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Headlines for Thursday, February 11, 2016

Kansas news headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Supreme Court Invalidates School Funding Law 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has struck down a stopgap law for funding the state's public schools, saying it left poor districts $54 million short. The justices ruled Thursday that the Republican-backed law enacted last year doesn't comply with the Kansas Constitution. The court gave lawmakers until the end of June to write a new law. The ruling came in a lawsuit that four districts have been pursuing since 2010. The Supreme Court has yet to decide on the larger question of whether Kansas must boost its education spending by at least $548 million a year. Lawmakers approved the 2015 law as temporary fix. The law replaced a per-student formula for distributing more than $4 billion a year to school in favor of stable "block grants."


Court:  Kansas Schools Can't Open Until Legislators Fix Funding Statute

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Supreme Court ruling striking down the state's law for funding its public schools says those schools won't be able to open in the fall if legislators don't write a new statute. The high court's ruling Thursday gave legislators until June 30 to enact a new law for distributing more than $4 billion a year in aid to the state's 286 local school districts. The justices said the law enacted last year is unfair to poor school districts and left them $54 million short in aid for the 2014-15 school year. The court said in its unsigned opinion: "Without a constitutionally equitable school finance system, the schools in Kansas will be unable to operate beyond June 30."


Kansas Governor Decries 'Activist' Court Ruling 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is describing the state Supreme Court as an activist court for threatening to shut down public schools if legislators don't write a new school funding law. Brownback was responding to the court's ruling Thursday striking down a school funding law enacted last year. The court said the law was unfair to poor districts and shorted their state aid by at least $54 million. The court declared that schools will shut down if a new law isn't enacted by the end of June. Brownback said in a statement, "We will review this decision closely and work with the Legislature to ensure the continued success of our great Kansas schools."


Republicans Decry Kansas Court Ruling on Schools 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two Republican lawmakers are accusing the Kansas Supreme Court of trying to hold taxpayers and schoolchildren hostage with a ruling striking down an education funding law. House Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell and state Senator Jeff Melcher of Leawood decried the court's ruling Thursday. The court said the school funding law was unfair to poor districts and shorted their annual aid at least $54 million. The justices said if lawmakers don't rewrite the law by June 30, the state's schools must shut down. Melcher called the decision "a temper tantrum." He said, "It's kind of one of those things, 'Give us the money, or the kid gets it.'" Merrick told reporters that the timing of the ruling was fishy. It came just before the House voted on budget legislation.


Think Tank, Plaintiffs' Attorney Disagree on Effects of School Funding Ruling 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The leader of a conservative Kansas think tank and an attorney representing four school districts that sued the state disagree over the effects of Thursday's Kansas Supreme Court ruling on education funding. The court invalidated a school funding law enacted last year, saying it violated the Kansas Constitution and was unfair to poor school districts. The court said the law left poor districts $54 million short in their aid for the 2014-15 school year. Dave Trabert is president of the influential and conservative Kansas Policy Institute. He says the ruling means the state can find a fairer way to distribute more than $4 billion a year in aid without increasing its overall spending. But attorney John Robb, who's representing the districts suing the state, says the court specifically said that shifting aid around isn't sufficient.


Kansas House Passes Fix for Budget Gap; Senate Has Own Plan
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill that would erase a shortfall in the next state budget, and the Senate is preparing to debate its own budget-balancing plan. The House vote on its bill Thursday was 68-56. It came after Democratic Representative Jim Ward of Wichita sought unsuccessfully to delay action because of a Kansas Supreme Court ruling on education funding. Lawmakers must eliminate a projected deficit of nearly $200 million in the state's $16.1 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The Senate was debating its plan later Thursday. The Senate's plan would give the governor greater authority than the House bill to delay the state's contributions to its public pension system. After both chambers pass their bills, they'll appoint negotiators to draft a final plan.


