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Headlines for Thursday, May 15, 2014


Brownback Files for New Term as KS Governor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has filed for re-election, saying that under his watch Kansas has become a lighthouse for the nation. Brownback and Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer filled out the necessary paperwork Thursday morning to ensure that their ticket is on the August 5 Republican primary ballot. They were joined at the Statehouse event by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and Mary Jean Eisenhower, a granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower. Dole and Mary Jean Eisenhower are the honorary leaders of Brownback's re-election campaign. Brownback touted cuts to income taxes aimed at creating job growth as an example of his first-term leadership. Brownback faces a primary challenge from Wichita landscaping business owner Jennifer Winn. Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence is the only announced Democratic candidate.


Kansas Jobless Rate Down to 4.8 Percent in April

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas labor officials say the state's unemployment rate dropped in April to a seasonally adjusted 4.8 percent, down from 4.9 percent in March. The rate reported by the state Department of Labor on Thursday shows the state's rate below the 5.5 percent for April 2013. Private-sector job growth was 0.2 percent for the month with the creation of 1,900 new jobs. The Labor Department says 16,900 jobs have been added over the past year when adjusting for seasonal fluctuations. A state labor economist says the data suggests positive economic growth, noting that the number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits fell in April to 108,777, compared with nearly 141,000 in April 2013. The figures count all available unemployment benefit programs.


Voter Citizenship Lawsuit Looms over 2014 Election

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The League of Women Voters has told a federal appeals court that it has mostly confined its voter registration drives in Kansas to naturalization ceremonies where people readily have the proof-of-citizenship documents required to vote in Kansas. But the group told the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a filing Thursday that immigration officials have now prohibited it from copying or photographing naturalization certificates. The League argues that means new citizens face discrimination and significant roadblocks in registering to vote. The latest court filing by the voting rights groups portrays just a sample of the impact of the litigation. Kansas and Arizona are seeking to force the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to change its federal voter registration form instructions to require citizenship proof from residents of the two states.


Kansas Counties Brace for Loss of Mortgage Fee Revenue 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback says phasing out the Kansas mortgage registration fee will help the state's economy grow, but counties fear they'll be forced to boost property taxes to make up the lost revenue. Brownback said Thursday that a home is the biggest purchase most people make and phasing out the fee will help borrowers a little bit. He signed legislation Wednesday to phase the fee out by 2019. The state imposes a fee of $2.60 for every $1,000 borrowed to register mortgages, and most of the money goes to the 105 counties. The new law will increase other fees, but the Legislature's staff projects that counties still will lose $53 million over the next five years. And some county officials believe those estimates understate the potential losses.


Tight Supplies Spur Layoffs at KS Slaughterhouse

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Cargill Beef says it is trimming its workforce at its Dodge City slaughterhouse because of tight beef supplies as the nation's cattle herd begins to rebuild from drought conditions. Company spokesman Mark Klein said in an email Thursday the company does not have a firm number on how many workers will be laid off or reassigned. But the remaining workforce is still expected to be "well above" 2,000. Klein says decisions to lay off workers are never easy, and Cargill looked at every option to avoid it. Cargill is one of the nation's biggest meatpackers. It closed its Plainview, Texas, slaughterhouse last year and moved its remaining business to plants in Dodge City; Friona, Texas; and Fort Morgan, Colorado. Klein says the latest layoffs affect only Dodge City.


New Kansas Law Helps Cement Firm with Tax Dispute

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new Kansas law will change how property at cement manufacturing plants is valued for tax purposes and help settle a dispute involving an Overland Park company. Officials at Ash Grove Cement estimated Thursday that the settlement could lower their property taxes in Neosho County in southeast Kansas by $4 million a year. The company has a plant in Chanute with about 140 employees.
The issue has been how much property at the plant falls under the state's property tax exemption for business machinery and equipment. The company appealed to legislators, and they included a provision in a tax bill signed Wednesday by Governor Sam Brownback. The company says the change will protect jobs. Neosho County Appraiser David Thornton says it will shift the property tax bur
den to others.


