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Headlines for Thursday, December 4. 2014

More Kansas Workers Qualify for Federal Health Insurance

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas officials say more state, municipal and school district workers will qualify for health coverage starting next year because of the federal health care law. More than 2,000 employees will become eligible for full-time health benefits starting January 1. The director of the Kansas State Employee Health Plan says the expansion is the result of the federal Affordable Care Act. The law requires large employers to provide health benefits to full-time employees. Under the federal law, anyone who works at least 30 hours a week is considered a full-time employee. Officials say the increase will cost state and local taxpayers about $5.3 million a year. 


KS Transportation Secretary: State Highway Projects Will Proceed

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The top transportation official in Kansas says highway projects scheduled for 2015 and 2016 will proceed, despite a projected multi-million shortfall in the state's budget. The Kansas Department of Transportation announced in August $1.2 billion in highway projects for the next two years. In November, the state announced it was expecting a $279 million shortfall for this fiscal year and another $436 million shortfall the following fiscal year. Transportation Secretary Mike King said Wednesday the projects for the next two fiscal years will proceed but he wasn't as certain about 2017. The Wichita Eagle reports some conservative legislators have suggested using money from the highway fund to find extra money for other state needs. Democrats have warned that doing that would stop the planned highway projects.


Economist: Kansas Regains Lost Private-Sector Jobs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A state economist says Kansas has regained the private-sector jobs it lost during the most recent recession but has seen a shift away from employment in manufacturing. Kansas Department of Labor senior economist Tyler Tenbrink also said Wednesday that wages haven't rebounded fully from the recession when adjusted for inflation. Tenbrink reported on employment and wages during a meeting of a council advising Governor Sam Brownback on the economy. He said manufacturing jobs have been mostly replaced by jobs in professional and business services. Tenbrink said the state should see continued growth in private, non-farm employment for the next six to 12 months. 


UPDATE: Judge Blocks University of Kansas Records Release

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has temporarily blocked the University of Kansas from releasing emails and other documents to a group seeking looking for ties between a research center and the billionaire Koch brothers. Douglas County District Judge Robert Fairchild issued an order Thursday after Art Hall, executive director of the Center for Applied Economics filed a lawsuit against the university. Hall seeks to block the university from releasing emails and other documents to a student group concerned about a relationship between Hall, the center and Charles and David Koch. Hall said he's trying to protect academic freedom. Vice Chancellor Tim Caboni says the university was being careful in what it released while complying with the Kansas Open Records Act. A Koch Industries spokeswoman did not return a telephone message seeking comment.


U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Price Gouging Lawsuit 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A lawsuit against an Oklahoma-based company claiming it and other natural gas companies gouged Kansas plaintiffs is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. The Topeka School District and Learjet are part of a lawsuit with more than a dozen other businesses and schools that say ONEOK and other natural gas companies illegally fixed prices between 2000 and 2002. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports oral arguments before the Supreme Court are scheduled for next month. ONEOK used to own Kansas Gas Service, but the companies split in 2013. KGS and natural gas distribution companies in Oklahoma and Texas formed a new company called ONE Gas. KGS spokeswoman Dawn Ewing says neither KGS nor ONE Gas is involved in the lawsuit. ONEOK denies manipulating natural gas prices.

ACLU Sues over Missouri Headlight-Flashing Ticket

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a Kansas City suburb for pulling over a driver for flashing his headlights at oncoming drivers to warn that a speed trap was ahead. The federal suit was filed Wednesday on behalf of Jerry L. Jarman Jr.. He was ticketed in August in Grain Valley, and the charge was dismissed in October. The ACLU of Missouri alleges that the stop violated Jarman's First Amendment right to free speech and Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.  


10th Circuit Rejects Request for Hearing on Gay Marriage Ban

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas has lost another legal skirmish in its efforts to salvage the state's ban on gay marriage. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected on Tuesday the state's request to convene the full court to hear its appeal of U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree's order that the state allow same-sex marriages. The latest procedural development from the federal appeals court in the case has little practical effect because the U.S. Supreme Court has already refused an emergency request to block Crabtree's order. It means that, as usual, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit will hear arguments over the preliminary injunction issued in the Kansas case. Also, the U.S. Supreme Court is widely expected to resolve soon the question of whether state marriage laws excluding same-sex couples are unconstitutional.


