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Headlines for Monday, December 18, 2017

Here's what we know so far.

Kansas Panel to Review Effects of Shifting Funds to Schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas legislative committee is planning to consider the potential problems caused by diverting hundreds of millions of dollars to public schools from other parts of the budget.  The special joint committee is scheduled to meet today (MON) and tomorrow (TUE) to continue gathering information. Lawmakers have started work on a response to a Kansas Supreme Court order in October to boost spending on public schools.  Legislators aren't so much interested in slashing spending in other parts of the budget to provide more money for schools as spelling out the potential harm. Many also don't want to increase taxes next year.  Lawmakers earlier this year phased in a $293 million increase education funding over two years to make it $4.3 billion annually. The court said that still wasn't constitutionally adequate.

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Kansas Lawmaker Wants Review of Ex-Commerce Secretary's Work

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Democratic state senator is asking the Kansas Legislature's audit division to evaluate whether a former commerce secretary followed state law and procedure in awarding agency consulting contracts and when charging business expenses.  Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley tells the Topeka Capital-Journal that the Legislature's oversight committee was expected to authorize the review of Antonio Soave, who led the Kansas Department of Commerce for about 18 months until June.  Governor Sam Brownback, who appointed Soave, had praised him when he left the administration. But the governor's office later confirmed Soave was fired partly over questions about state contracts.  Soave has said he resigned by mutual agreement with the Brownback administration. He also defended the agency's consulting contracts.  The Kansas City Star first reported that at least nine Soave associates landed contracts during Soave's 18 months as secretary.

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Kansas Legislative Committee to Review Plans for New State Prison

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas legislative committee is preparing to review a plan for building a new state prison in Lansing... and its meeting could prove important to the project's future.  A joint committee on budget issues is scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon for an update from Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood.  The final go-ahead must come from the governor and legislative leaders by early January.  House Majority Leader Don Hineman says he will wait until after the budget committee's meeting to decide whether he'll support the project.  The Department of Corrections wants to hire giant private-prison company CoreCivic to build a prison in Lansing for 2,400 inmates to replace the state's oldest and largest prison there. The state would run the prison but lease it from CoreCivic for 20 years before owning it.

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Health Officials: Flu Activity Increasing in Most of Kansas 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas health officials say the flu is increasing in most parts of the state. Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokesman Gerald Kratochvil say three flu outbreaks have been confirmed in Sedgwick County and another was confirmed in Douglas County. The department says the flu was expected to increase in Kansas and it likely has not peaked in the state yet. An estimated 5 to 20 percent of people are expected to get the flu this year, depending on the severity of the season. Health officials say in a news release that influenza was the direct cause of 99 deaths last year, and it may have contributed to another 1,108 deaths among Kansas residents.

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Kansas Couple Killed in Missouri Plane Crash

BRANSON WEST, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say a couple from Gardner, Kansas, died when their small plane crashed in southwest Missouri.  Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader on Monday identified the victims as 52-year-old Keith Curtis and 45-year-old Dawn Curtis.  Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said their single-engine Piper Cherokee went down Sunday night in a pasture about 1 mile northwest of the Branson West Municipal Airport.  Witnesses told KYTV that the plane was flying low and appeared to be having problems with its motor before there was a boom as it crashed.  Relatives said in a statement that the couple was married on Nov. 11 after dating for several years. They were on their way to Branson for a four-day, pre-Christmas family vacation.  The FAA is investigating the cause of the crash.

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Man Charged in Deadly Lawrence Shooting Argues Self-Defense

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A man charged in a deadly Lawrence shooting is arguing self-defense.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that an attorney for Steven Drake III is asking the court to dismiss a first-degree murder charge in the September killing of Bryce Holladay.  The defense motion says Holladay was allowed into Drake's duplex by his roommate. But Holladay appeared to be "tweaking" on meth and began rummaging through the house and stealing. The motion says Holladay punched Drake's girlfriend as she and three others tried to push him out.  Drake says his use of deadly force was legal. But prosecutors argue that deadly force wasn't reasonable because no one was at risk of great bodily harm or death. At the time, Holladay was awaiting trial in an unrelated auto burglary and theft case.

