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Headlines for Monday, March 17, 2014


KS Legislative Panels Begin School Funding Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A key Kansas senator says legislators are going back and looking at all recommendations for education funding in order to comply with a court mandate to boost school aid. Senator Tom Arpke says the Senate Ways and Means Committee anticipated reopening discussions of the public school budget on Thursday. Arpke and two senators met briefly Monday to enable that debate through a minor addition to a budget report. The House Appropriations Committee planned a briefing Tuesday from Attorney General Derek Schmidt on the Kansas Supreme Court's recent ruling in a lawsuit filed by parents and school districts. The court said past cuts in aid to poor school districts created unconstitutional gaps in funding between them and wealthier districts. It ordered lawmakers to fix the problem by July 1.


Analysis: Johnson County Important in Shaping State Schools Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — As Kansas lawmakers fashion a plan to meet a court mandate to increase aid to the state's poor school districts, the concerns of the state's most populous county complicate the debate. Legislators and Governor Sam Brownback can't ignore the Kansas City suburbs and farther-out communities in Johnson County. Nearly 22 percent of the state's voters live there, and no other county provides more sales or income tax revenues to the state's coffers to help pay for public schools. Some Johnson County legislators are uneasy with preliminary discussions following the Kansas Supreme Court's ruling March 7th in an education funding lawsuit. It ordered more aid for poor districts. Johnson County lawmakers worry that as their colleagues help poor districts, schools in relatively affluent Johnson County will be the losers.


Lawmakers Scolded for Wording in Terrorism Debate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man accused of trying to bring explosives-filled van to Mid-Continent Airport has become the face of an anti-terror bill in the Kansas Legislature even though he has pleaded not guilty and has not been convicted. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that critics are urging Kansas lawmakers to avoid using the name of Terry Loewen to push for the measure because he is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. A chief backer of the bill, Representative Kevin Jones, acknowledged that he might have gone too far in discussing Loewen's case. Loewen has pleaded not guilty to charges related to his arrest December 13 in a sting operation. Among those charges is attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.


Legal Groups Fight Changes in KS Evidence Rules

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bar Association and a trial lawyers' group say proposed changes in evidence rules are a bad trade-off for higher limits on some damages in personal injury lawsuits. The House commerce committee had a hearing Monday on a Senate-approved bill that includes both concepts. Medical groups and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce support the legislation. The bill is a response to a 2012 Kansas Supreme Court decision upholding the state's $250,000 limit on noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering in personal injury lawsuits. The court said the cap might not remain constitutional because of inflation. The legislation would raise the cap to $350,000 by 2022. But the legal groups said the changes in evidence rules would hurt plaintiffs in personal injury cases.


Kansas Gubernatorial Candidates Name Top Campaign Aides

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Both Republican incumbent Sam Brownback and Democratic challenger Paul Davis have made key campaign appointments in this year's Kansas governor's race. Brownback announced recently that Mark Dugan would serve as his re-election campaign manager. Dugan has been serving as Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer's chief of staff since Brownback and Colyer took office in January 2011. Dugan also has been a senior adviser to Brownback and an assistant secretary of health and environment. Brownback's campaign said it will be based in Wichita. Meanwhile, Davis announced that Chris Pumpelly will be his campaign press secretary. Pumpelly worked the past two years as communications director for Catholics United. The liberal, Washington-based advocacy group often disagrees with the church's hierarchy on issues such as birth control and gay marriage.


Founder of Anti-Gay Kansas Church in Care Facility

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Reverend Fred Phelps Senior, who founded a Kansas church that's widely known for its protests at military funerals and anti-gay sentiments, is in a care facility. Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain said Sunday that Phelps is being cared for in a Shawnee County facility. Drain wouldn't identify the facility but says Phelps is 84 and "having some health problems." Members of the Westboro church, based in Topeka, frequently protest at funerals of soldiers with signs containing messages like "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "Thank God for 9/11," claiming the deaths are God's punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

Another Earthquake Recorded in Southern Kansas

ANTHONY, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Geological Survey reports an earthquake shook southern Kansas. The earthquake happened at 3:46 am Sunday and measured 4.0 on the Richter scale. Its epicenter was reported eight miles east-northeast of Anthony in Harper County. It was at least the second earthquake in a week in the area. On Wednesday, a quake rated 3.4 on the Richter scale was recorded 14 miles east-northeast of Anthony. Governor Sam Brownback last month asked the director of the Kansas Geological Survey to lead a task force that'll study whether human activity is causing an increase in minor earthquakes in Kansas.

