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Headlines for Thursday, January 15, 2015

Brownback Expected to Outline Plan for Closing Budget Gap

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is preparing to outline his agenda for the 90-day legislative session in his annual State of the State speech tonight (THUR) and is expected to address a strategy for closing the state's looming budget shortfalls. The Republican governor is giving his speech Thursday evening to a joint session of the Republican-dominated Legislature. Brownback is likely to disclose at least the outlines of his plan for dealing with the state's financial problems before releasing detailed budget proposals Friday. He and legislators must close budget shortfalls totaling more than $710 million for the current fiscal year and the one beginning July 1st. The shortfalls arose after legislators cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging to boost the economy.

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Bombardier Announces Job Cuts in Mexico, Kansas 

MONTREAL (AP) — Bombardier says it's going to cut about 1,000 employees from its Learjet business in 2015, affecting sites in Mexico and the United States. The Montreal-based company said Thursday the cuts are due to weak demand for the Learjet 85 business jet. Bombardier will also write down the value of its Learjet 85 program, resulting in a pretax charge of about US$1.4 billion. The world's third-largest maker of commercial aircraft will also record US$25 million for severance in its first quarter of 2015. Bombardier says its operations in Wichita and in Queretaro, Mexico, remain important to the company for both the Learjet and other types of aircraft that it makes. The Wichita operation does final assembly for Learjet 70 and Learjet 75 aircraft and has a flight test and service center.

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Kobach Seeks Straight-Party Voting, Power to Prosecute Fraud 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is pushing bills to give himself prosecutorial power, to bring back straight-ticket voting and make death the only excuse for withdrawing a candidate's name from a ballot. Kobach told the House Elections Committee on Wednesday that double voting is happening with some frequency in Kansas and surrounding states, and that the only way to address it is by deterrence. When asked about the roughly 25,000 people who remain in voter limbo, he said they are able to vote because they can use smartphones to send in their birth certificates to prove their citizenship. He says straight-party voting would cut down on the number of people who come to the polls, vote in the major races and leave the rest of the ballot blank.

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Abortion Foes Seek Ban on "D & E" Procedure 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Abortion opponents want Kansas lawmakers to ban a procedure they say accounts for about 8 percent of all abortions in the state. Kansans for Life and state Senator Garrett Love, a Montezuma Republican, announced a measure on Wednesday crafted by the National Right to Life Committee that would ban abortions using what they called the "dismemberment" method. Kansans for Life lobbyist Jeanne Gawdun says 578 abortions were performed in the state in 2013 using a "dilation and extraction" procedure that she says is common for second-trimester abortions. The Legislature passed a measure in 2011 that banned abortions in the state after the 21st week. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri spokeswoman Elise Higgins says the measure is an attempt to pass an unconstitutional early abortion ban that her organization opposes.

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About 75,900 Kansans Sign Up for Federal Health Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A federal report says about 75,900 Kansans either signed up or automatically re-enrolled in a health care plan through the Affordable Care Act's Health Insurance Marketplace. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says those who signed up by Thursday will receive their coverage starting February 1. The final open enrollment deadline for this year is February 15. Last year, 57,000 Kansans signed up during the enrollment period, even though the website offering the health plan was not working correctly. Others say this year's higher enrollment might be because of increased understanding of the program and higher penalties for those who don't sign up by the February 15 deadline.

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Teen Wounded in Shooting Near Kansas High School 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Olathe police say an 18-year-old man has been wounded in a shooting near a high school. The Kansas City Star reported that the shooting was reported around 12:15 pm Thursday near Olathe Northwest High School. Police said that the victim was taken to a hospital in critical condition but was expected to survive. Police arrested a 17-year-old several hours later near the scene of the shooting. Police said they don't believe the shooting had anything to do with the high school. But students at the school and several others in the area were kept inside as a precaution during the search for the suspect.

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Northeast Kansas Officials Seeking Police Impersonator

MARYSVILLE, Kan. (AP) — Officials in northeast Kansas are warning people to be on the lookout for a man who is impersonating a police officer who stops vehicles and demands to be allowed to search them. Five incidents have been reported this week. KCLY reports the first report came in Sunday evening. On Wednesday night, the man stopped a vehicle near Liberty, Nebraska, just north of Marysville. The man, who wears a black uniform with a badge, uses a single red light on his white 4-door truck. He is described as white, in his 40s, about 6-foot-1, with brown hair and a black mustache. Marysville Police Chief Todd Ackerman says several area agencies and the Kansas Highway Patrol are searching for the suspect's vehicle.

