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Headlines for Monday, March 4, 2016

Kansas News Headlines From the Associated Press

Kansas High Court to Rule on Military Spouses' Law Licenses

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court is expected to consider a measure that would reduce law licensing barriers for military spouses who've passed the bar in other states. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt sent a letter to the Kansas Board of Law Examiners in February urging the group of 10 lawyers and judges to license military spouses who are eligible to practice in other states. Four military leaders in the state support the proposed rule. The Board of Law Examiners, which oversees law licenses in the state, will make a recommendation to the Kansas Supreme Court. A spokeswoman for the high court says this rule change has been a priority for several months and that a decision is expected soon.


Kansas Man Pleads Guilty in Investment Fraud Scheme

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man has been sentenced to five years of probation in an investment fraud scheme. Kansas Securities Commissioner Josh Ney announced in a news release Monday that 44-year-old Jeffrey Williams, of Wichita, pleaded guilty in Sedgwick County to charges that included felony securities fraud. He was ordered to repay more than $55,000 in restitution. Williams also is barred from dealing in securities and financially advising clients. Ney's office said in a news release that Williams defrauded at least three Kansas investors out of thousands of dollars by selling what he purported to be interests in third-party life insurance contracts. But the release says Williams didn't own the interests in the policies he sold to them. Williams operated under the name Hybrid Asset Management.


Keystone Pipeline Shut Down for Possible Leak

FREEMAN, S.D. (AP) — TransCanada Corp. has shut down the Keystone pipeline while it investigates a possible spill in southeastern South Dakota. The company says the potential leak was first reported Saturday afternoon. Crews sent to the scene in Hutchinson County found signs of oil on what the company says is a "small surface area" about 4 miles from its Freeman pump station. TransCanada Spokesman Shawn Howard tells KELO-AM that the pipeline will likely be shut down for at least a few more days as the company removes the oil and investigates where it came from. The company says it has found no significant harm to the environment. The Keystone pipeline runs from the Canadian province of Alberta to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma, passing through the eastern Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.


Control of State Courts Becomes a Top Political Battleground - and Not Just in Kansas

ATLANTA (AP) — Much attention is being paid to the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, but equally partisan battles are being waged for control of state courts around the nation.  In states where voters elect Supreme Court judges, millions of dollars are being spent to reshape the courts for years to come. Judicial watchdogs say spending by national groups overwhelmingly favors judges on the right of the political spectrum, and is mostly aimed at maintaining or improving the courts' responses to corporate interests while countering state-level spending by labor unions and other interest groups. Lawmakers are busy too, debating proposals to tip the balance of power by expanding or reducing their court's size.  In Kansas, lawmakers have been pushing to make it easier to impeach judges whose rulings upset the legislative majority.  An effort is also underway in Kansas to target certain justices who face retention votes this year.  Groups supportive of Republican Governor Sam Brownback and the GOP-controlled Legislature will be looking to oust four of the five justices up for retention elections in November, enabling Brownback to select their replacements to the seven-member court.


Dry Winter Leaves Much of Kansas in Some Level of Drought

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Weather officials say a dry winter has left much of Kansas back in the grip of some level of drought. Recent data from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that nearly 75 percent of Kansas was experiencing some drought at the end of March. That compared with barely 2 percent just three months ago. The Wichita Eagle reports that about half the state is "abnormally dry." Southwest Kansas is in moderate drought. Dodge City and Garden City are more than 2 inches below normal since the start of the year. Garden City has had only a fraction of an inch of  rain so far this year. Only northern sections of Kansas and eastern sections south of Kansas City are not in some form of drought.


New Kansas School Funding Plan Could Increase Property Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Local property taxes could rise across Kansas under an education funding bill approved by legislators.  Critics also contend the distribution of state dollars would become less fair to poor school districts.  Republican supermajorities in both the House and Senate passed the plan last month to comply with a state Supreme Court order in February to improve funding for poor schools.  They hoped to head off the court's threat to shut down schools statewide if lawmakers didn't fix education funding problems by June 30. Governor Sam Brownback has until Friday to act on the bill.  The bill redistributes $83 million of the aid already promised to 286 local districts for 2016-17. It also allows local districts to increase their local property taxes further to supplement state funds for general operations.


