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Headlines for Friday, June 26, 2015

Kansas Court Rules Against Parts of State School Funding Law 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A district court panel in Kansas has declared that key parts of a new state law for funding public schools violate the state constitution. The three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court ruled Friday that the law fails to distribute more than $4 billion a year so that all children receive a suitable education. The state is expected to appeal the ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court. The new law scrapped an older per-pupil distribution formula in favor of predictable grants to the state's 286 school districts based on the funds they received before the law changed. The law was challenged by the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, school districts. They argued that it distributed state funds in ways that harmed programs for poor and minority students.


Top GOP Officials in Kansas Condemn Ruling on School Funding 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback and GOP legislative leaders are condemning a court ruling that declares key parts of the state's new school funding law unconstitutional. Brownback said Friday that the state would appeal the decision from a three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court. He said the panel overstepped its authority. The law took effect in April and scrapped a per-student formula for distributing aid to the state's 286 school districts. Top Republicans said the judicial panel is ordering the state to restore parts of the old formula and immediately provide millions of extra dollars. Senate Majority Leader and Nickerson Republican Terry Bruce called the ruling "utter nonsense." House Speaker and Stilwell Republican Ray Merrick said it is "87 pages of judicial activism." But Democratic legislative leaders praised the decision.


Districts' Lawyer Sees Big Victory in School Funding Ruling 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An attorney for four Kansas school districts says they and their students won a big victory when a court ruled that key parts of a new state education funding law are unconstitutional. Lawyer John Robb also said the decision Friday by the three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court appears to require the state to provide an additional $54 million in aid to districts immediately. Top Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature were reviewing the order Friday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce called the decision "overwhelming" because of its complexity. The law junked the state's old per-student formula for distributing aid its 286 districts in favor of predictable annual grants. Robb represents the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, districts. They sued the state in 2010.


KS Attorney General to Review Opinions 

It appears the Kansas attorney general's office is happy that tomorrow (SAT) is the start of the weekend in the wake of two major court decisions issued Friday. First, the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that gay couples have a right to marry anywhere in the country in a ruling that does not bode well for the state's arguments in a similar case now playing out in federal court over the Kansas same-sex marriage ban. Then hours later, a district court panel in Kansas declared that key parts of a new state law for funding public schools violate the state constitution. Attorney General Derek Schmidt has issued a statement saying his office is reviewing the two opinions internally and with its various clients to assess next steps. His statement adds, "Fortunately, tomorrow starts a weekend, and the courts should be done at least for this week issuing decisions."


Kansas Governor Decries US Supreme Court Gay Marriage Ruling

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Governor Sam Brownback issued a statement today (FRI) decrying the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling declaring that gay couples have a right to marry anywhere in the country. The Republican governor has been a strong supporter of the state's ban on gay marriage. Voters approved an amendment to the Kansas Constitution in 2005 to reinforce that policy. But the state's ban is being challenged in a federal lawsuit filed last year, and preliminary rulings allowed counties to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Most counties now do so. Brownback said in his statement, "Activist courts should not overrule the people of this state, who have clearly supported the Kansas Constitution's definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman." He said the state would review the ruling further.


Wagle: Lawmakers Need to Look at State Religious Freedom Laws

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle says the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage will require legislators to examine state laws protecting religious freedom. The Wichita Republican said Friday that legislators need to make sure that Kansas residents who personally oppose gay marriage are not required to perform same-sex weddings or participate in them. Lawmakers considered such a measure last year, but it drew strong protests from gay rights advocates and some business leaders and stalled in the Senate. Supporters of last year's measure said it would have protected individuals and businesses that oppose gay marriage. But critics said the measure was written so broadly that it would have allowed widespread discrimination against gays and lesbians. Wagle said she's disappointed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision.


Advocate Says Kansas Should Relent on Marriage

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A leading gay rights advocate in Kansas is calling on the state to drop its defense of its ban on gay marriage following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision saying same-sex couples have the right to marry anywhere in the country. Equality Kansas Executive Director Tom Witt said Friday that he's hoping Gov. Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, in his words, "do the right thing." An American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the state's gay marriage ban is still pending in federal court, and ACLU attorney Doug Bonney said it could be resolved more quickly if the state would "admit defeat." Both Brownback and Schmidt said the state will study the ruling further before making any moves. Witt said he's happy about the ruling.