Attorney Says Client Devised Defense Strategy

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas attorney facing disciplinary action for how he represented a man in a capital murder case says he is being punished for using a trial strategy developed and advocated by his client. Dennis Hawver of Ozawkie represented Phillip Cheatham Jr. during a jury trial in 2005 in which the defendant was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. The Kansas Supreme court reversed Cheatham's convictions and ordered a new trial, ruling he had received ineffective counsel from Hawver. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Hawver filed a brief with the Kansas Supreme Court on Tuesday, contesting the findings of a three-member disciplinary panel that recommended disbarment or indefinite suspension. Regardless of the outcome, Hawver says his lawyering days are probably over.


Kansas Nursing Home Fined for Abuse of Residents

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas nursing home has been fined more than $185,000 by federal authorities amid allegations that residents were suffering from neglect and abuse. The Wichita Eagle reports that Victoria Falls Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation also is being fined an additional $1,000 per day until the facility is back in compliance. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services informed the Andover nursing home of abuse allegations on March 26 after an inspector interviewed 27 of the facility's 63 residents. That inspection showed one resident suffered verbal and physical abuse from four staff members, and another was being abused by a fellow resident. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid fined the nursing home $8,200 a day from March 26 to April 13 and $1,000 a day after that.


KS Universities Seek Tuition, Fee Increases

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ All six state universities in Kansas have asked the Board of Regents to increase tuition and fees for the next incoming freshman class.  They did so yesterday (WED).  The University of Kansas asked for a3.4 percent increase, which was among the most moderate. Wichita State's 7.5 percent increase request was the highest, followed by 5.6 percent at Emporia State, 5.5 percent at Pittsburg State, 5.2 percent at Kansas State and 2.5 percent at Fort Hays State. The increase at KU means incoming resident freshman would pay $170 more than the previous freshman class per semester, while out-of-state freshmen would pay $429 more. KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little says the increases are necessary because state higher education funding remains at pre-recession levels.


Lawrence Man Sentenced for Killing Ailing Wife

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A 67-year-old Lawrence man who told investigators he killed his wife because of her many health problems has been sentenced to life in prison. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Larry Hopkins will be eligible for parole after 25 years under the sentence he received Thursday in Douglas County District Court. Hopkins shot and killed 61-year-old Margaret Hopkins on November 5, 2013, at their Lawrence home. He pleaded no contest earlier this year to first-degree murder, turning down a plea deal that included lesser offenses. In court Thursday, Hopkins read a statement describing the many ailments suffered by his wife of 24 years, including diabetes, multiple strokes and knee replacement surgeries. Larry Hopkins also had suffered a stroke and had heart problems as well.


Dole Criticizes Federal Action on Prairie Chickens

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas political icon Bob Dole says the federal government should not have listed the lesser prairie chicken as threatened. Dole said Thursday that the listing announced in March is an example of a growing federal government that's inserting itself into issues that should be left to states. The 90-year-old Dole is a former U.S. Senate majority leader and the 1996 Republican presidential nominee. He came Thursday to the Statehouse for the kickoff of GOP Governor Sam Brownback's re-election campaign. Brownback and other state officials argue that the listing for the lesser prairie chicken could lead to restrictions on farming, ranching an oil and natural gas production. But federal officials say the designation is justified by a steep decline in the birds' population.


Topeka Man Admits Arranging Fraudulent Marriages

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 75-year-old Topeka man has admitted arranging fraudulent marriages for foreign nationals to help them become legal, permanent U.S. residents. The U.S. Attorney's office said Thursday that Quong Bow Low pleaded guilty this week to one count of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud in a scheme that went on from 1992 to 2013. Prosecutors had filed the charge in late April. Low admitted charging thousands of dollars to find U.S. citizens to participate in arranged marriages. His paid services also included coaching couples before their citizenship and immigration interviews, providing documentation of the marriages and letting couples list his home as their addresses. Investigators identified about 40 arranged marriages in which Low was involved. Sentencing is scheduled for August 1.


Opening of World's Tallest Water Slide Pushed Back

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The opening of the world's tallest slide at a Kansas City, Kansas, water park has been delayed about two weeks to allow for more testing. The Verruckt initially was scheduled to start operating May 23 when the rest of the Schlitterbahn attractions open, but that's been pushed back to June 5. The Kansas City Star reports that the Verruckt, which means "insane," was certified in April by Guinness World Records as the world's tallest. The slide is 168 feet 7 inches tall and sends riders on four-person rafts plummeting at 60 to 70 mph. Park owners say they hope the ride will become a destination attraction.