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Medical Marijuana Supporters Rally at Kansas Statehouse

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Supporters of medical marijuana in Kansas have joined two Democratic state lawmakers at a Statehouse rally in favor of a bill legalizing marijuana for medical use.  About 50 people attended the rally Thursday. Representative Gail Finney, of Wichita, and Senator David Haley of Kansas City filed medical marijuana bills prior to the start of this year's legislative session. Similar measures have been filed since 2009, but none of them have made it to the discussion stage in committee.  But the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee plans informational hearings next week.  In addition to Thursday's rally, several medical cannabis groups were lobbying state lawmakers on behalf of patients and caregivers throughout the day.  More than 20 states across the U.S. have legalized the use of medical marijuana. 
  
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Fire, Smoke Contained at Lawrence Restaurant 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Firefighters have battled a blaze at a restaurant on Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that fire crews responded to the fire at Jefferson's restaurant before 11 am Thursday. Dispatchers reported the fire was under control around 12:10 pm, but downtown traffic was blocked.

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Survey: Economy Remains Weak in Rural Parts of 10 States

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ A monthly survey of bankers suggests the economy will remain weak in rural parts of 10 Midwestern and Western states because of low grain and oil prices. The region's overall economic index improved slightly to 50.9 in January from December's neutral score of 50. The index ranges from 0 to 100. Any score above 50 suggests growth while a score below 50 suggests decline. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says growth is being restrained in rural areas because of low corn and fuel prices. But bankers say ethanol plants haven't slowed production much.  Despite the concerns, rural businesses have adding some jobs. The January hiring index was 52.8, down from December's 55.2. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

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Kansas Ethics Official Doesn't Appear Before Grand Jury

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas ethics official subpoenaed as part of an inquiry into loans to Governor Sam Brownback's re-election campaign did not appear before a federal grand jury Wednesday.  Governmental Ethics Commission Executive Director Carol Williams confirmed she was in her office Wednesday morning when the grand jury appeared to be meeting at the federal courthouse in Topeka. She declined to comment further. Williams received a subpoena last month, commanding her to appear before the grand jury and produce documents.  The subpoena did not specify which loans the grand jury is examining, but the only ones listed in reports for 2013 and 2014 were three separate $500,000 loans from Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer and a $200,000 loan from Brownback and his wife. 

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School Efficiency Panel Suggests Forming 2 New Committees 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have agreed to consider two bills that would create new commissions to find ways to operate schools — as proposed by a task force appointed to identify efficient ways to spend school funds. At a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education committees on Wednesday, K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission chairman Sam Williams presented dueling reports from commission members. He says many of the issues the panel debated were decided on 5-4 votes, so the group decided to offer both a majority and minority report. The majority report asked lawmakers to create a task force to establish best practice guidelines, and a second that creates a commission to come up with measurable standards. The education committees agreed to consider both of those bills.

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Kansas House Speaker Appoints Legislative Director

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - House Speaker Ray Merrick is appointing Topeka attorney Jake Fisher as his legislative director. Merrick announced Wednesday that Fisher will replace B.J. Harden, who is now working for the state treasurer. Fisher's private practice focused on criminal and family law as well as estate planning. Merrick said in a press release that his legal experience will be a valuable asset to the House Republican caucus. Merrick is a Stilwell Republican who has served as House Speaker since 2013. Fisher ran unsuccessfully for a Topeka area seat in the Kansas House in 2012.

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Man Who Killed Wichita Bicyclist in Hit-and-Run Sentenced

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man who killed a bicyclist in a hit-and-run accident has been sentenced to more than 11 years in prison. The Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office says 36-year-old Randall Duane Myers was sentenced last week for the January 2014 death of 34-year-old Christina Brown. The Wichita Eagle reports Myers was sentenced to concurrent sentences of 11 years and six months for second-degree murder and six months for misdemeanor driving under the influence. A charge of failing to stop at a fatal accident was dropped when Myers pleaded no contest to the other charges. Police say Brown was hit by a truck as she and a friend were riding bikes in southeast Wichita. The other bicyclist was not hurt. A witness followed Myers and called police.

