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Headlines for Thursday, February 27, 2014

WaKeeney Man Charged with Murder in Fetus' Death

WAKEENEY, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas attorney general has filed a first-degree murder charge against a 30-year-old western Kansas man accused of killing an 8- to 10-week-old fetus.  The Salina Journal reports that Scott Robert Bollig of WaKeeney has been charged  with first-degree murder.  The criminal complaint filed in Trego County accuses Bollig of putting a crushed medication used to end pregnancies on a pancake for a pregnant woman to eat.  The incident allegedly occurred January 26.  The complaint doesn't name the medication or say when the fetus died.  Bollig's lawyer (Daniel Walter) says he'll challenge the statute used to charge Bollig. The statute makes it illegal to kill or wound an unborn child during an attack on the mother.  


Bill to open Kansas Police Records Advances

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved and sent to the Senate a bill that allows more access to police documents about the reason behind arrests. The bill also would make affidavits justifying search warrants open to the parties involved. The bill advanced 113-10 on Thursday as the House finished work on dozens of bills ahead of the first major legislative deadline of the session. A tougher fight for the bill is expected in the Senate. As written, individuals whose homes are searched would have 30 days to request documentation explaining the reason for the search. Kansas is one of the few states that seal probable-cause affidavits. Prosecutors have raised concerns that opening the records could jeopardize the safety and privacy of victims and witnesses.


Third Person Charged in Salina Homicide

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A third person has been charged in the 2013 death of a 27-year-old Salina woman. The Salina Journal reports that 21-year-old Megan V. Wells is charged in Saline County with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. She's being held on $1 million bail. Two men, 25-year-old Joel Heil and 33-year-old Dane C. DeWeese, of Abilene, have pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Kristin Tyler, who was missing for two weeks before her body was found May 9 in rural Saline County. DeWeese's trial is set for March 24, and Heil's trial is scheduled for May 7. A lawyer for Wells didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.


Northeast KS Prosecutor Running for US Senate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas prosecutor has decided to run for the U.S. Senate and is the first Democratic candidate to publicly declare an interest in the race. Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor confirmed Thursday that he'll seek the seat held by three-term Republican incumbent Pat Roberts. Roberts is seeking re-election but faces a GOP primary challenge from Leawood radiologist Milton Wolf. Taylor said he will discuss his reasons for running during a Friday morning news conference at the Kansas secretary of state's office. Taylor formed an exploratory committee in November, saying people were urging him to run because of their frustrations with gridlock in Washington. Taylor was first elected district attorney in the county that includes Topeka in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012.


Kansas Senate Passes Bill Ending Lawmaker PACs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has passed a bill abolishing political action committees formed by legislative leaders in both parties after a bitter partisan debate. Republicans used their supermajority to push the bill through the chamber Thursday on a 31-6 vote, sending the measure to the House. Democrats opposed the measure, seeing it as an attempt by GOP majorities to hamstring the minority party's fundraising efforts in a Republican-leaning state. GOP senators said the bill is a good-government measure. Senate Democrats and House Democrats have leadership PACs. There's a Senate Republican PAC, but it's controlled by GOP moderates, who once led the Senate but were ousted from power in 2012. House Republicans have no PAC. A 2000 law prohibited legislators from forming new PACs, but it didn't abolish existing ones.


Missouri Senate Passes Business Truce with Kansas

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri senators have passed legislation proposing a truce with Kansas in the battle for businesses in the Kansas City area. The bill approved 30-2 Thursday would end offers of special tax incentives for businesses to relocate from one side of the border to the other in the metropolitan region. The measure now goes to the Missouri House. But the truce also would need approval from the Kansas Legislature or governor to take effect. Over the past five years, Missouri and Kansas have collectively waived hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenues for businesses that moved across the state line. The Missouri legislation would bar incentives for businesses moving between the Missouri counties of Jackson, Clay, Platte and Cass and the Kansas counties of Wyandotte, Johnson, Douglas and Miami.


Tea Party PAC Backs Wolf in Kansas US Senate Race

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A national tea party group is endorsing Milton Wolf in the Kansas physician's bid to unseat three-term U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts in the state's Republican primary. The Tea Party Express announced its backing for Wolf during a rally Thursday in Wichita. The group also planned rallies with Wolf in Topeka and Overland Park. The California-based group describes itself as the nation's largest tea party political action committee and is involved in Senate and congressional races across the nation. Wolf already has backing from Kansas tea party groups. He recently has faced criticism about posting graphic images from X-rays of victims of gunshot wounds and other medical injuries on Facebook page several years ago. Wolf has apologized, but Roberts is running statewide cable-television and radio ads attacking Wolf on the issue.


Bill Would Raise Kansas Limits on Lawsuit Damages

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a bill that increases the state's limits on some damages in lawsuits but makes other changes in evidence rules. The Senate's 32-8 vote Thursday sends the measure to the House. The bill is partly a response to a 2012 Kansas Supreme Court ruling in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The court upheld the state's $250,000 limit on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering in personal injury lawsuits. But the court also suggested that the limit might not remain constitutional because of inflation. The bill would boost the cap to $300,000 in July and $350,000 in July 2022. The increase is tied to changes in evidence rules sought by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. One change gives judges greater discretion to limit expert testimony.


Kansas House OKs Official State Fossils

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two ancient giants that once roamed the area now known as Kansas have earned approval from the House to be designated as the state's official fossils. Legislators voted 96-27 on Thursday to name the tylosaurus and the pteranodon (TEAR-un-don) as the official fossils. The creatures join the western meadowlark, ornate box turtle and bison as official state animals and reptiles. The tylosaurus was a large sea creature that hunted the ocean that covered Kansas more than 80 million years ago. While it patrolled the waters, the pteranodon roamed the skies. Fossils have been found in the chalk hills in western Kansas. Examples of the tylosaurus are on display at museums in Hays and Lawrence. Supporters say the designation boosts the state's tradition of being a paleontology treasure trove.


