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Headlines for Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kansas House Gives Initial Approval to School Funding Bill 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House gave first-round approval to a plan to overhaul the state's school funding scheme. The move to advance the bill passed 64-58. Republican Representative Amanda Grosserode from Lenexa carried the bill and said that it is possible some votes could change before the chamber takes final action on the bill Friday. The bill will need 63 votes to pass Friday. The plan incorporates Brownback's proposal to give districts "block grants" based on their current aid for the next two school years, until lawmakers draft a new formula. He and other Republicans say the current formula is too complex and directs too much away from classroom learning. Opponents argued that the Legislature is moving too fast on the bill and its impact on schools is still uncertain.

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Push to Rewrite Kansas Collective Bargaining Laws Stalling 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A push by business and conservative groups in Kansas to rewrite laws on collective bargaining and public employees unions has stalled for now. The state Senate Commerce Committee had a hearing Thursday on a bill to prohibit state and local government agencies from deducting union dues from workers' paychecks. The committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill restricting collective bargaining between government agencies and their workers. The committee was set to vote Friday on both measures, but Chairwoman and Olathe Republican Julia Lynn canceled the meeting. Lynn said she's not sure when the votes will occur and said House GOP leaders have signaled that they're reluctant to tackle such issues. House Commerce Committee Chairman Mark Hutton said he can't guarantee action on the bills because he hasn't seen them.

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New Bill to Get Rid of Kansas Teacher of the Year Program 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are considering a proposal to replace the Teacher of the Year program with a cash awards system. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the proposal establishes the Kansas Legislature Award for Teaching Excellence Program, which would dole out thousands of dollars to chosen teachers, and prohibits the Kansas Department of Education from running any similar awards program. Teacher of the Year winners are currently selected by a large committee composed of educators, administrators, boards of education, parents and other education organization representatives. Winners receive a $4,000 prize and can earn up to nine free credit hours a year from several Kansas colleges and universities. The proposed replacement would see winners selected by a 13-member committee comprised of three administrators, a superintendent, four business representatives chosen by House and Senate leaders, four members of the legislature and a previous winner. One outstanding teacher would receive $20,000. Four finalists would get $15,000 and at least 10 semifinalists would receive $10,000 each. According to Budget Director Shawn Sullivan, the program would cost the state about $340,000 per year.

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Monitoring Southeast KS for Signs of Avian Influenza

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Department of Agriculture says it is monitoring a control zone in southeast Kansas for signs of avian influenza. The move comes in the wake of a confirmed case in neighboring Jasper County, Missouri.  A team from the state's Division of Animal Health and the U.S. Agriculture Department is conducting surveillance activities. It is asking backyard poultry owners in Cherokee and Crawford counties to self-report backyard flocks to the state's animal health division.  The department says that will help animal health officials control the spread of the disease.

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Kansas Considers Halt to Renewable Energy Mandates  

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas farmers and renewable energy groups are pushing back against a proposal to halt renewable energy mandates on utility companies.  The House Energy and Environment Committee held a hearing on the bill Wednesday. Current law requires that 10 percent of electricity provided by utilities companies come from renewable energy sources. That mandate is set to rise to 15 percent in 2016 and 20 percent in 2020, but the bill would eliminate those future requirements.   The Kansas Farm Bureau and renewable energy groups said they oppose the proposal because it would remove an incentive for companies to invest further in renewable sources.  The Kansas Chamber of Commerce and conservative think tanks testified that they support the measure because they do not believe the government should set such mandates on businesses.  

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Bill Requires Photo ID on Kansas Welfare Cards

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas House committee has approved a bill that requires the state to include photo identification on welfare benefit cards.  The bill goes next to the full House for debate.

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Kansas Senate Bill Aims to Protect Student Religious Groups  
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A bill approved by a Kansas Senate committee would prevent public colleges from acting against student religious groups for allowing only believers to be leaders or requiring members to follow a code of conduct.  The Judiciary Committee's endorsement Wednesday sends the measure to the full Senate for debate.  Committee Chairman and Independence Republican Jeff King said the bill is a response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010. The ruling allowed universities to adopt anti-bias policies requiring such groups to accept anyone who wants to join, regardless of whether they follow a group's beliefs.  The bill would prevent state universities and colleges from denying recognition or benefits to groups that don't have such policies.  The measure is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union.  

