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Headlines for Friday, March 20, 2015

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Judge Deviates from Plea in Sentencing Man in Topeka Deaths

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Shawnee County judge has deviated from a plea agreement in sentencing a man for killing two women and wounding a third in 2003 in Topeka. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that King Phillip Amman Reu-El, formerly known as Phillip Cheatham Jr., was ordered Friday to serve his capital murder and attempted first-degree murder sentences back-to-back instead of at the same time. The decision means the earliest the 42-year-old could be released would be in about 26 years. He already has served more than 11 years for the crimes. Amman Reu-El avoided the death penalty by pleading no contest in February as jury selection was beginning for a retrial. His original conviction was overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court because of ineffective counsel in his first trial.

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No Tornadoes Reported Anywhere Across US in March

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The U.S. appears to be locked in a tornado drought as meteorologists have recorded only about two-dozen twisters so far this year during a period when 100 or more are typical. And there have been no reports of tornadoes so far in March — a sometimes violent period for severe weather. The last time there were no tornadoes in March was 1969. Forecasters at NOAA's Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma have issued only four tornado watches and no severe thunderstorm watches — less than 10 percent of the average 52 tornado watches issued by mid-March. Warning coordination meteorologist Greg Carbin said there isn't one answer to explain the sluggish start, but that a persistent weather pattern of cold, stable air prevents a tornado's ingredients from coming together.

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Foes of Common Core Standards Fail to Advance Ban in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has rejected a proposed ban on using multistate Common Core academic standards in the state's public schools. The Education Committee on Friday voted 10-7 against a bill preventing any school district or official from giving "any measure of control" over academic standards to any group outside Kansas. Common Core foes split Friday over whether to pursue softer language for the bill to help it advance. The State Board of Education in 2010 adopted Common Core standards for reading and math developed by the National Governors Association and education associations. Supporters see them as rigorous standards emphasizing critical thinking. The standards have been strongly criticized over changes in how material is taught, but opponents haven't been able to get a ban through the Legislature.

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Kansas House Panel Tables Repeal of Immigrant Tuition Policy

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas House committee has tabled a bill that would end a tuition break at state colleges for some young immigrants living in the state illegally. The Education Committee's 10-8 vote Thursday showed that Republicans who control the panel are split on immigration issues. The bill appears unlikely to advance this year. A 2004 law allows high school graduates who came to the U.S. illegally to pay the lower tuition rates at state universities, community colleges and technical colleges normally reserved for legal residents. About 650 higher education students enrolled in fall 2014 under the law. Committee members amended the bill to apply starting with 2018 high school graduates. Supporters of the law say the young students are an asset. Critics of the law say it encourages illegal immigration.

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Kansas School Districts Want Court to Reject State's Appeal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - School districts suing Kansas over education funding are asking the Kansas Supreme Court to keep their entire lawsuit before a lower court. Attorneys for the four districts asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to reject the state's appeal of a recent decision from a three-judge Shawnee County District Court panel. The panel ruled in December that the state must boost its annual spending on public schools by at least $548 million. Attorney General Derek Schmidt asked the panel to reconsider, but it refused on March 11. Schmidt notified the panel that he would appeal. The lower-court panel still is considering whether the state distributes its aid fairly among districts. The districts said the Supreme Court should have the lower-court panel finish with the entire case before considering any appeals.

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Kansas Senate Advances Open Records, Transparency Proposals

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has given first-round approval to two bills designed to make government more transparent. Senators advanced three bills Thursday. They would limit government fees for producing records and make legislative meetings more accessible. Under the records bill, agencies would not be able to charge more than 25 cents per page for records. But the chamber rejected an amendment from Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka to require state agencies to disclose officials' emails about government business on private accounts or networks. Hensley said that rejecting the amendment was hypocritical, given Republican criticism of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's use of private email for official business. The other measure would require the Legislature to provide live Internet audio of some committee meetings, starting in 2016.

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Kansas Senate Panel Approves Bill Limiting Public Employee Unions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has approved a bill to limit bargaining between state agencies and public employee unions and to prevent such unions from collecting dues through paycheck deductions. The bill endorsed by the Commerce Committee on a voice vote Thursday also would keep state agencies and school districts from making many other paycheck deductions. The list includes contributions to charities such as the United Way. The bill also would limit collective bargaining between state agencies and employees to minimum wages. Supporters say the bill protects taxpayers. Critics see it as an attack on unions. The bill goes next to the full Senate for debate.

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Kansas Senate Passes Bill Requiring University Prospectuses

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas universities would be required to publicize information on their graduates' average salaries, student loan debt and employment under a bill passed by the Senate. The bill passed the chamber on a 27-11 vote Thursday. Supporters say the measure would help prospective students make informed decisions on which university and major to choose by requiring institutions to provide them a "prospectus." The information would compare the average economic outcomes of their graduates from each degree track. Republican Senator Julia Lynn from Olathe said graduates today face higher education costs and a tougher job market and not all incoming students are aware of the realities. But other senators balked at the potential cost of up to $5.5 million annually and said broader research on such subjects is already available.

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Kansas Senate Bill Allows Campus Religious Groups to Restrict Membership

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Senate has approved a bill designed to protect religious groups on public college campuses that want to restrict their memberships to people who share their beliefs. The vote Thursday was 30-8 and sends the measure to the House. The bill says that state universities, community colleges and technical colleges can't refuse to recognize or deny campus facilities to groups that limit membership based on their religious beliefs. Supporters of the bill say it protects groups' religious liberties. Some critics have worried that the bill would force taxpayer-funded colleges to recognize groups that exclude gays and lesbians. The measure is a response to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision saying that universities could adopt anti-bias policies requiring religious groups to accept anyone who wants to join.

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Kansas Utilities Regulator Orders Disposal Well Reductions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas has ordered drilling operations in two counties to cut back on a practice that may be causing earthquakes. The Kansas Corporation Commission issued the order Thursday. It requires drillers in five areas in Harper and Sumner counties in south-central Kansas to reduce the amount of water they inject into underground wells as a part of their businesses. The process is commonly part of the hydraulic fracking technique used to reach previously inaccessible oil and gas deposits. More than 200 earthquakes have been recorded in Kansas since 2013 in an unprecedented spike in seismic activity. Many have been in the two counties. Interim Director Rex Buchanan of the Kansas Geological Survey has said there is a strong correlation between the injection-well process and the dramatic increase in earthquakes.

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Westboro Funeral Protest Trial Ends in Omaha 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The federal trial has ended in a lawsuit challenging Nebraska's law requiring picketers to stay at least 500 feet from funerals. The trial ended Thursday after attorneys for Topeka-Kansas based Westboro Baptist Church and the state, Omaha Police Department and Douglas County District Attorney's Office rested. U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp dismissed the Douglas County prosecutor's office from the lawsuit following testimony. The church protests at funerals throughout the country using anti-gay chants and signs because it believes God is punishing U.S. military members and others for defending a nation that tolerates homosexuality. The church claims that the Nebraska law is selectively enforced and is unconstitutionally infringes on its free-speech rights. The judge will decide the case sometime after both sides submit closing briefs over the next three months.
 

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