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Headlines for Thursday, July 30, 2015

Kansas Governor Plans $63M in Budget Changes 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback's administration has outlined nearly $63 million in adjustments to Kansas's current budget. The measures unveiled Thursday take advantage of unanticipated federal funds, unused agency funds and lower-than-expected spending by state agencies to lessen the chances of a deficit next year. Brownback told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that he is trying to ensure that Kansas residents don't see any effects on government services. Budget Director Shawn Sullivan announced the adjustments at a Thursday afternoon press conference. The biggest change is the addition of nearly $18 million in federal funds for health coverage for children during the fiscal year beginning this month. Sullivan said the federal government increased funding for such coverage in late June, allowing the state to reduce its own spending.

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GOP Legislators Block Audit of Kansas Foster Care System
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators have blocked a state audit of the Kansas foster care system even though several of them acknowledged they have concerns about how it operates. A legislative committee that directs the work of state auditors voted 5-4 Wednesday against initiating a review of the foster care system sought by two members. Democratic Representatives Ed Trimmer of Winfield and Jim Ward of Wichita asked that auditors examine whether the Department for Children and Families is adequately protecting foster children and whether its contractors can provide adequate services. Republicans on the committee voted against the proposal noting that the department has already started its own review of its foster care policies and that legislative leaders have also appointed a special committee to review foster care issues.

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Voter ID Laws Focus of Kansas Civil Rights Committee 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas division of a federal civil rights commission says it will investigate whether Kansas voter identification laws have affected voter turnout. KCUR reports that the Kansas Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission voted to hold hearings to determine if voter turnout in some Kansas communities has been suppressed by the Kansas voter identification law. The committee also voted to ask Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect behind the state's voter ID requirements, to testify at its hearings. Elizabeth Kronk, chair of the committee, says there are concerns that the law could be impacting certain age groups and races. The hearings are expected to take place early next year. 

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Solar Energy Business Group Wants More Input in Review of Westar Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A solar advocacy group says it doesn't agree with a decision by Kansas regulators to limit the group's input over a large utility's rate plan to boost rates. The Kansas Corporation Commission says it will allow the Alliance for Solar Choice, which represents solar businesses, partial access to proceedings over Westar Energy's plan to raise rates by $152 million. KCC says the solar group cannot provide expert witnesses, testimony or evidence regarding how much rates rise, but can be part of the second phase of the review involving details of new rate plans and a proposed utility-owned solar farm. The solar group's spokesman Nate Watters told The Topeka Capital-Journal the group wants more input. The KCC is expected to issue a rate ruling by October.

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Couple Claims Racial Harassment at Emporia State University

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A black couple says officials at Emporia State University have ignored their complaints about a racial incident and are retaliating against them. Angelica Hale, an assistant to the dean of the School of Library and Management, says the problems began when someone tampered with items in her graduate assistant's office in April and wrote a racial epithet aimed at Hale and her husband, Melvin Hale, an assistant professor. Hale says the school's dean, Gwen Alexander, promised to investigate the incident but has not done so. The Hales contend the school has instead created a hostile work environment since they complained. The university says the incident is being investigated and appropriate action will be taken when that is complete.

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Appeals Court Upholds Convictions in KC Investment Scam

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A federal appeals court ruling has upheld the convictions of five top leaders in a Kansas City-based company that bilked mostly poor investors out of millions of dollars with promises of vast wealth in exchange for investments of as little as $100. A three-judge 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel on Wednesday found no reason to overturn the May 2013 convictions of Isreal Owen Hawkins, Teresa Brown, Johnny Heurung, William Miller and Martin Roper. All were involved in a company founded by Hawkins, Petro America Corporation, an oil and mining operation that Hawkins claimed to be worth $284 billion but the government insisted had zero value. The five were accused of selling $7.2 million worth of unregistered stock and targeting poor investors. 

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3 Topeka Men Face Federal Weapons Charges
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Three Topeka men face federal charges after several recent shootings in a Topeka neighborhood. The U.S. Attorney's office for Kansas says it's working with the Shawnee County District Attorney's Office to address gang violence in Topeka. U.S. Attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom said in a statement Thursday about the indictments that the goal is to use "combined resources to make the community safer." The prosecutor's office says 35-year-old Royelle Lamont Miller, 37-year-old Dante Rovon Peppers, and 26-year-old Daimon Sentrell Jackson, all of Topeka, were indicted on federal charges of being felons in possession of firearms. Online court records don't list lawyers for any of the defendants. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that eight shootings police say were gang-related were reported between July 6 and July 18 in one Topeka neighborhood.

