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Headlines for Monday, March 9, 2015

Kansas Lawmakers Hear Criticism of GOP Ed Funding Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Top Republican legislators in Kansas are hearing plenty of criticism of their proposal to overhaul how the state distributes aid to public schools, and they're likely to keep hearing it this week.  But committee hearings also will give lawmakers a chance to take testimony from supporters of the GOP plan.  The House Appropriations Committee started reviewing the proposal today (MON).  The Senate Ways and Means Committee starts taking a look tomorrow (TUE).  Each committee has an identical bill containing the GOP plan, which scraps the current school funding formula and instead, gives school districts "block grants'' based on their current aid.  The new system would remain in place only while lawmakers develop a new formula.  School districts would lose $51 million of the aid they had expected to receive before the end of June.  

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Kansas Chamber Backs GOP Schools Bill; Educators Opposed 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A business group and a small-government think tank are endorsing a plan from Republican legislative leaders to overhaul how the state distributes aid to public schools and prevent unexpected budget surprises. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce's CEO and a lobbyist for the free-market Kansas Policy Institute testified Monday in favor of GOP legislators' plan when the House Appropriations Committee opened hearings on it. They later were joined by a spokesman for the tea party group Kansans for Liberty. Local school officials and education lobbyists opposed the plan. But the chamber and policy institute are influential with conservative Republicans who control the Legislature. Republican legislators' plan would jettison the current funding formula and give school districts "block grants" based on their current aid instead until lawmakers draft a new formula.

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Newspaper: Kansas School Bill Would Hit Poor Districts Harder

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A newspaper analysis has found that the proposal for changing how public schools are funded appears to cut money from most of the state's poorest school districts while protecting the wealthiest.  The Topeka Capital-Journal examined the effect of the proposal to use block grants to distribute money instead of the state's existing per-student formula. The review found that many of the reductions in the plan are achieved by shrinking a type of state aid meant to help less wealthy school districts that aren't able to raise as much money with property taxes.  The newspaper says it appears 90 percent of the state's richest districts would gain state aid for operational expenses under the plan. But 80 percent of the poorest districts would lose money, about $170,000 on average.

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'Permitless Carry' Dividing Gun Supporters in Kansas
 
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Gun rights advocates in Kansas are divided on a bill that would allow people to carry a concealed gun without a permit. The Wichita Eagle reports that if the bill passes, people will also be able to carry a concealed gun without the training that a permit requires. The bill will not extend to anyone under 21, unless they are on their own property. Some gun-rights supporters say that opponents of the measure are just looking for something to criticize, and that it will give added protection to people who use guns wisely. Other advocates have misgivings about the section of the bill that eliminates training. The bill was introduced by Republican Senator Terry Bruce, following three years of research to make sure it would stand up to the scrutiny of the courts and the public. Bruce says he has received more emails of support than not for the bill.

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Brownback Supports Rural Incentives Program Amid Skepticism 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says he continues to support the state's rural opportunity zone program after some lawmakers questioned whether it is luring new residents and businesses to areas with declining populations. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Brownback called it "a good concept." He most recently talked about the program Thursday during a visit to St. Louis. The Rural Opportunity Zones program spans 77 counties, covering wide swaths of western and southeastern Kansas. It seeks to lure people to rural areas with student loan forgiveness and income tax waivers. At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in late February, senators were less than convinced of the initiative's usefulness. The state lost about $800,000 in revenue in 2014 from income tax waivers issued through the program.

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Kansas Lawmaker Compares Abortion to Holocaust 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas lawmaker has compared abortion to the Holocaust in arguing against a procedure used in about 8 percent of abortions in the state. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee held a hearing on a bill Monday that would prohibit doctors from performing an abortion by removing a fetus from the womb in pieces. Republican Representative Dick Jones of Topeka called the ban a no-brainer. He said after the hearing that he views abortion as being a Holocaust against fetuses. Opponents to the bill testified that banning the procedure would increase health risks to women. Some argued that the Legislature was unqualified to regulate medicine and accused politicians of harboring ulterior motives.

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Osawatomie's Former Rec Director Accused of Embezzlement 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The former recreation director for an eastern Kansas city has been indicted on federal charges alleging he embezzled more than $125,000 on the job. Fifty-three-year-old Ron Maring of Osawatomie is charged with four counts of tax fraud and 10 counts of money laundering. His first court appearance is scheduled for March 27. The indictment alleges that Maring embezzled the funds 2008 to 2011 while heading the Osawatomie Recreation Commission. He's accused of writing checks from the commission's account to himself and to American Legion Baseball, then converting the money to his own use. The indictment alleges he failed to report the embezzled money as income on his federal income taxes from 2008 through 2011. Online court records do not show Maring as having an attorney reachable for comment.

