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Headlines for Monday, January 8, 2018

Here's a look at area headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Legislature Opens Annual 90-Day Session

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  Kansas lawmakers have opened their annual session facing a court mandate to boost spending on public schools. When the House convened Monday afternoon, Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. told members he is excited to get to work. But there appears to be little appetite in the GOP-controlled Legislature to either raise taxes or cut spending elsewhere to provide more money for public schools. GOP Governor Sam Brownback planned to deliver the annual State of the State address Tuesday evening. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's education funding is insufficient under the state constitution. It did not set a specific spending target but hinted that it expects funding to rise by as much as $650 million a year.

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Response to Kansas Lawmaker's Remarks Uncertain
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Latest on a Kansas state lawmaker's remarks that marijuana and other drugs originally were outlawed in part because blacks "responded worst" to them because of "genetics and that" (all times local):

4:10 p.m.

Kansas House leaders say they don't know if they'll take action against a white lawmaker who suggested that blacks had a genetic predisposition to abusing drugs. Republican House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. said Monday that the comments of fellow GOP state Representative Steve Alford don't reflect the Legislature's views and are disappointing. Republican House Majority Leader Don Hineman says he doesn't condone the remarks. Ryckman said they will consult with other lawmakers and the Legislature's staff about how to respond. The 75-year-old Alford argued in a public meeting Saturday against legalizing any use of marijuana. He suggested it and other drugs were originally outlawed in part because blacks were "basically users" and "responded worst" to the drugs because of their "character makeup — their genetics and that."

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2:46 p.m.

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A white Kansas state lawmaker arguing against the legalization of any use of marijuana suggested that it and other drugs were originally outlawed in part because blacks were "basically users" and "responded worst" to the drugs because of their "character makeup — their genetics and that." State Reperesentative Steve Alford, a 75-year-old Republican from Ulysses, in the west of the state, made the comments Saturday during a public meeting at a hospital in Garden City. The Garden City Telegram first reported on the statement Monday and posted a video of it to YouTube. Kansas is one of the few remaining states that haven't legalized some form of medical marijuana, including low-THC marijuana derivatives that can't get a user high. But the legalization question has been percolating in Kansas in recent years. At the meeting, Alford referenced a time in the 1930s when marijuana was prohibited. "What was the reason they did that?" he asked a crowd of about 60 people, none of whom were black. "One of the reasons why — I hate to say it — is the African Americans, they were basically users and they responded the worst off to those drugs. It's because of their character makeup — their genetics and that. And so basically what we're trying to do, is we're trying to do a complete reverse of the people not remembering what's happened in the past." Asked about his remarks Monday by The Associated Press, Alford said: "I'm not going make any more remarks about that. To me, that's neutral. Basically, I got called a racist, which I'm really not, and it's just the way people — the interpretation of people. To me, I'm trying to look at what's really the best for Kansas." Alford said the marijuana issue is very important to him because he believes it's a gateway drug that introduces user to other drugs. "I'm really looking for the safety of the people of Kansas, the children of Kansas, the adults of Kansas," Alford said during a brief interview.

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Kansas Lawmakers Face Vexing School Funding Puzzle

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas lawmakers are preparing to open their annual session facing a court mandate to boost spending on public schools with little appetite to do what could be necessary to pay for it. The Republican-controlled Legislature is scheduled to convene this (MON) afternoon.  Governor Sam Brownback plans to deliver the annual State of the State address Tuesday evening and lay out budget proposals Wednesday. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's education funding is insufficient under the state constitution. Lawmakers last year raised income taxes by roughly $600 million a year to help balance the budget. Legislative leaders see little support among lawmakers for another tax hike. Yet they also don't want to make deep cuts in other parts of the budget to free up money for schools. 

