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Headlines for Friday, March 18, 2016

Kansas news headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Senate Passes Disability Bill, Adds Privatization Provision 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has passed a bill intended to define and streamline the process for a shared living program for adults with mental illness and developmental disabilities. The Wichita Eagle reports that the bill passed by a vote of 31-5 after hours of debate Thursday. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services says the bill would enable it to re-establish a shared living program that allows adults with developmental disabilities or other disorders to be placed with a care provider. The agency temporarily suspended the program in October. Some lawmakers say the bill would enable the agency to privatize facilities and avoid legislative oversight. Before the bill was passed, a provision was added that would require the agency to seek legislative approval before privatizing facilities.


Kansas House Advances Bill to Tighten Control of State Debt 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has given first-round approval to a bill that would give legislators more oversight of bonds or other debt for major building projects. The measure advanced Friday on a voice vote. The House expects to take final action Monday. The bill would require the Legislature to approve the debt for a project worth $25 million or more. Legislative leaders and the governor could approve smaller projects. The requirements also would cover lease-purchase agreements. The measure is a reaction to two projects without prior legislative approval. A nonprofit corporation formed by the University of Kansas is financing major campus improvements with $327 million in bonds issued by a Wisconsin agency. And Governor Sam Brownback recently canceled a $20 million plan for a new power plant near the Statehouse.


Republican Lawmakers in Kansas Struggle with School Funding 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators in Kansas are divided over redistributing education funds. The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a bill Thursday that would reallocate $38 million of the state's more than $4 billion in aid for its 286 school districts in 2016-17. The plan from committee Chairman Ty Masterson would boost state aid for 100 districts but reduce it for 186. The measure goes next to the full Senate for debate. But in the House, strong criticism from Republicans on the Appropriations Committee forced Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr. to drop his own plan, which reduced aid for 79 districts. Several GOP members said they want lawmakers to take a different approach. Their comments suggested that Masterson's plan would have trouble in the House if it passes the Senate.


Kansas Juvenile Justice System Set for Possible Overhaul 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Low-risk juvenile offenders and those who violate probation could be referred to community-based programs instead of being placed in juvenile detention centers under a proposal being considered by Kansas lawmakers. House representatives gave the measure first-round approval Friday. It passed 38-2 in the Senate last month. The House is expected to vote on final approval Monday. A Senate conference committee will then review changes to the measure. The House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee added a provision to reserve up to 50 beds in group homes for offenders without a safe home. The measure approved by the Senate said all group homes would close by July 2018. Some law enforcement agencies worried that offenders committing higher-level misdemeanors would be likely to re-offend if all homes closed.


Kansas Bill Would Exempt Private Businesses from Local Regulations 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are considering a proposal that would prohibit local governments or city officials from regulating the work hours or wages of private employees. The measure would outlaw local regulations that require employers to give benefits, paid vacation time or a higher wage than the state-mandated minimum wage unless a state or federal law requires them to do so. The measure would exempt any local regulations related to business attraction, recruitment, or retention programs. Kansas representatives gave the measure first round approval with an 81-34 vote Thursday. Critics say the bill would strip local governments of the authority to decide what job regulations are best for their area. Supporters contend that the measure would prevent government interference in private businesses.


Proposal Blocks Kansas Cities from Requiring Nutrition Labels on Prepared Food 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas municipalities may be prohibited from creating nutrition labeling on food or non-alcoholic beverages sold in restaurants, cafeterias or vending machines under a measure being considered by the House. The proposal would forbid local governments from barring certain foods to be sold because of its nutritional content. It also prevents municipalities from restricting the growing of livestock or food crops approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kansas representatives gave the bill first round approval with a 77-37 vote Thursday. Supporters say the measure makes nutrition labeling and food sale consistent, while opponents argue it infringes on local control. Republican Representative Kristey Williams, of Augusta, successfully proposed a change to the bill that would allow local officials to maintain zoning rules for maintaining livestock in cities.  