Kansas Senate Rejects Democrat's Move to Delay Budget Debate 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has rejected an attempt by its top Democrat to delay a debate on a bill that balances the next state budget. Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said the debate Thursday should be postponed in response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling invalidating a state law that distributes aid to public school districts. But the GOP-dominated Senate voted 30-8 against sending the budget-balancing bill back to its Ways and Means Committee. The debate went forward Thursday evening. Lawmakers must eliminate a projected deficit of nearly $200 million in the state's $16.1 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The House approved its own budget-balancing plan Thursday on a 68-56 vote after Democrats unsuccessfully sought to postpone action because of the Supreme Court ruling.


Lawmakers Seek Advice on Docking Building Controversy
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Lawmakers say the Kansas attorney general has been asked to analyze state agreements on plans to implode a state office building and build a new Capitol Complex energy plant. The $20 million deal reached in December by the Kansas Department of Administration has been subject to scrutiny because the contract for private financing and a contract with a construction firm weren't vetted by the Legislature. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that the House-Senate state building committee on Thursday said Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has been asked to provide legal analysis of agreements signed by the executive branch for implosion of Docking State Office Building and construction of the new Capitol Complex energy plant. Sarah Shipman, acting secretary of the Department of Administration, says the agency acted with statutory authority.


Kansas Senate Defeats Call to Extend Weapons Prohibition 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has defeated a measure aimed at keeping concealed weapons off college campuses a few more years. Senators on Thursday rejected an amendment on gun legislation that would have extended a prohibition on conceal-carry on Kansas campuses until 2021. The ban will expire in 2017 unless lawmakers act. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that senators also voted down an amendment to move up the end of the gun ban to this summer. In 2013, the Legislature blocked prohibitions against concealed weapons in government buildings, but exempted colleges and universities for four years. Last month, the Kansas Board of Regents, which governs public universities, approved a policy that will allow concealed weapons once the current ban expires.


GOP Blocks Kansas House Debate on Medicaid Expansion 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans have blocked a debate in the Kansas House on expanding the state's Medicaid program as encouraged by the federal health care overhaul. The vote Wednesday in the GOP-dominated chamber was 85-37 against debating a proposal from Democratic Representative Jim Ward of Wichita to expand Medicaid for three years. The Kansas Medicaid program provides coverage for 362,000 poor and disabled Kansans, and Ward's proposal would have extended coverage to another 160,000 people. The 2010 federal Affordable Care Act encouraged states to expand their Medicaid programs by promising that the federal government would pick up almost all of the costs. But Republican leaders in Kansas oppose the health care overhaul and believe a Medicaid expansion would be more costly to the state than expected.


Kansas Senate Approves Bill to Decrease Medicaid Drug Costs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Senate has approved a bill designed to cut Kansas's costs in providing prescription drugs for poor and disabled residents. The chamber's vote Wednesday was 23-16, sending the measure to the House. The bill would allow the state's Medicaid program to use so-called step therapies for prescriptions that require patients to try less expensive drugs before obtaining more expensive ones. Governor Sam Brownback included the measure in his plan for eliminating a projected deficit of nearly $200 million in the budget for the next fiscal year. Brownback says the change will save the state nearly $11 million annually. Critics believe it could deny patients much-needed medications.


Kansas House Plan Hinders Hospital Privatization 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a proposal to make it harder for the state to sell or turn over the operation of its two mental hospitals to private companies. The House voted 68-51 on Wednesday for an amendment to budget legislation from Democratic Representative Jim Ward of Wichita. It says the state couldn't spend any money on privatizing the hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie unless the Legislature approved the expenditure. A critical survey in November prompted the federal government to decertify the Osawatomie hospital about 45 miles southwest of the Kansas City area. The state is losing between $500,000 and $1 million a month in federal funds. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services has said privatizing the hospital is an option, but legislators oppose the idea.


