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Headlines for Monday, February 2, 2015

Kansas House Panel Approves Measure to Balance State Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas House committee has approved a bill eliminating a projected state budget deficit by relying more on moving money around than cutting spending. The Appropriations Committee passed its budget-balancing measure on a voice vote. The full House is expected to take up the bill Tuesday. The state faces a projected shortfall exceeding $330 million in its current budget after tax collections fell $47 million short of expectations in January. The deficit is in the state's main bank account, which finances general government programs. The bill mostly diverts money from highway projects and other special funds into the state's main bank account. The shortfall arose after lawmakers aggressively cut personal income taxes at Republican Governor Sam Brownback's urging in 2012 and 2013 to stimulate the state's economy.

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Kansas Official's Private Email on Budget Sparks Debate 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has rejected a proposal to expand the state Open Records Act so that it would cover private emails by state officials about government business. The House on Monday voted 86 to 30 against a proposal from Wichita Democrat Jim Ward. His measure was inspired by a Wichita Eagle report that Gov. Sam Brownback's budget director used a private email account in December to give two lobbyists a preview of Brownback's proposals weeks before they were formally unveiled to lawmakers. Ward offered his proposal as an amendment to an open records bill that later received first-round approval in the House. Brownback's office declined to comment on Ward's proposal. But several GOP lawmakers criticized Ward for not bringing his proposal to a committee for a thorough vetting.

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Kansas Activists Push to Ban Abortion Procedure 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas abortion rights activists say a proposal to ban a specific abortion procedure could end up establishing broader restrictions. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee conducted a hearing Monday on a bill that would ban the procedure known as dilation and evacuation. Kansas already bans most abortions at or after the 22nd week of pregnancy. The new measure could prevent some pregnancies from being terminated earlier. Kathy Ostrowski of Kansans for Life told the committee the procedure was cruel to the fetus and should be banned. Julie Burkhart of the Trust Women Foundation said the ban would endanger women's health and lead to additional costs due to legal challenges. Republican Governor Sam Brownback has said that he would sign the bill if it passed.

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Lawmakers Propose Tightening Open Records Laws

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Senate Democrats in Kansas say they plan to introduce a bill this week aimed at closing loopholes in open records laws when it comes to private e-mail accounts and electronic devices. The move comes after state budget director Shawn Sullivan used a private email account to send a draft of the state budget to two lobbyists and several top administration officials two days before Christmas. Governor Sam Brownback says he mostly uses his private cellphone rather than a state-owned one. He says he doesn't know how often members of his staff use private e-mails to conduct official state business. Some Republican lawmakers have said they would be open to legislation that makes private communications public records when they pertain to state business.

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Bill Proposes Inclusion of Home-Schooled Students in Public School Activities 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill before the Kansas Senate would allow home-schooled students to participate in public school sports and activities. The measure would allow any student living in a school district to participate in any activity offered by the district for four consecutive school years, even if the student graduates before the fourth year. The bill, which is awaiting a hearing in the Education Committee, is opposed by the Kansas State High School Activities Association. Gary Musselman, executive director of the association, says public school students have to earn eligibility and are held to strict standards before they can participate. Supporters say the bill could benefit small, rural schools that often don't have enough students for an activity. The Wichita Eagle reports the Senate Education Committee will consider the bill.

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Topeka Man Sentenced in Car Accident That Killed Friend

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man has been sentenced to more than three years in prison for a drunken-driving crash that killed his friend. Twenty-year-old William Kelly III was driving a car that crashed in January 2013 in Leavenworth. A passenger, Lee King, was partially ejected from the car and died after the vehicle landed on him. Prosecutors say Kelly was speeding and had a blood alcohol content of .11, higher than the legal limit of 0.8, at the time of the crash. Kelly was convicted in December of involuntary manslaughter while driving under the influence. He was sentenced Friday to three years and five months in prison. The Leavenworth Times reports defense attorney Kevin Shepherd argued for probation.

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Judge Grants Delay for Man Accused of Changing Victim's Name

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has granted a delay in court proceedings for a Mexican man accused of an identity theft scheme in which he changed a U.S. citizen's legal name to his own. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren set a May 5 trial date in the case of Ramon Perez-Rivera and his wife, Antonia Vargas-Ortega. The couple had sought to stall their scheduled February 17 trial. Their lawyers say they need more time to review the evidence and evaluate how to proceed. Prosecutors allege Perez-Rivera convinced a court to change the name of the ID theft victim to his own. He is accused of then using that identity to obtain food stamps and Medicaid, register to vote and obtain a U.S. passport and a driver's license.