Kansas Senate Leader Names New Chief of Staff

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Senate Vice President Jeff King has hired an aide to a House leader to be his new chief of staff. King says he hired Laine Raitinger because of his legislative experience. Raitinger has served as legislative liaison for House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey. King is a Republican from Independence, and Vickrey is a Republican from Louisburg. As King's chief of staff, Raitinger will replace Katie Koupal. She left the job in May to become an area governmental relations manager for telecommunications company AT&T. King is an attorney who served in the Kansas House for four years before joining the Senate in 2010. GOP senators named him vice president in December 2012, and he serves as chairman of the Judiciary Committee.


Wichita Police Officers to Get Body Cameras

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The Wichita Police Department says it plans to outfit all of its patrol officers with body cameras by the end of 2015. Interim Police Chief Nelson Mosley told reporters Wednesday the initial outlay of $927,200 would be funded by grounding the police helicopter next year, along with grants and drug seizure funds. The department is also closely watching whether any federal money will be available. President Barack Obama is promoting use of body cameras by police after the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Wichita had begun outfitting some officers with cameras before then but Mosley acknowledged the events in Ferguson accelerated that plan. 


Missouri Couple Sentenced in $1 Million Scheme

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City couple will serve nine years in federal prison without parole for a scheme that targeted financially struggling clients. Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that 43-year-old John Lee Norris and 39-year-old Julie Tina Hatcher defrauded 81 clients. They were each ordered to pay more than $1 million in restitution. Norris and Hatcher pleaded guilty in May to conspiring to defraud debtors, the victims' lenders and the federal government between August 2010 and June 2013. They also each pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and Hatcher pleaded guilty to disability fraud. Norris and Hatcher promised to help homeowners and others keep their homes and resolve their financial difficulties for monthly payments. They instead spent the payments on personal expenses. Victims were from several states including Missouri and Kansas.


Man Shot by U.S Marshal Identified as Suspect

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Overland Park police say a man shot by U.S. Marshals was a suspect in several felonies in multiple jurisdictions. The man was identified Thursday as 44-year-old Keith D. Angell, of Overland Park. He was shot Wednesday as U.S. Marshals were attempting to arrest him. Details of what prompted the shooting have not been released. He remained in critical condition on Thursday. No officers were injured. The Kansas City Star reports that Kansas City-area court and prison records show Angell has a criminal history dating back more than 20 years. He is currently wanted for failing to appear in court on various charges in Johnson, Wyandotte and Platte counties.


Man Pleads Guilty to Selling False ID Documents

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Mexican national living in Missouri has pleaded guilty in a conspiracy to sell thousands of fake identifications to people who are in the U.S. illegally. The U.S. Attorney's office says 39-year-old Eriberto Moises Medina-Aranda, of Rayville, pleaded guilty Thursday. Prosecutors say Medina-Aranda helped produce false Social Security cards, Lawful Permanent Resident cards and false driver's licenses from various states in the U.S. as well as Mexican states from September 2013 to February 2014. Several street dealers then sold the fake identification documents. Medina-Aranda also pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm despite being in the U.S. illegally. He faces up to 25 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $500,000. Three other men living in the Kansas City area have already pleaded guilty in the conspiracy.


Woman Lunges at Suspect During Murder Trial

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A woman lunged at a man charged with kidnapping, raping and killing an 8-year-old girl during his capital murder trial. Several police officers caught the woman before she made contact with Billy Frank Davis Jr. He is accused of kidnapping Ahliyah Irvin in March 2012 while she slept in her Topeka apartment. The altercation happened as Davis was being escorted from the courtroom at the start of the afternoon break. Earlier in the day the dryer in which the girl was found was wheeled into the courtroom. Jurors also saw a photo of the victim's body. Police have said Davis told detectives that he kidnapped and choked the girl during a flashback to his military service in Iraq.


Laura Bush to Speak at Pittsburg State in April

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Former first lady Laura Bush is coming to southeast Kansas in the spring to speak during Pittsburg State University's Women in Government Lecture Series. The university says Bush will speak on education, literacy, volunteerism and human rights on April 22 at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts. Ticket prices and their availability will be announced early in the spring semester. Previous participants in the Women in Government series include former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, human rights activist Kerry Kennedy, White House correspondent Helen Thomas and Kansas Supreme Court Justice Kay McFarland. The lecture series at Pittsburg State began in 2001 through a gift to the school from the Helen S. Boylan Foundation, which provided a special grant to bring Bush to the campus.