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Post Suggesting Kansas Mosque as Shooting Range Raises Fears

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Facebook post alluding to the use of a Wichita mosque as a shooting range is raising concern in the local Muslim community. Wichita police spokesman Charley Davidson said today (MON) they are investigating and extra patrols are occurring. Police have also notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A picture of the Wichita Islamic Society building was posted as a suggestion in response to a Facebook question seeking a good gun range to learn to shoot. Hussam Madi told KWCH-TV that regardless of the poster's intent, it should be investigated. He says it's nothing to joke about and he hopes others will think before posting threatening things. He says police contacted the person to see if it was a viable threat.

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Mother Says Son's Drowning at Kansas Foster Home Was Neglect

FORT SCOTT, Kan. (AP) — The mother of a 22-month-old boy who drowned in a fish pond at his foster parents' home in Fort Scott said she believes the death resulted from neglect, despite a decision from the state and local law enforcement that the drowning was an accident. Conner Hawes and three other foster children were playing outside while his foster father was watching television inside, when at some point the boy got into a 2-foot-deep fish pond in the backyard. The other children told foster father Peter Brackett they couldn't find Conner and they searched for about an hour before calling 911, according to a Bourbon County Sheriff's report. State foster care regulations consider such ponds hazards and say young children should not have unsupervised access to them. Kansas law says records should be released if abuse or neglect causes a child's death or near death. Because the Kansas Department for Children and Families believes Conner's death on August 18 was an accident, it will not release records concerning how the case was handled, The Wichita Eagle reported . The records would permit the public to know If inspectors ever noticed the pond in the backyard or if the foster parents told the agency about the pond or tried to restrict Conner's access. The Bourbon County Sheriff's Office also found Conner's death was an accidental drowning, based in part on autopsy findings and the "totality of the circumstances," Bourbon County Sheriff Bill Martin said. "We can't be with them (children) all the time," Martin said. "That's just part of parenting and growing up. It just takes a split second for something to happen." Conner's mother, Beth Hawes, said the boy's foster parents are nice people but said "They failed to do the No. 1 instinct of a parent, which is to know where your child is, especially that young." She also cited the delay in contacting law enforcement as suggesting the death was neglect. Brackett told The Associated Press Monday that he didn't want to comment. State Representative Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, said it was wrong that records in the boy's death aren't being released. Ward, a candidate for governor, said the agency has repeatedly refused to release records in deaths of children under its care and the boy's family and taxpayers deserve to know more. "They've had too many of these deaths where . the child has been in custody," he said. "I don't trust them anymore." Conner's death occurred before the current director, Gina Meier-Hummel, was named to lead the department last month. In an email statement on Friday, the agency said Meier-Hummel is committed to transparency and "looks forward to working with Rep. Ward and the entire Kansas legislature on these very important issues in the upcoming legislative session." The agency said it had referred the matter to legal counsel for action but spokeswoman Taylor Forrest said she couldn't elaborate on what that means. Hawes says her two other children, a 3-year-old and a 9-year-old, remain in the same foster home where their brother died. She said she lost her children because of substance abuse and is fighting a losing battle with the state to get them back or into the care of a relative.

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Hit-and-Run Kills Pedestrian on Interstate 670 in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police say a woman was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Interstate 670 in western Kansas City.  The crash occurred shortly before midnight Saturday in the city's West Bottoms area.  Police say it wasn't clear if the woman was standing in the road or trying to cross it when she was hit.  Investigators are asking anyone who might have seen the incident to call police.  