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Kansas House Panel Endorses New Rules for State Services  
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Kansas House committee has approved changes in rules for social service programs that would require the state to include photo identification on benefit cards.  A bill endorsed Wednesday by the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee largely puts into state law policies enacted by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's administration.  They include a requirement that able-bodied adults seeking food stamps or cash assistance be employed or looking for work.  The committee also decreased the lifetime limit on cash assistance from four years to three years and required photo IDs on benefit cards to prevent people trading the cards for cash.  Some advocates for the needy argue that the measure will make it harder for families to climb out of poverty.  The bill goes next to the House for debate.  

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Kansas Senate Approves Appellate Court Appointment

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Senate has approved the governor's nominee to the Court of Appeals.  Kathryn Gardner has been a law clerk for federal Judge Sam Crow since 2000.  She's now been confirmed for the open seat on the state court of appeals.

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Lawrence Woman Heads to Prison for Embezzlement

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ A Lawrence woman has been sentenced to two years in prison for embezzlement. Federal prosecutors say 58-year-old Sharon Holladay was sentenced yesterday (WED) for stealing from Westheffer Company. She was also was ordered to pay $837,000 in restitution to her former employer.  

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Kansas Seeks Federal Designation for Arkansas River 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials say a second state waterway deserves a federal designation that is aimed at encouraging recreation. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks said in a news release Thursday that it wants the Great Bend to Oklahoma border stretch of the Arkansas River added to the National Water Trails system. The Kansas River received the designation in 2012. It encourages state, local and federal governments to work together to increase water recreation, promote tourism and help local economies. Department Secretary Robin Jennison said in a written statement that the designation would "help draw tourists." He said the Kansas and Arkansas river "offer some really great opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy parts of the state that are often overlooked."

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OSHA Seeks $60,000 in Fines Against Kansas Manufacturer 

FORT SCOTT, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas manufacturer of water tanks and other products is facing proposed fines of $60,200 for allegedly exposing welders to toxic fumes and other violations endangering workers. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a news release Thursday that Niece Products of Kansas received 15 serious safety and health citations. Those include failure to use respiratory equipment for welders in confined spaces like large tanks at its Fort Scott facility. OSHA says that during an October inspection it also found electrical hazards, improper storage of flammable materials and other safety issues. Patrick Flanagan, a managing partner at Niece Products, says the company is working closely with OSHA. He says they have every expectation they run a safe company and will continue to do so.

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Missouri Utility Will Modify Policies in Wake of Restaurant Blast 

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gas Energy will change some of its emergency procedures, increase staff training and offer more training to firefighters in response to a fatal 2013 blast caused by a gas leak at a Kansas City restaurant. The company, owned by the Laclede Group, and the state's Public Service Commission reached an agreement approved Thursday to resolve a complaint filed in 2014. The complaint alleged the company did not take adequate steps to ensure people's safety before the blast at JJ's Restaurant that killed one and injured more than a dozen people. The agreement says MGE will add more detail to its emergency plan, work more closely with fire departments to implement training programs and establish inspections when excavations take place near company facilities.

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KU Researcher: Neanderthal Man Made Jewelry

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The University of Kansas says a researcher has discovered that some Neanderthals were cognitively advanced enough to make jewelry. Researcher David Frayer published the discovery in collaboration with three Croatian archaeologists in the journal PLOS ONE. Frayer says they came to the conclusion by examining eagle bones found more than 100 years ago at a Neanderthal archaeological site.

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2 Escaped Oklahoma Inmates Captured in Kansas

KINGMAN, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities say two men who escaped from a southern Oklahoma correctional center have been arrested in Kansas.  Oklahoma authorities said 40-year-old Lance Colbert and 54-year-old Dwayne Motsenbocker escaped through a hole in the fence of Mack Alford Correctional Center on Sunday.  A U.S. Marshal says Motsenbocker was arrested early Wednesday after an altercation in a Wichita, Kansas, store. He was booked into the Sedgwick County Jail and will face charges in Wichita along with new charges in Oklahoma.  Authorities say Colbert was arrested Wednesday afternoon in Spivey, Kansas. He also has been booked into Sedgwick County Jail until Oklahoma authorities arrive to take him back into custody.   Colbert was convicted in the shooting deaths of two people in the early 1990s. Motsenbocker has multiple robbery convictions.

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Kansas Agriculture Month Focuses on "Feeding Hungry Planet"

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Department of Agriculture is joining with farm groups to focus public attention on the state's role in feeding a growing global population.  National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson is headlining an event March 18 at Kansas State University's Union Little Theatre with a visual journal that aims to highlight the topic "Feeding a Hungry Planet.'' The program is part of the state's celebrations of Kansas Agriculture Month.  A group of Kansas agriculture experts will follow Richardson's lecture to talk about the state's agricultural industry. Kansas is the nation's biggest producer wheat and grain sorghum.  

