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Headlines for Thursday, December 8, 2016

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

Kansas Agrees to Outsource IT to Illinois Company

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas plans to retire a mainframe used by four state agencies and contract with a private company to take care of the work. The state has agreed to a five-year contract with Illinois-based Ensono for more than $14 million to replace an IBM mainframe as recommended last year in a state efficiency review. It named several opportunities for possible technology-related savings among the state's agencies. Kansas Organization of State Employees executive director Rebecca Proctor told The Topeka Capital-Journal that state IT workers have expressed concern they could lose their jobs. But a Department of Administration spokesman said Wednesday he does not have specifics about possible job cuts.

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Kansas to Make Changes to Foster Home Inspections 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas welfare officials plan to have state staff perform all annual foster home inspections by midway through next year. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Kansas Department for Children and Families updated lawmakers Wednesday on its efforts to respond to a highly-critical audit. DCF has been moving to take away annual inspections of foster homes from agency contractors, citing potential conflicts of interest. DCF deputy general counsel Kaey Rogg said performing the inspections will require about 15 new DCF workers. He says the cash to pay the employees will come from the child placing agencies. Lawmakers also questioned agency staff during a meeting of the Legislative Post Audit Committee about foster parent and social worker recruitment. Kansas has a near-record number of children in foster care — about 6,500.

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Former US Representative Tiahrt Exploring Whether to Seek Old Seat

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Former Congressman Todd Tiahrt is looking into trying to get his old job back. The Wichita Eagle reports that Tiahrt says he's "exploring the options" after President-elect Donald Trump offered the CIA director job to U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo. But Tiahrt wouldn't say for certain whether he would seek the seat in the special election that will happen if the U.S. Senate confirms Pompeo. Pompeo was first elected to Congress in 2010, running for an open seat after Tiahrt vacated his position for a failed U.S. Senate run. Tiahrt attempted to reclaim his 4th Congressional District seat in the House four years later but lost to Pompeo by 26 percentage points. The loss followed a bitter primary campaign that saw both candidates engage in personal attacks.

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Arnold-Burger Named New Kansas Chief Appeals Court Judge
 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Court of Appeals will have a new chief judge next month. The Kansas Supreme Court selected Judge Karen Arnold-Burger to serve as chief judge of the 14-member state appeals court beginning January 9. She succeeds Chief Judge Thomas J. Malone, who will continue to serve on the appeals court after his four-year term as chief judge ends. As chief judge, Arnold-Burger will determine venues for arguments, designate cases to be heard by three-judge panels and assign judges to panels. Before joining the appeals court in 2011, Arnold-Burger's positions included serving as presiding municipal court judge in Overland Park and assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Kansas.

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Coalition Seeks Income, Gas Tax Hikes to Fix Kansas Budget 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A coalition of Kansas teachers, state workers, contractors and others is proposing to increase income and gasoline taxes to fix the state's budget problems. But the plan outlined Wednesday by the Rise Up Kansas Coalition also would reduce the state's sales tax on groceries to help poor families. The plan would undo some of the massive income tax cuts the Republican-controlled Legislature enacted in 2012 and 2013 at Governor Sam Brownback's urging in an effort to stimulate the economy. The coalition's plan would increase revenues by $821 million for the next fiscal year, which begins in July. The plan would revive a third income tax bracket for the state's wealthiest taxpayers with the top rate of 6.45 percent. It would boost the gas tax 11 cents a gallon.

