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Headlines for Monday, April 6, 2015

Kansas Senator Proposes Bill on School Transfer Students

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas state senator is proposing a bill intended to ensure that school districts can't remove current students who live outside their boundaries. But critics say Republican Senator Ty Masterson's bill is a solution in search of a problem. They claim it doesn't address the main reason behind some districts limiting new, transfer students — budget cuts related to the state's new law establishing temporary block grants for schools. Masterson's bill comes after two Shawnee County districts say they don't plan on accepting out-of-district students next school year. Administrators note that it won't affect current nonresident students, but Masterson says he wants legislation that guarantees they're protected. He adds the bill wouldn't require districts to continue to accept new nonresident students.

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Kansas Board of Education to Examine School Funding Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas State Board of Education is meeting April 16 to review changes to the state's education laws including an overhaul in the way schools are funded. The board also plans to consider giving authority to hold bond elections to the Haysville, Maize, Haven, Great Bend and Dodge City districts and the Central district in Cowley County. They would issue a total of $260 million in bonds. Since the state school board met in March, Governor Sam Brownback signed into law a bill overhauling the way the state distributes more than $4 billion in aid to schools. Districts will lose $51 million they expected to receive for the current school year under the plan. State funding for schools would then increase for the next two school years.

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State Says Demolishing Docking Building Will Cost $7.5M 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Officials estimate that it will cost $7.5 million to demolish a state official building in Topeka. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that crews are expected to begin the six-month process of removing asbestos from Docking State Office Building in May. Information posted to the Department of Administration's website shows the building will be taken down between December and March. Officials are tearing it down because they believe renovations of the 1950s-era high-rise would be too expensive. There currently are no plans for new construction on the site near the Statehouse. Details about the demolition are part of a bid solicitation for a new energy service center. The center supplies cooling and heating to the Capitol complex. It currently sits underneath Docking, but the state wants to build a new one.

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Uber Urges Brownback to Veto Bill Increasing Regulations and Insurance Costs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Ride-sharing company Uber says it will be forced to pull out of Kansas if the governor signs a bill increasing regulations on its drivers. Both chambers passed the bill Thursday amid an increasingly acrimonious campaign against the changes by Uber. The Legislature's email server was rendered temporarily inoperable Tuesday by a deluge of protest emails from the company's users. The Kansas bill would require some drivers for Uber and other ride-hailing companies to have broader insurance. It would also require them to undergo background checks through the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Uber spokeswoman Lauren Altmin says both requirements are onerous for Uber because it is primarily a technology company and shouldn't be expected to bear the same responsibilities as taxi companies.

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Early Storm Damage Estimate for Wichita: $300,000 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Preliminary estimates peg the damage from last week's powerful storm at $300,000 for Wichita. The Wichita Eagle reports that strategic communications director Ken Evans says the estimate doesn't include damage at the city's airports. Winds reached speeds of nearly 90 mph in last week's storm, leavings thousands of residents in south central Kansas without power Jabara in northeast Wichita sustained substantial damage, including the total collapse of a main hangar. Evans says runway lights are still not operating, limiting flights to daylight hours only.

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Man Gets 4 Years, 2 Month in Prison for Beheading Killing 

LYNDON, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man has been sentenced to four years and two months in prison in the 2011 beheading of another man with a guitar string. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that James Paul Harris was sentenced Monday in Osage County District Court for involuntary manslaughter in the death of 49-year-old James Gerety. Harris originally was charged with first-degree murder, but pleaded no contest to the reduced charge in December. A former girlfriend testified last year that Harris told her he shot the victim in the stomach, tortured him for two days and then cut off his head. Prosecutors allege Harris kept Gerety's head for months for some type of religious practice. Part of the skull was found in March 2012 in rural Osage County on land where Harris's father lived.

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Judge Dismisses Indictment in Kansas Identity Theft Case 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has dismissed at the request of prosecutors the indictment against a woman who had been accused of obtaining her U.S. citizenship by falsely claiming an identity theft victim was her stepfather. The government told the court Monday no further action against 48-year-old Antonia Vargas-Ortega is contemplated unless additional evidence is discovered. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson says the evidence today against her isn't as compelling as prosecutors prefer to go forward with the case. Her father, Ramon Perez-Rivera, was separately indicted for an identity theft scheme in which authorities say he legally changed a U.S. citizen's name to his own. Her parents are charged with using the false identity to get food stamps and Medicaid, obtain a passport and driver's license, and attempt to get Social Security benefits.