Kansas Ban Challengers Claim Gov,  AG Have "Private Agendas" 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP)  -- Some of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the Kansas ban on same sex marriages say it is time for the governor and state attorney general to stop pushing their "private agendas." The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state in October on behalf of Kerry Wilks, her partner Donna DiTrani and others. Wilks says that today (FRI)  they are celebrating and tomorrow (SAT) they will go back to work. She notes it is still legal in the state to fire somebody for getting married to a person of the same sex. DiTrani says it is important to her that people recognize Wilks as her wife, and not just as her partner. Jackie Carter, the pastor at First Metropolitan Community Church in Wichita, says the U.S. Supreme Court decision is about more than the one event of marriage. She says it means there is a ruling about people being more equal, and she likens it to the civil rights movement as they move forward.


Panel Dismisses Complaint Against House Member 

A Kansas legislative panel has unanimously dismissed a complaint against a House member who used the words "racist bigots" to describe supporters of a bill denying in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. Republican Representative Mark Kahrs made the motion Friday to dismiss, saying he thought Representative Valdenia Winn's comments at a March 19 House Education Committee meeting were slanderous but protected by the First Amendment. Winn called the bill "an example of institutional racism" and apologized to students and parents whose lives "are being hijacked by the racist bigots who support this bill." Nine members of the committee signed the complaint against her. Kahrs called Winn's statements an unfair, irresponsible attack on fellow committee members and suggested that she apologize. Winn said after the hearing she doesn't intend to do that.


Legislators Approve Bill Fixing Property Tax Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  Kansas legislators have given final approval to a bill resolving a conflict caused by the enactment of two versions of a law aimed at holding down local property taxes. The House approved the measure Friday on an 85-23 vote shortly after the Senate approved it, 24-8. It goes next to Gov. Sam Brownback, and he is expected to sign it. The bill fixes a problem with a law limiting the authority of cities and counties to spend increases in property tax revenues without voters' approval. Under the fix, the limits would start in 2018. The limits were included in two bills raising sales and cigarette taxes to balance the budget. One said the property tax limits would start in July and the other in 2018.


Dozens Gather for Protest at Capitol

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  Dozens of people have gathered at the Kansas Statehouse to protest over a variety of issues on the final day of the Legislature's annual session. About 200 people participated Friday in a rally in the rotunda. Many of them were protesting Republican Governor Sam Brownback's tax policies. The GOP-dominated Legislature aggressively cut income taxes at his urging in 2012 and 2013 in hopes of stimulating the economy. But budget problems that followed prompted lawmakers to raise sales and cigarette taxes this year. Some rally participants were gay rights advocates who celebrated a U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring that same-sex couples can marry anywhere in the nation. Brownback has been a vocal supporter of a ban on gay marriage in Kansas.


Brownback Criticizes Supreme Court Health Care Ruling

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is criticizing a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a key portion of the federal health overhaul and is not changing his stance on expanding Medicaid. Spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said Thursday in a statement that the decision is disappointing and ignores the federal law's actual language. The court's majority upheld health insurance subsidies for consumers in states like Kansas that refused to set up their own online marketplaces. Brownback and other Republicans blame the law championed by Democratic President Barack Obama for rising health insurance costs. Kansas so far has refused to expand its Medicaid program to cover residents not eligible for subsidies. Hawley said Brownback still believes the state must first provide services to the disabled and then ensure it can sustain an expansion long-term.


Kansans in Congress Vow to Push for Repeal of Health Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Members of the Kansas congressional delegation say they'll continue to push for repeal of the federal Affordable Care Act. The high court on Thursday upheld health insurance subsidies for millions of consumers who purchased their coverage through a federal online marketplace. Kansas refused to set up its own exchange under the 2010 law. The Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved called the high court decision ``a huge victory for consumers.'' The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that about 70,000 Kansas consumers were receiving subsidies averaging $231 a month. But Republican Senator Pat Roberts and GOP congressmen Tim Huelskamp and Mike Pompeo issued statements promising to seek repeal of the law. 