Former Security Adviser to Give Landon Lecture

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A former national security adviser to President Barack Obama is scheduled to give a Landon Lecture at Kansas State University. Thomas Donilon will speak April 15 at the Manhattan campus. It's the second lecture of the year in the series named for former Kansas Governor Alf Landon. Donilon headed the National Security Council until resigning in June 2013. During his tenure he was involved in the administration's counterterrorism strategy, including the 2012 raid on a compound in Pakistan that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. He also worked in the administrations of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton in various diplomatic and security capacities.

KU Graduate Students Nervous over Possible Hour Cuts

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Some graduate students at the University of Kansas are concerned about a proposal that would cut back the number of hours they are allowed to work on campus because of questions about health care reform. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the discussion is still in its early stages because of unknowns in the Affordable Care Act about how the law applies to graduate students, many of whom say limiting them to 20 hours of work would cut deeply into already tight resources. A spokesman for the university says the school is still trying to determine how the law affects graduate students and how much it would cost to insure them. The university's public affairs office says the school employed about 1,100 teaching assistants and 640 research assistants in 2013.

Lawrence Police Discipline 10 Employees in 2013

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Lawrence Police Department says 23 complaints of misconduct were filed against its employees last year and 10 people received some kind of disciplinary action as a result. The Lawrence Journal-World reports a dozen of the complaints came from within the department itself, eight of which resulted in sanctions. The police department has issued annual reports since 2010 giving an account of how many complaints were received and how many were found to have a factual basis. The reports also provide limited information about the complaints. The identities of employees who were investigated and action taken are not released because they are considered confidential personnel matters. Four complaints leading to discipline were for actions that happened while the employee was off duty.


Flint Hills Ranchers to Restart Prairie Burns

CASSODAY, Kan. (AP) — Ranchers in the Flint Hills say they are planning to start controlled burns on the prairie this spring. The burns on the tallgrass prairie rarely happened the last two years because drought conditions made it too dangerous. Ranchers say that delay has left a lot of grass on the prairie, and they intend to burn it this spring. The burns release nutrients, which provide more nutritious grasses for the grazing cattle. They also help brush and weed control. The increased burning is raising concerns that it could affect air quality in downwind cities. The Wichita Eagle reports the state is providing two smoke modeling tools to help ranchers determine how burning might affect air quality in downwind.

Lawrence Police Arrest Suspected Pill Thief

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence man suspected of stealing prescription medicine from a grocery store was found hiding in the store's ceiling. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the suspect was arrested Saturday night on suspicion of aggravated burglary after he was detected in the grocery store ceiling. Lawrence police say the man is believed to be connected to two other incidents of burglary and theft of prescription drugs from a store pharmacy. He was found by police after a store employee heard noises coming from the ceiling and alerted a security guard.

Police: Fire in Old School Building Suspicious

STAFFORD, Kan. (AP) — Police in the south-central Kansas community of Stafford say a fire that burned down the town's old high school over the weekend is being investigated as arson. The Wichita Eagle reports a police officer on patrol Saturday night spotted a major fire coming out of the building's third floor around 10 pm. Stafford Police Chief Doug Brown says the wind send embers flying, causing up to a dozen smaller fires in a two-block area. The former high school was more than 90 years old and had closed in the late 1990s when a new school opened. Brown says the building is now owned by a Texas man who planned to open a school for Vietnamese children in the building.

