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Headlines for Friday, March 27, 2015

Plaintiffs File Motion to Block New Kansas School Funding Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The plaintiffs in a school funding lawsuit are asking a court in Topeka to block Governor Sam Browback's new school funding plan. The motion was filed Thursday and calls on the court to bar Kansas from enacting the law overhauling the way the state distributes aid to schools. Governor Sam Brownback signed the plan into law Wednesday. It replaces the state's current school funding formula and would freeze funding at the same level in 2016 as in the current fiscal year. The three-judge panel assigned to case has ruled that it may take measures to preserve the status quo and will hear arguments for blocking the law May 7. A Kansas Department of Education analysis shows that the state's school districts would receive about $50 million dollars less in state aid although some districts would see increased funding.  A spokeswoman for Attorney General Derek Schmidt says the administration will defend the new law. 

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Some Kansas Students to Face Deeper Financial Aid Cuts
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Students attending public, four-year universities and colleges in Kansas may see cuts in their financial aid due to a legislative action on a program governing school grants. Kansas Board of Regents spokeswoman Breeze Richardson said the grants go to the students, not the institutions themselves. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the clause added to Governor Sam Brownback's request to the Comprehensive Grant program would only leave $2.4 million for students attending public institutions. The clause says that private independent colleges should not receive less than 75 percent or about $13 million of all need-based grants funded by Kansas. The grant program was started in 1998, and funds have traditionally been split evenly between public and private institutions in Kansas. Republican Senator Vicki Schmidt made a motion Wednesday to restore the even allocation of funds, but the amendment failed on a vote of 15-23.

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Federal Figures Rank Kansas 28th in Job Growth in February 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — New federal figures show that Kansas ranked 28th in February among states and the District of Columbia in its percentage of private-sector job growth over the previous year. Seasonally adjusted data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that Kansas had 21,000 more residents employed in private-sector, nonfarm jobs in February than in February 2014. That's an increase of nearly 1.9 percent, to 1.15 million. Utah had the nation's best growth rate of more than 4.8 percent. Three neighboring states outperformed Kansas. Colorado experienced growth of 3.7 percent; Texas had 3.6 percent, and Arkansas saw 3 percent. But Kansas did better than Missouri and Oklahoma, which both saw growth of about 1.7 percent. Kansas also outperformed Iowa's 1.4 percent and Nebraska's 1.1 percent.

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Kansas Moving Closer to Issuing $1B or More in Pension Bonds

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas is moving closer to issuing $1 billion or more in bonds to bolster its pension system for teachers and government workers.  The House and Senate have approved rival plans, even though many lawmakers view issuing bonds as financially risky.  Governor Sam Brownback advocates the borrowing as part of a larger plan to reduce annual pension costs and help balance the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. House and Senate negotiators expect to work on a compromise next week. Thanks to laws enacted in recent years, the state pension system is on track to close a projected $9.8 billion gap between revenues and the benefit costs from now until 2033.  But those laws require increasing state contributions, and Brownback argues that the payments will strain the budget. 

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New Kansas Bill Would Allow Counties to Vote on Liquor Sales 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A Kansas bill introduced Wednesday would allow a county's voters to decide if their grocery stores can sell liquor, wine and spirits; and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer. The Hutchinson News reports that the bill introduced Wednesday would allow a county's board of commissioners to submit a ballot to voters in the general election about the sale of beer and liquor. If the commission does not pass a resolution to submit a ballot, then citizens may petition for an election. A spokeswoman for Uncork Kansas, a group that believes that Kansas's liquor laws are outdated, says the bill has merit. The general counsel and director of legislative services for the Kansas Association of Counties said the group supports local control, but that it will take a neutral stance on the bill until it can be reviewed.