Kansas Governor Names New Corrections Secretary

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Federal Bureau of Prisons official has been appointed to lead the Kansas Department of Corrections.  Governor Sam Brownback has announced that Joseph Norwood is his pick to replace Ray Roberts, who retired in December.  Norwood currently works as a regional director for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and has over 30 years of correctional experience. He will begin his position as the secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections on May 30 if the state Senate confirms the appointment.  Norwood said in a news release that his focus would be on "sound administration" and "effective security practices."  Johnnie Goddard has been serving as the interim secretary of the department. He is returning to his role as the Deputy Secretary for Facilities Management.


Kansas Lawmakers to Consider Marijuana, Medical Hemp Bills

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers plan to discuss two marijuana bills when the Legislature reconvenes April 27th. The GOP-dominated legislature is considering ways to lessen the impact of marijuana offenses on the state's prison population and offer medical hemp treatment to some patients. One bill under consideration would lessen penalties for first- and second-time marijuana possession. Another proposal being discussed would allow cannabis oil to be used to treat seizures. Sixteen states allow the use of oil from the cannabis plant as a medical treatment. The oil would offer the benefit of medical treatment without the high.


Ex-Husband of a Kansas Lawmaker Sues over Family Business

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The ex-husband of state Representative Kasha Kelley alleges in a lawsuit that a family business owes him money.  The Arkansas City Traveler  reports that Scott Margolius filed the lawsuit against his former spouse, Representative Kasha Kelley, and her mother, Diana Williams, last year in Cowley County. Williams is the owner of First Intermark Corporation and Kelley is the chief executive officer. The retail consulting company follows up on sales, mainly of motorcycle dealers.  The suit claims that Kelley and Williams knowingly withheld more than $60,000 from Margolius, a former employee. Williams and Kelley claim in a court filing that that Margolius was using company resources to operate his own business.  Margolius is seeking $225,000 in the lawsuit. Williams, Kelley and their company are demanding the same amount from Margolius.


Nation's High Court Sides with Sex Offender in Dispute over Registry

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court says a convicted sex offender did not have to update his status on the federal sex offender registry after moving to a foreign country.  The justices on Monday ruled unanimously in favor of Lester Nichols, a Kansas man who moved to the Philippines after his release from prison in 2012. Nichols moved without notifying authorities.  He was convicted of failing to update his sex-offender registration. A federal appeals court upheld his conviction.  Justice Samuel Alito said a straightforward reading of the law at the time did not require registry updates after moving out of the United States. He noted that Congress has since criminalized the failure of sex offenders to offer information about foreign travel.


Judge's Ruling Clears Way for New Kansas Casino Construction

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Developers of a southeast Kansas casino say a Shawnee County judge's ruling clears the way for construction of the state's fourth nontribal casino to begin.  Judge Larry Hendricks last week rejected arguments made in a challenge to a decision by the state to award the southeast Kansas project to Kansas Crossing Casino and Hotel. The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports the $70 million proposal in Crawford County was the smallest of three submitted to the state Gaming Facility Review Board.  Cherokee County and Castle Rock Casino filed a lawsuit. Its $145 million proposal was the largest submitted, and it claimed the board didn't follow state law when it picked the smaller project.  Kansas Crossing's chief operating officer says the new casino should be open within a year.


