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Headlines for Thursday, January 19, 2017

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

Kansas Lawmakers Attempt to End Governor's Business Tax Cut

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A push in Kansas to end an income tax break championed by Governor Sam Brownback is being led by fellow Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature. A state House committee was having a hearing Thursday on a bill that would repeal a 2012 policy that benefited more than 330,000 farmers and business owners. Its Republican chairman backs the bill, and the measure has bipartisan support. The state faces projected budget shortfalls totaling $1.1 billion through July 2019. It has struggled to balance its budget since Republican legislators slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging in an effort to stimulate the economy. Kansas is one of several states that include Indiana and Oklahoma where budget woes are severe enough that legislators are reconsidering past tax cuts.

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Kansas Legislators Moving Toward Approval of Governor's Budget Fix Proposal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas legislators are gravitating toward an accounting move proposed by Governor Sam Brownback to help paper over a shortfall in the current state budget.  They're receptive to his complicated plan even though they doubt it is a good idea. Brownback's plan would liquidate a state investment portfolio to raise cash to back $317 million in internal borrowing, with the state paying itself back over seven years. House and Senate committees reviewed Brownback's proposal Wednesday as many states struggle with budget problems. In Kansas, Oklahoma and Indiana, the problems are serious enough for legislators to reconsider past tax cuts designed to stimulate the economy. But Kansas can't raise taxes quickly enough to plug the projected $342 million hole in the budget for current fiscal year before it ends June 30.  

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Attorney: Kansas State Treasurer Neutral on Loan Proposal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An attorney for Kansas State Treasurer Ron Estes says Estes is remaining neutral on a key proposal from Governor Sam Brownback for balancing the state's current budget. Treasurer's office General Counsel Scott Gates said Wednesday that if legislators liquidate a $317 million state investment portfolio, Estes wants the authority to re-establish one when state finances improve. Gates testified before the House Appropriations Committee during a briefing on Brownback's plan. Brownback wants to sell off the portfolio investments and loan the funds to general government programs. The loan would be repaid over seven years. Lawmakers created the portfolio in 2000 to increase the state's interest earnings on its idle funds. Kansas faces a projected $342 million shortfall in its budget for the fiscal year ending June 30.

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Federal Officials Fault Kansas Privatized Medicaid Program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas risks losing federal money if it doesn't improve its privatized Medicaid program. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a letter dated last Friday that the program, known as KanCare, is "substantively out of compliance." Issues cited include a failure to adequately oversee the companies that the state contracts to provide managed care for the health care program that covers the poor. The letter gave the state until February 17 to submit a corrective plan for the program, which has an annual cost of about $3.4 billion. The letter said that failing to address the issues could lead to "financial sanctions." Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer said in a statement Thursday that the federal agency's letter was a politically-motivated "parting shot" from the outgoing Obama administration.

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Kansas Changes Rules for Special Congressional Elections

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has changed its rules for special congressional elections so that military personnel overseas have an additional month to cast their ballots. A new law that took effect Wednesday was prompted by President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of congressman Mike Pompeo as Central Intelligence Agency director. If the U.S. Senate confirms Pompeo as expected, his 4th District in south-central Kansas will have the state's first special congressional election since 1950. Legislators gave final approve to the changes Tuesday, and Governor Sam Brownback signed their bill into law Wednesday. A special election now will occur from 75 to 90 days after the governor declares a vacancy. The law previously made the window from 45 to 60 days while giving Democratic and Republican activists the same 25 days to pick their parties' nominees.

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Kansas Lawmakers Consider Bill to Fix Psychiatrist Shortage
 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Lawmakers are considering a bill aimed at increasing access to mental health services in rural areas. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee heard testimony on the bill Thursday. It would approve loans for medical students who agree to practice psychiatry in counties other than Douglas, Johnson, Sedgwick, Shawnee or Wyandotte. The state already provides loans for students who agree to practice primary care. Students who fail to uphold the agreement have to repay the loan. Testimony from the Kansas Psychiatric Society says all but five counties have mental health professional shortages. Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services Secretary Tim Keck says the bill could help address staffing shortages at the state's mental health hospitals, Larned and Osawatomie. Osawatomie State Hospital lost its federal certification in December 2015.