Kansas House Votes to Limit Shorting of Pensions 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members have voted to limit the governor's authority to temporarily reduce the state's contributions to the public employee pension fund to cover gaps in the state budget. The bill allows the governor to act before July 1 to reduce the state's contributions to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to keep the budget balanced without cutting other spending. But the House voted 89-34 to add a requirement that any such reduction be paid back by September 30, with 8 percent interest. Also, the governor could not reduce or delay contributions to KPERS during the next fiscal year.


Kansas House Moves to Shield KU Med from Budget Measure
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  Kansas House members want to make sure that a measure punishing the University of Kansas for using out of state bonds to finance campus construction projects doesn't hurt its Medical Center in Kansas City. The House approved an amendment to a budget bill Wednesday on a voice vote to narrow the scope of a provision restricting spending at the University of Kansas. Top legislative leaders are upset with the university over how it is financing a development project that includes a new science lab, new student housing, a new student union building and new power plant. The university formed a nonprofit corporation that then went to Wisconsin's Public Finance Authority to issue $327 million in bonds, avoiding Kansas legislative approval.


Kansas Cancer Survivors Support Tanning Booth Ban for Teens

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Skin cancer survivors and a dozen health organizations testified this week in support of a bill that would ban the use of tanning beds for Kansans younger than 18 years old. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the bill would forbid anyone 17 or under from using tanning devices. It would also allow the Kansas Board of Cosmetology to impose a maximum fine of $250 on tanning businesses for every violation of the law. The bill's hearing before the House Health and Human Services Committee coincided with the annual lobbying day of the American Cancer Society. The Cancer Action Network cited a 2013 survey indicating that 69 percent of Kansas voters supported protection of children and teenagers from indoor tanning devices.


Kansas Senate Bill Would Restrict Habitat Protections 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservationists say protected habitats for endangered and threatened species in Kansas would be sharply reduced under a Senate bill in its second week of hearings. The measure before the Senate Natural Resources Committee would change the definition of critical habitats and restrict habitat protection to areas where a vulnerable species lives. Critics say the bill doesn't take into consideration potential territories where the species could migrate. The Sierra Club testified Wednesday that the bill would cut habitat protections by 60 percent. Farmers and ranchers spoke in favor of the bill last week. The Kansas Farm Bureau says the measure would clarify the Kansas Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act. 


Groups Decry Election Official's Action on Citizenship Proof 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — More than 30 advocacy groups are asking a federal elections official to withdraw changes made to a national form requiring residents of Kansas, Alabama and Georgia to provide proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote. The groups sent a letter Thursday to the new executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission arguing that the impact would be particularly significant because 2016 is a presidential election year, when people typically register to vote in greater numbers. The EAC had no immediate comment on the groups' demand, but executive director Brian Newby has insisted the action he took at the states' request is within his authority. One of the agency's own commissioners has said Newby's action contradicts policy and precedent. Among those signing the letter were Common Cause, Public Citizen, and NAACP.


K-State Reports 2nd Case of Mumps 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A second case of mumps has been reported at Kansas State University. The university said in a release Thursday that both students with confirmed cases of the mumps live off campus. The university says it's working to contact people who may have had close contact with the infected students. The university says it's asking students to review their vaccination records to see if they have had two measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccinations. Students are also being advised to contact a medical provider if they experience mumps symptoms, which include fever, headache and swollen salivary glands under the ears.


Trial Delayed for Man Accused of Quadruple Murder 

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — The capital murder trial of a man accused of killing a child and three adults in eastern Kansas has been delayed again. Kyle Flack is charged with capital murder in Franklin County in the 2013 shooting deaths of 21-year-old Kaylie Smith Bailey, and her young daughter, Lana-Leigh Bailey. He's also charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of 30-year-old Andrew Stout and 31-year-old Steven White. Prosecutors say they'll seek the death penalty. District court administrator John Steelman said Thursday the trial is now set to begin March 7 in Ottawa. It had been scheduled to start following jury selection, which is underway and expected to end by next week. The trial had originally been scheduled for last September. Steelman says he doesn't know why the new delay was sought.