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Colorado Defends Its Marijuana Law

DENVER (AP) — Legalized marijuana use in Colorado isn't hurting its neighboring states. That's according to a Supreme Court filing Friday that marks the first time Colorado has defended legal marijuana in writing. Colorado sent the argument to the nation's highest court as a defense against a lawsuit from Oklahoma and Nebraska, which have asked the court to stop pot regulation. Colorado says in response that their gripe is with the federal government for not enforcing the Controlled Substances Act. Colorado says that Congress banned marijuana but did not compel states to enforce the ban. Colorado's neighbors claim that the 2012 pot legalization vote has sent the drug flooding across Colorado's borders. The U.S. Supreme Court has not said whether it will hear the challenge.

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Police: 2 Kansas Officers Shoot, Kill Woman at Home 

GARDNER, Kan. (AP) — Two police officers in the Kansas City suburb of Gardner, Kansas, are on administrative leave after shooting and killing a woman during a reported disturbance at a house. Authorities say 53-year-old Deanne Choate of Gardner died at the scene of the shooting Thursday night. No officers were injured. Police say after Choate's boyfriend reported that Choate had fired a gun inside the house, two of the responding officers fired at Choate. Police say one of the officers is a 10-year veteran of the police force, and the other has been with the department for a year and a half.

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Man Accused in Kansas Jewish Site Killings Pleads Not Guilty 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A Missouri white supremacist has pleaded not guilty to charges that he gunned down three people last year at Jewish sites in the Kansas City area. Seventy-four-year-old Frazier Glenn Miller entered the pleas Friday during a court appearance in Johnson County, Kansas. He was ordered earlier this month to stand trial on charges of capital murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder, and one count each of aggravated assault and criminal discharge of a weapon at a structure. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty if Miller is convicted. Miller has said he felt a duty to kill Jews before his death, which he believed to be imminent because he suffers from emphysema. A judge Friday denied Miller's request for Internet access while he's jailed awaiting trial.

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3 Topeka Students Injured in Science Experiment

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A science experiment gone wrong has injured three high school students in Topeka. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that liquid from the experiment spilled onto the floor and ignited Wednesday afternoon at Highland Park High School. District spokesman Ron Harbaugh said that the fire spread to the feet of three students. Harbaugh said the students were taken for medical treatment, but he didn't elaborate on the degree of their injuries. Harbaugh said two of the students were in school Thursday and that the third student was expected to be at school Friday. Harbaugh said the science experiment "had been done numerous times in the class."

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Cloud County Health Center Warns of Medical-Related Scam

CONCORDIA, Kan. (AP) — The Cloud County Health Center is warning residents to beware of a woman claiming she has an appointment to check medical equipment at their homes. The Salina Journal reports the woman pretends to be associated with a medical-related business or organization to gain entry. After she leaves, residents have discovered prescription drugs missing. LeRoy Dickinson, the center's vice president of operations, marketing and public relations, says the impostor has visited the homes of at least three to four elderly individuals in the Concordia area. Dickinson says it appears she's working alone. Dickinson says the scam has been reported to Concordia police and is under investigation. No arrests have been announced. Dickinson says any suspicious activity should be reported to authorities.

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Bomb Squad Safely Removes Grenade Found at Bel Aire Home

BEL AIRE, Kan. (AP) — Bel Aire police say some residents were evacuated for several hours and others told to stay indoors after a grenade was discovered at a home damaged last week by a fire. Police Chief Darrell Atteberry says a construction crew was tearing into the home's ceiling Thursday when the grenade dropped from the attic. The crew backed out as a precaution and notified the homeowner, who called 911. Atteberry says the current owner had only lived in the home for about 11 months and was unaware the grenade was in the attic. Wichita police sent its bomb squad to the scene to check for additional devices and safely removed the grenade.