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Renewable Energy Plans from Westar Face KCC Hearings
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Utility regulators are weighing four renewable energy proposals from Westar Energy. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that one of the proposed changes would lower the price of an optional renewable energy tariff. About 43 customers currently pay $1 on top of the regular rate for 100 kilowatt hours of renewable energy. But Greg Greenwood, senior vice president of strategy for Westar, said that will fall to about 25 cents if approved, to better reflect the actual cost of producing it. Two other proposals would allow customers to buy units of energy or shares with solar farms. The fourth proposal would allow large electricity users to buy a share of wind power. The Kansas Corporation Commission has jurisdiction over rates and special programs offered by electric utilities in Kansas.

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Manhattan Airport Finishes First Phase of Terminal Expansion 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The Manhattan Regional Airport has finished the first phase of a passenger terminal expansion. The Manhattan Mercury reports that phase one began in October 2013. Passengers on the last plane coming into the airport on Monday evening will be the first people to depart their plane into the new, larger terminal space. Airport director Peter Van Kuren said phase two construction will begin in April and be completed in the spring of 2016. Phase two will include meet-and-greet space for people to wait for arriving passengers, a restaurant and a gift shop. The cost of both phases is about $17.06 million with the Federal Aviation Administration paying more than $13.1 million. The city is spending about $3.9 million on the project.

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New Republican River Deal Offers More Flexibility This Year 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new Republican River agreement will mean more irrigation water for some Nebraska farmers this summer, and make it easier to ensure Kansas gets the water it is entitled to. Disputes over the water in the river have continued for decades, but recently officials in Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas have been able to find ways to cooperate more. The acting director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Jim Schneider said Monday the new agreement offers more flexibility. Nebraska will now have until next spring to deliver all the water Kansas is entitled to, so more water can be released for irrigation this year. The new agreement also clarifies when and how much Kansas irrigators will have to pay for repairs to the dam at the Harlan County Reservoir.

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Hotel Owner Sentenced Prison for Hiring Undocumented Workers 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City hotel owner will go to prison for employing workers at two Clarion hotels who were living in the United States illegally. Munir Ahmad Chaudary was sentenced Monday to 27 months in prison in a case that highlights a shift by the federal government in its handling of immigration-related cases. His wife was sentenced last month to 21 months in prison. The government is also seeking forfeiture of their hotels in Overland Park, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says he hopes Kansas business owners are listening. He says violating federal law is "not a good business strategy." Prosecutors say that the couple replaced lawfully employed workers with immigrants not authorized to work in the United States to cut their labor costs and gain an unfair competitive advantage.

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2 Men Charged in Kansas with Shooting Death of Missouri Man 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Two men have been charged with killing a Missouri man last week in Kansas City, Kansas. Wyandotte County prosecutors said Monday that 20-year-old Lakorri Martaneel Terry and 22-year-old Demarkus M. Campbell-Donnell are charged with second-degree murder in the death of 32-year-old Anthony M. Bush Jr. Police said Bush was found shot to death Wednesday in the passenger seat of a stopped vehicle. Police said the driver was also in the car but wasn't injured. Both suspects are jailed in Wyandotte County on $250,000 bond. A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said he didn't know whether the men had attorneys.

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Authorities Identify Man Found Dead in Western Kansas Park 

NORTON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have identified a man found dead in a western Kansas park after a suspect shot at officers. Norton police said in a news release that the victim was 47-year-old Joseph A. Sweet, of Norton. Police said a 37-year-old suspect is jailed in Norton County on $1 million bond, but no charges were immediately filed. The release said an officer was investigating a report of a man with a gun Friday night when shots were fired. Sweet's body was found as officers searched the area. Police said officers later confronted the suspect as he walked along U.S. 36. The man fired more shots before fleeing to a subdivision, getting into a vehicle and speeding away. Police said the suspect was taken into custody around 12:40 am Saturday north of Oberlin.

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86-Year-Old Man Dies in Small Plane Crash Near Pratt

PRATT, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities say an 86-year-old pilot is dead after his single-engine plane overturned while landing southwest of Pratt.  Saturday afternoon's crash killed Harrison Rosenbaum, of Pratt, who was landing the kit-built plane when it went off the side of a private runway and flipped over in a pasture. No one else was aboard the plane. Rosenbaum was pronounced dead at the scene.

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Man Killed, Another Wounded in Kansas City, Kansas Shooting

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ One man has been killed and another critically wounded in a Kansas City, Kansas shooting.  The shooting happened Saturday afternoon.  Police say  both victims were found in the street. The dead man was in his early 20s, but his name was not released pending notification of relatives. A man in his mid-40s was taken to a hospital suffering from several bullet wounds.
 