Fines Issued After 2 at Salina Facility Suffer Amputations 

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A federal agency has fined a food preparation company more than $170,000 because of worker injuries that included two amputations at its Salina facility. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Thursday in a release it has fined Schwan's Global Supply Chain $172,000 for violations found after accidents last year at its Salina processing facility. OSHA says a worker had her right hand amputated after her glove became caught in a conveyor assembly, and another worker lost a finger after coming into contact with a conveyor. A third person was burned in a separate incident. Schwan's said in an emailed statement that the company is committed to ensuring the safety of its employees and contractors and that it's using the information from OSHA to improve processes.


Amusement Park Owner Sues Former Employee over Pipe Organ 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A pipe organ that has served as the musical backdrop to an amusement park clown is now the subject of a civil court case. The Wichita Eagle reports that an attorney for Joyland Amusement Park owner Margaret Nelson Spear filed a civil breach-of-contract lawsuit Wednesday in Sedgwick County District Court. The lawsuit claims that ex-Joyland employee Damian Mayes didn't pay money he owes after agreeing to purchase the Wurlitzer organ about six years ago. Spear demands that Mayes either pay her the $9,000 he owes or allow her to repossess the organ. Court records don't list an attorney for Mayes. Kansas Department of Corrections records say Mayes is serving a sentence and isn't eligible for parole until 2028. He was convicted of aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated criminal sodomy in Harvey County.


Hutchinson Inmate Gets Life for Stabbing Officer 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A 43-year-old Hutchinson inmate has been sentenced to life in prison for stabbing a prison officer. Corey Jeffery pleaded guilty Thursday to attempted capital murder by an inmate and was sentenced to life. He was ordered to serve at least 54 years before being eligible for parole. The Hutchinson News reports that the sentence is to run consecutive to a life sentence Jeffery is serving for the September 2005 fatal stabbing of 80-year-old Paul Boever. The latest charge stems from a 2014 knife attack on a guard at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility. Jeffery has said he intended to kill the officer so he could be moved out of Kansas to solitary confinement in another state.


$1.8M Gift to Create New Professorship at University of Kansas 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - The estate of a University of Kansas graduate who helped develop the atomic bomb has donated $1.8 million to establish a new professorship in physics. The Lawrence Journal World reports that the KU Endowment announced Wednesday that the gift comes from Ernest Klema and his late wife Virginia Klema, who also was a scientist. He died in 2008, and she died in 2015. Ernest Klema earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the university in the early 1940s before beginning work on his doctorate at Princeton University. Ultimately, his project was transferred to Los Alamos in New Mexico, where he worked on the Manhattan project to develop the atomic bomb. He later worked at several universities and labs before becoming a professor and dean of engineering at Tufts University.


Pro Racecar Driver Scott Tucker Charged in Payday Loan Scam 

NEW YORK (AP) — Professional racecar driver Scott Tucker has been charged in a payday lending operation offering quick cash over the Internet to desperate people. Authorities said Tucker was arrested Wednesday in Kansas City, Kansas, on charges from a federal court in New York City. The indictment says Tucker exploited over 4 million people in the United States who were struggling to pay basic living expenses. It says the operation charged interest rates as high as 700 percent or more using deceptive and misleading communications and contracts. In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission sued Tucker in Nevada over the payday lending operation. The agency has said in court papers that Tucker pocketed at least $420 million unlawfully. Prosecutors say Tucker used the millions in profits to support a lavish lifestyle that included several luxury homes, expensive cars and boats.


Farm Income Declining in Region; Loan Demand Growing
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Federal Reserve says farm income continued to decline during the fourth quarter in Midwestern and Western states, so farmers are borrowing more. But the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Missouri, said Thursday that bankers report few problems with farmers failing to make loan payments. Farm income is down because prices have declined for cattle, soybeans, wheat and corn. The value of farmland continues to decline. The value of non-irrigated land declined 4 percent in the fourth quarter, and irrigated land values slipped 2 percent from the previous year. The value of ranchland was flat in the quarter after declining an average of 8 percent in the first nine months of 2015. The 10th Federal Reserve District covers Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, northern New Mexico and western Missouri.


