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Headlines for Monday, March 23, 2015

Kansas Highway Patrol Chief, KDHE Secretary Face Confirmation Hearings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Senate committees are planning to hold confirmation hearings this week for two of Governor Sam Brownback's major appointees. The Federal and State Affairs Committee is meeting today (MON) to consider the appointment of Kansas Highway Patrol Superintendent Mark Bruce. Bruce is a 25-year patrol veteran elevated by Brownback to the agency's top job in January after Superintendent Ernest Garcia retired. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee has scheduled a hearing Tuesday for Susan Mosier, who has been serving as secretary of the Department of Health and Environment since the resignation of then-Secretary Robert Moser at the end of November. She ran KDHE's Division of Health Care Finance before being named secretary. Both Mosier and Bruce are expected to be confirmed by the full Senate.

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Westar Energy Rebates $38 Million to Kansas Customers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Westar Energy will be sending rebates to customers after collecting $38 million too much last year. The rebates, which will average about $1.26 a month, come from Westar's Retail Energy Cost Adjustment rider, which pays for fuel for Westar's generating plants. The rebates were detailed in filings with the Kansas Corporation Commission. The Wichita Eagle reports a fuel charge means customers essentially pay the cost of Westar's fuel, and the charge fluctuates every month. If Westar collects too much, customers get a rebate. If the utility collects too little, customers pay more. In 2014, Westar charged customers just over $510 million for the fuel charge. But the company spent a little over $479 million.

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Kansas Legislature Considers Slashing Green Energy Incentives

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas renewable energy groups say that proposed tax increases would threaten the young industry's existence. Two bills before the Kansas Legislature would remove tax incentives for renewable energy investments by shortening a lifetime property tax exemption for wind and solar farms and imposing a 4.33 percent excise tax on ethanol fuel and renewable electricity. Ethanol producers say the tax could force plant closures and would have ripple effects in the agricultural sector. But the state is facing a state budget shortfall of nearly $600 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1st. Conservatives in the Legislature who have traditionally opposed tax increases now say that renewable energy is one sector they don't mind turning to for revenue.

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Farmers Fund Gluten-Free Wheat Research in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - New research funded by farmers aims to breed wheat for people who can't eat wheat and other grains, and comes amid booming consumer interest in gluten-free foods. The Kansas Wheat Commission provided $200,000 for the first two years of a project to identify the wheat DNA that causes a reaction in people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which eating any gluten can damage the small intestine. That would theoretically let researchers breed celiac-safe wheat. U.S. consumers spent $973 million on products marketed as gluten-free in 2014 - driven in part by non-celiac sufferers intolerant to gluten or following fad diets. 

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Topeka Hospitals Support Medicaid Expansion

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas hospital officials say they are suffering because the state hasn't expanded Medicaid. A bill discussed last week in the Kansas House Health and Human Services committee would authorize the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to apply for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The HHS has reached agreements with six states to add extra requirements to Medicaid eligibility or to give the private sector a role. Officials with both Stormont-Vail Healthcare and St. Francis Health in Topeka said their finances aren't as severely impaired as some hospitals in rural areas. But both hospitals said they would benefit if fewer patients were uninsured.

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Lawrence Jury to Return for Sentencing in McLinn Murder Trial

LAWRENCE, Kan. — A jury in Douglas County will be returning to the courtroom this morning (MON) for the sentencing phase in the trial for 20-year-old Sarah Gonzales McLinn. The Lawrence Journal World reports that the jury deliberated for more than four hours Friday afternoon before finding McLinn guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 52-year-old businessman Harold Sasko. He was killed in his home in Lawrence in January, 2014. The defense attempted to show that McLinn should be found not guilty because of mental disease or defect, saying she suffered from multiple personality disorder. The jury  is expected to decide today (MON) if McLinn will receive the "Hard 50" sentence, which the prosecutor is seeking. 

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Collection of Radical Materials Marks 50 Years at KU

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A collection of materials highlighting some of the nation's radical political beliefs is celebrating its 50th anniversary at the University of Kansas. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements at the Spencer Research Library has more than 100,000 items. They include bumper stickers and posters emblazoned with messages that include "Support gun control, disarm the FBI." The collection also features books about extremist movements. Seventy-two-year-old Laird Wilcox, of Olathe, began collecting the materials as a youth. Wilcox sold his collection to KU in 1965, and continues to donate items to it. The library also has a fund with which to purchase new materials to keep it growing. To mark the anniversary, some pieces are on display at the Spencer Library.

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Shockers Beat Jayhawks 78-65 in NCAA Tournament Showdown

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The No. 7 seeded Wichita State Shockers upset the second-seeded Jayhawks 78-65 on Sunday at the NCAA Tournament in Omaha. Behind another steady performance from Fred VanVleet and the hot shooting of Evan Wessel, the Shockers rolled past KU, earning a trip to the Sweet 16. Tekele Cotton led the way with 19 points for the Shockers (30-4). VanVleet finished with 17 and Wessel hit four 3-pointers to score 12, sending the Missouri Valley champions to Cleveland for the Midwest Regional semifinal against third-seeded Notre Dame. The Jayhawks (27-9) blew an early eight-point lead and never recovered in the second half. Devonte' Graham and Perry Ellis had 17 points each for KU, and Frank Mason added 16. 
 

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