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Headlines for Saturday, March 18, 2017

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

Top Kansas Court Clears Way for New Coal-Fired Power Plant

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas' highest court has cleared a major obstacle to the long-delayed construction of a big, new coal-fired power plant.  The state Supreme Court on Friday rejected an effort by an environment group to force the state to regulate emissions linked to climate change.  The justices upheld a 2014 decision by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to give Sunflower Electric Power Corp. the go-ahead for its project.  The utility wants to build an 895-megawatt plant adjacent to an existing one outside Holcomb, in southwestern Kansas and estimates the cost at $2.2 billion.  The company and the state's attorney general said they were pleased by the decision.  But an attorney representing the Sierra Club said the ruling "opens the door for a lot of pollution in Kansas."

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Kansas Man Accused of Illegal Radioactive Material Storage

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) — The former owner and operator of a Kansas City-area lab is accused in a federal indictment of illegally storing radioactive material that tainted a building at an industrial park, costing U.S. taxpayers $760,000 to clean up.  The indictment returned Thursday alleges 61-year-old Ahmed el-Sherif's Beta Chem Laboratory in Lenexa, Kansas, was licensed by Kansas to use radioactive Carbon-14 and solvents. But he eventually lost that permission after an inspection found extensive radioactive contamination in the lab.  After the state seized the lab, federal environmental investigators in 2014 found containers with hazardous wastes and tainted with radiation.  The indictment alleges el-Sherif submitted bogus tax returns as part of the government's efforts to assess his ability to pay for cleanup costs.  Online court records don't show whether el-Sheriff has an attorney.

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Keeping Gun Ban Intact at Kansas Hospitals May Cost $25 Million

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The cost of upgrading security at the state's major mental hospitals in Osawatomie and Larned in order to avoid allowing concealed carry firearms in the building could reach $25 million.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports a state law beginning in July requires an open-door policy at the two hospitals serving people with severe mental illnesses unless extraordinary security measures have been taken to protect patients. The same law requires Kansas' community mental health centers, public hospitals and public universities to allow individuals with concealed guns if there is no airport-level screening at building entrances.  Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services Secretary Tim Keck told a House committee Thursday that the statute applies to the state hospitals, and it could cost an estimated $25 million to install metal detection equipment and bolster security staff.

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Kansas Committee Shields Public Employers from Gun Liability

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has advanced a bill that would protect public employers from liability for employees carrying concealed handguns while working outside of a public building.  The House Federal and State Affairs Committee passed the bill Friday. Under the bill, a public employer could not be sued if their employee acted wrongfully or negligently with their concealed gun while out of the building for work. Employers are already protected from liability when an employee is in a public building.  Wichita Republican Representative. John Whitmer says employers shouldn't be held responsible for an employee's personal choice to carry a concealed weapon. Overland Park Republican Representative Stephanie Clayton didn't support the bill and says a victim would be able to sue for more damages from the employer than the employee.

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South Dakota Hay Relief Headed to Kansas and Other Fire-Ravaged States

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Truckloads of hay from South Dakota farmers are headed south to states where ranchers have been devastated by wildfires.  More than a dozen trucks loaded with hay bales left South Dakota Wednesday and Thursday destined for ranches in Colorado and Kansas. Organizer Jed Olbertson says a load has already arrived in the southwest Kansas community of Ashland. Olbertson tells the Capital Journal six or more truckloads organized by a rancher from the Garretson, South Dakota area are also headed for Colorado.  Ranchers in Texas alone are facing at least $21 million in agricultural damages from wildfires that blackened more than 750 square miles.  Governors in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas have asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to halt grazing restrictions on federal land to give surviving cattle more places to feed.

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Kansas Legislature Passes Sales Tax Break After Wildfires

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers agreed unanimously on a bill giving a sales tax break to people rebuilding fences on agricultural land after wildfires burned more than 1,000 square miles of the state.  The Kansas House voted to agree with the Senate's amendments Friday that clarify the tax break goes to rebuilding fences, not new construction. The bill will go to Gov. Sam Brownback.  The bill gives a sales tax exemption on supplies bought to rebuild or repair fencing after the wildfire. Lawmakers passed a similar proposal after wildfires in two counties last year.  Brownback declared a state of emergency March 5 and signed an executive order four days later to help bring relief supplies.

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Man in Wheelchair Dies After Hit by Kansas City Truck

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police are investigating after a city water department truck struck and killed a man in a wheelchair.  The water department said two of its employees were driving a dump truck when the accident happened Thursday at an intersection in central Kansas City.  Police say the man began crossing the road just before the light turned green for the truck. The driver told police he didn't know the vehicle hit the wheelchair because he couldn't see it.  The driver came back to the intersection after he felt something fall off the vehicle.  The victim, whose name was not released, died at the scene.

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Man Sentenced for False Statements in Dodge City Hate Crime

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Dodge City man pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI during an investigation of a hate crime attack on three Somali men.  Federal prosecutors say 28-year-old Diego Martinez entered the plea Thursday for statements made during an FBI interview in October 2015.  The case arose from an unprovoked attack in June 2015 of three Somali men in Dodge City. Martinez's brother and half-brother were sentenced in February for their roles in the crime.  Martinez admitted he gave a false alibi to the FBI for his whereabouts when the attack occurred, and falsely said his cell phone wasn't working at the time. Prosecutors said Martinez knew the statements were false and that they obstructed the investigation.  Martinez will be sentenced June 1.

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