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Headlines for Thursday, March 17, 2016

Kansas News Headlines From the Associated Press

Republican Lawmakers in Kansas Struggle with School Funding 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators in Kansas are divided over redistributing education funds. The GOP-dominated Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a bill Thursday that would reallocate $38 million of the state's more than $4 billion in aid for its 286 school districts in 2016-17. The plan from committee Chairman Ty Masterson would boost state aid for 100 districts but reduce it for 186. The measure goes next to the full Senate for debate. But in the House, strong criticism from Republicans on the Appropriations Committee forced Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr. to drop his own, milder plan, which reduced aid for 79 districts. Several GOP members said they want lawmakers to take a different approach. Their comments suggested that Masterson's plan would have trouble in the House if it passes the Senate.


GOP Lawmaker Suggests Consolidating Kansas School Districts
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Republican state senator is suggesting that Kansas move to consolidate public school districts as it works to make education funding fairer. Senator Steve Fitzgerald of Leavenworth raised the issue Wednesday during a committee hearing on a bill to redistribute $39 million during the 2016-17 school year to help poor districts. The bill is a response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling last month that the state has been unfairly shorting poor school districts on their aid. A district's wealth has been measured by its average property value per student. If a small district loses a few students, its wealth can appear to rise significantly. Fitzgerald said the situation would be less volatile with fewer large school districts. The state now has 286 districts.


Private Businesses Could Be Exempt from Local Regulations 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are considering a proposal that would prohibit local governments or city officials from regulating the work hours or wages of private employees. The measure would outlaw local regulations that require employers to give benefits, paid vacation time or higher than minimum wages to private employees unless a state or federal law requires them to do so. The measure would exempt any local regulations related to business attraction, recruitment, or retention programs. Kansas representatives gave the measure first round approval with an 81-34 vote Thursday. Critics say the bill would strip local governments of the authority to decide what job regulations are best for their area. Supporters contend that the measure would prevent government interference in private businesses.


Bill Amends Open Records Law to Give Judges More Leeway 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has passed an amended bill that critics say will gut an open records law passed two years ago. In 2014, lawmakers approved a bill that made probable cause affidavits open to the public. Before that, Kansas was the only state in the U.S. that sealed the affidavits, which explain why police arrested someone or searched a house or business. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the amendment passed Wednesday says a judge may redact or seal the affidavit if it contains information that is "a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." Critics say that gives judges too much latitude to seal the records. But Senator Greg Smith, an Overland Park Republican, says the amendment gives more specific guidance to judges than the original bill, which he called "vague."


Kansas Bills Limit Schools' Accommodation of Transgender Students 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Transgender students at Kansas public schools and colleges would be required to use restrooms, showers and locker rooms for their sex at birth under two bills introduced in the Legislature. Separate but identical measures have been introduced in the House by its Federal and State Affairs Committee and in the Senate by the Ways and Means Committee. Both say schools and colleges must limit such facilities to use by a single sex and defines gender by a person's chromosomes. Both bills describe the measures as "student physical privacy" protections. House committee chairwoman Jan Pauls said Thursday that such questions raise serious privacy issues for both students and parents. But Equality Kansas Executive Director Tom Witt said if the bills pass, transgender students will be isolated and bullied.


Kansas Senate Approves Tighter Rules for Bonding Program 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved a bill tightening the rules for a program using bonds to help finance economic development projects. The 34-4 vote Thursday sends the measure to the House. It also allows the state to sell the Kansas Bioscience Authority's assets. The bill imposes new requirements for so-called STAR bonds authorized by the state and paid off with sales tax revenues. Each project would be required to have an independent consulting report and a commitment from private developers to provide more than half of the financing. The measure is a response to state efforts to lure the American Royal horse and livestock exhibition to Kansas from Kansas City, Missouri. Brownback wants to sell off the bioscience agency's assets to raise $25 million to help balance the state budget.


Municipal Governments Could Be Barred from Requiring Nutrition Labeling on Prepared Food

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas municipalities may be prohibited from creating nutrition labeling on food or non-alcoholic beverages sold in restaurants, cafeterias or vending machines under a measure being considered by the House. The proposal would forbid local governments from barring certain foods to be sold because of its nutritional content. It also prevents municipalities from restricting the growing of livestock or food crops approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kansas representatives gave the bill first round approval with a 77-37 vote Thursday. Supporters say the measure makes nutrition labeling and food sale consistent, while opponents argue it infringes on local control. Republican Representative Kristey Williams of Augusta successfully proposed a change to the bill that would allow local officials to maintain zoning rules for maintaining livestock in cities.


