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Headlines for Friday, February 6, 2015

Kansas Legislators Approve Plan for Closing Budget Shortfall

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas legislators have approved a stop-gap plan for erasing most of a predicted shortfall in the state's current budget so bills can be paid on time.  The measure approved Thursday attacks a $344 million deficit projected through June 30 largely by shifting money from highway projects and other special funds to pay for education, social services, prisons and other government programs.  Senators approved the bill, 24-1. Republican Governor Sam Brownback is expected to sign it. The state's fiscal problems arose after slashing income taxes in 2012 and 2013 to stimulate the economy.  
 
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Kansas Governor Announces Cuts to Public Schools, Higher Ed

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says he's going to cut nearly $45 million in funding for public schools and higher education in March.  But the governor also suggested that lawmakers could head off the reductions by withholding $54 million from public schools instead. The Republican governor announced his plans for the current budget cycle Thursday just ahead of a Senate vote on a bill aimed at erasing a projected $344 million deficit.  Kansas law gives the governor the authority to make some budget cuts on his own to keep the budget in balance.  The $54 million represents additional funding required under a law enacted last year to boost aid to poor districts.  In announcing plans to cut aid to public schools Thursday, Brownback said a Kansas City area high school's purchase of a new grand piano illustrates that the state's school funding formula is flawed. The local school board purchased the new piano for Sumner Academy in Kansas City, Kansas last month for more than $47,000. The district says it replaced an aging instrument to help students pursuing careers in music and preparing to audition for scholarships. Brownback said that the money should have been used to hire another teacher and reduce class sizes. 

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Kansas Governor Cites School's $47K Piano in Announcing Cuts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says a Kansas high school's purchase of a new grand piano illustrates that the state's formula for funding its public schools is flawed. The Republican governor on Thursday mentioned the new piano at Sumner Academy in Kansas City, Kansas, in announcing plans to cut $28 million in aid to public schools from the current budget. The local school board purchased the piano last month for more than $47,000. The Kansas City district says it replaced an aging instrument to help students pursuing careers in music and preparing to audition for scholarships. Brownback said in a statement that the money should have been used to hire another teacher and reduce class sizes. The district noted it used capital outlay funds, which by law can't be spent on salaries.

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Bill Would Limit State School Employees Use of Titles in Newspaper Comments

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A bill before the Kansas House would prohibit employees of universities and state colleges from using their official job titles when they contribute to newspaper opinion pieces. The bill applies only to opinion pieces and letters to the editor in newspapers, not to other forms of media. It prohibits use of job titles only when the subject is an elected official, a candidate or a matter pending before a government body. Representative Joe Seiwert, a Republican from Pretty Prairie, told The Topeka Capital-Journal that employees of private businesses are not allowed to identify their places of work when they write an opinion for publication. But Democratic Representative John Carmichael of Wichita said the legislation could create constitutional problems and limit public debate.

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Bill Would Prohibit Weapons in Parts of Some Public Buildings 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Senate is considering a bill that would allow local officials to prohibit concealed weapons in some areas of public buildings. Currently, people carrying concealed weapons must be allowed to go anywhere in public buildings where the guns are allowed. A bill submitted by Republican Senator Forrest Knox of Altoona would allow officials to ban weapons from some parts of the buildings.  Knox says courthouses in some rural counties want to be able to secure parts of the buildings, such as courtrooms, while the rest of the building would remain open to concealed weapons.  The Kansas State Rifle Association, the League of Kansas Municipalities and several law enforcement associations testified in support of the measure. 
 
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Kansas Seeks to Cut Prison Costs Despite Efforts to Increase Penalties

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are working to reduce the state's prison population and costs, but parallel legislation to toughen penalties could stymie their efforts. The Kansas Sentencing Commission has submitted bills to the Legislature that would free up 150 beds in state prisons and save $3.6 million. One measure would keep offenders out of prison on their first two marijuana possession convictions. Another would allow some prisoners to get out of jail earlier for good behavior. Kansas prisons are already over capacity and their populations are growing. Furthermore, the state faces a projected budget shortfall of almost $600 million for the next fiscal year. But the Legislature is also considering bills to lengthen sentences for drunk driving, home burglary and scrap theft. These could nullify the effect of the sentencing commission's efforts.