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Lieutenant Governor Proposes $16.5 Million Boost for Child Welfare Services 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer and the head of the Kansas Department for Children and Families are proposing to spend an extra $16.5 million on child welfare services over the next 18 months. The plan outlined Monday by Colyer and DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel would allow the state to hire more child welfare workers and investigators and boost spending on community services for families. The state would use part of the funds to find places for abused and neglected children to stay so none of them sleep overnight in DCF offices. The department also would hire a consultant for a top-to-bottom review. Colyer and Meier-Hummel said federal funds would cover $8 million of the new spending. The plan will be included in budget recommendations Gov. Sam Brownback presents to lawmakers Wednesday.

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Kansas Lawmakers Expected to Have Training Soon

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  Kansas legislative leaders say they expect to offer sexual harassment training to all lawmakers within a few weeks. Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita confirmed Monday that she's hoping to have a session for all 40 senators by the end of next week. House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe said he's working on arranging one for House members later this month. And House Minority Leader Jim Ward of Wichita said he's planning to schedule training for fellow Democrats who were unable to attend a session in December. The Kansas City, Missouri-based Women's Foundation has recommended an overhaul of the Legislature's 1994 policy on sexual harassment. The policy does not require annual training for lawmakers or their employees, and the foundation says it should. The foundation promotes gender equity.

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Push Emerges for Body Camera Legislation in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Pressure is growing for lawmakers to make some rules about body camera footage because police departments are releasing it so inconsistently. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Democratic Representative John Alcala, of Topeka, said body camera access is a topic that "we do need look at it so it's more accessible." Wichita police chief Gordon Ramsay is among the advocates of legislation. Department spokesman Charley Davidson said Ramsay wants "statewide consistency." Last month, the department waited only hours before releasing video of a deadly shooting that happened after a hoax call. In Topeka, police waited 11 weeks to release footage of a deadly shooting. But the representative for several Kansas law enforcement associations says the "current statutes adequately balance the interests of justice of all parties and the public interest."

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Brownback to Get Another Shot at Trump Administration Job 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's nomination for an ambassador's post will be resubmitted to the U.S. Senate. The Kansas City Star reports the White House said Monday that Brownback is one of dozens of officials who will be renominated Monday by President Donald Trump. Brownback was first nominated last July to become ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom but the nomination was opposed by Democrats and LGBT groups. He is one of dozens of officials who will be renominated by the president on Monday because they were not confirmed by the Senate after Democrats refused to allow their nominations to roll over into the new year. It is not clear when a vote on Brownback's nomination will occur.

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Kansas AG, 2 District Attorneys Seek Tougher Elder Abuse Laws

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and two county prosecutors are asking the Kansas Legislature to strengthen the state's law against abusing the elderly. Schmidt, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe and Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett say they want lawmakers to expand the legal definition for mistreating an elderly person. The current law makes financial abuse a felony but does not cover physical abuse against the elderly. The proposal from Schmidt, Howe and Bennett would list inflicting a physical injury, unreasonably confining or unreasonably punishing elders as mistreatment. Also, their proposal would include violations of laws governing guardians and financial conservatorships in the definition of mistreatment of the elderly. Schmidt says as the state's elderly population grows, it needs to update its laws. 
 
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Topeka Police Identify Woman Killed in Long Standoff 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police have identified a woman who was found dead inside an apartment after a 16-hour standoff with law enforcement officials. Police spokeswoman Lieutenant Colleen Stuart said Monday the woman was 33-year-old Tiffany Montalvo, of Eudora. She and 33-year-old Juan Lucio, of Topeka, died during the standoff. They were found dead Friday after police sent chemicals into the home. Stuart says a preliminary investigation indicates the deaths were a murder-suicide. Stuart said Monday it will take weeks to complete toxicology reports for Lucio and Montalvo. No officers were injured during the incident.

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Man Pleads Guilty in Brutal Death of Former Topeka Educator

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man accused of killing a former Topeka school principal has pleaded guilty. Prosecutors say 24-year-old Calvin Phillips Jr. pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping for in May 2016 death of Curt Cochran. The pleas came as attorneys began picking jurors to hear Phillips's trial. As part of the plea deal, Phillips will be required to testify against a co-defendant, Michael Hall, who is charged with murder. Co-workers discovered Cochran's body in a Topeka warehouse. Investigators say he was tied to a chair and his head was wrapped in plastic. He was beaten and his throat was cut. Cochran was part owner of a company that used the warehouse. He previously was a teacher and principal in the Seaman School District from 1975 to 2000.

