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Headlines for Friday, January 30, 2015

Kansas Tax Collections $47M Short of Expectations in January 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas says its tax collections fell $47 million short of expectations this month. The worse-than-anticipated collections are likely to complicate efforts by Governor Sam Brownback and legislators to eliminate projected budget shortfalls. The state Department of Revenue reported Friday that the state collected $513 million in taxes in January when it had anticipated taking in $560 million. The shortfall is 8.4 percent. The state's tax collections since the start of the current fiscal year in July were $59 million short of expectations, or 1.8 percent. The state anticipated collecting $3.3 billion during the period and took in about $3.2 billion. The state faces projected budget deficits totaling more than $710 million for the current and next fiscal years, but the figures are pegged to revenue estimates made in November.

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Kansas House Panel Eases Off Plan to Delay School Aid Funds 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has modified a proposal from Republican Governor Sam Brownback to delay providing some funds to school districts for four months. The Appropriations Committee began work Thursday on a bill that would close a projected $279 million shortfall in the current state budget. Brownback's budget-balancing plan relies most heavily on diverting funds for highway projects and other special funds into the state's main bank account, which has the projected deficit. But Brownback also hoped to avoid a mid-February cash crunch for the state by delaying $45 million in payments to schools for building repairs and equipment until June. The committee voted to delay only $20 million in payments. The Senate Ways and Means Committee is working on its own budget-balancing bill but canceled its meeting Thursday.

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Kansas Police Officers May Be Required to Wear Body Cameras 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers may require police officers to wear body cameras under a bill discussed by a state Senate panel Thursday. The Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee heard testimony on a measure that would require police officers to wear body cameras and continually record their activities and interactions. Portions of video relevant to investigations, official complaints or the use of force would be stored for three years. Community activists argued that the move would ensure greater transparency and public safety. However, some committee members expressed worry that smaller police departments would be unable to afford the cameras and manage the footage.

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Kansas Republicans Hold Kansas Day Convention

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Republicans are gathering for their biggest convention of the year. The GOP leadership will kick off the two-day event Friday with speeches by Governor Sam Brownback and Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder. Kansas officials will be joined by visiting Republicans legislators from other states. Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina will speak at the Saturday lunch, while Congressman Steve Russell of Oklahoma will speak at the evening banquet. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa is also scheduled to speak during the event. Kansas Republicans hold their annual convention on or near the anniversary of Kansas' 1861 entry into the Union as a state.

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ACLU Protests Mentor Program for Male Students in Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union is calling on the Lawrence school district to suspend a mentoring program for male students. The group objects to an initiative at Free State High School known as the "LEAP Ambassador Program." After it kicked off Thursday, the ACLU's Kansas chapter sent a letter saying the program does "significant harm" to female students. The letter said the ACLU has learned that all the students participating in the program are male and that all the mentors are "business men." ACLU attorney Doug Bonney said excluding female participants is a violation of Title IX, a federal law banning sex discrimination in education. He said the ACLU would "definitely" sue if the district doesn't make changes. District spokeswoman Julie Boyle says the district is reviewing the letter.

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Valuable Thomas Hart Benton Painting May Go on Display Soon

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City school district says it is negotiating to bring a Thomas Hart Benton painting out of hiding and display it for the public. The painting, called "Utah Highlands," has not been seen for several years. It was purchased for the Shawnee Mission High School by the class of 1957 and for years was displayed in what is now Shawnee Mission North High School. But district officials had the painting kept in a secure place after it was appraised as being worth several hundred thousands of dollars. The Kansas City Star reported this week that some former students who helped buy the painting want it displayed. On Thursday, district officials said they are negotiating with another entity to display the painting for the public.

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Foster Father Sentenced in Death of Girl Left in Hot Car 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has been sentenced to nearly three years in state prison after a 10-month-old girl died after he left her in a hot car while he and his partner smoked marijuana. Twenty-nine-year-old Seth Jackson was sentenced Friday to 32 months in prison for one count of involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors say the child, Kadillak Poe-Jones, died in July after she was left in the car when the temperature was about 90 degrees. Jackson was originally charged with felony first-degree murder after investigators found he was smoking marijuana with his partner at their home while the child was outside. The men have said they believed the girl was playing with other children inside the house. They realized she was outside when they heard an infant crying on television.

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Brownback Names Federal Judge's Aide to Kansas Appeals Court

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback has nominated a federal judge's longtime legal adviser and research clerk for the Kansas Court of Appeals.  Brownback announced Thursday that he's chosen attorney Kathryn Gardner of Topeka for the state's second-highest court. Her appointment is subject to state Senate confirmation.  Gardner has worked for the past 15 years as Senior U.S. District Judge Sam Crow's law clerk. She also is a former assistant attorney general, had a private law practice for 12 years and was a research attorney for a state Court of Appeals judge for two years after law school. She would replace Caleb Stegall, who was elevated by Brownback last year to the state Supreme Court. 

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Wichita Officials Expect State Fight if Voters Approve Pot Proposal

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Wichita officials say they are expecting a fight with the state if Wichita residents approve an ordinance that would lower penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Wichita City Council voted Tuesday to put the measure on the April 7 ballot. It would make first-offense marijuana possession a criminal infraction with a $50 fine. Offenders would receive a summons rather than be arrested. The change would apply only to those 21 or older, or those carrying 32 grams or less of marijuana. If approved, the ordinance would conflict with state law. Mayor Carl Brewer says several state legislators don't want the issue on the ballot. Council member Janet Miller said it's almost certain that the state will try to nullify the ordinance if Wichita residents approve it.