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Kansas Woman Admits Stealing $5 Million from Credit Union 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas woman has admitted embezzling more than $5 million from a now-defunct credit union in a deal with prosecutors for a five-year prison sentence. Nita Rae Nirschl pleaded guilty Monday to three crimes that occurred while she worked for the Parsons Pittsburg Credit Union. The 66-year-old woman pleaded guilty to one count each of embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion. She was initially indicted on 81 counts. The agreement calls for no fine, but she is required to make restitution for all the stolen money. Federal prosecutors say that after an audit found the credit union was insolvent, it was placed in conservatorship and ultimately liquidated in March 2014. Nirshal began working for the credit union in 2000 and was fired in 2014. Sentencing was set for March 5.

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Man Found Dead in Midtown Kansas City House Fire

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Fire officials say a man was found dead in a fire at a midtown Kansas City home.  The fire was reported early Sunday.  Battalion Chief Nino Bruno says the body of a man in his 30s was found in an upstairs apartment of the home.  The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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Police Investigate Deadly Suburban Kansas City Shooting

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. (AP) — Authorities are investigating a deadly shooting in suburban Kansas City.  Blue Springs police said in a news release that officers responded early Monday to call about gunfire and found the victim dead in the front yard of a home. No other information was immediately released, including the name of the victim.  Anyone with information is urged to call police.

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Hindu Community in Topeka Acquires Its First Temple

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Hindu community in Topeka is planning to move into its first temple in the city. The Topeka Hindu Temple Committee says it acquired a building that previously held the Topeka Scottish Rite organization. Sam Nimishakavi, president of Topeka Hindu Temple Inc., said Monday the temple will give Topeka's Hindu community a place of learning and reverence. He says the community wants to educate its children and society in general about Hindu culture and values. He says the Hindu community has dreamed for generations of having a temple in Topeka to provide a place of worship for future generations. Currently, Hindus travel from Topeka to a temple in the Kansas City suburb of Shawnee to worship.  An opening date for the Topeka temple hasn't been set.

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Wichita Santa Creates Life-Size Sleigh

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man who makes more than 60 appearances as Santa over the holiday season has crafted a giant sleigh to bring along with him. The Wichita Eagle reports that 57-year-old Mike Dowell, his wife Pat Dowell, and their children and grandchildren created the life-size wooden red sleigh in their backyard over the course of four weeks. The mobile sleigh made its debut Saturday at the Girl Scout's Council in Wichita. Pat Dowell, who makes her appearance as Santa's head elf, says the couple has been dressing up for the holidays for over a decade. The Dowells started by making visits to houses of families in need. Now they appear at shelters and community organizations. She says the couple has continued their tradition because it doesn't feel like a chore.

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New Monument at Fort Leavenworth Will Honor Black WW II Unit

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) - Funds are being raised to erect a monument at Fort Leavenworth to honor the first and only black Women's Army Corps unit to deploy overseas during World War II.  The monument will honor the 6888th Central Directory Postal Battalion, which sorted mail for the armed forces during the war.  The Leavenworth Times reports the unit deployed from February 1945 to January 1946.  Carlton Philpot, chairman of the memorial committee, said the mail was backed up for two years. He says 855 women sorted seven million pieces of mail in three months.  The monument, expected to cost $70,000, will feature a likeness of Lt. Col. Charity Adams, who commanded the unit.  It will be located on the Walkway of Patriots on Fort Leavenworth. A dedication is planned for next fall.

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Chairman of Kansas Utility Commission Not Seeking 2nd Term

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The commission that regulates utilities in Kansas will be getting a new member next year.  Kansas Corporation Commission Chairman Pat Apple has announced that he won't seek reappointment to another four-year term. Apple's current term expires in March.  Apple says he plans to return to a private construction business that he and his wife started in 1983. He also says early announcement will give the governor time to find a replacement before his time expires.  Republican Governor Sam Brownback appointed Apple to the three-member commission in 2014. Fellow commissioners named him chairman in January.  Apple previously served in the state Senate nine years and was the chairman of its Utilities Commission when he resigned to join the KCC.

