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Headlines for Friday, March 7, 2014


Kansas Supreme Court Rules School Funding Levels Unconstitutional

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The efforts of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to make his state a tax-cutting example for the nation may have taken a big hit today. The state Supreme Court ruled that Kansas must spend more money on its public schools -- and that the current amount of school funding is unconstitutional. But the ruling stopped short of telling lawmakers exactly how much to spend -- giving that responsibility instead to a lower court. Kansas had enacted sweeping cuts to income taxes in the last two years, reducing the amount of available resources for education funding. And lawmakers could be forced to reconsider those cuts. The state cut its annual base aid to schools by $386 million over several years as tax revenues declined, although it did cover some rising costs, such as teacher pensions. The suit was filed in 2010 on behalf of four school districts and parents. It said students were harmed because spending cuts resulted in lower test scores and affected programs aimed at helping poor and minority stu ents. In a statement, Brownback says he will work with lawmakers with the goal of "providing a quality education to every child."


Kansas GOP Leaders Pleased by Schools Ruling

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback and other Republican leaders in Kansas say a state Supreme Court ruling on public schools funding is reasonable. Brownback said Friday he was pleased with the court's ruling in a lawsuit filed by parents and school districts. The court found that the state is spending too little on schools. The court ordered legislators to boost two types of aid by July 1. It returned the case to a lower court for more hearing on how much the state must spend overall to provide an adequate education for every child. But Attorney General Derek Schmidt said the Legislature has multiple options for complying with the court's July 1 deadlines. Schmidt said he was pleased that the justices didn't impose a specific target for the state's overall spending.


Lawyer Suing KS Sees Schools Ruling as Victory

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An attorney for Kansas parents and school districts suing the state over education funding says the state Supreme Court's ruling in the case is a victory for children. Newton attorney John Robb said Friday he's pleased with the high court's ruling. The justices ordered the Legislature to boost two kinds of aid to school districts by July 1. It returned the case to Shawnee County District Court for more hearings on how much the state must spend overall to provide for all children have an adequate education. Robb said the guidelines the Supreme Court set for reviewing total funding are in line with what the parents and school districts had suggested at trial. But Governor Sam Brownback and other Republican leaders also said they were pleased by the decision.


Kansas Teacher Group Wants Boost in School Aid Now

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The largest teachers union in Kansas says legislators shouldn't wait on more court rulings to increase total state spending on public schools. Kansas National Education Association President Karen Godfrey said Friday that lawmakers can end a lawsuit over school funding by boosting the state's aid to school districts this year. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday in a suit filed by parents and school districts that Kansas isn't spending enough money on its schools. It ordered the state to increase spending on two types of aid by July 1 but ordered more lower-court hearings on how much the state needs to spend overall. Teachers' union officials were disappointed that more court hearings have been ordered and said lawmakers should move ahead anyway.


KS Senate Approves 'Compromise' Judiciary Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has passed a budget for the judicial branch but only after bundling it with bills that would reduce the state Supreme Court's authority over judicial districts. Senate Vice President Jeff King, a Republican from Independence, says the bill passed Thursday is a compromise that will prevent judicial furloughs. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the bill funds the courts, increases docket fees on some large litigation and allows some judicial positions to remain open for 120 days. It also allows the chief judges of the state's 31 judicial districts to control their individual budgets, and allows judicial districts to elect their chiefs. Currently, the Supreme Court controls the districts' budgets and appoints their chiefs. Democrats said those measures should be voted on separately from the budget bills.


FBI: No Danger on Plane Searched in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say they didn't find anything suspicious on an American Airlines plane that was searched after landing at Kansas City International Airport. FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said Friday that someone at Chicago's O'Hare Airport who missed Thursday night's flight said something that could "possibly be perceived as a threat." She says the plane was searched after landing as a precaution. The Republic Airlines flight operated for American Eagle was directed to a remote area of the airport where its 63 passengers and four crew members disembarked before the plane and luggage were searched. Chicago police spokesman Officer Mike Sullivan said no arrests had been made as Friday morning.


Feds Get More Time in KS Suicide Bomb Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has granted a prosecution request for more time to file a key motion in their case against a Wichita man accused of plotting an airport suicide bombing. Avionics technician Terry Loewen has pleaded not guilty to charges, including attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Loewen was arrested December 13 in a sting operation after allegedly trying to bring a van filled with inert explosives onto the tarmac Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita. Prosecutors were facing a Friday deadline to file a motion under the federal Classified Information Procedures Act, which lays out the handling of national security material. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Monti Belot extended the deadline to April 21 after prosecutors argued the filing requires coordination and approval from officials at high levels of government.

Kansas Faith Leaders Still Seek "Religious Freedom" Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A dozen Kansas religious leaders are calling on legislators to approve special legal protections for gay-marriage opponents before the federal courts invalidate the state's same-sex marriage ban. The leaders issued a statement after a Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday on religious liberties issues. The committee heard conflicting testimony on whether Kansas has enough legal protections for people, groups and businesses refusing for religious reasons to provide goods or services for gay weddings or same-sex marriages. Senate President Susan Wagle said afterward that lawmakers won't consider the issue again this year. The call for immediate action came from Catholic bishops, a Presbyterian pastor and regional Mormon, Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God and Church of God in Christ officials. They also said they don't condone unjust treatment of anybody.


