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Headlines for Friday, March 17, 2017

Here's a look at area headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Senate Rejects GOP Leader's Proposed Spending Cut

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Senate has rejected a proposal from its top Republican leader to cut state spending by $105 million to help the state avoid a budget deficit on June 30. The vote Thursday was 33-7 against the proposal from President Susan Wagle of Wichita. She offered it as an amendment to bill aimed at getting the state through June. The Senate expected to vote on the measure Thursday night. It would authorize internal government borrowing and short state contributions to public employee pensions to tide the state over until it can start collecting new revenue from higher taxes. Wagle said she wants to cut spending to hold down the size of the tax increase. Other senators said public schools and state agencies couldn't cope with an immediate loss of funds.

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Kansas Supreme Court Receptive to Protecting Abortion Rights 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The highest court in Kansas appeared receptive Thursday to declaring for the first time that the state constitution recognizes abortion rights, with a majority of the justices skeptical of the state's argument against the idea as it defended a ban on a common second-trimester procedure. The state Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit filed by two Kansas City-area physicians against a 2015 first-in-the-nation law that has become a model for abortion opponents in other states. The key issue is whether the Kansas Constitution protects abortion rights independently of the U.S. Constitution, which would allow state courts to invalidate restrictions that have been upheld by the federal courts. Abortion opponents fear that such a decision by state courts could block new laws — or invalidate existing ones — even if President Donald Trump's appointments result in a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court. Abortion-rights supporters contend broad language in the state constitution's Bill of Rights protects a woman's right to obtain an abortion. 

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Keeping Gun Ban at Kansas Hospitals May Cost $25 Million

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The cost of upgrading security at Kansas's major mental hospitals in Osawatomie and Larned in order to continue a ban on concealed carry firearms in the building could reach $25 million. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that a state law taking effect in July requires an open-door policy at the two hospitals serving people with severe mental illnesses, unless extraordinary security measures have been taken to protect patients. The same law requires Kansas's community mental health centers, public hospitals and public universities to allow individuals with concealed guns if there is no airport-level screening at building entrances. Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services Secretary Tim Keck told a House committee Thursday that the statute applies to the state hospitals, and it could cost an estimated $25 million to install metal detection equipment and bolster security staff.

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Top Kansas Court Clears Way for New Coal-Fired Power Plant

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has removed a major obstacle to the long-delayed construction of a big, new coal-fired power plant. The state Supreme Court on Friday rejected an effort by an environment group to force the state to regulate emissions linked to climate change. The justices upheld a 2014 decision by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to give Sunflower Electric Power Corporation the go-ahead for its project. The utility wants to build an 895-megawatt plant adjacent to an existing one outside Holcomb, in southwestern Kansas and estimates the cost at $2.2 billion. The company and the state's attorney general said they were pleased by the decision. But an attorney representing the Sierra Club said the ruling "opens the door for a lot of pollution in Kansas."

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Kansas Legislature Passes Sales Tax Break After Wildfire 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers agreed unanimously on a bill giving a sales tax break to people rebuilding fences on agricultural land after wildfires burned more than 1,000 square miles of the state. The Kansas House voted to agree with the Senate's amendments Friday that clarify the tax break goes to rebuilding fences, not new construction. The bill will go to Governor Sam Brownback. The bill gives a sales tax exemption on supplies bought to rebuild or repair fencing after the wildfire. Lawmakers passed a similar proposal after wildfires in two counties last year. Brownback declared a state of emergency March 5 and signed an executive order four days later to help bring relief supplies.

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Man Admits Making Threat Against Kansas Synagogue 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A 41-year-old Kansas City man has pleaded guilty to making a threatening phone call to an Overland Park synagogue. Brian Wachter pleaded guilty Thursday to making a criminal threat, which is a felony. He admitted in his plea that he called in the threat last May to Congregation Beth Shalom. The Kansas City Star reports prosecutors didn't say what the threat involved but court documents describe it as a "threat to commit violence." Sentencing is scheduled for May 9.

