't interfere with the doctor-patient relationship. Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park, said Thursday step therapy is widely used and is already part of the state health plan for public employees.


Kansas House Passes Bill to Protect Underage Drinkers Who Seek Help 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill that would allow underage drinkers to avoid charges if they call for medical help. The vote Friday was 92-27. Supporters said the measure is intended to avoid preventable tragedies. The Senate passed the measure last year, but the House Judiciary Committee made technical changes that senators must consider before the bill can go to Governor Sam Brownback. Underage drinkers would not be charged if they called law enforcement or emergency medical services for themselves or other drinkers. They also would have to cooperate and remain on the scene. The Wichita Eagle reported that Republican Representative Tom Phillips of Manhattan says the bill is designed to prevent alcohol poisoning and deaths of college students. Some opponents said the removes consequences for underage drinkers.


US Official Requires Citizenship Proof in 3 States

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Residents of Kansas, Alabama and Georgia are no longer able to register to vote using a federal form without providing proof of U.S. citizenship after a federal elections official added the requirement without public notice or review by the agency's commissioners. The move by Brian Newby, the new executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, has sparked a backlash from voting rights advocates. The American Civil Liberties Union says it's a brazen move that will create additional barriers. Newby defended his decision as a routine administrative action taken at the request of the states. He says he received a request for the change from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and from elections officials in Alabama and Georgia. Newby is the former election commissioner for Johnson County, Kansas. he took over the federal agency's top job last November.


University's Bond Issue Prompts Budget Move in Kansas House

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A new legislative budget measure would limit the University of Kansas's ability to spend unanticipated tuition dollars and extra special funds. The provision approved Thursday by the Kansas House Appropriations Committee is a response to an arrangement that allowed the university to obtain $327 million in bonds to finance construction projects without lawmakers' approval. It would require the university to get legislative approval to spend unanticipated funds if collections exceed budgeted amounts during the fiscal year beginning July 1. The university formed a nonprofit corporation which then had Wisconsin's Public Finance Authority issue the bonds. University officials contend they complied with Kansas law. But Republican legislative leaders are upset. The House committee's budget provision is written narrowly enough to apply only to the University of Kansas. 


Kansas Health Officials Confirm First Cases of Flu This Season

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas health officials have confirmed the first flu cases in the state for the current flu season. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says four cases were reported by a south central Kansas hospital. Health department secretary Susan Mosier reminds Kansas residents it's not too late to get a flu vaccine. The vaccines are recommended for nearly everyone 6 months or older. The department says this season's flu vaccine appears to be a good match to the circulating influenza viruses. Flu or pneumonia contributed to 1,153 deaths in Kansas during the 2014-2015 flu season. 


Officials: No Confirmed Cases of Zika Virus in Kansas 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Health officials say Kansas has not had any confirmed cases of the Zika virus. The Zika virus, which is generally so mild that it only causes symptoms in about one out of five cases, raised concerns recently when doctors in Brazil started to notice a possible link between the virus — spread by a particular mosquito — and the birth defect microcephaly. Symptoms of the virus include rash and fever. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Friday in a release that it recommends that pregnant women consider postponing travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. So far, the only recent case transmitted in the U.S. is believed to have occurred in Texas, and was transmitted through sex rather than a mosquito bite.


University of Kansas Marillac Center Reports 18 Sick

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) - Officials at the University of Kansas Hospital Marillac Center say as many as 18 people have fallen ill in the last few days. Health officials told the hospital to treat the illnesses as norovirus, although results of hospital tests have not been confirmed. Marillac provides behavior health services to young people. The university said in a news release Thursday that 10 patients and eight staff reported illnesses at the Overland Park campus. The hospital said the staff began cleaning the center was soon as the symptoms surfaced and outside cleaning experts began working at Marillac Thursday. Marillac will not accept more inpatients until the situation is resolved.


Beauty School Campuses Close After Loss of Federal Funding

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — A Beverly Hills-based beauty school says it's closing all 56 of its campuses in five states after losing federal funding over allegations of misconduct. Marinello Schools of Beauty has been in business for over a century. It shut facilities this week in California, Nevada, Utah, Kansas and Connecticut. School officials told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that about 5,000 students and employees will receive transcripts and information about transfers next week. The federal Department of Education announced this week that it's stopping student financial aid programs at some two dozen campuses. The agency alleges Marinello knowingly sought aid for students based on invalid high school diplomas, under-awarded some aid and charged students for excessive overtime. Marinello spokesman Joe Hixon discounts the allegations and says they were based on flawed information.


11 Indicted in $1.2 Million Oxycodone Plot

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Federal prosecutors in Kansas City say 11 defendants have been indicted by a federal grand jury in a $1.2 million conspiracy to distribute Oxycodone. The indictment announced Thursday says the defendants, all from the Kansas City metropolitan area, obtained the drugs using forged and fraudulent prescriptions. All the defendants were charged with conspiracy to use another person's identification for a drug-trafficking crime. The indictment alleges the conspiracy began in June 2013. Prosecutors say the conspirators used identifications obtained fraudulently from health care providers. Conspirators allegedly used the identifications to prepare false prescriptions for controlled substances, including Oxycodone. They used the false prescriptions at pharmacies in the Kansas City area and then distributed the drugs throughout the region.