Kansas AG Says Abortion Ruling 'Unprecedented'

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says a judge's ruling blocking a new anti-abortion law is based on an unprecedented legal interpretation of the state constitution. Schmidt said Thursday that his office will study all options for responding to the decision. Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks ruled that the state constitution protects abortion rights at least as much as the U.S. constitution. Kansas courts have not previously made that specific finding. Attorneys for both sides said, if it stands, Kansas courts could provide more protection for abortion rights than the U.S. Supreme Court. Hendricks blocked a law that bans a procedure common in second-trimester abortions and described by anti-abortion groups as dismemberment abortion. The judge said the law likely creates too big an obstacle for women seeking abortions.


Brownback Disappointed in Abortion Decision

A spokeswoman for Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says the governor is disappointed by a judge's decision to block a new state law that bans a specific abortion procedure.  The governor is a strong abortion opponent. His spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, released a statement saying Brownback is committed to ``supporting a culture of life.''  Hawley called Kansas a ``pro-life state'' and said, ``Kansas law should protect human dignity for all Kansans.'' The law bans a common procedure used during second-trimester abortions known medically as a dilation and extraction abortion procedure. The law was scheduled to take effect next week.  Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks ruled that there's a substantial likelihood that the ban would create an undue burden for women seeking abortions. His order will stay in effect while a lawsuit challenging the ban proceeds.  


Abortion Rights Group Relieved by Kansas Court Ruling

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —The Center for Reproductive Rights says it's relieved that a judge has blocked a new law banning a common second-trimester abortion procedure in Kansas. Still, senior counsel Janet Crepps said her group is looking to resolve the key legal issue of how much the Kansas Constitution protects abortion rights. Crepps represents two abortion providers who challenged the new law, which blocks a common procedure for terminating second-trimester pregnancies. Abortion rights advocates say the law would force women to forgo abortions or accept riskier procedures. Attorneys on both sides of the issue interpret the ruling as meaning the Kansas Supreme Court could grant greater protections to abortion than the U.S. Supreme Court has.


Anti-Abortion Leader Talks About Judge Selection 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _Kansas anti-abortion leaders say a Shawnee County judge's decision to block a new abortion law has renewed interest in changing how Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected. The Shawnee County judge has temporarily blocked a law that would ban the procedure medically known as dilation and extraction abortion, a common second trimester  procedure that critics call "dismemberment abortion." The case will likely go to the Kansas Supreme Court. A spokeswoman for the anti-abortion group, Kansans for Life, says one of the group's top priorities will be amending the Kansas that that justices will be elected by voters rather than appointed by a commission. 


Topeka Man Waives Right to Attend Hearing in Bomb Plot Case 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 20-year-old Topeka man accused of driving a vehicle loaded with what he thought were explosives to Fort Riley won't attend an upcoming hearing in his case. John T. Booker Jr. was arrested April 10 near Junction City as part of an FBI operation that included two informants to whom authorities say Booker detailed his plans to join the Islamic State terrorist group and die in a suicide bombing mission at Fort Riley. Booker has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to damage property by means of an explosive, and attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports court documents show Friday that Booker has waived his right to appear Monday at a case hearing.


Court Rails Against Judge Who Didn't Show for Jury Duty 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge does not plan to punish Sedgwick County District Judge Michael Hoelscher for not showing up for jury duty in federal court. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren wrote In a scathing order Friday that he believes judges and other public officials should comply with laws with which they expect others to comply. He noted federal judges here have shown up for jury service in state courts. But Melgren withdrew his earlier order requiring Hoelscher to show cause for failing to appear June 15. The turnabout came after Hoelscher retained an attorney who argued that sitting state court judges are barred by federal statute from serving on federal juries. An attached email to that court filing also documented Hoelscher's efforts to comply with directions from the court's automated system.


Prosecutor Rules 2014 McPherson Police Shooting Justified 

MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — A McPherson police officer has been cleared of wrongdoing in the deadly shooting of a hit-and-run suspect. McPherson County Attorney David Page said Friday in a statement that the June 2014 shooting of 56-year-old Timothy Ronald Lloyd was "lawful and justified." The statement said the shooting happened after police were called to investigate a hit-and-run accident in the central Kansas community. Officers quickly located an abandoned vehicle that was damaged. The search for the man seen running away from it ended when he was spotted in a ditch. The statement said Lloyd refused to put up his hands and charged at an officer while twice yelling "shoot me." The officer told investigators he opened fire after Lloyd pulled an object from his waistband. Lloyd died at a McPherson hospital.