Pro-Hunting Measure Passes Kansas Senate, Will Appear on November Ballot 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas residents will decide this November whether to include the right to hunt, fish and trap wildlife in the state constitution. Kansas would become one of about 20 states that make hunting, fishing and trapping a constitutional right if voters approve the proposed amendment in the November 8 election. The Senate gave final approval to the House resolution in a 36-0 vote Thursday. It passed 117-7 in the House last month. The measure would add a new section to the constitution's Bill of Rights to preserve the outdoor activities as a preferred way to manage wildlife. Any future measures seeking to limit the activities would need to prove that a particular animal could become endangered.


Kansas Democrats Protest Gitmo Plan Following GOP Resolution 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate's eight Democrats have sent a letter to President Barack Obama opposing moving terror suspects to Fort Leavenworth from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The letter Thursday to the Democratic president came two days after the Republican-dominated Legislature adopted a resolution decrying Obama's push to close the Guantanamo detention center. The GOP-sponsored resolution goes to Obama. It not only criticizes his plans but declares that he's shown a willingness to violate American law and sought to lower the nation's standing in the world. Kansas officials and members of the state's congressional delegation have promised to fight any effort to close Guantanamo and move its prisoners to Fort Leavenworth. But state Senate Minority Leader and Topeka Democrat Anthony Hensley said the resolution contained "polarizing and uncivil rhetoric."


Kansas House Member Disciplined by Speaker Not Resigning 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House member who was stripped of his committee chairmanship has changed his mind about resigning from the Legislature. Republican Representative John Rubin of Shawnee said Wednesday that he had intended to step down as of midnight Tuesday, but says "...cooler heads prevailed." Rubin said that he would resign immediately after House Speaker and Stilwell Republican Ray Merrick removed him as chairman of the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. Merrick made the move after Rubin sought to force a House debate on gambling legislation that Merrick said could damage state-owned casinos. Rubin said the committee's secretary urged him to remain in the Legislature. He said he intends to continue working on legislation to overhaul the state's juvenile justice system.


Kansas House Approves Campus Faith Groups Restricting Membership 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have approved a proposal allowing faith-based groups on college campuses to restrict their membership to people who share their beliefs. The House voted 81-41 on Wednesday to send the bill to Governor Sam Brownback. Supporters say it's a victory for the freedom to exercise religious beliefs, but opponents say it's a veiled attempt to legalize discrimination. The bill's passage follows a lawsuit filed by a Christian group at Washburn University in Topeka after a Mormon student was forbidden from leading the group's Bible study. The bill had been dormant in the Legislature for almost a year.


Perry Man Gets 24 Years in Prison for Trying to Produce Child Porn
A northeast Kansas man was sentenced today (THUR) to 292 months in federal prison for using a smartphone to record videos of his girlfriend’s daughter in the bathroom of a home in Lawrence.  U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said in a statement that 56-year-old Ken Theis, of Perry, was convicted on two counts of attempting to produce child pornography. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson found that in one instance, Theis placed a cell phone in the bathroom of his girlfriend’s residence and pressed the record button on the phone in order to record the 11-year-old girl. He placed the phone on a shelf just above the toilet. He transferred the video from his phone to his laptop computer. In another instance, Theis activated cell phone cameras in the bathroom to record the girl getting into and out of the shower. Investigators who examined Theis’s cell phone and laptop computers found child pornography from other sources, too.  Grissom commended the Lawrence Police Department and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Flannigan for their work on the case.


Dems Seek Resignation of Appointee over Trump Endorsement

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Three Democratic lawmakers are demanding the resignation of the head of a state agency that deals with Hispanic affairs in the wake of her endorsement of Donald Trump for president. State Representative Louis Ruiz on Wednesday called Adrienne Foster's endorsement of Trump "irresponsible, unthinkable, and entirely unacceptable.'' Foster is the executive director of the Kansas Hispanic Latino American Affairs Commission. She referred any comment to Governor Sam Brownback's spokeswoman. The governor's spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, says there is freedom of speech in America. She noted Foster made personal comments in support of Trump when responding to a Kansas City Star reporter's Facebook posting. But the lawmakers say in a news release she is out of touch with the community, and is disregarding the interests of the people she claims to represent. 


KU Program Aims to Help Student Retention 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas has implemented a new strategy to improve retention among students who failed out of its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that 150 students were offered the opportunity to participate in a new faculty mentoring program. The college's dean, Carl Lejuez, says that 125 of the students who failed came back to school through the program. Only one of those students has since left. The program's goal is to help these students' grades so that they can continue to be enrolled. Lejuez says more than enough of the college's faculty volunteered to mentor students without being paid. He says the hope is that the quickly-hatched program can help student retention until a more concrete faculty mentoring program can be implemented.


Inmate Missing from Winfield Prison 

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — An inmate has escaped from a minimum-security prison in southern Kansas. The Kansas Department of Corrections says 37-year-old Bradley Wayne Struble was last seen about midnight Wednesday during the prison's inmate count. The Winfield Correctional Facility is a minimum-security facility where inmates are supervised, but the grounds are not fenced in. The department says Struble remained at large Thursday afternoon. The Wichita Eagle reports that Struble is serving a sentence for violating parole. His most recent criminal conviction was in 2004 for battering a correctional officer. He was sent to Winfield in February and was due to be released in October.