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Crash with Church Van Leaves 1 Dead, 2 with Serious Injuries

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Authorities say one person has been killed and two others seriously injured in a head-on crash with a church van in Kansas City.  Police say the wreck happened Sunday morning when the driver of a Kia crossed into oncoming traffic and struck the van.  The Kansas City Star reports that the Kia's driver was pronounced dead at the scene, but the person's name wasn't immediately released.  Police say the driver of the van and one passenger suffered serious injuries. Two other van passengers were treated for minor injuries.  It wasn't immediately clear why the Kia veered into the opposite lane.  Company Wants to Build 100 Wind Turbines Near Haven

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Wind Farm Proposal in Reno County Draws Attention

HAVEN, Kan. (AP) - An energy company is proposing a wind farm with 100 turbines in Reno County near Haven.  More than 100 people attended an open house this week to discuss the plans from NextEra Energy. The proposed farm would generate 200- to 300-megawatts of power, enough to power about 60,000 homes.  Project Director Sam Massey said the industry standard is to pay about $4,500 a year per megawatt to landowners.  The Hutchinson News reports some landowners have already signed contracts with NextEra Energy but a few at the meeting said they were opposed to the project.  The company plans to sell its energy to wholesale companies but currently doesn't have a buyer.  NextEra Energy operates six wind projects in Kansas.

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Kansas State University President Starts New Coin Tradition

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - The president of Kansas State University has started a tradition of giving special coins to members of the school community as a token of appreciation.  The Manhattan Mercury reports that the coin features a purple Powercat and university President Richard Myers' name on one side, with the university seal on the other.  Myers says the tradition is inspired from his time in the U.S. military. He says he liked the idea of military members receiving coins from commanding officers as a token of gratitude.  Myers says he awards a coin if someone's efforts go "above and beyond."  He estimates he's handed out about 50 coins to faculty, staff and students at the university.

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Kansas Man Offers Free Christmas Trees
 
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A northeast Kansas man is spreading holiday cheer by giving free Christmas trees to people in need.  Rex Powell is inviting people onto his land about 12 miles southeast of Lawrence to pick out the perfect tree. Visitors can then chop down the tree themselves and bring it home free of charge.  Powell has lived at Burton's Hollow for decades. The retired science teacher lives there with his wife and three cats. He was a teacher for nearly three decades.  Powell says he wants to share nature with those who visit his property.  Powell is encouraging people to donate a small sum to a local animal shelter where he got his three cats.

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Kansas Churches Offer 'Blue Christmas' Services

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Several Kansas churches are trying to meet the needs of people struggling emotionally this holiday season by offering Blue Christmas worship services.  The Wichita Eagle reports that Blue Christmas services tend to be more subdued and sometimes reflect on themes of loss and hope.  The Rev. Mari Larson is the senior pastor at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita. His church's Blue Christmas service will include communion and quieter holiday music.  Larson says "Christmas just feels alien" to those struggling with depression or loss.  Dr. Matthew Macaluso is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Macaluso says offering Blue Christmas worship services can help people acknowledge difficulty in a time of year where cold weather and less sunlight contribute to depression.

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2 of 3 Kansas House Fire Victims Identified

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A second victim of a house fire that killed three people in Kansas City, Kansas, has been identified. The Kansas City Star reports that police have identified 60-year-old Ronald Guess as the second victim. The first victim is identified as 53-year-old Gwinn Green. Both are from Kansas City, Kansas. Police are investigating the fire as a homicide case. The house fire took place early morning on December 12. The identity of the third victim has not yet been released.

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Christmas Cards Requested for Kansas Kids Who Lost Brother

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas woman is requesting Christmas cards for her two children mourning the loss of their baby brother who died earlier this year. The Wichita Eagle reports that Dawn Shannon of Arkansas City posted on Facebook that her children Alexa and Henry "are having a really hard time dealing with the loss of their sweet baby brother Tucker, and Christmas is going to be so difficult without him." Tucker Shannon was 7 months old when he died on September 29. He had Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, a rare condition that affects a person's kidneys, mobility and speech. Dawn Shannon encourages anyone who can to send Christmas cards to Alexa and Henry "to send them a little bit of love." She included in her Facebook post a mailing address to send cards to.

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