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Headlines for Friday, October 2, 2015

Governor Brownback Reshuffles Hundreds of State Worker Positions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Hundreds of state workers have been shuffled into new positions at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and other agencies. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that documents show Governor Sam Brownback ordered the moves based on a study the affected workers haven't seen. Kansas Organization of State Employees director Rebecca Proctor says that without seeing the study, workers are left in the dark. An executive directive signed last week by Brownback abolishes 18 job classifications and replaces them with 16 new classifications. The positions affected range from environmental technicians to geologists and program services managers. KDHE spokeswoman Sara Belfry says the changes were made in response to a study by the Department of Administration over the past two years to determine whether changes to job classifications were necessary.


Kansas Tax Collections $31M Short of Expectations Last Month

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas collected $31 million less in taxes than anticipated last month, a shortfall that could tighten the state's budget picture. The state Department of Revenue reported Thursday that the state took in $534 million in taxes, when its official fiscal forecast projected $565 million. The shortfall was about 5.5 percent. Tax collections were almost equally as short of expectations in August, but the department attributed that month's shortfall to larger-than-expected income tax refunds. Since the fiscal year began in July, tax collections have been $67 million short of expectations, or about 4.7 percent off at about $1.37 billion. Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan noted that taxes from oil and gas production failed to meet expectations in September because of fallen energy prices. He also said farm income has declined. 


Moody's Says Kansas School Funding Law Stresses Districts 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A major financial rating agency describes Kansas's new school funding law as "negative" for local districts' credit and creating financial stress for some of them. Moody's Investors Service issued a report Friday citing a new annual budget for the state's largest school district in Wichita that calls for higher local taxes and spending cuts. The new law enacted in April replaced the state's former per-student aid formula with grants based on districts' previous funding. It was designed to provide stable funding. But Moody's said the new law "disadvantages" growing districts by not automatically increasing their aid. Governor Sam Brownback's office noted the state is spending more than $4 billion a year on its schools, and spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said the new law is temporary until another formula can be written.


Kansas Election Officials Begin Removing Incomplete Voter Forms

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Election officials across Kansas are expected to begin removing the names of more than 31,000 prospective voters from their records in line with Kansas's tough voter identification law, which requires applicants to prove their citizenship before casting a ballot. Secretary of State Kris Kobach has directed county election officials to discard applications from prospective voters who after 90 days did not provide all the required information and documents. Most were people who hadn't documented their U.S. citizenship. The proof-of-citizenship requirement took effect in 2013. Only four states have a similar requirement, which advocates support as an effective tool against voter fraud but opponents consider a ruse for discouraging voting by the poor and minorities. 


Wichita Lawyer Giroux Announces Challenge to US Representative Pompeo 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita attorney has announced plans to challenge Congressman Mike Pompeo next year. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Dan Giroux, a Democrat, made his announcement Thursday. Giroux said in a news release that the people of south-central Kansas need a representative who will stand up for them and "not special interests." He's a partner at Dugan & Giroux law firm. The firm's website says Giroux was raised in Wichita along with his 10 brothers and sisters. He was an assistant district attorney in Sedgwick County between 1999 and 2003 before joining the law firm. James Richardson, a volunteer with Pompeo for Congress and the congressman's former campaign manager, said Pompeo will continue to be a "strong, conservative voice" for Kansas values in Washington.


Kansas Representative Huelskamp Has No Favored Speaker Candidate Yet 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas congressman Tim Huelskamp says the next U.S. House speaker faces rebuilding the trust of his fellow conservatives. Huelskamp said Friday in an interview that he hasn't yet endorsed a candidate to replace outgoing Speaker John Boenher next month. Huelskamp is a tea party favorite who represents the 1st District of western and central Kansas and has clashed with House GOP leaders. Boehner late in 2012 stripped Huelskamp of seats on the House Budget and Agriculture committees. Until then, Kansas had a nearly automatic seat on the Agriculture Committee for decades. Huelskamp remained critical of leading speaker candidate and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Huelskamp said he needs to see proof that a potential speaker will work with conservatives. The congressman said, "They've got to rebuild some trust."