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FBI Investigating Threats to Jewish Centers in Kansas and 16 Other States

CHICAGO (AP) — Federal authorities say they're investigating threats to more than 30 Jewish centers nationwide including the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park. The FBI said Wednesday it is investigating "possible civil rights violations in connection with threats." The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement citing "a series of bomb threats to Jewish community centers in at least 17 states."  An ADL spokesman says threats regarding actual explosives do not appear to be credible but adds that the centers should still take them seriously. Overland Park Police responded after an email threat was received at the Jewish Community Center. The center's president says the police conducted a comprehensive search of the premises but found nothing that posed any danger. 

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Kansas Supreme Court to Hear Abortion Ban Case 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Supreme Court will hear arguments March 16 in a case challenging a law that bans a controversial second-trimester abortion procedure. Two doctors have challenged a 2015 law that bans doctors from using specific medical implements to complete certain abortion procedures. Such instruments are used in dilation and evacuation procedures, which abortion rights supporters say are safer for the woman in some cases. A Shawnee County judge ruled the Kansas Constitution protects abortion rights independently of the U.S. Constitution and temporarily blocked the ban. An appeals court was split, leaving the ban in place. If the state Supreme Court agrees with the county judge, abortion opponents are concerned that state courts could reject abortion restrictions even if upheld by federal courts. 

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Kobach Asks Lawmakers for Power to Toss Local, State Votes 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is asking the Legislature to give him authority to bar potentially tens of thousands of people from casting votes in state or local races. Kobach asked a Senate committee for legislation giving him power to hold "bifurcated" elections in Kansas. Federal courts have held that Kansas cannot require documentary proof of U.S. citizenship for federal elections from people who register at motor vehicle offices or with a national voter registration form. State courts have ruled Kobach has no authority to throw out votes cast by those people in local and state races. Kobach is fighting those rulings. Democrats plan to introduce measures to repeal the proof-of-citizenship requirement altogether.

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Student Health Insurance Rates to Increase Next School Year

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ After two years without increases, student health insurance premiums will go up more than 5 percent at state universities next year. The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved a 5.2 percent premium increase for all plans for the 2017-18 academic year. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that a student-only plan will cost $1,464 a year, an increase or $72. No changes to plan benefits were recommended. In 2017-18, plans for a student plus spouse, or student plus child, will cost $2,928 per year, an increase of $144. Plans for a student plus spouse and child, or student plus two children, will cost $4,392 per year, an increase of $216 and plans for a student plus spouse and two or more children will cost $5,856 per year, an increase of $288.  

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Kansas Gin Sees Record Cotton Yields 

CULLISON, Kan. (AP) — At a time where crop prices are poor and the farm economy is bleak, the small town of Cullison is seeing an optimistic future for cotton. The Hutchinson News reports the southern Kansas cotton gin formerly known as High Plains Cotton could see its second biggest ginning year ever, with its first back in 2007 when it ginned 24,000 bales. The facility was purchased by area farmer investors in November and renamed Next GINeration by the new owners. General manager and one of the owners, Roger Sewell, says ginning should be complete by the end of February. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Kansas cotton production this year is forecast to be up 103 percent from last year.

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Lawsuit Filed by Woman Who Fell from Topeka Bridge Dismissed 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A district court judge has thrown out a lawsuit against the city of Topeka filed by a woman who fell from a bridge in 2014. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the city's motion to dismiss the $1.3 million suit was granted January 6. Julie Grey filed the suit last year after she fell 30 feet trying to cross the west side of the Kansas Avenue Bridge to the east, incorrectly thinking the space between two barricades was a sidewalk. The judge says Grey didn't meet a "statute of repose" requirement that would grant immunity from claims arising more than 10 years after the defendant's actions are taken. The ruling says Grey was hurt almost 17 years after the walkway on the bridge was removed.