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Cold Weather Protection for Utility Customers Ends Tuesday 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state agency is reminding utility customers who are behind on paying their electric and natural gas bills that the Kansas Cold Weather Rule ends Tuesday. The Kansas Corporation Commission says the rule aims to protect residential customers who cannot fully pay winter utility bills. It is in effect from November 1 through March 31 of each year for customers of companies under the KCC's jurisdiction. The agency says customers can contact their utility company to set up a payment plan. The rule requires utilities to set up 12-month payment plans for customers who cannot afford to pay their full bill. But the KCC cautions that failure to make arrangements or follow the payment plan could result in service disconnection.

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Haskell Plans Festivities Before Reaccreditation Visit 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A four-day event featuring Native American music is getting underway at Haskell Indian Nations University. The Lawrence school is promoting the Haskell Resurgence event as a way for students to brush up on their school's mission before a reaccreditation site visit. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the first three days of the Friday to Monday festivities are open to the public. Event committee member Diane DuBray says rules governing Haskell's use of money meant no school funding could be provided for the student-organized endeavor. A number of guests have agreed to come for reduced prices. The students also are accepting donations through an online fundraising site.

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2 Missouri Postal Workers Indicted in Separate Federal Cases 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have accused one Missouri postal worker of dumping mail and another of embezzlement. The U.S. attorney's office announced indictments Thursday against 54-year-old David Thompson, of Warrensburg, and 24-year-old Jacob Crisp, formerly of Kansas City. A prosecutor's spokesman said neither man has an attorney on record. Thompson is accused of stealing at least 20,000 pieces of mail. Prosecutors allege that he threw the mail into a trash bin or kept it in his house and personal vehicle. The indictment says a hidden camera captured Thompson not delivering some mail and drinking five to eight beers daily while on his route in December 2013 and January 2014. Prosecutors allege that Crisp embezzled money while working at the front counter of a post office. He's charged with misappropriating federal postal funds.

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Wichita Police Solve Stolen Casket Mystery

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Police have solved the mystery of a stolen casket that was found earlier this month along a Wichita road. The Wichita Eagle reports that the casket was dug up in February because a family member wanted to have the body cremated. Lieutenant James Espinoza says the cemetery doesn't accept used caskets, so the family made arrangements to have the casket hauled away. The hauling company transported the casket to its facility to be discarded. But Espinoza said thieves stole the casket before the facility's staff could get rid of it, and the hauling company chose not to report the theft to police. Police suspect the thieves were looking to scrap the casket but dumped it when they learned no one was going to take it.

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State Official Will Become Director of Manhattan Airport 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Jesse Romo, the director of aviation for the Kansas Department of Transportation, will become the director of the Manhattan Regional Airport next month. Manhattan officials announced Thursday that Romo will replace Peter VanKuren on April 27. VanKuren oversaw a period of growth at the Manhattan airport, which served more than 125,000 passengers last year while providing twice-daily flights to and from Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago O'Hare airports. The airport also recently completed the first of a two-phase terminal expansion. Romo has worked for the state since 2006. He has a master's degree in business administration in aviation from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Romo is a member of the American Association of Airport Executives and is a commercial pilot.

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Feds Charge Man with Smuggling Bulk Cash, Money Laundering
 
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged a man in Kansas for his role in a money laundering scheme that crossed interstate and foreign boundaries. An indictment unsealed Friday charges 46-year-old Victor Javier Morales Bencomo with one count of money laundering for allegedly attempting to conduct a financial transaction involving nearly $360,000 in U.S. currency. He also faces three additional money laundering counts involving a total of $19,000 in bank transactions. The indictment also charges him with one count each of bulk cash smuggling of more than $10,000 and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Court documents do not indicate whether he has an attorney, and the U.S. attorney's office said it had no further information on his hometown.

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Salina Man Hopes to Transform Flour Mill, Redevelop Area 

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The owner of a Salina mill has proposed a multimillion-dollar plan to transform the H.D. Lee Flour Mill and Grain Elevator into either townhomes or hotel rooms, with a restaurant 100 feet off the ground. The Salina Journal reports that 63-year-old Bob Brown, who bought the mill nearly two years ago, has teamed up with others to revitalize the area in north Salina where the mill is located. A conceptual video from the California-based Exline Design & Architecture shows what the mill may look like after redevelopment. The next step in the project is collecting $300,000 to $500,000 of private seed money to look at the mill's structure and make sure that it is sound.