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Painter Killed in Kansas City Scaffolding Collapse
 
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A painter has died after scaffolding collapsed in the northern part of Kansas City. The Kansas City Star reports that emergency personnel responded around 1:30 pm Thursday to Inland Truck Parts and Service. Kansas City Fire Department Battalion Chief James Garrett says two painters were working on the scaffolding 25 feet high when the scaffolding gave way. He says one painter fell onto a truck and some of the scaffolding landed on him. The second painter was uninjured.

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2 Die When Car Crashes into a Sedgwick County Utility Pole

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say two people are dead and two others are hurt after a Sedgwick County crash. The Wichita Eagle reports that the crash happened early Wednesday afternoon when a car went off a road and struck a utility pole on the passenger side. The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office says the victims were 17-year-old Derrick Burnett and 15-year-old Dontrez J. Williams. The 19-year-old driver and a 20-year-old passenger were taken to area hospitals. Lieutenant Lin Dehning says investigators think speed played a role in the crash.

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3 Charged with Kidnapping, Killing of Woman at Fort Riley

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Three people have been charged with kidnapping a woman and killing her while holding her captive on the Fort Riley military base. The U.S. attorney's office says an indictment was returned Wednesday against 26-year-old Larry L. Anderson, 23-year-old Marryssa M. Middleton and 24-year-old Drexel A. Woody. All three are being held in the Geary County Jail on a charge of kidnapping resulting in death for the February 2014 killing of 24-year-old Amanda Clemons of Junction City. No attorneys are listed for them in online court records. Witnesses reported seeing Clemons being placed in a car outside a Junction City motel the night she disappeared. An autopsy determined that Clemons died of a sharp-force injury. If convicted, the suspects could face a maximum penalty of life in federal prison without parole.

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El Dorado Man Sentenced for 18-Month-Old Girl's Death 

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — A southern Kansas man has been sentenced to 10 years and eight months in prison for the 2012 death of his girlfriend's 18-month-old daughter. KWCH-TV reports that a Butler County judge sentenced 31-year-old Justin Edwards on Thursday for aggravated battery, involuntary manslaughter and child abuse in the March 2012 death of Jayla Haag. Edwards entered a no contest plea in the case in January. He originally was charged with first-degree murder. The girl's injuries included a broken jaw, missing teeth that had been forcibly removed, severe head injuries and multiple bruises. She also was suffering from malnourishment and tested positive for methamphetamine. Jayla's mother, Alyssa Haag, previously pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in 2013.

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Jayhawks' Cliff Alexander Willing to Be Interviewed by NCAA 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An attorney for University of Kansas forward Cliff Alexander says the freshman has answered all requests for information from the NCAA as it investigates whether a member of his family received improper benefits from an NBA agent. Paul K. Stafford also said in the statement Thursday that Alexander has been willing to be interviewed by the NCAA since March 2, two days after the organization informed KU of its concerns and Alexander was held out of a game against Texas. Alexander was held out of the Jayhawks' final three regular-season games, and coach Bill Self said Wednesday that he does not anticipate him playing in the Big 12 tournament. Stafford issued his statement shortly before Kansas played TCU in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals.

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AP Sources: New Orleans Saints Trade Grubbs to KC Chiefs for 5th-Round Pick

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Two people familiar with the deal say the New Orleans Saints have traded starting left guard Ben Grubbs to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a fifth-round draft choice. The people spoke to The Associated Press Thursday on condition of anonymity because neither club had announced the trade. The move gives the Chiefs a veteran offensive lineman who was named to Pro Bowls in 2011 and 2013, while giving the Saints not just an additional draft pick, but also more flexibility under the NFL's salary cap. Grubbs, an eight-year veteran out of Auburn, is due a base salary of $6.5 million this season. He began his NFL career in Baltimore in 2007, starting 12 games as a rookie. Grubbs joined New Orleans in 2012.

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Chiefs Release Former Pro Bowl WR Dwayne Bowe 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs released wide receiver Dwayne Bowe on Thursday, parting ways with a fan favorite who will finish his career as the franchise's third-leading receiver. Bowe would have counted $14 million against the salary cap this season, a massive number for a player whose production has been on the decline. Bowe still had 60 catches for 754 yards last season, but he was part of a wide receiver corps that failed to catch a touchdown pass. Bowe signed a $56 million, five-year contract just two years ago, one of the first big moves for general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid after taking over the franchise. The Chiefs have already signed a replacement in Jeremy Maclin, who was introduced during a news conference Wednesday at Arrowhead Stadium.

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