Rash of Fires Hits Rural NW Kansas County

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — An investigator from the Kansas fire marshal's office will help investigate an outbreak of fires in a rural northwestern county. The Hays Daily News reports that the Ellis County Rural Fire Department responded Thursday night to five fires in four hours outside the Hays city limits. Rural Fire Director Dick Klaus said the first call involved a burning pile of trees. That was followed by the burning of a camping trailer, four-wheeler and personal water craft. Crews also responded to a horse trailer and bales on fire; a fire at a storage shed; and the burning of a trailer house used for storage. Klaus said he wasn't sure there was enough evidence left at any of the scenes to determine a cause.


Students Seeking Less Smoke at State Fair

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Several Hutchinson students want to limit smoking at the Kansas state fairgrounds. About 25 members of Communities that Care, a Reno County youth organization, asked the Kansas State Fair board on Thursday to consider their proposal to make the grounds smoke-free, except for a few designated smoking areas. The Hutchinson News reports smoking isn't allowed now in the buildings or in the grandstand. The students said other state fairs have implemented similar policies. Fair Manager Denny Stoecklein says more studies would be needed to determine how other fairs implemented such plans, and the board would not make any decisions without getting more feedback from patrons.


USACE: Not Expecting Repeat of 2011 Floods This Spring

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The mountain snowpack in the Missouri River's upper basin is close to levels seen before the devastating floods of 2011 but the Army Corps of Engineers isn't expecting a repeat this year. Officials say there isn't as much snow on the plains as three years ago when water swamped farmland in a half-dozen states, including Kansas.


Man Guilty of Trying to Kill Firefighters, Police

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas man has been found guilty of setting a house fire and trying to kill emergency personnel who pulled him from the burning building. The Kansas City Star reports that a Johnson County jury on Friday convicted 59-year-old William J. Outhet Jr. of arson and attempted first-degree murder. Police and firefighters reported hearing several loud booming sounds when they arrived at Outhet's Olathe home on February 1, 2013. Prosecutors later charged Outhet with firing shots as the responders arrived. No emergency responders were injured, but firefighters found Outhet unconscious inside the home with a shotgun across his chest. Investigators also said the fire had been intentionally set and that other firearms were positioned around the house. Sentencing is scheduled for May 1.


Kansas City Won't Allow Drunk People to Carry Guns

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Intoxicated people still can't legally carry guns in Kansas City. The Kansas City Council voted Thursday against a measure that would have made city law conform with the state's law on intoxicated people carrying a gun. The Kansas City Star reports that the city currently says intoxicated people can't carry firearms. That conflicts with Missouri state law, which allows intoxicated people to carry guns unless the weapons are discharged negligently. The city attorney told the council the city should follow state law. City laws cannot be enforced if they are more restrictive than state law. Six council members voted for the change but Mayor Sly James and six other council members opposed the move, saying they couldn't support adopting what they called a bad state law.

Lawsuit: KC District Devised Reasons to Eject Blacks

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former employee of Kansas City's downtown entertainment district alleges in a lawsuit that the district's owners and others created disturbances so they could eject black patrons from the area. Glen Cusimano, a former security liaison for the Power & Light district, alleges in his lawsuit that Cordish Companies and others engaged in several racially discriminatory practices. He says he was ordered to have white men start arguments with black patrons so they would be kicked out of the area. The Kansas City Star reports Cusimano says the practice was used 20 to 30 times last summer. Cordish, which developed the district, says the accusations are "complete fabrications" from an employee who was fired. Cusimano is seeking $10 million in actual and punitive damages.

KS Man Found Guilty in Junction City Slaying

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas man has been found guilty of killing a woman to keep her from providing information to federal law enforcement officers about his involvement in drug trafficking. The U.S. attorney's office says a federal jury on Thursday convicted 32-year-old Marcus Roberson of Junction City of murder, conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and conspiracy to distribute powder cocaine. Prosecutors say Roberson lured 25-year-old Crystal Fisher to a location near an alley in Junction City and shot her four times at close range. Her body was found in her vehicle and the murder weapon was found in a pond behind a Junction City Walmart. Roberson faces up to life in prison on the murder and drug counts and a $10 million fine on each of the drug counts.

Last of 4 Suspects Sentenced in KS Man's Death

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — The fourth and final suspect in the death of a Kansas man two years ago has been sentenced to prison. Twenty-nine-year-old Nathan Whitney of Joplin, Mo., was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison for second-degree murder in the October 2011 death of 21-year-old Ryan Bailey in Pittsburg. Three other charges were dropped. Bailey was killed during a botched robbery at his home. Three other men, all from Joplin, have pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and other charges and received longer sentences than Whitney. The Joplin Globe reports that Whitney's 10-year term for murder will run consecutively to a sentence he is serving in Missouri for receiving stolen property. He will be on parole for three years after serving his sentence and must register as a violent offender.

Cookbook Returned to Library After 21-Plus Years

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — More than two decades after a cookbook was checked out of a Kansas library, it's just now been returned. 6NewsLawrence reports that a copy of "The Versatile Grain and the Elegant Bean: A Celebration of the World's Most Healthful Foods" was placed in a Lawrence Public Library return box one night this week. The book had been checked out on Sept. 24, 1992. Library official Kristin Soper speculates the borrower misplaced the volume and came across it just recently. The maximum late fee in 1992 was $3; it's now $4.50. "The Versatile Grain and the Elegant Bean" contains more than 300 recipes from around the world. Reviewers noted in 1992 that its publication coincided with growing U.S. interest in healthy cooking.


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