Ex-Fort Riley Nurse Accused of Stealing Painkillers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former Fort Riley nurse has been indicted on federal charges of stealing fentanyl, a powerful painkiller. According to a statement Wednesday from U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, 56-year-old Lana Pendergast is charged with one count of unlawfully obtaining a controlled substance. Prosecutors say that while Pendergast worked as a nurse at Irwin Army Hospital she began taking fentanyl for her own use, replacing the fentanyl with saline. It is unclear if Pendergast has an attorney. If convicted, Pendergast faces a maximum of four years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.


Several States Seek to Block 2nd Trimester Abortion Method 

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Abortion opponents in Mississippi, West Virginia and several other states are filing bills to ban an abortion procedure commonly used in the second trimester. Courts have already blocked similar laws in Kansas and Oklahoma. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents abortion providers in legal fights, says banning the dilation and evacuation method of abortion is unconstitutional. The group says a ban would interfere with private medical decisions and put women at risk. The Mississippi bill uses language provided by the National Right to Life Committee. Mary Balch, director of state legislation for the anti-abortion group, says the proposals would not ban all dilation and evacuation abortions.


Police: Man Killed in Drive-By Shooting in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police say a 26-year-old man has been killed in a drive-by shooting in Wichita. Patrol North Captain Brian White said that a shooting was reported around 11:45 am Wednesday. White said that a man, who has not been identified, was shot several times as he stood in the fenced yard of a house. The man was transported in critical condition to a hospital, where he later died. Lieutenant Jeff Gilmore, head of the gang unit, said the victim appears to be a gang member and that the shooting is gang-related. An investigation is ongoing.


2 Ordered to Trial in Kansas Rapper's Death

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) - Two Kansas City brothers have been ordered to stand trial in the death of an aspiring rapper from suburban Olathe. The Kansas City Star reports that a Johnson County judge found sufficient evidence Wednesday to try 34-year-old Dale Willis and 28-year-old James Willis on a first-degree murder charge. They are accused in the fatal September shooting of 24-year-old Jurl L. Carter outside of a bar in northern Overland Park. Carter performed under the names Boogy and Yunglyfe Carter. During the preliminary hearing, several witnesses testified that they saw Dale Willis punch Carter in the face and knock him to the ground. Witnesses said that Carter was shot as he attempted to drive away.


Sentencing Hearing Delayed for 80-Year-Old Marijuana Dealer 

BOSTON (AP) — A federal judge in Massachusetts has delayed the sentencing of an 80-year-old man who admitted running a sprawling multistate marijuana-dealing operation. Marshall Dion was scheduled to be sentenced Thursday, but U.S. District Judge Denise Casper in Boston put off the hearing until March 10 because she wanted prosecutors and Dion's lawyer to submit sentencing briefs. Dion's lawyer, Hank Brennan, says the judge wants to know why the proposed sentence in Dion's plea agreement is up to seven years in prison when federal sentencing guidelines call for 30 years. A stop for speeding in 2013 in Junction City, Kansas, led authorities to Massachusetts and Arizona, where they found about $15 million in cash, nearly 400 pounds of marijuana and ledgers detailing drug deals going back to 1992.


Baylor Beats Kansas State, 82-72

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Baylor beat Kansas State 82-72 last night (WED) to remain a game back of the leaders in the Big 12 race. The Baylor Bears (18-6, 7-4) opened on an 8-2 run, led by as many as 14 in the first half and never trailed the rest of the way. The Wildcats (14-10, 3-8) were 2 of 14 from beyond the arc, getting their only 3s from Justin Edwards in the final minute. They weren't enough to bail out the Wildcats, though. Edwards finished with 19 points, while D.J. Johnson had a career-high 19 points to go with eight rebounds for K-State. Al Freeman scored 21 points and Taurean Prince had 18 for Baylor.


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