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Man Pleads Not Guilty to Killing Twin, Sister-in-Law 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has pleaded not guilty to killing his twin brother and his sister-in-law. Luis Alvarado-Meraz is charged with capital murder in the January deaths of 24-year-old Manuel Alvarado-Meraz and 22-year-old Lucero Rodriguez. He is charged with two alternative counts of first-degree murder. Prosecutors say Luis Alvarado-Meraz fired 21 shots at the couple at an apartment the three of them shared in south Wichita. A trial was scheduled for October 13. The Wichita Eagle reports Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett plans to seek a separate sentencing hearing if Alvarado-Meraz is convicted of capital murder. That preserves prosecutors' ability to ask for the death penalty.

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Kansas City Police ID Man Killed in Shooting

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Kansas, have identified a 54-year-old Missouri man shot to death earlier this week. Police said in a release Thursday that Michel G. Ziade of Lee Summit, Missouri, was fatally shot Tuesday. Police responded to the shooting outside a medical office building near the University of Kansas Medical Center. They said Ziade was taken to a hospital with life threatening injuries and died later from the injuries. Police say the shooting remains under investigation.

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2 Men Arrested at Mount Hope Home; Drugs, Guns Seized

MOUNT HOPE, Kan. (AP) — Two men have been arrested for possessing drugs, drug-related paraphernalia and firearms in Mount Hope. According to the Sedgwick County Sheriff's office, a 43-year-old man and a 28-year-old man were arrested Tuesday night after a search warrant was served at a residence. The men face charges including possession of controlled substances and possession of hallucinogenic drugs. Law enforcement said the investigation is ongoing. Authorities say a deputy suffered minor injuries during the search, and was treated and released from a Wichita hospital. His injuries were not disclosed.

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Judge Says Salina Teen's Statement Admissible

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A Saline County judge has ruled that statements a teenager gave to investigators hours after her sister was killed can be admitted at trial. Judge Patrick Thompson ruled Wednesday that statements Sierra Niehaus made to four investigators over a period of nearly 15 hours will be allowed at her first-degree murder trial this fall. Niehaus, now 15, is charged as an adult with first-degree murder in the August 2014 stabbing death of her 13-year-old sister, Galazia, at their family's home in Saline County. The Salina Journal reports the judge ruled that statements then 14-year-old Niehaus gave to law enforcement in the hours after her younger sister was found stabbed to death were "freely and voluntarily given." The judge ruled earlier that Niehaus will be tried as an adult.

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Kansas City Among 9 Finalists for Major Federal Grant 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City is among several finalists for a competitive neighborhood transformation grant of up to $30 million. The Kansas City Star reports Kansas City hosted the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development team that will judge who wins the grant. Kansas City is one of nine finalists for the Choice Neighborhoods grant, which would help revive an area around Independence Avenue. The HUD group toured the proposed district Tuesday. Kansas City's grant application calls for relocating about 500 residents of the 1960s-era Chouteau Courts apartments to smaller mixed-income sites over the next five years and improving the district's business development and social services, as well as its transit and infrastructure. Kansas City officials said five grants will be awarded, and the winners will be announced by late September.

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Pharmacy to Close to Make Way for Wichita Hospital

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wesley Outpatient Pharmacy is set to close to make way for Wesley Children's Hospital in Wichita. The Wichita Eagle reports the pharmacy will serve its last customers Thursday. According to the pharmacy's owner Marc Chace, patient records will be automatically transferred to Dillons, which bought the remaining prescription medication at his store. Hospital marketing and public relations manager Susan Burchill said the hospital is in the process of developing another outpatient pharmacy on the first floor of one of its buildings. The children's hospital is expected to open in early 2016.

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Uber Now Allowed to Pick Up Passengers at Kansas City Airport

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Three months after the ride-sharing service Uber was allowed to operate in Kansas City, it can now pick up passengers at Kansas City International Airport. City and Uber officials announced Wednesday that the service's drivers are now allowed to park at a staging area at the airport and respond to people who use a phone app to call for them. The Kansas City Star reports Uber had previously been allowed only to drop off passengers at the airport. Arriving airplane passengers had to be picked up by taxicab drivers at an approved taxicab area. 

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Kansas Casino Company Seeks Exemption to Build 4-Story Hotel

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) _ Developers of a state-owned gambling casino in southeast Kansas are seeking permission to build a four-story hotel next to the casino. Area zoning restrictions limit buildings to three stories so the developers of the Kansas Crossing Casino & Hotel will ask the Pittsburg Board of Zoning Appeals for an exemption. They are planning to build a four-story, 123-room Hampton Inn & Suites next to the casino near Pittsburg. Work on the $70 million casino started soon after the project was approved by the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission. Developers say the casino is expected to have 625 slot machines and 16 gambling tables and attract about 500,000 visitors a year. The board is scheduled to vote on the request Monday.