Kansas Bills Would Limit Schools' Accommodation of Transgender Students

 TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Transgender students at Kansas public schools and colleges would be required to use restrooms, showers and locker rooms for their sex at birth under two bills introduced in the Legislature. Separate but identical measures have been introduced in the House by its Federal and State Affairs Committee and in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Both say schools and colleges must limit such facilities to use by a single sex and defines gender by a person's chromosomes. Both bills describe the measures as "student physical privacy'' protections. House committee chairwoman Jan Pauls said Thursday that such questions raise serious privacy issues for both students and parents.  But Equality Kansas Executive Director Tom Witt said if the bills pass, transgender students will be isolated and bullied. 


Kansas Senate Approves Tighter Rules for Bonding Program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Senate has approved a bill tightening the rules for a program using bonds to help finance economic development projects. The 34-4 vote Thursday sends the measure to the House. It also allows the state to sell the Kansas Bioscience Authority's assets. The bill imposes new requirements for so-called STAR bonds authorized by the state and paid off with sales tax revenues. Each project would be required to have an independent consulting report and a commitment from private developers to provide more than half of the financing. The measure is a response to state efforts to lure the American Royal horse and livestock exhibition to Kansas from Kansas City, Missouri. Brownback wants to sell off the bioscience agency's assets to raise $25 million to help balance the state budget.


Pro-Hunting Measure to Appear on November Ballot 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas residents will decide this November whether to include the right to hunt, fish and trap wildlife in the state constitution. Kansas would become one of about 20 states that make hunting, fishing and trapping a constitutional right if voters approve the proposed amendment in the November 8 election. The Senate gave final approval to the House resolution in a 36-0 vote Thursday. It passed 117-7 in the House last month. The measure would add a new section to the constitution's Bill of Rights to preserve the outdoor activities as a preferred way to manage wildlife. Any future measures seeking to limit the activities would need to prove that a particular animal could become endangered.


Kansas Regulators Delay Vote on Westar Rate Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas regulators have delayed a vote on a Westar Energy proposal to raise its transmission charge for residential customers. The Kansas Corporation Commission on Thursday pushed a final vote until March 31 on the Westar proposal to raise its transmission charge by 31 percent for home customers while cutting some business rates. The Wichita Eagle reports commissioners said they have questions about the proposal, but didn't say what those questions were in their meeting Thursday. The proposed increase would bring Westar about $25 million more a year, in addition to the $78 million the company got in a general rate case in September. The plan would raise the average home customer's bill about $4 a month, while cutting the average small-business bill by about $31 a month.


Plumbing and Heating Company Moving from Wichita to Denver 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A plumbing and heating systems manufacturer plans to move its headquarters and 113 jobs from Wichita to Denver. The company, Viega, has been in Wichita for 10 years. Viega's general counsel, Jess Arbuckle, says all 113 employees have been offered jobs in Denver. The move is expected to be completed by the end of next year. The Wichita Eagle reports the company is keeping its manufacturing plant in McPherson, where it has about 200 employees. Arbuckle declined to say exactly why the company was moving. He said a nationwide feasibility study found Denver was the best fit for the company because the corporate staff will be more accessible to customers, vendors and regional staff.


2 Suspended KCK Officers Under Investigation 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say two Kansas City, Kansas, police officers have been suspended and are under investigation. The Kansas City Star reports that police said the officers were suspended with pay on Saturday. As part of the "dignitary detail," the officers were assigned to the mayor's security detail. No other details were immediately provided.


Audit Slams Former Johnson County Elections Official over Travel Expenses

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An audit says a U.S. election official improperly claimed mileage and travel expenses, skirted oversight of government credit card expenses and wasted taxpayer funds at his former job as an elections commissioner in Kansas. Brian Newby was hired in November as executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. An audit of the Johnson County Election Office was released Thursday that covers the last five years of Newby’s 11-year tenure with the county. The audit questioned nearly $40,000 in products and services purchased. It recommended the county seek reimbursement from Newby for $5,478 in improper payments made to him. It noted the elections staff took 86 trips between 2010 and 2015, with improper payments made to Newby on 36 of those. Newby says the audit is inaccurate, misleading and incomplete.


Kansas Democrats Protest GITMO Plan Following GOP Resolution

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Senate's eight Democrats have sent a letter to President Obama opposing moving terror suspects to Fort Leavenworth from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The letter to the president Thursday came two days after the Republican-dominated Legislature adopted a resolution opposing the president's push to close the Guantanamo detention center. Kansas officials and members of the state's congressional delegation have promised to fight any effort to close Guantanamo and move its prisoners to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth.  But state Senate Minority Leader and Topeka Democrat Anthony Hensley said the resolution contained "polarizing and uncivil rhetoric.'' 