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Kansas Tribes, Governor's Office Talking About Compact

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Officials with northeast Kansas American Indian tribes have had preliminary discussions with Governor Sam Brownback on gaining more control over revenue and spending on their lands. A previous compact with the state allowed tribes to collect some state taxes on products sold on their lands and keep some of the revenue for their programs. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Steve Cadue, former chairman of the Kickapoo Nation, says Brownback expressed support for the idea last year but that was before the state was facing multi-million dollar budget deficits. Brownback's spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, say the governor has informally discussed a variety of issues, including taxes, with the four Kansas tribes but the talks are in the early stages and it's unlikely a compact will be part of this year's budget.

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4 Casinos Submit Applications for Southeast Kansas

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) - The bids are in and now it's up to the state to decide the winning play for a new state-owned casino in southeast Kansas. Four groups submitted formal applications to the Kansas Lottery Commission by the deadline Friday to open a casino in either Crawford or Cherokee counties. The Joplin Globe reports two of the proposals are for casinos in Cherokee County, with the other two are for casinos in Crawford County. A spokeswoman for the Kansas Lottery said the Gaming Facility Review Board will have up to 60 days to recommend the winning bid. The Kansas Racing & Gaming Commission would then complete a background investigation and have 10 days to approve or reject the recommendation. Kansas already has three state-owned casinos.

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Defense Asks Court to Dismiss Charges in Suicide Bomb Plot 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Attorneys for a man accused of plotting a suicide bomb attack at a Wichita airport claim the undercover government agent who befriended him radicalized him to induce him to commit the crimes. The legal maneuvers Monday come in the case of Terry Loewen, a former avionics technician who was arrested in an undercover sting when he allegedly tried in December 2013 to bring a van filled with inert explosives onto the tarmac at Mid-Continent Airport. His attorneys argued their client was entrapped. They also asked the court to suppress evidence seized from the van. Loewen has pleaded not guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and related charges. The U.S. attorney's office says it will review the defense filings and respond to the court.

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Kansas Lawmakers Divided on Hate Crime Bill 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The fatal shooting of three people last year outside a Jewish community center and retirement complex in Overland Park is renewing calls for tougher hate crime legislation. A bill currently being discussed in the Kansas legislature would double the sentences for those convicted of a hate crime. Senator David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, said the shootings reinforce the need for harsher punishments against those who are motivated by prejudice. But, opponents of the legislation are skeptical that increased penalties will deter such criminals. Kansas police departments reported an average of 81 hate crimes per year from 2003 to 2013, although a Justice Department study suggests that such crimes often go unreported and the true numbers could me much higher.

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Brownback Proposes Linking Performance to School Funds

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has said he wants to tie school funding to student performance. The Wichita Eagle reports that Brownback discussed the concept Friday while speaking to the Agri-Business Council of Wichita. Brownback said earlier this month that he wanted to ditch the current school-finance formula and fund the state's districts with interim block grants for the next two years. In his speech, Brownback elaborated on his plans. He said possible performance markers include whether high school graduates are prepared for college or the workforce. He said that's what schools are "supposed to get done" and that she should be penalized if they fail. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, questioned the wisdom of rewarding high-performing school districts, which also tend to be the richer ones.

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KCK Candidate Charged in Crash That Injured 4 Students

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - A woman running for the board that governs the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, has been charged with hitting four high school students with her car. The Wyandotte County prosecutor's office says 38-year-old Tamika Pledger, of Kansas City, Kansas, was charged Sunday with four counts of reckless aggravated battery. The teens sustained serious injuries in Friday's crash near a community center. Pledger is jailed on $50,000 bond. Pledger has filed for a seat on the Unified Government's Board of Commissioners. The seat has been empty since Mark Holland vacated it when he was elected mayor in 2013.