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University President's Residence to Be Torn Down 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Parts of the residence of Emporia State University's president will be sold at Topeka's Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the 1960 house will be torn down and replaced with a new university house. Salvageable items of the house like doors, windows and fixtures will be sold to ReStore. Part of the funds from the sale will go to Habitat for Humanity, which recycle and reuse items to help the environment. The Emporia State University Foundation Board found in a 2015 review of the house that it lacked acceptable separation between public and private space, required critical infrastructure updates and had limited functionality. The new home will feature a private and public space.

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Police, Family Searching for Missouri-Kansas City Student

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City-area investigators are searching for a missing college student from Wichita who hasn't been seen since Sunday. Twenty-year-old Tonie Anderson was last seen early Sunday when she was pulled over by a North Kansas City police officer for an improper lane change. The officer watched Anderson, who was alone in the car, drive to a nearby convenience store. She texted a childhood friend about being pulled over and hasn't communicated with anyone since then. Anderson is a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and worked as a server at Chrome, a Kansas City strip club. Anderson's car was a black 2014 Ford Focus with Kansas license plate 989-GAX. She is white, about 5-feet-4-inches tall and 140 pounds, with blond hair and green eyes.

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KU Vice Chancellor Announced as Preferred Candidate for Western Kentucky University Job
 
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — Western Kentucky University's Board of Regents has targeted an official from the University of Kansas to become the university's next president. The board said in a statement Wednesday that University of Kansas Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Timothy Caboni is its "preferred candidate" for the job. Caboni, a Western Kentucky alumnus, has been invited to visit campus on January 25 and 26 to attend campus forums. The board will consider extending a formal offer to Caboni at its quarterly meeting on January 27. Caboni acts as the official spokesman for the University of Kansas and is also a professor of educational leadership and policy in the university's School of Education. The New Orleans native holds a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in higher education leadership and policy.

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Pretty Prairie Misses Chance at Federal Grant to Fix Water 

PRETTY PRAIRIE, Kan. (AP) — The city of Pretty Prairie has lost out on a federal grant to help clean up a decade-old problem with high nitrate levels in its water. The Hutchinson News reports that a technicality derailed the city's application for a $500,000 grant to install a reverse osmosis system. The city sought Community Development Block Grant funds, which are federal dollars distributed by the state. City officials had said the project would be on hold if the grant wasn't received. Regulations required the city to have two public hearings before September 15. The city was unaware of the deadline and held its second public hearing September 20. The next application period for the funds will be in the fall, Brace said.

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Pipeline Ruptures Lead to Settlement with Oklahoma Company 

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A subsidiary of Magellan Midstream Partners will complete $16 million in upgrades to pipelines and pay a $2 million fine as part of a federal settlement following pipeline ruptures in three states. Federal officials said in a statement Thursday that the first incident occurred in February 2011, when a pipeline carrying petroleum ruptured north of Texas City, Texas, spilling hundreds of gallons. Later that year two lines were ruptured when struck by heavy machinery near Nemaha, Nebraska, causing more than 2,800 gallons of diesel and jet fuel to spill. The third leak spilled about 1,800 gallons of diesel near El Dorado, Kansas, in May 2015. Magellan is based in Tulsa. The settlement is unrelated to a Magellan leak of anhydrous ammonia in Nebraska that killed a farmer last October.

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3 Men Charged with Smuggling Meth in Semi-Trailer's Gas Tank 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Three men from Mexico are charged with smuggling more than 1,000 pounds of liquid methamphetamine into northeast Kansas in the gas tank of a semi-trailer truck U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said the men, all from Mexico, appeared in court Thursday and were each charged with one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. The defendants are 30-year-old Heraclio Estrella-Montero; 30-year-old Yoan Alejandro Castillo-Zamora; and 40-year-old Fernando Chavez-Rodriquez. Beall's office says the men were arrested in Kansas City, Kansas, on Friday after pumping the liquid methamphetamine from the truck into five-gallon buckets. If convicted, they face a penalty of not less than 10 years in federal prison and a fine up to $10 million.

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Bankers: Weak Farm Prices Biggest Threat to Rural Economy 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Bankers across Middle America say depressed farm commodity prices are the biggest threat to the economy this year in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states. The overall economic index in a monthly survey of bankers for the region remained in negative territory at 42.8 in January, down slightly from December's 42.9. Survey officials say any score below 50 suggests an economic decline. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says livestock commodity prices have tumbled by 7.3 percent and grain commodity prices by 11.7 percent in the last year. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed. Goss says the rural economy is improving in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota, while all the other states are trending lower.