Fatal Crash Leads to Murder Conviction

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County jury has convicted a driver of first-degree murder for killing another motorist while fleeing from police in a stolen pickup truck. The Wichita Eagle reports the jury took less than an hour Wednesday to find 35-year-old Keith Ritz guilty on seven charges, including murder and fleeing from police. Prosecutors said Ritz was speeding through residential areas when he drove through a stop sign and struck a pickup driven by 38-year-old Venancio Perez. The crash occurred on March 5, 2013, after a chase that lasted about 90 seconds. No sentencing date has been set. The victim's family has sued the city of Wichita for $3 million, claiming police carried out the chase without regard for public safety. The city's legal department has declined to comment.


Salina Student Accused of Making Bomb Threats

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas high school student is accused of leaving a note claiming bombs had been placed at two schools, but police have determined there was no danger to the district. The Salina Journal reports the Central High School student was interviewed by Salina police Wednesday after he was identified as being connected to a note found at the school. The note indicated bombs had been placed at both Salina Central and Salina South high schools, but police were confident there were no bombs. Police spokesman Captain Mike Sweeney says investigators are trying to determine if the student, who isn't being named, also is connected to other recent threats made at Central. Notes saying a bomb had been placed at Central also were found April 15 and April 28.


Economy Improving in Rural Parts of 10 States

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The economy appears to be gaining strength in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states. The overall economic index for the region improved to 55.6 in May from April's 53.2, suggesting growth in the months ahead. The survey of bankers in the region uses indexes that range from 0 to 100, with 50 representing growth neutral. A score above 50 suggests growth in that factor in the months ahead. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the survey. He says the results show the economy is improving in these rural areas that depend heavily on agriculture and energy production. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.


2 Men Facing Felony Drug Trafficking Charges

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two men are facing drug trafficking charges after members of the Jackson County Drug Task Force found 22 pounds of methamphetamine hidden inside a car. The value of the cache of packaged meth found inside a car parked in a Kansas City garage is estimated at $1 million to $2 million. The Kansas City Star reports the drugs were found when the task force served a search warrant following a three-month investigation. Investigators towed the car to a nearby police station where the front end was taken apart and the drugs were found behind the front fenders. Prosecutors on Wednesday charged 20-year-old Valdemar Rivera-Madrigal of Kansas City and 23-year-old Cesar Omar Rivera-Valencia of Montebello, California, with drug trafficking. Neither man had obtained an attorney.


KS Regents Adopt Revised Social Media Policy

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Board of Regents has revised a policy allowing state universities to discipline or fire faculty and staff for improper use of social media. The changes approved Wednesday include new statements that academic freedom and free-speech rights still will be protected. The board retained language defining improper use of social media as messages that incite violence, disclose private student or health care information or are contrary to the best interests of the university. The regents acted after months of criticism of the policy they adopted in December in response to a University of Kansas professor's tweet denouncing the National Rifle Association. It permitseach university's top administrator to discipline, suspend or fire staff who used social media improperly.      


KS to Increase Sentences for Some Murders

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas is doubling the presumed prison sentence for premeditated first-degree murder to life with no chance of parole for at least 50 years.  Governor Sam Brownback announced yesterday (WED) that he signed a bill this week to make the so-called "Hard 50'' the presumed sentence for premeditated first-degree murder. The provision will apply to killings committed after June. The new law will allow judges to decide whether a more lenient sentence than the "Hard 50'' is warranted in first-degree murder cases. Currently, prosecutors can seek a "Hard 50'' sentence, but it can only be imposed by juries after weighing factors presented during a trial. The new law also sets a minimum 25-year prison sentence for defendants convicted of attempted capital murder or committing murder during another felony. 


New Director of Hutchinson Zoo Named

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The executive director of a zoo in upstate New York has been named to lead the Hutchinson Zoo. The Hutchinson News reports that City Manager John Deardoff announced the appointment of John Wright on Tuesday. Wright is currently executive director of the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park in Watertown, New York. In Hutchinson, he will replace Jana Durham, who resigned February 7. Deardoff says Wright started his career as a volunteer at the Kansas City Zoo and was interested in the job at the Hutchinson Zoo because he has family in the area. He says Wright was also attracted to the zoo's mostly Kansas native collection of animals. The New York State Zoo also features wildlife native to that state.