Wichita: 2 Earthquakes Caused over $100,000 in Damage

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita officials say the city suffered more than $100,000 in damage from two earthquakes in early January. The Wichita Eagle reports the city will pay for the repairs out of its operating budget because the city's earthquake insurance deductible is $250,000. An earthquake incident report says about $60,000 of the cost came from repairing 10 water main breaks after the earthquakes. Other damages were to foundations or masonry of city buildings, including two recreation centers, police substations, the Mid-America All-Indian Center and the Alford Library. The city also plans to improve its earthquake response plan in case earthquakes become more frequent. Scientists suspect recent earthquakes in Kansas are being caused by injections of wastewater by hydraulic fracturing...or "fracking"...companies.


Wichita Police Find Puppy Mill, Rescue Nearly 20 Dogs

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police have seized 20 pit bulls from what they called a puppy mill. Police Lieutenant Steve Kenney says the dogs were found Saturday inside a home in west Wichita. Kenney says the animals were in good health and were being used for breeding. It is illegal to operate puppy mills within city limits. The Wichita Eagle reports one dog with a microchip was returned to its owner. The other 19 dogs — seven grown adults, four young adults and eight puppies — were taken to the city's animal control unit. The Kansas Humane Society says the adult dogs will be up for adoption after they are spayed or neutered. The puppies will be placed in foster homes until they are 2 months old. No one has been arrested.


Dodge City May Join Junior League Hockey League of 29 Teams

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — The commissioner of a junior hockey league that has 29 teams in the western United States and Canada says he wants to start a team in Dodge City. Ron White says he's been considering starting a Western States Hockey League team in Dodge City for two years. He says the league has reliable owner from Colorado Springs, Colorado, who is close to starting the team. The Dodge City Daily Globe reports the prospective owner, Mark Lukehart, wants to name the team the Dodge City Marshals. He has already made a few potential uniform choices. The Western States Hockey League is for players ages 16 to 20. The players live with host families and are required to perform community service during the season.


Police: Man with Knife Shot by Officers in Wyandotte County 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Wyandotte County authorities say a suspect in a robbery with a large knife has been shot by police, resulting in injuries police described as life-threatening. Lieutenant Kelli Bailiff said that police were called to a Dollar Tree store around 1:30 pm Thursday and a Westwood police officer confronted a man down the street from the store. Bailiff said that police ordered the man to drop his knife, but he refused. According to authorities, the Westwood officer deployed his stun gun but it had no effect and a deputy then shot the man. The man, who has not been identified, was taken to a hospital. An investigation is ongoing.


Kansas City Applies for Federal Transportation Grant

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City has applied for a federal grant to help mid-sized cities test transportation innovations. The Kansas City Star reports that the city submitted its application Thursday for the U.S. Department of Transportation's "Beyond Traffic, Smart City Challenge" grant. The federal department will allocate $40 million to one city, which also will be eligible for $10 million from Vulcan Philanthropy to support the development of electric vehicles and other low-carbon strategies. Bob Bennett, Kansas City's new chief innovation officer, says the city is well positioned for the grant, citing its new downtown streetcar route and "Smart City" infrastructure such as kiosks, cameras and sensors to help with traffic flow and other government services. The grant's top five finalist cities are set to be announced in mid-March.


Police Chase Leads to Deadly Downtown Topeka Crash 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A police pursuit ended in a deadly three-vehicle crash in downtown Topeka Thursday. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the crash happened around 5:10 am. Police Lieutenant Colleen Stuart says the victim, 34-year-old Mia Holden, was a passenger in a vehicle that the fleeing vehicle struck. Three others suffered non-life threatening injuries, including the driver of the vehicle that was being pursued. Police said the pursuit started when the driver refused to pull over. Topeka police say tire deflation devices were successfully deployed but the driver kept going but was moving at less than 20 mph. The crash, which involved a pickup truck and two cars, shut down a busy intersection for most of the morning.


2 Men Sentenced in Fatal Wichita House Party Shooting 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two men charged in a fatal shooting at a 2014 house party in Wichita have been sentenced. The Wichita Eagle reports that Dametrius Williams was sentenced Thursday to about 17 years in prison for second-degree reckless murder and criminal discharge of a firearm in the death of 20-year-old Juan Orona. Christopher Cooper was sentenced to 18 months of probation on a count of obstructing apprehension of prosecution. Both men were initially charged with first-degree murder. Authorities say Orona was shot in the head as he sat in a parked car. Prosecutors say Williams and Cooper were part of a group of men who arrived at a house on June 21, 2014, and caused an argument that led to Orona's death.


Lawrence School Grapples with Debate over Confederate Flag

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ A student's display of a Confederate flag from the back of his pickup truck has sparked debate about race at Free State High School in Lawrence. The student displayed the flag last month on his truck in the school parking lot. Administrators told him to remove it, and they've banned such flags from the grounds as disruptions. The district says the student won't be disciplined, and that the situation is being used as a teaching opportunity. But some students have launched an effort to persuade the school board to expand the prohibition district-wide. Confederate symbols across the country have faced increased scrutiny since last June's shooting deaths of nine black congregants at a South Carolina church. 


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