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Next Kansas House Speaker Tells Lawmakers to Avoid Cliques 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The newly elected speaker of the Kansas House is advising freshman lawmakers to avoid cliques. Republican Representative Ron Ryckman encouraged new lawmakers to avoid sticking to one of the competing groups within the state Republican Party. Conservatives and moderates have fought for control of the party for decades. Under Governor Sam Brownback, the conservative wing has been dominant in recent years. But more moderates made major gains in this year's election and could cast deciding votes as lawmakers grapple with the state's budget shortfall and work to create a new school finance formula. Ryckman is the House budget committee's chairman. The Johnson County businessman was chosen by House Republicans on Monday to be the new speaker. He'll officially take over that role in January

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Kansas Nominee Withdraws from Federal Bench Consideration

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence attorney nominated to the federal bench in Kansas nearly a year ago is withdrawing his name from consideration. Terrence J. Campbell made public on Wednesday letters he sent to President Barack Obama and to Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran. He cites the short time remaining for Congress to complete its business and the results of the recent election, saying it is apparent he will not be able to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He asked President Obama to withdraw his nomination. Obama nominated him in January to the vacancy created in 2014 when U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil took senior status, a form of semi-retirement. Campbell practices civil and criminal litigation at the law firm of Barber Emerson, L.C., a Lawrence firm he joined in 1999.

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Kansas High Court to Hear Kahler's Death Penalty Appeal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Supreme Court will hear arguments this month in the appeal of a death row inmate convicted of killing members of his family. The state Office of Judicial Administration said Wednesday that the state Supreme Court will hear arguments for James Kraig Kahler's case on December 16. Attorneys for Kahler and the state will each have an hour to argue their sides, and the proceedings will also be broadcast online. The Wichita Eagle reports that Kahler was sentenced to death for the November 2009 shooting deaths of his estranged wife, Karen Kahler; her grandmother, 89-year-old Dorothy Wight; and his daughters, 18-year-old Emily and 16-year-old Lauren. Kahler raised several issues in his appeal, claiming trial error and issues with his death sentence.

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Court: Porn Offender Must Liquidate Retirement Account

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An appeals court says a man serving a 260-year sentence in a Kansas child pornography case must liquidate his union retirement account and apply that money he hid from the court to provide restitution to the victims. Wednesday's ruling by a Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel upholds a federal judge's ruling against 54-year-old Philip Grigsby. Grigsby, formerly of Marquette, was sentenced in 2013 after pleading guilty to eight counts of sexual exploitation of a child, as well as single counts of illegal gun possession and child porn possession. A judge later ordered Grigsby to pay $140,000 restitution to a victim and her mother. Grigsby's $53,000 retirement account he concealed during proceedings in the porn case was later discovered during his divorce, and a judge ordered it liquidated.

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5 Suspected in Wichita Family's Abduction Knew Victims

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say five people suspected in the abduction of a Wichita woman and her three children knew the victims. The Wichita Eagle reports that two of the suspects were living or had lived at the house from which 36-year-old Melissa Gifford was abducted, along with a 2-year-old and two 8-year-olds. They were found safe Tuesday at a hotel in Wichita after the abduction. All five suspects face charges of kidnapping and aggravated robbery. The investigation began late Monday when police responded to a robbery call. A resident at the home told officers he was tied up and that one of the suspects forced Gifford and her children into a vehicle. A police report says a computer, two TVs, a cellphone and a pistol also were taken from the home.

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Authorities Investigate Kansas Grain Bin Collapse

WHITE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are trying to determine what caused a Kansas grain bin to collapse and spill about 250,000 bushels of corn on the ground. The Hays Post reports that no one was injured when the bin gave way around 11 am Wednesday in the Morris County community of White City. Morris County Emergency Management director Chris Blackledge says four elevator employees heard a loud commotion outside just before the collapse. The bin has a 500,000-bushel capacity. Cleanup of the spill began on Thursday morning. Blackledge says Mor-Kan Grain owns the bin. A woman who answered the phone at Mor-Kan but declined to give her name told The Associated Press that there would be no comment.

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Kansas City Zoo Tops 1 Million Visitors for First Time

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — More people visited the Kansas City Zoo this year than ever before in its 107-year history. The zoo topped 1 million visitors November 25 when a family from Waterloo, Iowa, went through the gates. The family received some gifts and a personal encounter with the zoo's penguins. The Kansas City Star reports zoo attendance began rising after director Randy Wishtoff arrived from the Omaha, Nebraska, zoo in 2003. And in 2004, voters approved a $30 million bond package that gave the zoo a reliable funding stream, which allowed several new exhibits, including polar bears, penguins and a new orangutan habitat. The zoo had more than 911,000 visitors last year. The zoo is lowering its attendance projection for 2017 to 943,500, primarily because no major new attractions are planned.