Inmate Missing from Winfield Prison

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) _ An inmate who escaped from a minimum-security prison in southern Kansas is still on the run. The Kansas Department of Corrections says 37-year-old Bradley Wayne Struble was last seen about midnight Wednesday during a regular inmate count. The Winfield Correctional Facility is a minimum-security facility where inmates are supervised, but the grounds are not fenced in. The Wichita Eagle reports that Struble is serving a sentence for violating parole. His most recent criminal conviction was in 2004 for battering a correctional officer.  He was sent to Winfield in February and was due to be released in October.


Topeka Symphony to Memorialize '66 Tornado with Stormy Music 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Topeka Symphony Orchestra is performing stormy music to commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of a tornado that killed 16 people. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the performance is scheduled Saturday night at the White Concert Hall on the campus of Washburn University. The symphony's music director and conductor, Kyle Wiley Pickett, says he's read accounts of the tornado that struck on June 6, 1966. The tornado was classified as an F-5 on the Fujita scale. It stayed on the ground for more than a half hour, cutting a half mile-wide swath. Works from Ludwig van Beethoven and English composer Benjamin Britten will be performed in remembrance. Pickett says the selections "reminds us of the greatness of nature — its beauty as well as terrible power."


Kansas Masons Give $2.5 Million to K-State Programs 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Masons from 220 lodges in Kansas have donated a total of $2.5 million to three Kansas State University programs. The Kansas Masonic Foundation's gifts will support the Kansas PRIDE program, the Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship and the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs. Kansas PRIDE encourages volunteers to work with local governments to improve their communities. The Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship works to improve entrepreneurial opportunities at Kansas State and throughout Kansas. The Office of Military and Veterans Affairs focuses on military-related institutional policies, education, research and outreach. Foundation president Michael Tavares says the organization wants to expand its partnership with the university through the three programs. The foundation also is celebrating its 50th anniversary by launching a $20 million fundraising campaign for community improvements.


New Charge Filed Against Kansas Couple in Child's Death 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas couple faces upgraded murder charges in the death of the man's missing 7-year-old son. Online court records show Wyandotte County prosecutors have charged Michael A. Jones and Heather Jones with premeditated first-degree murder and felony child abuse. They were previously charged with first-degree murder and felony child abuse. The premeditated first-degree murder charge carries a possible life sentence without parole for 50 years. Police found the remains of a  juvenile at the couple's Kansas City, Kansas home in November while investigating a domestic disturbance. Authorities haven't said if the remains were those of Jones's missing son. A preliminary hearing for Michael Jones is scheduled for April 8. Heather Jones's preliminary hearing has been postponed while she undergoes a mental evaluation.


Woman Pleads Guilty in Homicide on Wichita State Campus 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A woman has accepted a plea deal in a man's shooting death on the Wichita State University campus. Eboni Fingal of Wichita pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and robbery in the August 2015 death of 23-year-old Rayan Ibrahim Baba in the parking lot of a university student dormitory. The Wichita Eagle reports that Fingal was scheduled for trial Monday for first-degree murder and aggravated robbery but entered her pleas March 11. She will be sentenced April 29. Prosecutors say Fingal and Isaiah Copridge killed Baba after he contacted Fingal for sexual services she had advertised online. Baba was an undergraduate student from Saudi Arabia. Copridge is serving more than 21 years in prison after pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated robbery.


Arkansas City Woman Convicted in Death of 16-Month-Old Daughter

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — An Arkansas City woman has been found guilty in connection to the death of her 16-month-old daughter. KAKE-TV reports that Lindsey Abegg pleaded guilty to aggravated endangerment of a child in the August 2015 death of Astra Abegg. She also pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine and marijuana. Police say that Astra Abegg was found dead at an Arkansas City apartment when emergency crews responded to a report of a medical emergency involving a child. The cause of the child's death has not been released.


