Extreme Heat and High Winds Spark Kansas Grass Fires
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Unseasonably hot temperatures and strong winds are sparking grass fires across Kansas and much of the southern Plains. The National Weather Service reported that temperatures hit 90 degrees in Great Bend, Kansas on Thursday. Temperatures across all of Kansas were measured at between 30 and 35 degrees above normal for this time of year. The strong winds are also contributing to a number of grass fires in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. NWS meteorologists say the warm weather doesn't mean that spring is here, this is just an unusual warm spell. The heat Thursday was most intense in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and eastern New Mexico after several days of record-high temperatures along the West Coast.
Proposed Amendment Would End Kansas Grocery Sales Tax
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are discussing two separate proposals for lowering the state's sales tax on groceries. Twelve Kansas senators are sponsoring a proposal to offer voters a constitutional amendment that would reduce the sales tax to zero over three years. One of the sponsors, Democratic Senator Tom Holland, says voters need to have a voice in how the state is handling its tax policies. Unlike many other states, Kansas charges its full state sales tax rate on groceries. The rate was increased last year to 6.5 percent. The Kansas City Star reports another proposal would reduce the grocery sales tax to 2.6 percent while also ending an income tax exemption for 330,000 businesses. The House Taxation Committee plans to hold hearings on that proposal.
ACLU Sues Kansas over Citizenship Documents Law for Voting
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging a Kansas law requiring proof of citizenship when people register to vote at state motor vehicle offices. A federal lawsuit filed Thursday contends the requirement violates the National Voter Registration Act, a federal law that aims to increase voter participation. That law is sometimes called the "Motor-Voter Law" because of a provision requiring states to provide voter registration services along with drivers' license applications at DMV offices. The lawsuit contends more than 35,000 Kansans have been blocked from voting since Kansas implemented the proof-of-citizenship requirement. Dale Ho, the ACLU's director of voting rights projects, calls Kansas the nation's "epicenter of voter suppression."
Kansas Judge Bars Access to Voting Machine Tapes
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Wichita mathematician who sued the state for access to voting machine tapes says she plans to appeal a judge's ruling barring her from getting access to the voting records. Wichita State University statistician Beth Clarkson wants to check the accuracy of county voting machines because, she says, there were statistical anomalies in the 2014 election. The Wichita Eagle reports that Judge Tim Lahey denied a motion Thursday by Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman to dismiss Clarkson's open records lawsuit. But the judge told Clarkson's attorney that he couldn't order the county to turn over the tapes because Clarkson had presented the same issues in a 2013 lawsuit which she lost. The law prohibits the court from ruling on the same legal issue twice.
Kansas Senate Approves New Limits on Welfare Eligibility
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans have pushed a bill through the Kansas Senate that further tightens state welfare assistance rules. The bill would reduce the lifetime limit on cash benefits to 24 months from the current 36 months. The proposal follows a law enacted last year that included a long list of items that can't be purchased with welfare benefits. Republicans argued that the proposed changes advance a larger goal of moving people out of poverty and dependence on government benefits and into jobs. Democrats tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to give poor mothers of newborns a 12-month exemption from the cash assistance program's work requirement instead of the current three months. That amendment was rejected. The Senate's vote Thursday was 31-8 and sends the measure to the House.
Official: Funding Boost for Kansas Mental Hospital in Works
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A top Kansas social services official says Kansas Governor Sam Brownback will push for another boost in funding for the state’s two mental hospitals. Secretary Tim Keck of the Department for Aging and Disability Services also says Brownback is considering proposing pay raises of up to 10 percent for workers who care for patients at the hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie. Legislators in both parties said Thursday they welcomed the news that Brownback is working on proposals to help the hospitals fill staff vacancies and deal other issues. But they also continue to be wary of the administration's interest in whether a private company should run the Osawatomie hospital. The federal government in December pulled funding from the Osawatomie hospital after finding numerous safety and security problems. It's costing the state up to $1 million a month to operate the hospital.
Website Critical of Clinton Crashes from Traffic
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — A 40-year-old Kansas man is behind a website that notes how long it has been since Hillary Clinton said she'd "look into" whether she can release transcripts of her paid speeches to big banks. Jed McChesney of Olathe says he was annoyed by the Democratic presidential contender's dismissive remarks on the subject and has become a supporter of Bernie Sanders. On Thursday night, Sanders tweeted a link to McChesney's website, iwilllookintoit.com, to his 1.5 million followers. The ensuing traffic temporarily crashed the site. The Sanders campaign did not contact him before the tweet. McChesney was surprised to see a reference to his site on an MSNBC program Friday morning. McChesney says the Clinton-questioning website took him five minutes to put together and is the most successful thing he has ever done.
Kansas State Fair Officials Consider Redesign of Fairgrounds
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - Kansas State Fair officials are considering a major redesign of the fairgrounds in Hutchinson. The Hutchinson News reports the goal is to make the fairgrounds a more modern attraction. Suggestions include removing the century-old racetrack but leaving the grandstand. The main entrance could move to a different location and the fair would be divided into quadrants with thoroughfares to make walking through the grounds easier. Another proposal is to allow private businesses to permanently move to the fairgrounds, on a type of main street to promote Kansas. A consultant presented six concepts to the fair board this week. The plan is expected to be finished by May.