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Small Plane Crashes Near Dodge City Airport; Minor Injuries Reported

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol is investigating a small plane crash just south of the Dodge City Airport. Three people on the 1969 Cessna fixed wing aircraft escaped serious injuries Wednesday when it lost air speed and clipped some trees before crashing in a field. The plane's pilot was 61-year-old Joseph M. Baker, of Wellington. Passengers were 43-year-old Stephanie L. Johnson, of Wichita, and 33-year-old Clarence J. Sponsel II, of Haysville. Baker and Johnson were treated at Western Plains Hospital. Patrol Trooper R.T. Lothman says it's possible the plane ran out of fuel and stalled but the cause of the crash is still under investigation.

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Train Derailment Closes Highway, Injures 3 

BENEDICT, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say three people were hurt and taken to a hospital after a train hit a truck hauling gravel in southeast Kansas. Wilson County officials said in a news release that the collision Thursday near Benedict also caused the train to derail, shutting down Kansas 39. Wilson County Emergency Manager Terry Lyons says eight empty train cars and two engines jumped the tracks. The condition of the injured people wasn't immediately known.

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Kansas Man Pleads No Contest in Toddler's Death

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — A southern Kansas man has pleaded no contest in the death of his girlfriend's 18-month-old daughter. Justin Edwards of El Dorado entered the plea Wednesday to involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery and child abuse for the March 2012 death of Jayla Haag. He had been facing trial next month for first-degree murder. He will be sentenced March 12. Prosecutors say the girl suffered serious abuse at an El Dorado duplex that was a meth house. She died after being brought to the hospital with injuries that included a fractured jaw, severe head injuries and having her teeth forcibly removed. She also was malnourished and tested positive for methamphetamine. Jayla's mother, Alyssa Haag, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the case and has been in prison since the summer of 2013

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Study: $18B to Divert Missouri River to Irrigate Farms

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A new study estimates it would cost $18 billion to reroute water from the Missouri River to help irrigate farms in western Kansas, and another $1 billion each year to operate the system. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the 360-mile aqueduct would cost $12.2 billion to build over 20 years and $5.8 billion in interest.  A state committee asked for the study because water levels are declining in the Ogallala Aquifer, which farmers across the region use for irrigation. Experts say current use of the aquifer for agriculture is unsustainable. The proposed channel would start near White Cloud, along the Nebraska border, and end near Utica.  A similar 1982 analysis estimated that construction would cost $3.6 billion.

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EPA Mining Cleanup in SW Missouri Continues

CARTHAGE, Mo. (AP) - The long-running cleanup of contaminated mining wastes in a southwest Missouri county has moved to another site but much work still needs to be done. Since the cleanup began in 2007 in Carterville, about $100 million has been spent scraping mining byproduct and contaminated soil from about 2,000 acres in Jasper County. Mark Doolan, manager of the cleanup for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, says more than half of the waste has been removed. He says the work could take another 10 years. The Joplin Globe reports between 6,000 and 7,000 acres still must be reclaimed.

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Young Couple Found Dead in Wichita; Suspect Arrested 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a young couple was shot to death in their apartment and the twin brother of one of the victims is in custody. Homicide Lieutenant Todd Ojile says 24-year-old Manuel Alvarado-Meraz and his 22-year-old wife, whose name has not been released, were found dead Wednesday night. A police report says a relative found the couple dead. The suspect lived with the victims. Ojile says neighbors reported hearing several gunshots about 7 pm Wednesday but no one called 911. Investigators have not determined a motive for the shooting. Ojile says family members don't know what caused the shooting.

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Crews to Demolish Parts of Fairfax Bridge Friday

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - Construction crews will use explosives this week to remove parts of Fairfax Bridge connecting Missouri and Kansas to make way for a new replacement bridge. Northbound and southbound U.S. 69 will be closed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday to accommodate the demolition work. Crews will use two blasts to remove the end spans of the bridge. The first is set for 9 a.m. Friday and the second about a half hour later. The part of the bridge that spans the Missouri River is set to be torn down by blasts on January 30. A spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation says the new U.S. 69 bridge is expected to open to traffic in 2016.

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Lesser Prairie-Chicken Conservation Plan Receives Windfall 

Topeka, Kan. (AP) — Kansas fish and wildlife officials are saying that the plan to protect the endangered lesser prairie-chicken has raised nearly double the expected revenue in its first year. The plan collects funds from fees on new developments in the bird's natural habitat and dedicates that revenue to conservation efforts. Fish and wildlife officials told lawmakers Thursday that the effort has collected $36.8 million since last year, far exceeding the plan's goal of $20 million. According to a spring 2014 estimate, just 22,415 lesser prairie chickens remain in their natural habitat across parts of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. The five-state plan aims to triple the bird's population to 67,000.