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Feds: Hotel Replaced Legal Workers with Immigrants
 
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A suburban Kansas City hotel owner who illegally hired immigrants to cut labor costs soon will learn his punishment in a case that highlights a shift by the government in its handling of immigration-related cases.  The government is seeking a 27-month sentence for Munir Ahmad Chaudary (Mu-neer Ahmad Shod-ree) at a hearing today (MON) in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas. He and his wife pleaded guilty to conspiracy to encourage immigrants to reside unlawfully in the United States.  Chaudary's wife, Rhonda R. Bridge, was sentenced last month to 21 months in prison. The government seized their hotels and their bank accounts.  

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Salina Company Acquires 13 Vintage Record Presses  

SALINA, Kan. (AP) _ A Salina company that already presses about a million vinyl records a year has acquired 13 vintage presses that the owner says will double production.  Chad Kassem, owner of Quality Record Pressings, says he found the presses in Chicago and persuaded the long-time owner to sell them. They arrived in Salina  late last month.  Kassem says the presses are in bad shape and will need a lot of repair. But once they are restored, they will double the company's capacity, making it one of the largest vinyl-pressing companies in the country.  The Salina Journal reports Kassem recently expanded his plant to three shifts and he still can't keep up with the increasing demand for vinyl records.

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US Flag with Lincoln Connection to Fly in Leoti

LEOTI, Kan. (AP) — A United States flag with 36 stars will fly again in western Kansas, 150 years after President Abraham Lincoln's death. The Wichita Eagle reports Susan Schrader of Leoti donated the flag to the Museum of the Great Plains after her family owned it for five generations. Schrader and Karen Walk, the curator of the museum, believe the flag is loosely connected to Lincoln. Schrader believes the flag's original owner was S.P. Holmes, a businessman who dealt in American and foreign silks. According to Walk, Holmes was likely a Lincoln supporter and his flag may have flown over the Lincoln's funeral procession in New York City in 1865. After being restored, the 8 by 5 foot flag will be framed and hung on the museum's wall. Museum officials hope to unveil the flag on June 14 - Flag Day.

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Man Zips Around Lawrence Streets in Custom-Built Batmobile

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence man is catching the eye of other motorists with his custom-built Batmobile. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Rich Johnson has been restoring cars for more than 25 years and can be seen driving the car in parades or around Lawrence. Johnson, who used to watch Batman's adventures on TV when he was a kid, had begun working on the car after learning that a man from Ohio had a mold of the original Batmobile in 2012. Johnson asked the man to create a fiberglass shell of the car for him. It took Johnson over five months to construct his own Batmobile that's painted black with red pinstripes and Batman logos on its doors. Johnson's car made its debut in 2013 at a pre-party for an annual city parade.

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KU Fires Women's Hoops Coach Henrickson 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas has fired women's basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson after 11 seasons that included two trips to the Sweet 16 but not enough consistency to keep the program among the Big 12's best. Henrickson was relieved of her duties Monday, three days after losing to rival Kansas State in the opening round of the conference tournament. The Jayhawks finished the season 15-17. Henrickson was hired away from Virginia Tech to rebuild a program. But the Jayhawks never finished better than sixth in the Big 12, and the Sweet 16 trips were their only NCAA tournament appearances. Athletic director Sheahon Zenger said in a statement that assistant coach Katie O'Connor will serve as interim coach. A national search for a full-time replacement was already underway.

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AP Names Big 12 Coach and Player of Year

UNDATED (AP) —  Coach Bill Self of the University of Kansas and Oklahoma junior guard Buddy Hield have been named as The Associated Press Big 12 coach and player of the year. The yearly awards were announced Monday. Self is the first four-time AP Big 12 Coach of the Year winner, edging West Virginia coach Bob Huggins for this year's award. Hield, the Big 12's top scorer at 17.4 points a game, was the only unanimous pick on the AP All-Big 12 first team. West Virginia senior guard Juwan Staten is the only player who is an AP first-team pick for the second straight year. Joining Hield and Staten on the first team are Baylor post player Rico Gathers, who averages 11.6 points and 11.7 rebounds, Kansas junior Perry Ellis and Iowa State junior Georges Niang.

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Wide-Open Big 12 Men's Hoops Tournament Features Plenty of Story Lines 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Perhaps the best indication of just how wide open the Big 12 tournament is this year is the fact that Texas, sitting squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble, will play Wednesday night in a game generally reserved for teams that have had poor campaigns. The tournament officially begins with eighth-seeded Kansas State taking on No. 9 seed TCU, the winner of that matchup facing the top-seeded Univeristy of Kansas on Thursday. The winner of the second game between Texas and Texas Tech earns a date with second-seeded Iowa State. The quarterfinal matchups already set include fourth-seeded Baylor against No. 5 seed West Virginia and third-seeded Oklahoma against No. 6 seed Oklahoma State.
 

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