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Headlines for Friday, March 11, 2016

Kansas news headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Governor's Warning on Bond Rating Stalls Senate Move
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has stalled an effort by Kansas legislators to override one of his vetoes by warning that it could hurt the state's credit ratings. The developments Thursday in the Senate involved a bill to protect the aging Docking State Office Building near the Statehouse from demolition. The demolition was part of a $20 million project to replace Docking's power plant for nearby government buildings with a new plant. Bipartisan opposition prompted Brownback to cancel it. The bill tied the project's cancellation to lawmakers' refusal to provide money for it. Brownback vetoed it last week, saying it was unnecessary. Supporters of the bill wanted to vote to override the veto Thursday, but Brownback's warning about the state's credit ratings caused them to drop the effort until next week.

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Citigroup Briefs Kansas Officials on Selling Tobacco Funds 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A major U.S. bank has given a presentation to Kansas finance officials on securitizing the state's future tobacco settlement money. The presentation by Citigroup has raised concerns among child advocates who say selling the future settlement payments to raise cash for the budget deficit would hurt the state's early childhood system. A copy of the 26-page Citigroup presentation, provided to The Topeka Capital-Journal by Kansas Action for Children, said Citigroup, "pioneered the tobacco bond market" and shows which states have securitized. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley on Thursday said the meeting with Citigroup last October was attended by officials with the Kansas Development Finance Authority and Brownback's budget director. She says there's no deal or pending legislation to sell tobacco settlement money.

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Kansas Conservatives Advance Bill on Impeachment of Judges 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill declaring that Kansas Supreme Court justices can be impeached for meddling too much in the state Legislature's business has cleared its first big hurdle toward passage. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill Thursday on a voice vote. It goes next to the full Senate for debate. The state constitution says Supreme Court justices can be impeached for treason, bribery and "other high crimes or misdemeanors." The bill says the last phrase covers a list of offenses that includes attempting to "usurp the power" of legislators or executive branch. Conservative Republicans have criticized the Kansas high court over death penalty and education funding rulings. Kansas has been at the center of national efforts by conservatives to remake the courts.

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2 Bills Would Cause Different Outcomes for Kansas Districts
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A school funding bill in the Kansas Senate would reduce funding for most of the state's school districts, while a bill introduced in the Kansas House would increase funding for a majority of districts. A bill introduced by Senator Ty Masterson, the Senate's budget chairman, would shift money already allocated for K-12 districts to poorer districts. The Legislative Research Department says it would cause a funding decline for 189 school districts, with increases for 37 districts. Meanwhile, a bill introduced in the House Friday by Representative Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, would give districts $39 million more in funding for the next school year. The Wichita Eagle reports that would increase funding for 162 districts and reduce funding for 79 districts. Another 45 districts would have flat funding.

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Outcry from Educators over Finance Measure Stifles Meeting 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A scheduled hearing on a measure that would give the governor more control over school finance has been cancelled after educators across the state flooded lawmakers with emails opposing the bill. The Wichita Eagle reports Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, on Thursday blamed education interest groups for stirring controversy about the measure. Senate Bill 311 would take control of school finance away from the Kansas Department of Education and give it to the Department of Education. Masterson says the bill would increase transparency of the school finance process. Opponents such as Senator Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, call the bill an unconstitutional power grab. Masterson said he doesn't plan to revisit the issue this year.

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Budget Restrictions on KU Could Hurt School's Credit
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A credit rating agency says a restriction that lawmakers placed on the University of Kansas could affect the university's credit. The Legislature placed a provision in the budget, signed by Governor Sam Brownback last week, restricting the university from spending beyond its approved budget without permission from lawmakers. The Wichita Eagle reports that the measure was a response to the university's decision to go out of state for a $327 million bond issue in January to avoid the need for legislative approval. Moody's Investor Services said this week that the restrictions limit "the university's flexibility to manage its budget on a real-time basis." Moody's has not changed the university's credit rating. Moody's gave the university a negative outlook in December, citing its decision to finance large-scale construction through bonds.

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Top Kansas Lawmakers Hire Lawyer for School Funding Lawsuit 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Kansas lawmakers have hired a Kansas City-area attorney to represent the Legislature in a school funding lawsuit. The Legislature's top seven leaders voted Thursday to hire Toby Crouse of Overland Park to help lawmakers collect evidence and build a record for the state Supreme Court. The court ruled last month that a 2015 school funding law shorts poor school districts on their state aid. The justices threatened to shut down public schools unless lawmakers fix the problems before July. Legislators approved spending $50,000 for an attorney, and Republicans began looking for a lawyer. Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita said legislative leaders needed to act quickly because lawmakers are already considering school funding proposals. But the Legislature's two Democratic leaders were wary of moving so quickly.