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Winfield Man Charged with Murder in Wife's Death 

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a Kansas man has been charged in the fatal shooting of his 33-year-old wife. The Wichita Eagle reports that 32-year-old Zachary Gardner appeared Wednesday in Cowley County District Court on a second-degree murder charge in the death of Melissa Gardner. Her body was found Sunday evening in Winfield. Police said earlier that her husband was in the back of the home. Gardner is jailed on $500,000 bond and will be back in court on February 1.

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Wichita Man Pleads Guilty in Drug-Deal Shooting Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A 19-year-old Wichita man will be sentenced March 3 for killing another man in a drug deal gone wrong. Andrew Scott Bull pleaded guilty Wednesday to voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of 23-year-old Charles Hawkins III in December. He was originally charged with first-degree murder. Bull also pleaded guilty to distributing marijuana. Investigators say Bull fired his gun when Hawkins tried to rob him during a drug deal in a Wendy's parking lot.  

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Pentagon Chief Says He Opposed Commuting Manning's Prison Sentence

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Ash Carter tells The Associated Press that he opposed commuting the prison sentence of convicted leaker Chelsea Manning, the transgender former soldier who was convicted of espionage and other crimes for leaking classified information. Carter said during an interview in his Pentagon office, "That was not my recommendation." He adds, "I recommended against that, but the president has made his decision." Carter declined to elaborate on his view. President Barack Obama has drawn strong criticism from members of Congress and others for his decision Tuesday to commute Manning's 35-year prison sentence to about seven years, including the time she spent locked up before she was convicted. Her sentence is now set to expire May 17. At the time Manning committed the crimes she was known as Bradley Manning.

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Wild Horses Trained at a Kansas Prison Head to Inauguration 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Wild mustangs trained at a Kansas prison will be part of the inauguration parade for Donald Trump. Fort Riley and the U.S. Border Patrol agents are bringing about 10 of the horses to the 1.5-mile parade Friday from the Capitol to the White House. Since 2001, the Bureau of Land Management has sent horses to the Hutchinson Correctional Facility for training. They come from public lands in the western United States, where their numbers are too high to sustain. Over the years, more than 60 horses trained at the prison have patroled the border from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego. Hundreds of others have been adopted. Dexter Hedrick, who leads the prison horse training program, says inmates are "taking great pride in knowing that they contributed to something so meaningful."

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3 Missourians Sentenced for Fraudulent Drug Scheme 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Three Missourians have been sentenced for taking part in conspiracies to pass fraudulent prescriptions and steal oxycodone pills by robbing pharmacies. Federal prosecutors say 22-year-old Julian King, of Kansas City, was sentenced Wednesday to one year and nine months in prison without parole. On Tuesday, 31-year-old Tara Childress was sentenced to 12½ years without parole and 33-year-old Michael Bellinghausen was sentenced to 11 years without parole. Childress and Bellinghausen are both from Gladstone. The three are among nine co-defendants who have pleaded guilty in this case. Bellinghausen and Childress admitted they helped pass numerous fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone and using or selling the pills. Once it became harder to fill the prescriptions, the group began robbing Kansas City-area pharmacies for oxycodone. King admitted to participating in two of the robberies.

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Kansas State Basketball Teams Win but KU Women Lose 

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Kansas State defeated Oklahoma State 96-88 on Wednesday night in Oklahoma. The Wildcats (14-4, 3-3 Big 12) had lost two straight and three of four to fall out of the Top 25. Kansas State shot 56.3 percent from the field to deny Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood his 100th career win. The Cowboys (10-8, 0-6) have now lost their sixth straight game. At home in Manhattan, the number 22 ranked Kansas State women's team beat TCU 74-63. Breanna Lewis scored 21 points and Kindred Wesemann hit five 3-pointers to become ranked fifth in school history with 232 career 3s. It was the fourth straight win for the K-State women. In Lawrence, the KU Jayhawks women's team lost to West Virginia, 62-51. 

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