Shrinking Farm Incomes Pressure Kansas Co-ops to Consolidate

GARDEN PLAIN, Kan. (AP) - Shrinking farm incomes are putting pressure on Kansas farm co-ops to merge as a way to help producers cut their costs. The Wichita Eagle reports that Farmers Cooperative Elevator in Garden Plain will vote in about six weeks on whether to merge with co-ops in Anthony and Kiowa. Andale Farmers Co-Op voted in December to merge with Kanza Co-op in the Pratt County town of Iuka. Kansas State University professor Brian Briggeman says the number of co-ops in Kansas has fallen from about 350 in 1950, to about 80 today. Kanza Co-op CEO Bruce Krehbiel says the latest round of mergers won't be the last because bigger co-ops can increase efficiencies and lower costs. Krehbiel says there are limits to the economies of scale, but those haven't been reached.


Hutchinson Landlords Protest Rental Inspection Program

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Several landlords in Hutchinson are protesting a program that allows city workers to inspect rental units without the tenants' consent. The registration process started in January but landlords were given until last Thursday to pay a $25 annual registration fee for rental units. If they missed the deadline, rental owners would pay a $50 fee per month per unit. The Hutchinson News reports that some landlords who turned in registrations included about 20 sheets of paper signed by those who said they were paying the rental registration fees under protest. The opponents say the program violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. The program requires most registered units to be inspected about every three years and upon change of ownership.


$1 Million Cost to Repair Lightning Damaged Sculpture in Downtown Kansas City   

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City officials say repairing a lightning-damaged sculpture that is a fixture of the downtown skyline will cost more than $1 million. The Kansas City Star reports that the city's insurance is expected to cover the cost of fixing the futuristic sculpture. It's one of four that sits atop the 300-foot tall pylons that suspend the Bartle Hall Convention Center above Interstate 670. City Manager Troy Schulte says workers first noticed the damage last fall while setting up blue lights on the sculptures to celebrate the Kansas City Royals' winning season. This is the first damage to the Sky Stations since they were installed in 1994. On Wednesday, a City Council committee is expected to consider a $1.3 million repair contract with the fabricator that built the sculptures.


NTSB: Empty Fuel Tank Likely Cause of Wichita Plane Crash

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal aviation investigators believe an empty fuel tank perhaps caused a rented single-engine plane to crash in March on a Wichita, Kansas, golf course, slightly injuring two people aboard. The Wichita Eagle reports the National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report Friday involving the March 18th crash at Tallgrass Country Club. The NTSB says the plane was being piloted by a 17-year-old, with an 18 -year-old passenger on board, when its engine lost power and crashed, narrowly missing nearby homes. The report says a Federal Aviation Administration inspector who examined the airplane reported finding no fuel in the left fuel tank but some in the right tank. A switch used to toggle from one gas tank to the next was turned off. The plane's occupants sustained minor injuries.


Kansas Man Awaiting Trial for Rape and Attempted Murder Found Dead in Cell

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas inmate accused of raping and trying to kill a woman last summer has been found dead in his cell. The Johnson County Sheriff's Office says 59-year-old Gary McCormick was found unresponsive in his cell at 4:51 a.m. Sunday while detention staff was conducting a routine welfare check of inmates. Detention center staff and in-house medical workers tried to save his life but were unsuccessful. McCormick was housed alone and had been in custody since July awaiting trial for attempted first-degree murder, rape, aggravated criminal sodomy, aggravated battery and felony fleeing and eluding. He was being held on $1 million bond. The Sheriff's Office is investigating his death.


Royals Hold off Mets 4-3 in Season Opening Rematch of World Series

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The reigning champion Kansas City Royals picked up where they left off in November, beating Matt Harvey and the New York Mets 4-3 on Sunday night in an opening-day rematch of the 2015 World Series. New York rallied in the eighth inning scoring three times on Lucas Duda's two-run single and Neil Walker's RBI groundout. With runners at the corners in the ninth inning, All-Star closer Wade Davis struck out David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes to preserve the win. Edinson Volquez (1-0), who started the decisive Game 5 at Citi Field last fall, allowed two hits and three walks over six scoreless innings, his night curtailed by an inflated pitch count rather than anything the Mets did. 


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