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Kansas City Man Sentenced to Life for 2 Killings 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 22-year-old Kansas City man has been sentenced to life in prison for the shooting deaths of two men. The Jackson County (Missouri) prosecutor's office said 22-year-old Bronson Joyce was sentenced Wednesday after pleading guilty to two counts each of second-degree murder and armed criminal action. He also was sentenced to 15 years in prison on assault and armed criminal action charges for wounding another person, with the sentences to run concurrently. Prosecutors allege he killed 42-year-old Alphonso Nicholson and 61-year-old Claude L. Carson Jr. in November 2011 in Kansas City. A witness said Joyce fatally shot Nicholson and wounded another person after selling drugs to them. The probable cause statement says that Joyce told authorities that he shot Carson because he was a witness and couldn't be trusted.

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Trial Begins for Alaska Fisherman Charged in Diver Death

KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) _ The trial of a 33-year-old Ketchikan commercial fisherman charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the death of a diver has begun with a focus on the air compressor he used during dive operations.  The Ketchikan Daily News reports Joshua Wodyga (woh-DY'-gah) is charged in the death of 32-year-old Levi Adams, of Leawood, Kansas, who died October 8, 2013, while harvesting sea cucumbers. Assistant District Attorney Ben Hofmeister in his opening statement Tuesday told jurors that Wodyga's failure to keep his air compressor in good condition played a significant role in sending carbon monoxide to Adams instead of oxygen.  Hofmeister also says the air compressor was designed for pneumatic tools, not diving.   Defense attorney Mark Osterman says a ``terrible accident'' took Adams's life. 

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Justices Sympathetic to Man Deported for Minor Drug Crime 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has been receptive in recent years to immigrants who are fighting deportation from the United States over minor drug crimes. On Wednesday, the justices heard the case of a Tunisian man who was deported after he pleaded guilty in Kansas state court to possessing drug paraphernalia. The item in question: A sock that contained four pills of the stimulant Adderall. The justices sounded almost incredulous that the Obama administration deported the man, Moones Mellouli, over the conviction and that it was defending its actions in the Supreme Court.

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GSA Transfers Property at Kansas City Complex 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The U.S. General Services Administration has officially begun transferring ownership of its property at a south Kansas City complex to the National Nuclear Security Administration. The two agencies currently share ownership of the 310-acre complex. On Wednesday, officials with the two agencies signed an agreement that will transfer ownership to the nuclear administration. The GSA owns about 2 million square feet, or about half the total square footage, at the complex, which opened in 1942 to build aircraft engines for World War II. The Kansas City Star reports the two federal agencies have been working for more than three years to prepare the complex for redevelopment. An environmental and engineering evaluation of the property has begun. The GSA is moving its 1,000 employees to downtown Kansas City.

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Kansas State Beats Texas Tech, 58-51

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Marcus Foster scored 14 points and Wesley Iwundu added 10 as Kansas State held on down the stretch to beat Texas Tech 58-51 on Wednesday night for the Wildcats' third straight win. Kansas State (10-7, 3-1 Big 12) led 49-46 with 3 minutes to go, but a couple of fouls and a costly turnover by the Red Raiders' Robert Turner allowed the Wildcats to pull away. Turner, who had a game-high 16 points for Texas Tech (10-7, 0-4), knocked down a 3-pointer with 53 seconds left, but he missed another moments later that could have made it 54-52.

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Oklahoma State Defeats Kansas State Women, 69-47

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — The Cowgirl's Liz Donohoe had 15 points and a season-high 10 rebounds as the No. 21 Oklahoma State women beat Kansas State 69-47 on Wednesday night. Oklahoma State (12-3, 2-2 Big 12), led by as many as 29 points in the second half. Kindred Wesemann scored 16 and Breanna Lewis had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Kansas State (11-4, 1-3), which made just 6 of 29 field goals in the first half.

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Emporia State Women Rebound for 65-61 Win at Pittsburg State
 
PITTSBURG, Kan.  — In a matchup of two teams ranked nationally in the top five, the Emporia State women's basketball team was victorious Wednesday night in Pittsburg. The Lady Hornets fell to third this week in the NCAA Division II poll after their weekend loss at Central Missouri. They went to overtime last night to knock off second-ranked Pittsburg State, 65-61.

 

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