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Driveway Tax Squashes Reappointment Bid of Former Mayor

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Lawmakers have rejected the reappointment of the former mayor of Mission to the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission because of a special tax she championed while leading the Kansas City suburb. The Kansas Senate voted 19-18 Thursday to reject Laura McConwell for the state board that regulates casino gambling. Republican Governor Sam Brownback had nominated McConwell to a four-year term on the commission. She has been filling an unfinished term since last summer. McConwell supported the so-called driveway tax that was approved in 2010. The tax collected money for roadwork based on how much traffic each property in the city generated. The fee was designed to collect the most money from the properties that put the heaviest burden on city streets.

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Chronic Wasting Disease Spreads to 6 More Kansas Counties

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State wildlife officials say chronic wasting disease has spread to six counties in southwest Kansas. The disease, which is fatal to deer and elk, had already been found in three northwest Kansas counties. So far, the disease had not been passed to humans or livestock. The Wichita Eagle reports counties where new cases of the disease have been found are Gray, Hodgeman, Kearny, Pawnee, Meade and Scott, with one diseased deer each. One deer tested positive for the disease in Decatur, Norton and Rawlins counties in northwest Kansas. Shane Hesting, wildlife disease coordinator with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said nine of the about 600 deer tested carried the disease. Most of the deer were shot by hunters.

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Big Retailers Pull Blue Bell Products Linked to Oklahoma Plant 

DALLAS (AP) — Some of the largest retailers in the country have decided to pull from their shelves Blue Bell Ice Cream made at an Oklahoma production plant that the company has temporarily closed. Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick said Monday that the giant retailer along with Sam's Club have pulled products made at the plant in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Wal-Mart and Sam's Club continue to sell Blue Bell products made at other plants. Grocery store chain Kroger has taken the same step. The dairy company based in Brenham, Texas, last month issued a recall after ice cream contaminated with listeriosis was linked to three deaths at a Kansas hospital. The foodborne illness was tracked to a production line in Brenham and later to a second line in Broken Arrow.

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Kansas Religious Objections Law Similar to Derided Measures 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Religious objections measures in Arkansas and Indiana that prompted national criticism are similar to a law Kansas enacted quietly two years ago with the state's leading gay-rights group officially neutral. Advocates on both sides see a shift in the political context surrounding the debate over protecting individuals, groups and businesses objecting to same-sex marriage on religious grounds. When Kansas enacted its law in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court hadn't agreed to consider whether same-sex marriage must be allowed in all states. Also, Kansas wasn't in the national spotlight until 2014 over an unsuccessful measure on same-sex marriage that critics said would allow widespread discrimination against gays and lesbians. The 2013 Kansas law says state or local governments can't substantially inhibit a person's exercise of religion without a compelling reason.

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Woman Dies in UTV Accident South of Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A woman died in a utility-terrain vehicle accident near Lawrence Saturday. The Lawrence Journal World reports that the accident happened Saturday as 35-year-old Lori Vantuyl and her husband were traveling in a four-seat Arctic Cat UTV on the road in front of their residence. Lieutenant Steve Lewis of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office said in a news release that the cause of the accident is under investigation but that it is believed her husband lost control of the UTV. It crashed after rolling. Lori Vantuyl died at the scene while her husband was transported to Lawrence Memorial Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

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Judge Continues Kansas Pollution Case While Mulling Findings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has delayed sentencing for a Kansas metal finishing business and its owner while he mulls over arguments and decides on his proposed findings. U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree said Monday he would enter an order later in the case against C&R Plating and owner Kevin L. Cline. Cline and his company have admitted discharging untreated wastewater into a city sewer and submitting fraudulent samples and reports to conceal the dumping. They pleaded guilty in December to introducing pollutants into the water treatment system of the north-central Kansas community of Minneapolis. The U.S. attorney's office says the judge indicated at the hearing that this was a complex case and said it was better to get it right than do it quickly. Another sentencing hearing will be scheduled.

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8 Years After Tornado, Greensburg Gets a Movie Theater  

GREENSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Greensburg is getting a movie theater again after a massive tornado leveled much of the Kiowa County town eight years ago. The Twilight Theater will begin showing films this month, with grand opening events scheduled for April 24-25. The Hutchinson News reports the theater opened in 1917 and was a hub of activity until it closed in 1989. It later reopened and operated as a nonprofit theater until the tornado. Renovations had been scheduled to begin in May 2007, but an EF5 tornado destroyed 95 percent of the town that month. Funds were raised again. Theater executive director Adam Wagner says new the building has state-of-the-art sound, lighting and concessions systems. Kiowa County schools will also use the building as an auditorium.