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Judge to Allow Death Penalty in Quadruple Homicide Case 

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has ruled that prosecutors may seek the death penalty against a man accused in the deaths of four people at a Kansas farm, including an 18-month-old girl, in 2013. Franklin County District Judge Eric Godderz ruled during a hearing Friday the death penalty will be allowed in the case against 29-year-old Kyle Flack of Ottawa. He is charged with murder and rape after two men, a woman and her daughter were found dead near Ottawa. Flack has pleaded not guilty. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Flack's attorney argued the death penalty should be banned because of "evolving standards of decency," noting that 120 countries have rejected the punishment. Godderz said his court is bound to follow precedent in Kansas and the U.S., which allow the death penalty.

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J.M. Smucker Adding Some Kansas Products 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The J.M. Smucker Company says it plans to add some animal food products made at plants in Topeka and Lawrence. Smucker announced Tuesday that it had purchased Big Heart Pet Brands, which has had operations in eastern Kansas for many years. The Kansas City Star reports that the Lawrence processing plant's 144 employees produce seven varieties of the dog food including Kibbles & Bits. The Topeka factory and distribution center have a combined employment of 326 workers. It produces several brands of animal foods including Meow Mix, 9Lives, Milk-Bone, Gravy Train and Nature's Recipe. Smucker, which is based in Orrville, Ohio, paid $5.8 billion for Big Heart, which was previously known as Del Monte Corporation. The company says it doesn't plan to close any pet food operations.

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Suspect in Kansas Jewish Sites Killings to Get New Lawyer 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — The lead attorney for a white supremacist from Missouri charged with killing three people at Jewish sites in Kansas has withdrawn from the case. During a hearing Friday, attorney Ron Evans asked to withdraw because of a breakdown in communication with Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. District Judge Kelly Ryan granted the request, saying the communication problems prevented Evans from effectively representing Miller. The 74-year-old Miller, of Aurora, Missouri, is charged with killing two people outside the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park and a woman at the nearby Village Shalom care center on April 13, 2014. Miller has said he wanted to kill Jews. None of his victims was Jewish. The Kansas City Star reports the change in attorneys could delay a preliminary hearing scheduled for March 2.

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Invista to Open New Center in McPherson 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Invista, a unit of Koch Industries, plans to open a new manufacturing plant in McPherson to expand production of its Raptor nylon pipe for oil pipelines. The Wichita Eagle reports that the company will convert an existing building in McPherson for its operations, with production expected to begin in early spring. About a dozen employees will be hired initially in McPherson but the company expects its workforce to grow. Invista spokesman executive vice president Kurt Buremeister says establishing a production facility in Kansas will reduce delivery times to customers and help the company to respond to increasing demand for its product. No incentives were sought for the project. McPherson already has 17 or 18 plastics manufacturing-related businesses.

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Kansas Game Wardens Seeking Tips in Shooting of Eagle

MARION, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas game wardens are asking the public for help to find the person or people who shot and killed a bald eagle near Marion Reservoir.  KAKE-TV reports that the eagle was found Wednesday in a field near the reservoir with a gunshot wound. Larry Hastings of the Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism says it appears the eagle was flying when it was shot. Bald eagles gather near the reservoir in the winter months.  Hastings says bald eagles are federally protected and the shooter could face fines up to $5,000.  Anyone with information about the bald eagle's death is asked to call Operation Game Thief at 877-426-3843.  

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Wesley Medical to Build Children's Hospital in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Wesley Medical Center plans to open a $28 million children's hospital on its main campus in Wichita. Wesley officials said the hospital, which will be attached to its current building, will offer 30 private rooms for pediatric patients and 16 private intensive care rooms. Bill Voloch, interim president and CEO at Wesley, says the current hospital has 12 pediatric intensive care unit rooms but eight are not private. Construction could to start as early as June and be completed within 12 to 18 months. The Wichita Eagle reports the new hospital could offer 40 to 50 new jobs in the next five years. Currently, the closest children's hospitals to Wichita are in Kansas City and Oklahoma City.

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Brownback to Attend Fort Riley Town Hall Meeting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _Governor Sam Brownback and Kansas legislators are planning to attend a town hall meeting on the future of Fort Riley. The meeting on February 9 was called to allow Army officials to hear from the community about how possible troop reductions at Fort Riley would affect them. Fort Riley employs more than 25,000 people in the Junction City area. In a news release, Fort Riley said as many as 16,000 could be dismissed or redeployed.  The base is one of 30 military installations across the U.S. that could see troop reductions as a result of the federal budget cuts and personnel reductions to the Army. The forum will be held at the Geary County Convention Center in Junction City. 