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Kansas Lawmakers, Governor Honor Victims of Olathe Bar Shooting 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers honored the victims of a shooting in Olathe that's being investigated as a hate crime with a ceremony and resolution in the House. House Speaker Ron Ryckman, Jr. recognized the two survivors, Alok Madasani and Ian Grillot, and commemorated Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who died in the Feb. 22 shooting at Austins Bar & Grill. House members also passed a resolution honoring Kuchibhotla's life. Ryckman says there is no place in Kansas for acts of such evil. Witnesses say a gunman shouted racial slurs before opening fire on Kuchibhotla and Madasani, both Indian men. Grillot was shot when he intervened. Governor Sam Brownback and the Kansas Senate honored the men Thursday afternoon. Adam Purinton remains jailed in Johnson County on murder and attempted murder charges

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University of Kansas Reports 2 Percent Increase in Crimes

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - The University of Kansas says reported crimes increased 2 percent from 2015 to 2016, led by an increase in theft and criminal damage to property cases. Annual crime statistics from the university's Office of Public Safety show officers handled 770 criminal cases in 2016, up from 757 in 2015. The Lawrence Journal World reports theft reports jumped to 213 from 175, while criminal damage cases increased to 128 from 90. Drug-related offenses, which reached a 10-year-high in 2015, with 186 reports, dropped to 143 reports last year. Five sex offenses, including three rapes, were reported in 2016, up from four in 2015. The crime statistics released include only crimes reported to Kansas police. A more comprehensive federal report released each fall includes offenses on or near the campus.

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Woman Ordered to Stand Trial in Kansas Slaying, Abduction

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Texas woman charged with killing a Kansas mother and kidnapping the victim's newborn daughter has been ordered to stand trial. The Wichita Eagle reports that a Sedgwick County judge heard two hours of testimony Thursday before ordering 34-year-old Yesenia Sesmas to go on trial. She's charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated interference with parental custody. Prosecutors allege Sesmas fatally shot 27-year-old Laura Abarca of Wichita in November and abducted Abarca's 6-day-old newborn. Sesmas and the baby were found two days later at a Dallas home. The child was not injured and was returned to relatives in Wichita. The judge entered a plea of not guilty on Sesmas' behalf Thursday.

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3 Face More Federal Charges in Alleged Garden City Bomb Plot

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Three Kansas men accused of plotting to attack Somali immigrants in the state are facing a second federal conspiracy count. A revised indictment returned Thursday in Wichita against Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen of plotting for months last year to "injure, oppress, threaten and intimate" Somalis who lived at a Garden City apartment complex. While now accusing Wright of lying to the FBI, the new indictment again charges the trio with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. Allen and Stein also remain accused of gun charges. Federal prosecutors allege the defendants were part of The Crusaders militia group and planned the truck-bomb attack on the apartment building, which also contained a mosque, for the day after the November 8 election. The three have pleaded not guilty.

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Man Sentenced for False Statements in Dodge City Hate Crime

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Dodge City man pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI during an investigation of a hate crime attack on three Somali men. Federal prosecutors say 28-year-old Diego Martinez entered the plea Thursday for statements made during an FBI interview in October 2015. The case arose from an unprovoked attack in June 2015 of three Somali men in Dodge City. Martinez's brother and half-brother were sentenced in February for their roles in the crime. Martinez admitted he gave a false alibi to the FBI for his whereabouts when the attack occurred, and falsely said his cell phone wasn't working at the time. Prosecutors said Martinez knew the statements were false and that they obstructed the investigation. Martinez will be sentenced June 1.

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Kansas Man Accused of Illegal Radioactive Material Storage 

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) — The former owner and operator of a Kansas City-area lab is accused in a federal indictment of illegally storing radioactive material that tainted a building at an industrial park, costing U.S. taxpayers $760,000 to clean up. The indictment returned Thursday alleges 61-year-old Ahmed el-Sherif's Beta Chem Laboratory in Lenexa, Kansas, was licensed by Kansas to use radioactive Carbon-14 and solvents. But he eventually lost that permission after an inspection found extensive radioactive contamination in the lab. After the state seized the lab, federal environmental investigators in 2014 found containers with hazardous wastes and tainted with radiation. The indictment alleges el-Sherif submitted bogus tax returns as part of the government's efforts to assess his ability to pay for cleanup costs. Online court records don't show whether el-Sherif has an attorney.