Rescue German Shepherd Kills Poodle in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A German shepherd from a rescue organization attacked and killed a small poodle during a St. Patrick's Day parade in Topeka. Jan Price, director of Saving Death Row Dogs, says the attack occurred after the teacup poodle ran up to the German shepherd during the parade Saturday when she and other members of the group were walking the shepherd and other dogs in the parade. Saving Death Row Dogs is a no-kill rescue and foster group in Topeka. Price told The Topeka Capital-Journal that group members are "horrified," and that she wouldn't want to walk in another parade with the dogs. Price says a police report was filed, and animal control will investigate.


Volunteers to Help Clean Kansas Civil War Sites

TOPEkA, Kan. (AP) — Volunteers will be teaming with officials at three Kansas Civil War historic sites in April to clean up grounds and make improvements. The efforts are part of Park Day sponsored by the Civil War Trust that will organize volunteers nationwide to clean up nearly 100 sites in 26 states. Volunteers will be deploying on April 5 at the Black Jack Battlefield and Nature Park near Lawrence, Fort Blair near Baxter Springs and Constitution Hall in Lecompton. Crews will be raking leaves, hauling trash and installing landscaping at the sites. The Civil War Trust is a nonprofit battlefield preservation organization created to preserve the nation's Civil War heritage.


Wind Power Line Proposal Irks Some Midwest Farmers

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The windy plains of Kansas could be a treasure trove in the nation's effort to harness clean energy. But a major proposal to move wind-generated electricity east from Kansas is meeting opposition from farmers who don't want high-power transmission lines on their land. Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners wants to build a 750-mile-long high-voltage overhead transmission line. Hundreds of tall towers would carry a power line moving wind-generated energy from Kansas to Indiana. The company says it will be an economic boon, especially for Kansas. Environmental groups say it could be a step forward for clean energy. But landowners worry about property rights and the possibility that values will plummet, if the towers will impede farming, and whether the wires could create health issues. The project still requires regulatory approval.

Wichita Police Team with FBI to Fight Gangs

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The FBI has joined with Wichita police in a bid to target Wichita's most violent gang members. Under the new partnership, an FBI agent works with a detective and officer from the Wichita Police Department's gang unit to review unsolved homicides and build cases against gang members who have a history of violence. The Wichita Eagle reports that the team also works with the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office. Under the crackdown, even crime victims who are found with guns and are convicted felons will face prosecution.


Wichita Police ID 4 Killed in Crash

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Wichita suspect a designated driver suffered a serious medical condition before a weekend crash that killed the driver and three passengers. KWCH-TV reports that four women hired the driver from a Wichita car service on Saturday evening to take them home from St. Patrick's Day festivities. Police said Monday the SUV was going about 70 mph when it swerved, went airborne, struck a wall and caught fire. Investigators believe one of the women tried to grab the wheel after the driver suffered an unspecified medical condition and lost control. The victims were identified Monday as the 39-year-old driver, Andrew Montgomery; a front-seat passenger, 26-year-old Jessica Metzger; and two backseat passengers, 23-year-old Sara Smith and 27-year-old Victoria Dougherty. A fourth passenger was thrown from the vehicle. She remained hospitalized Monday.


Indian Center Plans Exhibit on Sacred Feathers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An upcoming exhibit at The Mid-America All-Indian Center in Wichita will feature bird feathers and feathered objects dating from the mid-1880s to 1900s. The exhibit called "Carry Our Prayers to Heaven" will open Saturday and remain on display through the end of the year. Saturday's opening is marked with a $1 admission for all ages from 10 am to 4 pm. Opening-day activities include a free presentation at 1 pm by Ken Lockwood from the Eagle Valley Raptor Center with live birds of prey. Visitors will be able to see displays of bird feathers along with headdresses and fans. Museumgoers can also view microscopic images of feathers at a feather learning station. Also on display are golden eagle photographs by nature photographer Bob Gress.

4 Killed in Wichita Traffic Accident

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Four people have died in a single-vehicle accident in Wichita. Wichita police say the accident occurred Saturday night when the SUV crashed into a concrete barrier, tipped on its nose and caught fire. The accident left a bridge closed to traffic for several hours. Wichita police Sergeant Bart Brunscheen says a police officer pulled one woman out of the car to safety. She was taken to a Wichita hospital in critical condition. The four others were pronounced dead at the scene. The victims' identities haven't been released.


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