Panel Considers Kansas Response to EPA Carbon Rules
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are grappling with the state's response to new federal rules aimed at reducing carbon emissions from power plants. The Topeka Capital Journal reports lawmakers expressed frustration Thursday with the regulations at the first meeting of a committee created earlier this year to review plans for complying with the rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA told states earlier this year that they must start reducing carbon emissions linked to climate change. The EPA's target for Kansas is a 43 percent reduction by 2030. Kansas is expected to submit its initial plan, along with an extension request, in September 2016. The Kansas attorney general's office plans to challenge the federal rules in court after the final rule is published.


Kansas Supreme Court: Reconsider Ousted Official's Case 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to reconsider the case of a suburban Kansas City official who was kicked out of office for allowing a homeless friend to sleep in City Hall. In Friday's decision, the judges found that a Johnson County judge and the Court of Appeals had applied the wrong legal standards in their rulings. Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe's office filed an ouster motion after Prairie Village Councilman David Morrison took his longtime friend to the employee lounge in 2012, gave him his City Hall passcode and didn't tell anyone else what he was doing. Morrison apologized at the time. A Johnson County judge ordered Morrison's ouster in 2013. But last year, the appeals court said he should be reinstated, prompting an appeal.


Kansas Education Commissioner Says Schools Need to Change 

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The state's new Commissioner of Education says schools need to become more focused on the student, not the system. While Commissioner Randy Watson says that "sounds simple," he added that it is "extremely hard." Watson spoke to a gathering Thursday of more than 100 school administrators and board members in Salina as part of a regional meeting of the Kansas Association of School Boards. The Salina Journal reports that Watson's comment came as he presented the findings of meetings around the state at which people were asked to describe the qualities of a successful 24-year-old. Of the nearly 2,000 people who weighed in at them, 23 percent said academic skills such as reading and math were important. The same percentage said interpersonal skills were important to success in life.


Officials Work to Identify Body Found on Fort Riley Post 

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — Efforts to identify a body found at the Fort Riley military base are taking more than a week. The Manhattan Mercury reports that the body was found September 22 in a non-military vehicle. Army's Criminal Investigation Command spokesman Chris Grey wrote in an email that agents are working with the Armed Forces Medical Examiner to identify the remains. He says no information will be released until identification is made.


Judge: Enough Evidence to Try Kansas Man for Capital Murder

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas judge ruled on Thursday there is enough evidence to try a 27-year-old man for capital murder and rape in the death of a woman who was set on fire in Wichita's Fairmont Park. The Wichita Eagle reports that Cornell McNeal faces a November 12 arraignment in the death of Letitia "Tish'' Davis. The 36-year-old mother of four suffered burns on more than half of her body and cuts on her head in the attack last November. She died about a week later. Prosecutors say a damaged cellphone and DNA evidence connected McNeal to the attack.


Lesbian Couple Takes Legal Action Over Son's Birth Certificate 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A same-sex couple is seeking to force the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to issue a birth certificate listing both women as the parents of their baby boy. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Jessica and Casey Smith of Lawrence married in 2013 in California. Casey Smith gave birth September 16 at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, which declined to list both women as parents on the birth certificate. The couple filed an "emergency petition for the determination of parentage," and a judge directed the state health department to issue a birth certificate listing both women as the child's parents. But the department refused, saying it wasn't notified of the women's petition. The women's attorney filed a motion to join the department in seeking a legal decision on the issue.


Report: Equus Beds Aquifer Recovering Due to Conservation Efforts

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The U.S. Geological Survey says the Equus Beds aquifer is recovering thanks to Wichita's water conservation efforts. The agency said Thursday that groundwater levels in the central part of the aquifer where the city operates its water supply wells increased by three feet from 2014 to 2015. It says the increase is likely due to the city reducing withdrawals from the aquifer in 2014 by more than 50 percent. Wichita developed strategies to reduce the amount of water it pumped from the aquifer from 60 percent to 40 percent of its total usage. Conservationists and Wichita officials became concerned in the 1990's about the future water supply for the city after groundwater levels declined by more than 10 feet. The aquifer is now 96 percent full.


Symphony in the Flint Hills Announces 2016 Site 

COTTONWOOD FALLS, Kan. (AP) — An annual event that brings the Kansas City Symphony to the Flint Hills will use a remote central Kansas pasture for next year's performance. The Kansas City Star reports that the spot near Clements in Chase County is the same location used in 2010 for the popular sunset performance. The theme of the June 11, 2016, concert is "The Future of the Flint Hills." Tickets for the show will cost $94 for adults and $50 for children under 12. They will go on sale in early spring.