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Kansas Lawmakers Push Efforts to Limit Refugees 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has voted to send back to committee a measure allowing the governor to place a moratorium on accepting refugees into communities that don't have enough health services or law enforcement to accommodate them. Representatives voted 72-39 on Thursday to have the House Federal and State Affairs Committee reconsider the bill. The vote came after House members introduced several amendments and raised questions about implications of the measure. Supporters say the bill would codify into state law certain federal requirements related to state agencies involved in the resettling of refugees. FSA Committee Chairwoman Jan Pauls, a Hutchinson Republican, said the measure was important and that she would seek to schedule another hearing this session.

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Lawmaker Wants to Exempt Kansas from Daylight Saving Time 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas would stop observing daylight saving time after this year under a bill being pushed by a prominent Republican legislator. The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee heard testimony Thursday from Republican Senator Ty Masterson of Andover in favor of his bill. Masterson said there's little evidence that moving clocks forward an hour each spring saves energy or increases productivity, and it interrupts people's sleep cycles and could cause health problems. Lawmakers in other states also are considering proposals to move away from the twice-a-year ritual of changing clocks. Daylight saving time begins this weekend. Masterson is chairman of the powerful budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee. But he was the only person to testify in Thursday's hearing, and the panel doesn't yet plan to take up his bill.

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State: Kansas Has First Known Case of Zika Virus 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State health officials say an adult from southwest Kansas has the state's first confirmed case of the Zika virus. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said in announcing the case Friday that the person had traveled to a country with "local Zika virus transmission." The department said confirmation came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No other details were provided. Health officials say the virus is mainly transmitted by a specific type of mosquito and most people who get the disease have no symptoms. Others with the Zika virus suffer from fever, rash, joint pain and pink eye. Health officials are investigating whether the virus is linked to birth defects in the children of women who caught the virus while pregnant.

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Bill Clinton Stumps for Hillary Clinton in Kansas City 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Former president Bill Clinton told a crowd in Kansas City that his wife is someone who devotes herself to the hard politics that can improve people's lives. Bill Clinton said Friday that Hillary Clinton ought to be president because "she is the best change-maker." Hillary Clinton is fighting Sen. Bernie Sanders for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. The Kansas City Star reports that Bill Clinton was in Kansas City just a few days before Tuesday's Missouri primary. Hillary Clinton holds a delegate lead in the race to win the party's nomination at its summer convention in Philadelphia. But she lost the Michigan primary to Sanders on Tuesday.

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Westar Seeks to Hike Residential Customer Costs 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Westar Energy is seeking to hike rates for residential customers and schools while cutting rates for most businesses. The Wichita Eagle reports that a rate request filed with the Kansas commission that regulates utilities seeks to increase the transmission rate on residential customers' bills by about 31 percent. The changes pending before the Kansas Corporation Commission would add about $4 a month to the average customer's bill. Meanwhile, the average small-business would pay about $31 less. Midsize businesses would see about a 1 percent increase in their transmission rate, while the largest commercial and industrial customers would get a 4 percent cut. Schools are proposed to get a 29-percent increase.

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ATF Agent Says No Signs Rifle Used in Shootings Was Stolen
 
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal authorities say they've found no indications that a rifle used in the shooting deaths of four Kansas men and one in Missouri was stolen. Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino was captured just after midnight Wednesday a few miles from where authorities say he gunned down 49-year-old Randy Nordman at the man's home in Montgomery County, Missouri. Police say a rifle he had when he was captured was similar to one used to kill four men in Kansas City, Kansas, on Monday night. John Ham, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, says investigators don't think the gun was stolen but are still trying to figure out who last legitimately purchased the weapon. He says Serrano-Vitorino likely obtained the weapon in the Kansas City area, where he lived.

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Officer Fatally Shoots Man Holding Weapon on Kansas Highway
 
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A law enforcement officer shot and killed a man after he got out of a vehicle and raised a firearm along an interstate in Kansas. Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet says officers received a report Friday afternoon of a man sitting in a pickup with a gun sticking out the window. Herzet told The Wichita Eagle the weapon appeared to be a rifle with a scope. He says officers blocked traffic along U.S. 54 near Rosalia and used a public address system to communicate with the man from a distance. Herzet says the man got out of the vehicle and raised the weapon, which is when an officer shot and killed him. Herzet wouldn't provide the man's name or age but said he had lived in the county previously. 

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Topeka Authorities Investigate Mail Theft 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in Topeka have been investigating mail thefts that included more than $90,000 in stolen checks. The Topeka Police Department's community policing unit has been working with local U.S. postal inspectors in the effort. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that officers on Thursday recovered a U.S. Postal Service bin with more than 150 pieces of stolen mail and packages containing checks totaling more than $90,000. Investigators also found medical supplies, marijuana, methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Authorities arrested a woman at the residence on charges of drug possession and possessing stolen property.