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Native Stone Fence Workshop Slated in Wamego 

WAMEGO, Kan. (AP) — With few trees in large swaths of Kansas prairieland, early settlers built fences out of stone instead. People interesting in learning more about how those fences were built will get a chance this spring during a festival in Wamego. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Native Stone Scenic Byway Committee is offering a stone fence workshop May 2 and 3. The Kansas Sampler Festival will be set up that weekend in Wamego. Workshop participants will construct a new fence in Wamego City Park. That breaks from the tradition of doing the workshop along the Native Stone Scenic Byway. A professionally trained dry stone conservancy mason will be the lead teacher. The registration fee is $80.

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Nelson-Atkins Museum Will Display School's Benton Painting 

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City school district has found a new home for a Thomas Hart Benton painting students donated in 1957. The painting "Utah Highlands" will be on long-term loan at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, starting in late April. The Shawnee Mission School District had kept the painting in a vault for safekeeping after it was appraised at $700,000. Students who donated the painting in 1957 as a class gift began asking where the painting was after The Kansas City Star reported it was no longer being displayed. Museum spokeswoman Kali Hudson says the painting will be assessed for any damage. The school district will retain ownership of the painting, which will be rotated for display.

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Drought Expands Across Large Section of Nation's Crop Region

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Drought conditions are expanding across a large section of the U.S., from California to the Great Plains. The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska says the area covered by moderate drought or worse expanded by nearly five percentage points to 36.8 percent during March. The drought monitor shows dry conditions broadened in the Midwest with 22 percent of the U.S. corn production area and 18 percent of the soybean area in some degree of drought. That's up sharply from early March when just 6 percent of the corn growing area and 5 percent of the soybean region were in drought conditions. Dryness worsened during March in Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Two-thirds of California is in extreme to exceptional drought.

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Farmers Planting Spring Crops in Kansas 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas farmers have begun planting this year's corn amid growing concern for the deteriorating winter wheat crop in several counties where it is dry. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 6 percent of the corn crop has now been planted in Kansas. But the agency also noted that topsoil moisture conditions for the week ending on Sunday are short to very short across 57 percent of the state. About 23 percent of the state's winter wheat crop was rated in poor to very poor condition. About 44 percent of the wheat was in fair condition with 30 percent reported as good and 3 percent as excellent. Farmers have been fertilizing and applying herbicide to their fields this past week.

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Kansas Water Forum Targets Pumping in Colorado

ST. FRANCIS, Kan. (AP) — A meeting is planned for this week in northwest Kansas to discuss concerns about using water pumped from the Ogallala Aquifer in Colorado to help satisfy streamflow requirements on the Republican River. The gathering Tuesday in St. Francis will include Kansas Governor Sam Brownback along with agriculture and water officials. Representative Rick Billinger, a Goodland Republican, aims to gather input on the pumping project and "possible ways to preserve the Ogallala for future users." He says the pumping project benefits the river's north fork, which doesn't enter Kansas until it reaches Jewell County, in the north-central part of the state. The south fork dips into Kansas through Cheyenne County and flows back into Nebraska. 

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Numerous Earthquakes Recorded in Oklahoma

CRESCENT, Okla. (AP) — More than a dozen small to moderate earthquakes were recorded over the weekend in Oklahoma, including one with a preliminary magnitude of 4.2 that was felt in Kansas and Texas. The U.S. Geological Survey reports the quake occurred at 8:21 a.m. Saturday 12 miles north of Crescent, about 45 miles north of Oklahoma City. Residents about 270 miles north in Topeka, Kansas, and about 240 miles south in Dallas reported feeling the quake. Logan County Sheriff's Sergeant Greg Valencia says there are no reports of damage or injury. The earthquakes began shortly before 4 p.m. Friday and ranged from a magnitude 2.7 to the 4.2, with at least two recorded at magnitude 3.7. Geologists say damage is not likely in earthquakes below magnitude 4.0

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Rural Kansas Road Designated "Home on the Range" Highway

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas is honoring the place where its famous state song was written by designating a nearby road as the Home on the Range Highway. Governor Sam Brownback's office says he signed a bill last week to bestow the designation on K-8 highway in Smith County. The designation applies from the road's junction with U.S. 36 to the Nebraska border, 17 miles to the north. The words to the state song were written as a poem by Dr. Brewster Higley on the bank of West Beaver Creek in Smith County in 1871. The next year, he and friends built a cabin there. A private foundation is preserving the cabin near K-8, about 9 miles north of U.S. 36.

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Royals Open Regular Season at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — It's opening day for the 2014 American League champion Kansas City Royals. The Royals open the 2015 regular season in Kansas City this afternoon against the Chicago White Sox. The AL champs will raise the pennant on the flagpole above Kauffman Stadium in a ceremony just before this afternoon's game. Yordano Ventura is the starting pitcher for the Royals' first game of the season.
 

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