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Wichita Settles with Man Claiming Police Brutality

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The city of Wichita has settled a lawsuit accusing an 18-year veteran of the police department of beating a man over what began as an alleged parking violation. The Wichita Eagle reports the City Council last week approved paying Marcus McIntosh $325,000 to settle the suit against officer Brian Safris, former Police Chief Norman Williams and the city. The suit alleged that Safris saw McIntosh park in a handicapped parking space in August 2013. It claims that, after the two argued over the parking ticket, the officer used a stun gun on McIntosh before repeatedly stomping and kicking him. Officer Safris is contesting his firing over the incident.

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Hearing Set for Driver in Washburn Professor's Traffic Death 

GIRARD, Kan. (AP) - An October hearing date has been set for the Chanute man charged in the traffic death of a Washburn University professor who was struck and killed while riding her bicycle. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the hearing for 37-year-old Todd M. Kidwell will be held October 26 in the Crawford County District Court in Girard. Kidwell is charged with second-degree reckless murder in the June 7 death of Glenda Taylor, of Topeka. Taylor was head of the Washburn University art department. She was riding a bicycle in Crawford County when she was struck by a pickup truck. 

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Appeals Court Upholds Convictions in Petro America Case 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A federal appeals court ruling has upheld the convictions of five top leaders in a Kansas City-based company that bilked mostly poor investors out of millions of dollars with promises of vast wealth in exchange for investments of as little as $100. A three-judge 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel on Wednesday found no reason to overturn the May 2013 convictions of Isreal Owen Hawkins, Teresa Brown, Johnny Heurung, William Miller and Martin Roper. All were involved in a company founded by Hawkins, Petro America Corporation, a purported oil and mining operation that Hawkins claimed to be worth $284 billion but the government insisted had zero value. The five were accused of selling $7.2 million worth of unregistered stock and targeting poor investors who weren't qualified to purchase shares.

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Topeka Man Sentenced for Sex Trafficking 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 25-year-old Topeka man has been sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for using a 15-year-old girl in a sex trafficking operation. The federal prosecutor's office in Wichita said Wednesday that Dominique Emanuel Tyson pleaded guilty to one count of sex trafficking a child and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Tyson admitted that he took the 15-year-old girl to a motel to meet a man who saw her photo in an online classified advertising website. The man posing as the customer was actually working undercover for the Topeka Police Department and FBI. 

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Man Pleads Not Guilty to Killing Twin, Sister-in-Law 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has pleaded not guilty to killing his twin brother and his sister-in-law. Luis Alvarado-Meraz is charged with capital murder in the January deaths of 24-year-old Manuel Alvarado-Meraz and 22-year-old Lucero Rodriguez. He is charged with two alternative counts of first-degree murder. Prosecutors say Luis Alvarado-Meraz fired 21 shots at the couple at an apartment the three of them shared in south Wichita. A trial was scheduled for October 13. The Wichita Eagle reports  Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett plans to seek a separate sentencing hearing if Alvarado-Meraz is convicted of capital murder. That preserves prosecutors' ability to ask for the death penalty.

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Canoeists Set New Record in Paddling from Kansas to Missouri 

ST. CHARLES, Mo. (AP) — Two Texas men have set a new record in a race by canoeing the Missouri River from Kansas City, Kansas, to St. Charles, Missouri, in 34 hours and 34 minutes. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Phil Bowden and Chris Issendorf won first place Wednesday in the 10th annual MR340 race. Over the next couple of days, hundreds of paddlers are expected to cross the finish line near Lewis and Clark Boat House and Nature Center in St. Charles. The 340-mile competition ends at midnight Friday. The two-man crew managed speeds of around 14 mph at times, and averaged nearly 10 mph. A high, fast-moving river provided an extra push.

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Royals Slammed in Cleveland with a 12-1 Loss 

CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Indians avoided a winless home stand with a 12-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday. Cleveland had been outscored 37-10 in losing its last six games at home. The Indians' Michael Bourn was 4 for 5 as Cleveland had a season-high 18 hits. Pitcher Corey Kluber (6-11) held Kansas City to five hits. The reigning Cy Young Award winner retired the first 12 batters before Eric Hosmer's leadoff double in the fifth. Alex Rios' RBI in the ninth scored Kansas City's only run. The Royals head to Toronto today (THUR) for a four game series versus the Blue Jays. 
 

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