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Autopsy: Wichita Woman in Park Attack Died of Burns

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ An autopsy report says a Wichita woman who was raped, beaten and set on fire at a city park died of complications from the burns. Sedgwick County officials say 36-year-old Letitia Davis was burned over about 70 percent of her body in the attack at Fairmount Park in November near the Wichita State University campus. The report was filed in court Tuesday. The Wichita Eagle reports the autopsy also showed Davis had blunt-force trauma to her head, facial fractures and cuts. She died November 22, eight days after the attack. Cornell McNeal has been charged with capital murder in the attack. He remains in jail with a bond of more than $1.25 million. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 5.  

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4.3 Earthquake Reported in Northern Oklahoma

WICHITA, Kan. — An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 4.3 rattled a large part of northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas Thursday morning. The US Geological Survey reports the quake happened just after 9:00 am Thursday about 5 miles northeast of Cherokee, Oklahoma. People reported feeling throughout much of south and central Kansas including in Wichita. There were no reports of damage. Eight earthquakes have been reported in northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas in the past 24 hours. Thursday's 4.3 quake was the largest.

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Feds: Oklahoma-Based Hospice Agrees to $4M Settlement 

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Federal prosecutors say an Oklahoma City-based hospice has agreed to pay $4 million to resolve allegations of false billing claims. Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce Branda announced the settlement agreement Friday in a news release. She says the company, Good Shepherd, was accused of submitting false claims for hospice care for patients who weren't terminally ill. The for-profit company provided hospice services through separate businesses that operated in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. Two former employees of Good Shepherd will split about $680,000 for reporting the alleged fraud under federal whistleblower laws. Federal court records didn't list the name of Good Shepherd's attorney, and a telephone message left at the company's headquarters after hours on Friday wasn't immediately returned.

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Fire Damages Building on Emporia State Campus

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) _ Fire caused damage to a building on the Emporia State University campus Thursday but no injuries were reported. University spokeswoman Gwen Larson says flames were seen on the roof of the Health, Physical Education and Recreation building, which also houses the university's athletics offices. Larson says a few people who were inside the building were able to get out safely. No injuries were reported.  The building's heating and air conditioning system and roof were damaged. The complete extent of the damage has not been determined. Investigators believe a malfunction in a dryer near a locker room caused the fire. 

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Kansas Elementary Student Gets Monster Surprise at School

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — An unusual surprise awaited a fifth-grader when she returned to her elementary school after being sick with the flu. Monster truck driver Ben "Bobo" Winslow brought a monster truck, called Rat Attack, on Wednesday to show Elizabeth Cox, who climbed inside and turned on its engine. Winslow also presented her with free tickets for her and her family to this weekend's Monster Truck Championships at United Wireless Arena. He tells the Dodge City Daily Globe that he and officials with Checkered Flag Productions learned Elizabeth recently had a death in her family. He says they wanted to do something positive for Elizabeth, who is student at Ross Elementary School.

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Lamar Hunt Jr. Buys Minor League Hockey Team

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Lamar Hunt Jr., son of the founder of the Kansas City Chiefs, has purchased the Missouri Mavericks, a minor league hockey team based in a Kansas City suburb. Hunt finalized the sale of the East Coast Hockey League on Thursday. He says he hopes to increase interest in the sport in the Kansas City region but it's too soon to tell if the area would be a strong candidate for an NHL team. The Kansas City Star reports Hunt's ownership of the Mavericks is not part of Hunt Sports Group, which is run by his brother Clark, chairman of the Chiefs. Lamar Hunt Jr., of Leawood, is president of Kansas City-based Loretto Sports Ventures, which invests in sports teams, properties and affiliated assets.

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Wichita Police Drop Drug Charges Against NFL Player...but Cowboys RB Now Facing Abuse Claims

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle's ex-girlfriend has filed a request for a protective order, saying he threatened to "blast the vehicle" with their son inside after pointing a gun at her friend. Dalia Jacobs wrote in a request filed Wednesday in district court in Wichita, Kansas, that Randle smashed the windshield of the car with his fist, "causing glass to shatter across my friend and my child." The incident occurred the same night the 23-year-old Randle was arrested on a marijuana possession charge at a Wichita hotel after a woman called 911. He was not taken into custody, and no charges related to domestic violence have been filed. Police dropped the marijuana charge Friday, but spokesman Lieutenant James Espinoza says other charges are possible.

 

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