Board of Regents Approves New Veterinary Lab for Kansas State
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A proposal to build a new veterinary laboratory at Kansas State University is one step closer to reality. The Kansas Board of Regents has approved the university's proposal for a Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, with an estimated cost of $43.2 million. The Manhattan Mercury reports the university plans an 80,000-square-foot facility. The new building will allow the university to consolidate its diagnostic and research labs with offices and support facilities. Kansas State officials say they will seek $10 million in private donations for the project. A timeline for the construction, if the project is approved, has not been set. The project still must be approved by the state Legislature.
Dole to Speak at Fort Hays State Commencement
HAYS, Kan. (AP) - Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole is scheduled to speak at the commencement ceremony at Fort Hays State University in May. The Salina Journal reports Dole will also receive the college's first honorary doctoral degree. The Kansas Board of Regents voted unanimously this week to approve the honorary doctor of arts degree. Dole, a former U.S. Senate majority leader and the 1996 GOP presidential nominee, spoke at Fort Hays a year ago for the dedication of a campus lobby in memory of his two sisters. He also donated $100,000 to honor his sisters.
Former Osawatomie Police Chief Arrested in Iowa
OSAWATOMIE, Kan. (AP) — The former police chief of Osawatomie has been arrested in Iowa on charges including witness intimidation. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says former Osawatomie Police Chief Robert Butters was arrested Thursday and is being held on $250,000 bond in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The KBI says Butters was arrested on charges of aggravated intimidation of a witness, attempted interference with a law enforcement officer and possession of a firearm while under the influence. The charges stem from a recent incident in the Osawatomie area. Butters resigned earlier this year as police chief. He's due to appear in court today (FRI).
Firefighters Douse Hotspots at Site of 'Fire Tornado' Blaze
WESTON, Mo. (AP) — Firefighters are dousing hotspots at the site of a northwest Missouri grass fire that damaged up to 1,500 acres of land and briefly spawned a so-called "fire tornado." Officials say the blaze was largely contained by late Thursday but hotspots likely will continue until the area gets precipitation or colder temperatures. The region is experiencing unusually high temperatures and low humidity. The fire started when a large mower attached to a hauler malfunctioned and threw sparks, burning mostly on Federal Bureau of Prisons. Two old outbuildings were destroyed but no injuries were reported. Onlookers captured photos and video of at least one funnel of flames that looked like a small, orange tornado moving across the site.
1 Killed in Car Crash During Topeka Police Chase
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A car being chased by police crashed into another car at a Topeka intersection, killing a passenger in the second car. A Kansas Highway Patrol trooper tried to stop the vehicle for a traffic violation Thursday afternoon, but the driver sped away. The trooper briefly pursued the vehicle before it struck another car killing a passenger in the second car. KHP says the driver of that car was hospitalized with critical injuries. The suspect and a baby in the back seat of the suspect's car were also taken to a hospital. The victim's name hasn't been released, and charges are pending against the suspect.
Man Booked into Topeka Jail in 2-Year-Old Boy's Death
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man accused in the death of a 2-year-old boy in Topeka has been booked into the Shawnee County jail. The Topeka-Capital Journal reports that the 31-year-old man was arrested Feb. 8 in Missouri on an outstanding first-degree murder warrant, and was booked in to the Shawnee County jail on Wednesday. Authorities say 2-year-old Eli Clemens died on March 11, 2006, at an apartment complex. His death was ruled a homicide four months later. Topeka police have not said how the boy died. The suspect is being held on $500,000 bond.
Man Sentenced in Fatal Shooting of Wichita State Student
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — One of two people charged in the shooting death of a Wichita State University student has been sentenced to 21 years and one month in prison. Twenty-three-year-old Isaiah Copridge was sentenced Thursday on charges of second-degree murder and aggravated robbery in the death of 23-year-old Rayan Ibrahim Baba. Baba, an undergraduate student from Saudi Arabia, was found shot in a parking lot of one of the university's dormitories on August 8. According to an affidavit, Baba had contacted Copridge's co-defendant, Eboni Fingal, about sexual services she advertised online shortly before he was killed. Fingal faces first-degree murder and aggravated robbery charges in the case. She has pleaded not guilty.
Union Lawsuit over Drivers Could Delay Kansas City Streetcar
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A union lawsuit could delay the planned spring opening of Kansas City's new streetcar line. The Kansas City Star reports that Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1287 is asking a Jackson County (Missouri) circuit judge to halt work on the streetcar project until the dispute is resolved. The union contends the city is shouldn't be allowed to hire streetcar workers until arbitration with the union is final. The city's contractor has hired drivers and mechanics while arbitration is ongoing. The city is asking the judge to reject the demand. The arbitration concerns how bus drivers should be compensated if they are negatively affected by the streetcar line. Union president J.P. Walker says his members are guaranteed preferential hiring under previous labor agreements. Assistant City Attorney Tara Kelley calls the lawsuit baseless.
Officials Raid Jackson County Jail for Illegal Contraband
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Several law enforcement agencies raided the Jackson County (Missouri) jail early Friday looking for illegal contraband. Jackson County Sheriff Sergeant John Payne says the raid was planned after cellphones were found on inmates recently. He says the goal was to find any more cellphones as well as contraband such as homemade weapons and narcotics. The sheriff's department plans to conduct more jail sweeps in the future. Payne says the raids are intended to keep the jail safe for inmates and jail employees. No information was released on whether more contraband was found during Friday's operation. Besides Jackson County, other agencies participating in the raid included the FBI, Kansas City police and several other metro-area police departments.