Kansas Man's Second Capital Murder Trial Delayed Until May 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The second trial for a Kansas man whose capital murder charge was overturned has been delayed. The Manhattan Mercury reports that Luis Aguirre of Ogden on Tuesday gave up his right to a speedy trial in the deaths of his ex-girlfriend, Tanya Maldonado, and their 13-month-old son, Juan Maldonado. A new status hearing was scheduled for May 26. Aguirre was convicted of the killings in 2012. The victims were killed in September 2009 at Aguirre's apartment in Ogden. Their bodies were buried in shallow graves after prosecutors say Maldonado demanded Aguirre pay child support. The Kansas Supreme Court last May overturned Aguirre's conviction after ruling that that police violated his Miranda rights during an interrogation. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review that decision.


Experts Testify in Eastern Kansas Capital Murder Trial

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) - Expert witnesses in the capital murder trial of an eastern Kansan man are testifying about how three adults and a toddler died. A forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies and a forensic entomology expert who examined maggots were among the witnesses called this week to testify in the trial of Kyle Flack. The 30-year-old Ottawa man is charged with capital murder in the deaths of 21-year-old Kaylie Bailey and her 18-month-old daughter, Lana, in spring 2013. He also is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the shotgun deaths of 30-year-old Andrew Stout and 31-year-old Steven White. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the adults suffered shotgun wounds and were left under either a tarp or mound of clothes. Lana's body was found in a rural Osage County creek.


Survey: Plains, Midwest Economic Picture Slightly Brighter 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A survey of rural bankers in 10 Western and Plains states suggests a slightly brighter economic picture that remains shadowed by lower agriculture and energy commodity prices. A March report released Thursday says the Rural Mainstreet Index rose to 40.2 from 37.0 in February and 34.8 in January. Survey officials say any score below 50 on any of the survey's indexes suggests that factor will decline. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the monthly survey, and he says prices for farm products have fallen about 11 percent and fuel roughly 25 percent since June. Goss says the confidence index dropped to 30.1 this month from 30.4 in February, reflecting the bankers' pessimism. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.


New Charge Filed Against Kansas Couple in Child's Death 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas couple faces upgraded murder charges in the death of the man's missing 7-year-old son. Online court records show Wyandotte County prosecutors have charged Michael A. Jones and Heather Jones with premeditated first-degree murder and felony child abuse. They were previously charged with first-degree murder and felony child abuse. The premeditated first-degree murder charge carries a possible life sentence without parole for 50 years. Police found juvenile remains at the couple's Kansas City, Kansas home in November while investigating a domestic disturbance. Authorities haven't said if the remains were those of Jones's missing son. A preliminary hearing for Michael Jones is scheduled for April 8. Records show Heather Jones' preliminary hearing has been canceled while she undergoes a mental evaluation. Their lawyers didn't immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday.


Trial Set for Woman Accused of Giving Kansas Shooter Guns 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has set a May trial date for the woman accused of giving her former boyfriend the guns used in last month's mass shooting at a Kansas lawn equipment factory. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren issued on Thursday a scheduling order in the case of 28-year-old Sarah Jo Hopkins, setting May 3 for her trial. The Newton woman has pleaded not guilty to transferring weapons to a prohibited person. Prosecutors say she gave Cedric Ford an AK-47-type semi-automatic rifle and a .40-caliber handgun that he used in the Feb. 25 attack at Excel Industries in Hesston. Four people, including Ford, were killed and 14 others were injured. Hopkins has told investigators that she gave him the guns because he had threatened her. They had two children together.


Man Convicted in Missouri Stabbing Charged in Escape Attempt 

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — A man convicted in a northwest Missouri stabbing death has been charged with attempting to escape from prison. The St. Joseph News-Press reports that the escape charge was filed this week against 25-year-old Sean Liechti, of St. Joseph. The probable cause statement says Liechti and another man forcefully exited their cell at the Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in St. Joseph on December 30. They are accused of trying to assault a prison guard as they made their way into a recreation area, where they were captured. Liechti and a Kansas woman pleaded guilty in October and another Missouri man in January to second-degree murder in the April 2015 death of Richard Berry. The 28-year-old's body was found in the Third Fork of the Platte River near Easton.


Washburn Graduate Assistant Football Coach Charged with Rape 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Washburn University graduate assistant football coach has been charged with aggravated kidnapping and rape.  Shawnee County court records show that the charges were filed against 22-year-old Jesse Robert Bubke. Topeka police officials told The Topeka Capital-Journal that a woman went to police Sunday and reported she had been kidnapped from a bar, taken to Bubke's home and assaulted.  Bubke has been coaching football as a graduate assistant. Washburn spokesman Patrick Early says the university will help authorities. 

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