KS GOP Senators Defend Closed Caucus Meetings

Democrats in the Kansas Senate have put forth a proposal that would require all legislative party caucus meetings to be open to the public.  But Republican senators have rejected the measure.  The GOP-dominated Senate voted 30-8 yesterday (WED) against the proposal from Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka.  Only one Republican, Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick, supported his measure.  The Kansas Open Meetings Act generally requires government meetings to be open to the public. But it has an exception for the Legislature, so that Republicans and Democrats in each chamber can close their daily caucus meetings.
The meetings are rarely closed, though Senate Republicans have done so at least twice over the past decade. Hensley said all caucus meetings should be open.  


KS Bill Offers Convicted Vets Mental Treatment

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Some military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress who are convicted of low-level crimes could be ordered by Kansas courts to receive treatment as a condition of their sentence.  A bill advancing Wednesday in the Kansas House would allow veterans who meet strict criteria to receive treatment for their mental illness, provided the sentence for their crime doesn't require time in prison.  The bill's aimed at helping veterans who are coping with PTSD and other mental illness as a result of their combat service. The treatment would be ordered at the time of the court conviction or before sentencing to veterans who have received a general or honorable military discharge.   Supporters say the measure is a first step in helping veterans address their mental health needs and seek proper treatment.  


KBI: Amber Alert for Texas Girl Misdirected

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says an Amber alert issued earlier this week was a mistake.  The alert suggested that a teenager missing from Texas might be in the Kansas City area, but that was an error caused by miscalculating the location of her cellphone ping.  The alert was sent around 9:30 Tuesday night.  But the KBI says it appears the ping was read wrong and there's no evidence the girl's phone was ever in the area.  Velazquez has since been found safe in Lubbock, Texas.  A 28-year-old construction worker has been taken into custody. No word yet on whether he's been charged.


Two KS Schools Selected for "Innovative Status"

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Concordia and McPherson school districts have been granted "innovative status," freeing them from state laws as they pursue certain education goals.  They will be allowed to operate similar to charter schools but are still accountable to local boards of education and the State Board of Education.  Eight Kansas districts applied for the status to Governor Sam Brownback, and the chairs of the House and Senate education committees.


KU to Start Construction on New Dorms

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ The University of Kansas is ready to begin construction of two five-story halls that will house 350 students.  Groundbreaking for the $47.8 million project is scheduled for next Wednesday.  The new residence halls will include two- and four-person suites. Construction is expected to be completed by July 2015, with the first students moving in that August.  The nearly 50-year-old McCollum Hall will be torn down in the summer of 2015.  Beginning in September, students will be able to sign up online to live in the new halls.


KS Woman Guilty of Stealing from Gov't Programs

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas woman has pleaded guilty to defrauding federal need-based programs out of more than $43,000. Fifty-seven-year-old Wanda Herdman of Kansas City admitted yesterday that she stole from the Supplemental Security Income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance and Medicaid programs. In her plea, Herman said she didn't report her spouse's Department of Veterans Affairs income.


10-year-old Springfield girl laid to rest  

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) _ A flag-waving crowd gathered outside the funeral of a 10-year-old Springfield girl who was abducted and killed last week, chanting her name and wearing her favorite colors of pink and purple.  The funeral for Hailey Owens was held yesterday (WED) at Ridgecrest Baptist Church. The fourth-grader was killed February 18th after being abducted in her own  neighborhood.  Forty-five-year-old Craig Michael Wood is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and armed criminal action in her death. The middle-school football coach is being held without bond in Greene County Jail.  The Springfield News-Leader reports that about 100 people formed a human wall outside the church's entrance.


KS House Seeks to Expand Rural Economic Zones

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas House members are preparing to approve a bill that would add four southern counties to a program that seeks to boost population and economic development in rural areas.  The House will vote Thursday on a bill that would add Cherokee, Labette, Montgomery and Sumner counties to the existing list of 73 counties currently eligible for designation as rural opportunity zones.  Legislators created the program to boost rural growth in 2011, primarily in counties that had seen double-digit population declines during the last federal census period.  The program offers income tax exemptions for new residents moving to those counties, as well as the repayment of a portion of outstanding college loans with participation by county governments.  Program supporters say the incentives have been helpful in attracting residents and business activity.


Two Charged in Wichita Shooting  

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Two men have been charged in the fatal shooting death of a Wichita concrete company worker.  The Wichita Eagle reports 40-year-old Deon Hale, and 33-year-old Donnie Lalonde are charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the death last week of of Efren Villarreal-Alvarado, a 44-year-old employee of Santana Concrete.  Hale and Lalonde also each face a count of aggravated robbery in connection with the death. It's unclear if the defendants have lawyers.  Co-workers found Villarreal-Alvarado alive with a gunshot wound to his chest when they arrived at the concrete company Friday morning. He was in his truck in the business's parking lot.  Bond for each man was set at $1.5 million in the case. They are due back in court March 12th.  

Plan Would Raise Kansas Limits on Lawsuit Damages  

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Senate has given first-round approval to a bill increasing the state's limits on some damages in lawsuits but makes other changes in evidence rules.  The Senate's voice vote Wednesday advanced the bill to a final vote Thursday, when approval would send the measure to the House.  The bill is partly a response to a 2012 Kansas Supreme Court ruling in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The court upheld the state's $250,000 limit on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering in personal injury lawsuits.  But the court also suggested that the limit might not remain constitutional because of inflation. The bill would boost the cap to $300,000 in July and $350,000 in July 2022.  The increase is tied to changes in evidence rules sought by business groups.  





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