2 Plead Guilty in Large-Scale Southwest Missouri Meth Ring 

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A southwest Missouri woman and Kansas City-area man have admitted they helped distribute large quantities of methamphetamine for more than a year. Federal prosecutors say 37-year-old Kenna Harmon, of Republic, and 41-year-old Carlos Tapia, of Lee's Summit, pleaded guilty Thursday to drug conspiracy charges. Prosecutors say Harmon and her husband, Daniel Harmon, led the conspiracy, which distributed meth in Greene, Polk, Christian, Jasper, Laclede and Webster counties. The drug ring distributed more than 45 kilograms of methamphetamine from June 2013 to November 2014. Tapia admitted providing about 10 pounds of the drug every two weeks to the operation. Daniel Harmon was arrested in December 2013 outside of St. Louis and was incarcerated after pleading guilty to drug and weapons charges.


KU Program Aims to Help Student Retention 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas has implemented a new strategy to improve retention among students who failed out of its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that 150 students were offered to participate in a new faculty mentoring program. The college's dean, Carl Lejuez, says that 125 of the students who failed came back to school through the program. The program's goal is to help these students' grades so that they can continue to be enrolled. Lejuez says more than enough of the college's faculty volunteered to mentor students without being paid. He says the hope is that the quickly hatched program can help student retention until a more concrete faculty mentoring program can be implemented.


Survey: Plains, Midwest Economic Picture Slightly Brighter 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A survey of rural bankers in 10 Western and Plains states suggests a slightly brighter economic picture that remains shadowed by lower agriculture and energy commodity prices. A March report released Thursday says the Rural Mainstreet Index rose to 40.2 from 37.0 in February and 34.8 in January. Survey officials say any score below 50 on any of the survey's indexes suggests that factor will decline. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the monthly survey, and he says prices for farm products have fallen about 11 percent and fuel roughly 25 percent since June. Goss says the confidence index dropped to 30.1 this month from 30.4 in February, reflecting the bankers' pessimism. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.


Kansas Park Workers Erect Barriers to Protect Nesting Eagles

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Parks officials are taking steps to protect a pair of eagles and their babies who are nesting at a lake just east of Topeka. Workers from Shawnee County and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism placed two buoys in Lake Shawnee. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the goal is to keep boaters a safe distance from the shore near the tree where the birds are nesting. Mike McLaughlin, of the Shawnee County Parks and Recreation Department, says people in boats and kayaks had been getting close to the birds trying to get photos. McLaughlin says the nest is still visible, especially with a good camera lens. A parks police officer reported seeing at least two eaglets in the nest.


Kansas Man Sentenced on Child Porn Charges

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man has been sentenced to 24 years in federal prison for recording videos of his girlfriend's daughter in the bathroom of a Lawrence home in 2014. 56-year-old Ken Theis of Perry was convicted on two counts of attempting to produce child pornography. A federal judge found that Theis placed a cell phone in the bathroom of his girlfriend's home and recorded her 11-year-old daughter, later transferring the video to his laptop computer. In a second incident, Theis activated cell phone cameras in the bathroom to record the girl getting into and out of the shower.


Trial Set for Woman Accused of Giving Kansas Shooter Guns 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has set a May trial date for the woman accused of giving her former boyfriend the guns used in last month's mass shooting at a Kansas lawn equipment factory. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren issued on Thursday a scheduling order in the case of 28-year-old Sarah Jo Hopkins, setting May 3 for her trial. The Newton woman has pleaded not guilty to transferring weapons to a prohibited person. Prosecutors say she gave Cedric Ford an AK-47-type semi-automatic rifle and a .40-caliber handgun that he used in the February 25 attack at Excel Industries in Hesston. Four people, including Ford, were killed and 14 others were injured. Hopkins has told investigators that she gave him the guns because he had threatened her. Hopkins and Ford have two children together.


Chiefs Sign Mississippi State Track Standout to Deal

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs signed Mississippi State track and field standout Tautvydas Kieras on Friday, even though the projected linebacker never played football for the Bulldogs. The 6-foot-3, 271-pound Lithuanian set the school record in the discus and was accomplished in the shot put. But with his college career wrapping up, Kieras decided to give football a try. After training in Las Vegas for Mississippi State's pro day, he pushed 225 pounds 24 times on the bench press, jumped 35 inches in the vertical and posted a sub-4.7-second 40-yard dash. The Chiefs have a history of signing players without much football experience. Tight end Demetrius Harris played basketball for Wisconsin-Milwaukee before signing on with the team.


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