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Authorities Release Details of Double Homicide in Northwest Kansas

HILL CITY, Kan. (AP) - Authorities say a 29-year-old man killed his father and stepsister last week in northwestern Kansas before killing himself. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Graham County Sheriff's office released more details about Thursday's shooting over the weekend. Authorities say Efren Mascarenas Jr. killed his 52-year-old father, Efren Mascarenas Sr., and stepsister, 28-year-old Christin Cantrell, in northeast Graham County. Both victims lived in the small town of Penokee, Kansas. Later police found the younger Mascarenas's body with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Kansas Department of Corrections records show Mascarenas has three prior convictions for aggravated battery and another for interference with law enforcement. He was released from prison in February of 2017. Penokee is about 65 miles northwest of Hays.

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2 Men Shot, Killed in Southwest Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a young man shot and killed two people who were trying to break into a Wichita home during the weekend. Police Lieutenant Jeff Gilmore says the men killed Saturday afternoon were 20-year-old Ky Jones Jr. and 20-year-old Jeremy Burdine. Gilmore says an 18-year-old and another person were in the home when the two men tried to force their way in. The homeowner tried to block the door but when Jones and Burdine tried to enter, the 18-year-old fired several shots through the door, killing them. Gilmore says the homeowner had previous problems with the two men and officers had been called to the home in the past. The man who lives at the home was arrested on unrelated burglary charges.

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Man Charged with Shooting, Wounding Officer in Manhattan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A research associate at Kansas State University has been charged with shooting and wounding a police officer in Manhattan. Riley County prosecutor Barry Wilkerson said 38-year-old Mark Harrison was charged Monday with three counts of attempted capital murder. Harrison made a brief first appearance in court Monday and is being held in Riley County on $6 million bond. Harrison's attorney, Barry Clark, did not immediately return a phone call after the hearing. Riley County Police said in a news release that Sergeant Pat Tiede was released from the hospital and is recovering at home. Tiede was wounded Friday afternoon while responding to a report of a domestic situation. Harrison surrendered after barricading himself inside a home for two hours. Harrison is a research associate in the K-State mechanical and nuclear engineering department.

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Kansas Fire Dog in Need of Surgery

POTWIN, Kan. (AP) — A fire dog who teaches children in Kansas how to stop, drop and roll now requires knee surgery to continue her job. The Wichita Eagle reports that Tory the Dalmatian is the mascot of the city of Potwin Volunteer Fire Department. Her owner, Heath Austin, says Tory has several more years left of helping the department's fire prevention program in Butler County. But Tory tore her ACL in one of her knees, and needs surgery in order to keep performing tricks to teach children what to do in case of a fire. Austin started a GoFundMe page just over two weeks ago to raise the $2,500 needed to help Tory. The campaign met its goal as of Monday. Austin posted on the page that the department hopes to get Tory's surgery done "in the next few weeks."

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FBI: Kansas Man Shot in Altercation with Federal Officer 

PHOENIX (AP) — The FBI says last week's shooting of a Kansas man on his way to a spiritual retreat in Arizona occurred during an altercation with a federal officer following a traffic accident. The FBI's Phoenix office said Monday that a U.S. Forest Service officer stopped to help Friday after Tyler Miller was in a traffic accident on U.S. 89A in Oak Creek Canyon about 100 miles north of Phoenix. The agency says the officer was also wounded in a subsequent altercation. Miller was taken to a medical center, where he died. Family attorney Matt Bretz says the 51-year-old Miller, from Hutchinson, apparently lost control of his pickup truck on a mountain road in Coconino National Forest. The FBI has not told The Associated Press if Miller was armed. Bretz says the agency told him Miller was unarmed.