11 Earthquakes Recorded in SW Kansas 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - Geologists are reporting a spate of earthquakes in south-central Kansas. The Hutchinson News reports that in the past week, there have been 11 quakes within the neighboring Kansas counties of Sumner and Harper. U.S. Geological Survey data shows the most activity was in Sumner County, which experienced six quakes. That included four within one cluster near Caldwell on multiple dates. The majority of quakes were below magnitude 2. None had a magnitude stronger than 2.5.


Admissions Moratorium to Continue at Osawatomie State Hospital 

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. (AP) — A moratorium on involuntary hospital admissions will continue at Osawatomie State Hospital as mandated renovations are wrapping up. The Wichita Eagle reports that the facility in Miami County has been limited to 146 beds since June, when federal inspectors ordered the renovations. Although the work is expected to end this week, the beds won't open until inspectors from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services can visit the facility. Osawatomie State Hospital is one of two state mental hospitals in Kansas. It serves patients from 46 counties in the eastern third of the state.


Power Restored After Widespread Outage on KU Campus 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — An electrical circuit failure caused widespread outages at the University of Kansas Lawrence campus on Thursday. The Lawrence Journal World reports that the outage began Thursday morning. Westar representative Jaycee Breese says the university began restoring power slowly, so equipment wouldn't be overloaded. The university says power was restored to all buildings by 12:17 pm Thursday. 


US to Review Colorado Prisons for Guantanamo Detainees 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senior U.S. officials say a Defense Department team will be visiting a state and a federal prison in Colorado to assess their possible use to house detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of the Obama administration's plan to close that detention center. Officials say that within the next two weeks, the team will visit the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City and a medium-security federal prison in Florence. The Pentagon team has also surveyed the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina. The reviews assess construction costs and other changes needed to house the detainees and conduct military commission trials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the visits publicly.


Man Arrested in Connection with Topeka Fire
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man has been arrested in connection with a fire that left one person injured in Topeka. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the 49-year-old man was arrested Thursday morning and faces one count of aggravated arson and one count of aggravated battery. Authorities say a fire was reported around 2:40 am Thursday at an apartment complex. Fire Marshal Michael Martin said one person was able to escape and call 911 and fire crews rescued another person. A man believed to be in his 50s was taken to the hospital with injuries that are considered to be possibly life-threatening.


WSU to Host Anniversary of 1970 Football Team Plane Crash

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita State University is commemorating the 45th anniversary of a crash that killed 31 people aboard a plane carrying the school's football team. The crash of the plane carrying the team's starters happened on October 2, 1970, in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Among the dead were 14 players, coach Ben Wilson and his wife, boosters, administrators and three crew members. Nine survived, eight of them players. Another charter plane, carrying reserve players and other coaches took a different route and landed safely in Logan, Utah, where the Shockers were scheduled to play Utah State the next day. The survivors resumed the season two weeks later in Arkansas, receiving permission to use freshman to field a team. They finished 0-9.


Blue Bell Plans to Restart Texas Ice Cream Plant in Months 

BRENHAM, Texas (AP) — Blue Bell plans to restart its main Texas ice cream-making plant in a few months as sales expand following listeria contamination and cleanup. Blue Bell said Thursday that its products return to the Dallas, Fort Worth and Waco areas on November 2, plus Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Brenham-based company resumed selling ice cream in the Houston and Austin areas on August 31, four months after suspending sales when listeria was found at some plants. Bell Bell was linked to 10 listeria cases, including three deaths in Kansas. The bacteria can cause serious illness, especially in older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. Blue Bell resumed limited production after extensive cleaning and decontamination. Items are currently produced in Sylacauga, Alabama, and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.


Royals Beat White Sox 6-4, Tied for Best AL Record

CHICAGO (AP) — Jonny Gomes drove in three runs as the Kansas City Royals moved into a tie with Toronto for the AL's best record with a 6-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Thursday night. Kansas City outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Alex Rios, designated hitter Kendrys Morales and catcher Salvador Perez each departed  during the game because of  injuries. The AL Central champions held on for their second straight victory against the White Sox. Starter Kris Medlen (6-2) pitched six innings allowing two-runs and reliever Ryan Madson pitched a perfect ninth inning for his third save. Kansas City (92-67) finishes the regular season with a three-game series at Minnesota over the weekend.


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