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Princeton Review Strips UMKC of Top 25 Rankings 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Princeton Review for the first time has stripped a college of its rankings after learning that the University of Missouri-Kansas City knowingly submitted false data. The company announced Monday that it was pulling the school's top-25 ranking for graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurship programs for 2014. The company later announced it also would strip the rankings for 2011, 2012 and 2013 at the university's request. Robert Franek, a senior vice president for The Princeton Review, said in a written statement that the company was "extremely disappointed" to learn about the problems. UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton said the school has made changes and was "committed to ensuring that the academic integrity of this institution is maintained and strengthened." The move came after a report highlighting the problems was released Friday.

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Kansas Man Accused of Drunken Driving with 9 Children in SUV 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 32-year-old Kansas man is suspected of drunken driving after being found passed out in the drive-thru of a fast-food restaurant with nine children in his vehicle. The man, who was arrested on suspicion of multiple counts of driving under the influence and child endangerment, had not been formally charged as of Monday afternoon. Wichita police say officers responded at 12:30 am Sunday to a McDonald's restaurant where they found the driver. The Wichita Eagle reports the driver refused to submit to a test for substances and was arrested. The children in the SUV ranged in age from 5 months to 12 years old. Police spokesman Lieutenant James Espinoza says the driver was father of six of the children and uncle of the other three.

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Jury Selection Begins in Commune Leader's Murder Trial 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The leader of a Kansas commune that prosecutors say lived off life insurance payouts from its dead members faces trial this week in the 2003 drowning of a woman whose death he had allegedly foretold weeks earlier. Jury selection begins today (MON) in the trial of 55-year-old Daniel U. Perez for first-degree premeditated murder of Patricia Hughes at the group's compound in the Wichita suburb of Valley Center. Witnesses have testified Perez called himself a seer and portrayed him as a domineering leader who kept a tight rein on his young, mostly female followers. Perez also faces multiple counts of lying on life insurance applications, rape, sodomy, criminal threat, making false statements on auto credit applications and sexual exploitation of a child. His defense attorney did not return a phone message.

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Defendant in Topeka Officer's Death Ruled Incompetent 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A man who prosecutors say helped a gunman escape after he fatally shot a Topeka police officer has been found incompetent to stand trial. A Shawnee County court has ordered 31-year-old Randy Allen Ridens Jr. of Topeka to be sent to Larned State Hospital for mental evaluation. Ridens is charged with obstructing the apprehension of 30-year-old Ross Preston Lane. Ridens allegedly drove Lane out of town on a stolen motorcycle. Investigators say Lane fatally shot police Corporal Jason Harwood in September. He is charged with capital murder of a law enforcement officer and weapons charges. He has pleaded not guilty. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports (that in January, a psychiatrist found Ridens incompetent to stand trial. He was committed to Larned for no more than 90 days of treatment.

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Police: Officers in Pratt Shot Knife-Wielding Man

PRATT, Kan. (AP) - Police in south-central Kansas say a 45-year-old man is in critical but stable condition after being shot by officers who say he confronted them with a hunting knife and ax handle. A press release from the Pratt Police Department says officers were dispatched to an apartment complex around 9 p.m. Saturday after a report of a disturbance. The department says officers encountered the man wielding the weapons and ordered him to drop the knife and handle but he didn't comply. The release says efforts to subdue him with a Taser were ineffective. Police say he then charged the officers while threatening to kill them, and the officers shot him. The man was taken to a hospital. 

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Report: Modest Economic Growth Likely in Midwest, Plains 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A monthly business survey suggests only modest economic growth is likely in nine Midwestern and Plains states this spring because the agriculture and energy sectors are slowing. The report released Monday says the overall economic index for the region improved slightly to 54.8 in January from December's 54.4. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, says growth for companies outside of energy and agriculture should offset the declines in those sectors. The survey results from supply managers are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests economic growth, while a score below that suggests decline. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

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No. 3 Baylor Women Beat KU, 66-58 

WACO, Texas (AP) — No. 3 Baylor won its 19th consecutive game, 66-58 over Kansas on Sunday. After Kansas scored 12 points in a row early in the second half, a three-point play by Baylor's Nina Davis with 11:05 left put the Lady Bears (20-1, 9-0 Big 12) ahead to stay. Davis's performance pushed the sophomore player past 1,000 career points.  Asia Boyd scored 14 points, while Terriell Bradley had 13 and Lauren Aldridge 12 for Kansas (12-10, 3-6), which had its three-game winning streak snapped. 
 

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