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Longtime Salina Zoo Orangutan Dies Before Surgery

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The Rolling Hills Zoo near Salina says a 40-year-old orangutan died while he was being prepared for surgery. The Salina Journal reports the orangutan, named Clyde, was scheduled for surgery Wednesday to repair a condition that causes swelling and discharge in the throat. Linda Henderson, development and marketing director at the zoo, says zoo veterinarians with extensive experience in treating orangutans were prepared to perform the surgery when complications arose. She says Clyde was a zoo favorite and had outlived his life expectancy of 28 years. Clyde was born in 1976 at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He came to Rolling Hills in 2011 from the San Diego Zoo. Kansas State University will perform a necropsy to affirm the cause of death.

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Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss Part of Kansas State Title IX Case 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed part of a Title IX lawsuit filed against Kansas State University by two women who allege they were raped at off-campus fraternity houses. The Manhattan Mercury reports the court dismissed the claims of one former Kansas State student because her alleged assault occurred at a private apartment complex. But U.S. Judge Julie Robinson denied Kansas State's motion to dismiss the part of the lawsuit that deals with off-campus fraternity houses. The two students say in their lawsuit the university didn't investigate when they reported they were raped in off-campus fraternities. They argued the university has substantial control over off-campus fraternities and are required to investigate. Kansas State has argued laws don't require the university to investigate sexual assaults when they happen off campus.

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Man in Wheelchair Dies in Kansas City Truck Accident

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Kansas City police are investigating after a city water department truck struck and killed a man in a wheelchair. The water department said two of its employees were driving a dump truck when the accident happened Thursday at an intersection in central Kansas City. Police say the man began crossing the road just before the light turned green for the truck. The driver told police he didn't know the vehicle hit the wheelchair because he couldn't see it. The driver came back to the intersection after he felt something fall off the vehicle. The victim, whose name was not released, died at the scene.

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Salina Man Accepts Plea Deal After Jury Deadlocks

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - A man originally charged with attempted capital murder of a police officer pleaded no contest to reduced charges after a jury couldn't reach a verdict in his trial. The Salina Journal reports 36-year-old Michael Ryan, of Salina, accepted the plea Thursday to attempted voluntary manslaughter of Salina detective Crystal Hornseth. He also pleaded no contest to aggravated assault of his daughter and one of her friends, and criminal discharge of a firearm. Prosecutors say Ryan went to a home where his daughter was visiting friends. He pointed a rifle at 17-year-old and made his 15-year-old daughter go with him. Later, he fired 10 shots at Salina police who had surrounded his house. A Saline County jury was dismissed Thursday after attorneys announced a plea was reached.

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Colorado Ranchers Deliver Hay to Kansas Ranchers Affected by Wildfire 

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Ranchers in northern Colorado have been helping out counterparts in southern Kansas who were affected by wildfires. A group of Routt County ranchers donated money and 15 tons of hay to ranchers in Kansas who lost livestock and property to the fires. Rancher Kyle Monger organized the humanitarian effort after he heard a friend had lost most of his ranch near Ashland, Kansas. Monger says he's grateful that the Routt County community quickly came together for those in need.  Hayden trucker Donnie Hayes says the family he delivered the hay to lost everything except for their vehicles and some cattle that had sought refuge in a pond as fire engulfed the ranch.

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South Dakota Hay Relief Heads to Kansas

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Truckloads of hay from South Dakota farmers are headed south to states where ranchers have been devastated by wildfires.  More than a dozen trucks loaded with hay bales left South Dakota Wednesday and Thursday destined for ranches in Kansas. Organizer Jed Olbertson says a load has already arrived in the southwest Kansas community of Ashland. Olbertson tells the Topeka Capital Journal six or more truckloads organized by a rancher from the Garretson, South Dakota area are headed for Colorado. Governors in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas have asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to halt grazing restrictions on federal land to give surviving cattle more places to feed.
 

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