Wichita Police Say Body Found in Abandoned Home

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police are trying to determine if a body found in an abandoned home is that of a missing Augusta man. Police found the body Thursday in the crawl space of a house in east Wichita. They went to the house as part of an investigation into a missing Augusta man, 40-year-old Adam Lee Moore, who was reported missing Sunday. Augusta Department of Public Safety Chief Tyler Brewer said police received a tip and asked Wichita officers to check the house. Police are awaiting autopsy results to positively identify the body.


Dodge City $85.6 Million School Bond Issue Passes

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Dodge City voters easily approved an $85.6 million bond issue to expand the city's schools. Preliminary results show the issue passed with about 67 percent of the vote. The mailed ballots were due back to the county clerk's office on Thursday. The Dodge City Daily Globe reports projects tentatively approved include 24 new classrooms and more learning spaces in some elementary schools. The middle school could get a new gym and a sixth grade wing, while the high school plans include a new academic wing with 27 classrooms and four career and technical education classrooms. Enhanced storm safety and security also are planned. The growing school district currently uses more than 15 modular buildings and the high school exceeded capacity by nearly 400 students this fall.


Kansas Supreme Court Upholds Conviction in Wife's Arson Death 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld the felony murder conviction of a Fort Scott man whose wife died in an arson fire. In an opinion released Friday, the court rejected arguments made by Brent Bollinger in an appeal of his life sentence for the death of Brenna Nicole Bollinger. She died in a fire at the couple's home in October 2013. The couple's 2-year-old son, Bryson, was hospitalized for nearly a month after the fire. Bollinger also suffered serious burns in the fire. Brenna Bollinger had filed for divorce but still lived at the house. Bollinger argued in his appeal that his wife had no interest in the home, which is an essential part of the state's arson law. He also claimed the prosecutor made inappropriate comments during the trial.


Kansas Rural Center Hosts 'Women in Farming' Workshop

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Rural Center is hosting a "Women in Farming' workshop geared for women interested in sustainable farming and food production. The all-day event is planned for July 11 at the Flint Hills Technical College in Emporia. It includes a presentation on the importance of building soil health and the value of cover crops. One session deals with livestock and grazing management practices. Another session covers specialty crop production. Also on the agenda is a farm tour at Gail Fuller's farm near Emporia where there will be a presentation on carbon farming. The farm recently adopted a no-till cover crop system, crop rotations and small livestock enterprises.  


Kansas State-Salina Adds Major for Unmanned Aircraft

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Interest in unmanned aircraft, often called drones, is taking off.  In response to the growing demand, the Kansas State University-Salina plans to add a major and two minors focusing on the aircraft. The new courses are scheduled to start in the fall.  The Salina Journal reports the school will offer a new bachelor in engineering technology with an emphasis on unmanned aircraft. That course will emphasize design and implementation of unmanned systems. It will include studies in computer science and electronic and mechanical engineering.  The two minors will focus on flying unmanned aircraft. Students pursing the minors can choose an emphasis in either flight or data acquisition and management.


Topeka Sperm Donor Submits DNA Sample 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man who donated sperm to a lesbian couple has submitted a DNA sample at the order of a court seeking to determine if he's their child's biological father. Shawnee County District Judge Mary Mattivi earlier issued orders for William Marotta to submit DNA. Kansas wants Marotta declared the father so he can be forced to pay child support. The state started pursuing the case in 2012 after the couple split up and one of the women applied for state health insurance for the child. Marotta claims he signed a contract waiving his parental responsibilities. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that he took the DNA test Friday. Mattivi ordered the test results sealed while the Kansas Supreme Court resolves a motion Marotta's attorney filed asking for steps that include replacing Mattivi.


American Royal Parade Moving from Downtown Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - After decades in downtown Kansas City, the American Royal Parade is moving to Kauffman Stadium. A spokeswoman for the American Royal, says the move is designed to inject new energy into the parade, which has been held for 90 years. The route for the parade on October 3 is not final but officials say it likely will make a half circle around the baseball stadium. The Kansas City Star reports this is the first time the parade will be paired with the American Royal's four-day World Series of Barbecue, which also is moving to the Truman Sports Complex. The Saturday morning parade will be a lead-in to a daylong Cowtown Family Fun Fest. Organizers say they are hoping to attract more families to the event.


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