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Kansas, Missouri Reps Discuss Gun Violence Legislation

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - State representatives and other officials from Kansas and Missouri are announcing legislation aimed at reducing gun and domestic violence in both states. Missouri Representative Stacey Newman, a Richmond Heights Democrat, and Kansas Representative Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican, will discuss their legislation at a news conference Friday afternoon outside Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker's office in Kansas City, Missouri. The measures would allow for firearm restrictions for those with domestic violence or stalking restraining orders or convictions, and would let law enforcement and family members restrict gun possession by those in crisis. Bollier and Newman are founding members of the new, nonpartisan coalition, American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention. Their model legislation will be introduced this year in other states by coalition members.

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Kansas Water Authority Will Send Aqueduct Proposal to Legislature

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Water Authority accepted a report on proposal to build an aqueduct to carry water from the Missouri River to southwestern Kansas. The authority will circulate the report to appropriate legislative committees. But board members said Thursday they aren't enthusiastic about the idea of building a 360-mile aqueduct that would cost $18 billion and require an additional $1 billion each year to maintain. The St. Joseph News-Press reports board members said the report doesn't address several key questions, such as the financial, legal, cultural and environmental impacts. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback told the water authority that state officials are determined to do something to address water supplies but will talk to all interested parties. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has called the aqueduct proposal a "hare-brained idea."

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Mother Accused of Killing Son Will Undergo Evaluation

WELLINGTON, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas woman accused of stabbing her 10-year-old son to death will undergo a mental competency evaluation at Larned State Hospital. A Sumner County judge on Thursday ordered that 33-year-old Lindsey Nicole Blansett of Wellington be evaluated at Larned after a Sumner County mental health group recommended that the evaluation be done at a state facility. Blansett is charged with first-degree murder in the death of her son, Caleb, on December 14 at their Wellington home. She called 911 to report the stabbing. A criminal complaint says Blansett told investigators she believed Caleb's life would be full of suffering and it would be better for him to go to heaven. She allegedly hit him with a rock before stabbing him several times.

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Former Sedgwick County Jailer Sentenced for Sex with Inmates

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A former Sedgwick County jailer will serve three years' probation for sex crimes involving inmates at the county jail. Fifty-year-old Kenneth Reese was sentenced Thursday for crimes he committed at the jail while working as a detention deputy in 2012 and 2013. He pleaded guilty last month. The Wichita Eagle reports Reese was arrested in March after two female inmates reporting having inappropriate sexual contact with him. He was originally charged with eight felonies but some of the charges were dropped when he pleaded guilty last month. He was a 14-year veteran of the sheriff's office when he resigned in February. Reese would face 32 months in prison if he violates the terms of his probation.

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Renovation Planned for Hutchinson Cosmosphere's Planetarium 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - The Cosmosphere is planning a complete renovation for its Planetarium. The Hutchinson-based facility announced Thursday that the planetarium will close its doors February 2 for the planned upgrades. It is expected to reopen April 12. Upgrades include the installation of a new digital projection system that it says will transform the venue into a state-of-the-art facility. The new projection system will utilize the planetarium's full dome for all programs and imagery. It also has the ability to link via the Internet to other planetariums, observatories and telescopes around the world in real time. Other improvements include new carpet, seats, and LED lighting. The rest of the Cosmosphere plans to stay open during the planetarium renovation.

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Fort Hood Gunman Hasan Could Get New Lawyer 

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kansas (AP) — The gunman who killed 13 people at the Texas military base Fort Hood in 2009 may receive a new attorney to handle his appeals, which could complicate an already-delayed review process. Nidal Hasan appeared in court Thursday at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is on military death row. He no longer has the beard he wore during his August 2013 trial, having been forcibly shaved in prison. Hasan's lead defense counsel, Lieutenant Colonel Kris Poppe, began work as a judge after Hasan's trial. Hasan said he wanted to retain Poppe. The trial judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, said she was concerned that Poppe now served under her even while representing Hasan. She did not make a ruling Thursday. The review is one of several mandatory steps in military death penalty cases.

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Wichita State Baseball Program Lands on NCAA Probation 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Wichita State's baseball program was placed on probation Thursday after the NCAA found that the Shockers used 21 players who received impermissible benefits over a two-year period. The school self-reported the violations last year, likely resulting in lighter sanctions. Still, the NCAA decided that Wichita State's storied program would need to vacate all wins from 2011-13 — including its 2013 NCAA tournament appearance — and pay a $5,000 fine. Shortly after he was hired in June 2013, Shockers coach Todd Butler discovered that players had purchased more than $7,000 in apparel at a substantial discount. The incidents occurred under the watch of former coach Gene Stephenson, who was fired in June 2013 after 36 seasons. The wins will be stricken from his record. Wichita State says it will appeal the NCAA's decision.

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K-State's Williams Likely Out for KU Game 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State will likely be without Nino Williams for Saturday's game against No. 9 Kansas after the starting forward hurt his left knee in a loss to West Virginia. Williams only played 8 minutes in Tuesday night's game. Wildcats coach Bruce Weber said Thursday that Williams sustained a "strain or sprain," and that he underwent three treatments earlier in the day. There was no structural damage, and Weber said the senior forward would not need surgery. Williams is averaging 11.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. He was coming off a 22-point performance in a loss to Iowa State and a 20-point outing in a win over Oklahoma State.

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