Kansas Girl Takes the Wheel in Emergency

GALENA, Kan. (AP) — An 8-year-old Kansas girl is being hailed for her quick thinking after she took control of the family's SUV when her mom fell unconscious at the wheel during their highway ride to school. Abby Porter and her mom, Shelly, were on Kansas 66 headed to school in Riverton early Wednesday when Shelly had a medical emergency and passed out. Galena Police Officer Jimmy Hamilton noticed the SUV weaving along at about 20 mph and saw Abby at the wheel alongside her unconscious mom. Hamilton positioned his car in front of the SUV, and Abby steered into the patrol car until they both stopped. The police department in Galena, about 150 miles south of Kansas City, is presenting Abby with a plaque for "outstanding bravery in a life-threatening situation."


KC Man's Pool Death Ruled Homicide

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ The death of a 70-year-old man whose body was found in a south Kansas City backyard swimming pool has been ruled a homicide. Police say a person of interest is in custody in the death of Hal Cornell III.  Police found Cornell's body and said it appeared he had been in the pool for at least a couple days.  


Hutchinson Police Hunt for Burglar Who Hit 19 Businesses

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) _ Police in Hutchinson are looking for a man who burglarized 19 downtown businesses during an overnight crime spree. The break-ins happened late Tuesday into early Wednesday. The man used a crowbar to break glass and pry doors open, then stole cash and petty change.  


Stats Show Inspectors Going Easy on Puppy Mills

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Animal welfare advocates say Kansas Department of Agriculture inspectors are reluctant to give violations to pet breeders who don't meet state standards, instead providing them with notes on things that need fixing. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports more than 200 KDA inspections of licensed breeders in fiscal year 2013 recorded no violations, including in cases were the inspector wrote notes indicating a violation had existed.  Of 13 ``problem dealers'' in the state identified by the Humane Society of the United States, the KDA last year didn't inspect six, cited two and found no violations for the remaining five. Michael Faurot, director of the KDA's animal facilities inspections, says the agency tries to be consistent and noted conditions cited by investigators in some of the reports sounded like violations to him. 


Motorcyclists to Cross KS During Weekend

GOODLAND, Kan. (AP) _ Hundreds of motorcycle riders will cross Kansas on Interstate 70 beginning Saturday on their way to a massive gathering in the nation's capital to honor military veterans. The annual "Run for the Wall'' begins in California and ends at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. The riders take three different routes before joining back together in Washington.  The central route goes through Kansas. This year's 10-day Run for the Wallbegan Wednesday in Rancho Cucamonga, California.


KS Water Authority to Discuss Water Plan

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Water Authority plans to hear updates on dredging at the John Redmond reservoir when it meets later this month in Garden City. The agency has set aside two days for its public meetings at the Garden City Clarion Inn and Conference. They begin at 1 p.m. on May 21 and 8:30 a.m. on May 22.  The $25 million project at the John Redmond reservoir includes the cost of dredging, landowner compensation for disposal sites and stream bank stabilization. Other topics on the agency's agenda for the meeting include updates on the Kansas water plan and the weather modification program.  


County to Pay Medical Bill for Man Hurt in Chase

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) _ Commissioners in Riley County have agreed to pay an outstanding hospital bill for a driver who was badly injured while fleeing from police. The Manhattan Mercury reports the commission decided to pay $6,300 sought in a lawsuit by Stormont-Vail Healthcare in Topeka, rather than risk a trial. Marysville resident Jason Fisher suffered severe internal injuries in February 2011 when he rolled a pickup truck while being chased by police. Fisher spent two days at Stormont-Vail, which put the cost of his care at nearly $40,000. Riley County's liability was reduced to the Medicaid rate. County officials had questioned the county's liability because Fisher was not in police custody when he was injured.  


Media File Lawsuit to Challenge MO Execution Secrecy

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Associated Press and four other news organizations are suing the state of Missouri, alleging the state's secretive process of obtaining lethal injection drugs prohibits public oversight of executions. The lawsuit filed Thursday asks a judge to order the Missouri Department of Corrections to make public where it purchases drugs for executions and disclose details about the composition and quality of the drugs. Missouri is among several states that refuse to disclose where execution drugs are purchased, what is in them, or how they are tested. Joining the AP in the lawsuit is Guardian US, the British newspaper's New York-based American operation; The Kansas City Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Springfield News-Leader.






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