Salina ER Sees Spike in Synthetic Drug Overdoses

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas doctor is comparing the effects of synthetic drugs showing up in Salina with those experienced by PCP users when he was doing medical training in Chicago. Dr. Keir Swisher says 60 people have been brought into the emergency room at Salina Regional Health Center in the past six weeks, most of whom arrived by ambulance, after smoking chemical-laced potpourri. The Salina Journal reports most patients come to the hospital "seizing, convulsing or unconscious, in a coma." Swisher says the current spike in medical emergencies related to so-called potpourri reminds him of four years ago, before publicity about the unpredictable side effects of the products and a law enforcement crackdown on sellers slowed use. Swisher says at least one patient had smoked potpourri that was laced with methamphetamine.


Kansas Zoo's Tamarin Monkeys Die from Virus

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - Three tamarin monkeys from the Hutchinson Zoo in Kansas have died from a virus. The animals died late last month from the highly fatal virus likely contracted by eating an infected mouse or mouse urine. Two of the cotton-topped tamarins native to Colombia were born at the zoo in 2001. The other was born there in 2008. Zoo Director John Wright says the zoo prescribed antibiotics and extra fluids for the monkeys when staff noticed they were ill earlier that month. A Kansas State University veterinary lab later confirmed they died of an untreatable virus prevented only through rodent control. Wright says mice likely made their way inside to escape the cold despite the zoo's efforts to control the rodents.


Suspect Shot in Overland Park Arrest 

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) - Authorities say a suspect was shot and wounded in suburban Kansas City as the U.S. Marshals Service was attempting to take him into custody. The Marshals Service referred questions about Wednesday's shooting to Overland Park police, saying it was the lead investigative agency. The shooting happened just before 4 p.m. as a team of law enforcement officers from multiple agencies were moving in on the suspect. The release didn't say what led up to the shooting. Police said the suspect was taken to a hospital. His condition, name and what he was being sought for weren't immediately released. 


Cattle Markets Focus of Kansas Ranchers' Meeting

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A market analyst is warning Kansas ranchers not to get too comfortable with the record high cattle prices they have been enjoying recently. CattleFax Executive Vice President Randy Blach told producers attending the Kansas Livestock Association convention in Wichita that they can continue to make good profits in the coming years. But he says cattle prices will soften amid more competition next year from pork and poultry as the nation's cattle herd expands. He says this year's all-time high cattle prices were driven by a perfect storm. Rainfall broke the drought across much of the country's major cattle producing areas, while cattle profitability sparked a herd expansion as ranchers held on to their animals. Production of competing meats like pork and poultry were also down this year.


Lawrence Man Arrested After Shooting Himself

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence man who claimed to be a shooting victim has been arrested on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm after authorities determined his wound was self-inflicted. Lawrence police said the 33-year-old man showed up around 3 a.m. Wednesday at Lawrence Memorial Hospital with a gunshot wound to his leg. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the man told officers the shooting occurred about an hour earlier in the parking lot of a strip club. But officers determined the man had accidentally shot himself after questioning him and several other people. The wounded man was arrested and is jailed in Douglas County on a $2,000 bond. Lawrence police are continuing to investigate.


Court Refuses to Dismiss Prosecutor in Murder Case

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has declined a murder suspect's request to have the Douglas County District Attorney's Office disqualified from his case because his son lives in the home of one of the lead prosecutors. Martin Miller was convicted of first-degree murder in 2005 for the July 2004 death of his wife at the family's Lawrence home. Prosecutors say he strangled his wife in her sleep because he was having an affair and wanted to collect $300,000 in life insurance money. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the Kansas Supreme Court overturned his conviction in February. Miller's next trial is scheduled for March. Miller had sought a change of prosecutors because his son, 22-year-old Matthew Miller, is a friend of an assistant prosecutor's son and lives in their home.


AP Source: Royals, Hochevar Agree to 2-Year Deal

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Right-handed pitcher Luke Hochevar and the Kansas City Royals have agreed to a $10 million, two-year deal, a person familiar with the negotiations tells The Associated Press. Hochevar will make $4.5 million this season and $5.5 million for the 2016 season. Hochevar missed last season after Tommy John surgery. The former No. 1 overall draft pick struggled for years as a starting pitcher, going 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA in his best season. But he was dynamic after moving to the bullpen and went 5-2 with a 1.92 ERA in 2013.

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