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Kansas Principal Calls For Halt to Racial Harassment

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) - A suburban Kansas City high school principal is urging parents to speak to their children about tolerance after several incidents of racial harassment between students. The Kansas City Star reports that Olathe North High School Principal Jason Herman informed parents of the problem Wednesday in a letter. He indicated that many of the incidents occurred on social media. He said the behavior is "intolerable" and would be "swiftly" handled by administration. He said parents should speak to their children "about the importance of respecting everyone and our intolerance for any type of harassment." He also wrote that he had shared a similar message with students in an address he read in person.

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Youth Arrested in Series of Arson Fires in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have arrested a juvenile in a recent outbreak of arson fires in Topeka. The Topeka Fire Department said in a news release that the male suspect has been booked into the Shawnee County Juvenile Department of Corrections on suspicion of four counts of aggravated arson, five counts of arson and one count of burglary. The release says all arson counts are related to separate incidents. The outbreak of fires occurred in area about 1 mile north of Washburn University. No details were offered, but fire officials said earlier that the city was experiencing a higher-than-expected number of arson fires. The Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assisted with the fire department's investigation.

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Andover Middle School Boosts Security After Threat

ANDOVER, Kan. (AP) — A middle school in southern Kansas is stepping up security after authorities found a written bomb threat in a bathroom. The Wichita Eagle reports that Andover Middle School will have extra security Thursday after a threat was discovered written on a toilet paper dispenser in a school bathroom. Andover public schools spokeswoman Nicole Gibbs says the threat found Wednesday referenced a potential incident Thursday. She says the school takes such threats seriously. She said in an email that students and staff can expect increased security Thursday, with police officers joining district and school security officers "to provide additional safety measures" at the school.

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Kansas to Review Amber Alert System 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has announced plans to review its Amber Alert system after a faulty alert this week. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Wednesday that he's ordered a review of the state's Amber Alert operations after a Wichita Amber Alert on Tuesday failed to activate on cellphones. The alert was issued after a woman and three children were reported abducted from their home. An Amber Alert was issued, but Schmidt says a method of broadcasting the Amber Alert by a signal that activates individuals' cellphones failed to activate. The woman and children were later found safe. Schmidt says the Kansas Bureau of Investigation will review the alert system. 

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Kansas Couple Accused of Running Illegal Moonshine Operation

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A central Kansas couple is accused in federal court of an illegal moonshine operation in their basement. A federal grand jury in Wichita indicted 41-year-old Ryan Penner and 37-year-old Jennifer Penner of Newton on one count of possession of an unregistered still. They're also charged with one count apiece of unlawful production of distilled spirits, and one count of failing to be bonded as a distiller. Prosecutors say moonshine is illegal liquor on which federal and state excise taxes have not been paid. Authorities say the investigation began in August when Newton police fielded reports that the couple were making and selling moonshine in their home. Prosecutors say undercover agents later repeatedly bought some of the liquor. 

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Actress Kirstie Alley Decorates Wichita House with Festive Movie Set 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Actress Kirstie Alley has decorated a Wichita home she owns with a Santa's Village set she saved from her 1993 film "Look Who's Talking Now." The Wichita Eagle reports that it had been several years since she put up the set in her childhood hometown. The set appeared in a scene where Alley, playing Mollie Ubriacco, loses her job and needs to earn extra money. She takes a job working as an elf for a surly mall Santa. The large panels painted with festive Christmas town scenes span 120 feet and are 18 feet high at some points. They first appeared in Wichita nine years ago. On Wednesday morning, Alley tweeted a picture of the village, and wrote, "I have a village to tend to today...final touches make everyone smile."
 

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