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Reno County Spending Money to Keep Jail Smelling Good 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Reno County is buying equipment that will vacuum-seal clothing used by inmates to keep the county's new jail smelling good. County commissioners on Tuesday approved spending more than $10,000 to buy the CPI Guardian Inmate Clothing Storage System. Sheriff Randy Henderson says the machine will seal clothing people are wearing when they arrive at the jail before they are issued jail clothing. He says the vacuum also will kill bacteria on the clothes. The Hutchinson News reports that the idea for the vacuum-sealing came after a committee studying a possible Reno County jail visited the Ford County jail and noticed the lack of odor.

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Pittsburg State University to Hold Hindu Festival

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Pittsburg State University in southeast Kansas is bringing the Holi festival to the state. The university announced Thursday that its Indian Students Association will host its annual Holi celebration Saturday. Holi is a Hindu festival observed at the end of the winter season and marks the victory of good over evil. Groups of people traditionally celebrate it by dancing and throwing colorful powders and dyed water at each other. The event will take place at 1 p.m. near the soccer fields in the Bicknell Sports Complex in Pittsburg, Kansas. It will be open to both students and the general public.

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2nd Western Minnesota Turkey Farm Hit by Bird Flu Outbreak 

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — State and federal officials have confirmed an outbreak at a second Minnesota turkey farm of a form of bird flu that's deadly to poultry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it was found in a flock of 22,000 birds at a commercial turkey farm in Lac qui Parle County of western Minnesota. It's the second finding in Minnesota of the highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza strain, which was confirmed at a Pope County turkey farm about three weeks ago. The farm has been quarantined and the surviving birds there will be killed. Officials say birds from the flock won't enter the food supply, and no human infections of the virus have been reported. The same strain has been found in flocks in Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas.

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Wichita State Loses to Notre Dame 81-70 in Basketball Semifinals

CLEVELAND (AP) — The basketball season has ended for the Wichita State Shockers after losing to Notre Dame 81-70 in the Midwest regional semifinals on Thursday night. The third-seeded Irish (32-5) dominated the seventh-seeded Wichita State (30-5) to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in 36 years. Demetrius Jackson led the scoring for Notre Dame with 20 points. Fred VanVleet scored 25 points for the Shockers but it wasn't enough to keep up with the sharp-shooting Irish. Notre Dame will play either unbeaten Kentucky or West Virginia on Saturday night with a Final Four spot on the line.

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Arrowhead, Kauffman Stadiums' Food Service Fires Manager 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A food safety manager at Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums in Kansas City says he was fired after complaining about dirty conditions. Jon Costa shared with ESPN's "Outside the Lines" a letter that he said came from his former employer, Aramark. The March 17 letter said Costa was being fired "for cause" for several reasons, including that he violated the company's media policy by taking his concerns public. ESPN says Costa's complaints prompted a Nov. 3 inspection that found violations at 20 out of 26 food stands. The stadiums later passed a follow-up inspection. Aramark said in a written statement that it considers personnel matters confidential. It added that food safety is "a top priority." Costa's attorney, Ryan McClelland, didn't immediately return phone or email messages from The Associated Press.

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Royals Defeat Seattle Mariners 3-0 in Spring Training Game

PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — The Kansas City Royals defeated the Seattle Mariners 3-0 Thursday in Arizona. Royals' starter Jeremy Guthrie shut out the Mariners on two hits for 5 innings. Royals' closer Greg Holland finished the sixth with a strikeout. The Mariner's Felix Hernandez, who led the AL with a 2.14 ERA last season, pitched two-hit ball for six innings in his longest outing of the spring. 

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