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Jesus Stolen from Wichita's Church of the Blessed Sacrament

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita church says "This is why we can't have nice things" after a baby Jesus statue was stolen from an outdoor nativity scene. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Wichita believes baby Jesus was taken the night of Jan. 3, or early morning on Jan. 4. The manger also was destroyed because Baby Jesus had been chained to it. The theft came just a few days before the Epiphany, which is the day Christians observe the visit the Three Kings made to the baby Jesus. A sign staked outside the nativity reads: "Baby Jesus was STOLEN! Please pray for his return." The church said it "can't have nice things" in smaller letters. Over the years, other statues have gone missing, including a camel.

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Former Pratt School Secretary Sentenced for Email Threat

PRATT, Kan. (AP) — A former Pratt elementary school secretary has been sentenced to prison for making a bomb threat to the town's high school. Claudia Rodriguez-Oviedo was sentenced Monday to concurrent sentences of a year for aggravated criminal threat and eight months for unlawful act concerning a computer. The threat, sent via a fake email account, prompted school officials to call police, evacuate the high school and cancel school events. The district's technology director determined the email was sent from within the school and traced it to a computer assigned to Rodriguez-Oviedo, who was a secretary at Southwest Elementary School. Rodriguez-Oviedo is in the U.S. on a work visa that expires in March. Pratt County Attorney Tracey Beverlin said she will likely face deportation after her prison term.

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Police Identify Shooting Victim in Case that Led to Chase

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities have identified a man found shot to death in a pickup truck before a high-speed chase that ended with a police officer shooting and wounding a suspect.  Police said Sunday that the victim was 56-year-old Gerald Walsh, of Kansas City, Kansas, who died early Thursday. Several hours later, police arrested 28-year-old Jeremy Comstock after a chase that started near Smithville, Missouri. It ended with Comstock's vehicle spinning out of control on Interstate 35 in north Kansas City, Missouri. Police say officer then shot Comstock, but his injuries are not life-threatening. Comstock is charged with first-degree murder and three counts of kidnapping. His bond has been set at $250,000.  A woman who was in Comstock's van surrendered. 

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Missouri Woman Dies After Vehicle Crashes into Bar

MARYVILLE, Mo. (AP) - A college student has died after she was struck by vehicle that crashed into a northwest Missouri bar. 19-year-old Morgan McCoy was walking out of The Palms bar when the crash happened in Maryville, Missouri, around 12:40 a.m. Sunday. McCoy was from Liberty, Missouri and was studying education at Northwest Missouri State University. Police arrested the 21-year-old driver of the vehicle that crashed into the bar and determined that his blood alcohol level of 0.207 was more than twice the legal limit. He is being held on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter. 

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Man Struck, Injured on I-70 While Fleeing from Police

CHAPMAN, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities say a man has been struck and injured by a tractor-trailer as he tried to get away from law enforcement on Interstate 70 in Kansas. The Kansas Highway Patrol says the man was in custody on both knees in a ditch Sunday when he stood up and began running. The Hays Post reports he was struck west of the Chapman exit in Dickinson County as the rig's driver was moving to the inside and slowing for emergency vehicles. The suspect was transported to the hospital in Salina. No details were released about the man's arrest or condition. 

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Kansas Tourist Attraction Aims for Historic Designation
 
WEST MINERAL, Kan. (AP) - Preservationists and volunteers are working to get a giant electric shovel in Kansas that weighs 5,500 tons on the National Registry of Historic Places. The Joplin Globe reports that volunteers managed to get the orange-and-black shovel, called Big Brutus, on the Register of Historic Kansas Places in November. The board of directors of Big Brutus Inc. will be notified about the national nomination either this month or next. Big Brutus was built in less than a year by Bucyrus-Erie for the Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Co. It stands at 160 feet tall and operated from 1963 to 1974 in the once booming mining town of West Mineral. Volunteers say the landmark now attracts more than 30,000 visitors per year. The machine will have access to certain tax credits and federal grants for rehabilitation if approved for the National Register.
 

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