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Kansas Teen Enters Plea in Sister's Death

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - A 16-year-old Kansas girl has pleaded no contest to killing her younger sister. The Salina Journal reports that Sierra Niehaus entered the plea at an early March status conference that had been scheduled in advance of her Saline County District Court trial. Prosecutors allege Niehaus stabbed her 13-year-old sister, Galazia, to death at the family's rural Saline County home on August 1, 2014. A judge ruled in April that she could be tried as an adult on a first-degree murder charge. She pleaded no contest to amended charges of second-degree murder, felony theft and two counts of interference with law enforcement. Saline County Attorney Ellen Mitchell said Thursday the state will be seeking a total sentence of more than 15 1/2 years for Niehaus.

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Kansas State Fair Announces 3 Main-Stage Concerts 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State Fair officials have announced the first round of main stage acts for the 2016 event. The Wichita Eagle reports that the acts announced Tuesday include Suzy Bogguss, Lynryd Skynyrd and Jake Owen. The first of the concerts will have several classic country acts, including Bogguss, Billy Dean, Restless Heart, Richie McDonald of Lonestar. That show is September 13. Classic rock band Lynryd Skynyrd, known for its hit "Sweet Home Alabama," will perform September 16. Country singer Jake Owen will perform with opening act Old Dominion on September 17. Owen has five No. 1 hits, including "Alone with You" and "Barefoot Blue Jean Night." Tickets for the concerts go on sale May 6. The fair will operate September 9 to 18 on Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson.

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3 Charged with Robbing Kansas Bank with Tot in Getaway SUV

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Three people have been charged with robbing a suburban Kansas City bank with a toddler in the getaway vehicle. Eighteen-year-old Jacob Smith, 39-year-old Gary Jordan and 26-year-old Danielle Morris were charged Thursday with bank robbery and brandishing firearms during a robbery. Their attorneys didn't' immediately return phone messages from The Associated Press. Federal court documents say Jordan and Smith were armed when they held up the Stilwell bank Wednesday. Morris is accused of waiting outside in the getaway sport utility vehicle with her 19-month-old daughter. The three Kansas City, Kansas, suspects are accused of fleeing into Missouri with law enforcement in pursuit before wrecking the SUV. Smith is accused of firing shots during the pursuit and Jordan of trying to carjack another vehicle after the wreck. The toddler wasn't hurt.

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Woman Accused of Abandoning Grandson at Store Sentenced

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita woman accused of abandoning her 5-year-old grandson while fleeing a Kohl's store after a shoplifting incident has been sentenced to nearly three years in jail. The Wichita Eagle reports that 42-year-old Kathleen Williams received a 32-month sentence Thursday. She had pleaded guilty in January to a charge of theft after prior conviction and a charge of contributing to a child's misconduct or deprivation. Prosecutors say she tried to steal clothing from the store before fleeing, leaving the clothes and her grandson behind in June. She eluded police for nearly three months. Williams's grandson was placed in foster care as a result of the incident.

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WireCo Closing Most of Its Operations in St. Joseph

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — A company that was once one of St. Joseph's largest employers is closing most of its manufacturing operations and will eliminate all but 14 jobs. WireCo WorldGroup announced Thursday that it is eliminating 49 jobs as it winds down a company that has been in business in St. Joseph for nearly 70 years and once employed 1,500 people. WireCo President and CEO Chris Ayers said the 14 employees will remain at a fabricated products division. The St. Joseph News-Press reports the company moved to St. Joseph in 1948. Its wire rope products are used in energy exploration, bridge construction and other industries. Its headquarters are now in Prairie Village, Kansas. It has operations in Chillicothe or other Missouri cities, which will not be affected by the changes in St. Joseph.

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No. 1 Kansas Trounces K-State, 85-63, in Big 12 Tournament

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — KU's Perry Ellis scored 21 points, Frank Mason III added 16 and top-ranked Kansas defeated Kansas State, 85-63, on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. The Jayhawks (28-4) led 45-30 at halftime before pushing their advantage past 20 for much of the second half. They coasted the rest of their way to a semifinal matchup tonight (FRI) versus No. 22 Baylor. The Jayhawks' Carlton Bragg added a career-high 12 points for Kansas. Devonte Graham finished with 11. The eighth-seeded Wildcats (17-16) were led by Justin Edwards, who hit five 3s and had 23 points. But the senior guard didn't get nearly as much help as he had in a first-round victory over Oklahoma State on Wednesday.

 

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