Kansas Could Tap Highway Funds to Fill Budget Gaps
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are likely to consider diverting funds earmarked for highway projects to general government programs to help solve the state's budget problems. The chairmen of the House and Senate budget committee say such a step is an option as legislators work to close combined shortfalls of more than $714 million in the current and next state budgets. Executive Vice President Bob Totten of the Kansas Contractors Association said Thursday that the group is concerned about the possibility but believes there's bipartisan support for transportation projects. Kansas started a 10-year and $8 billion transportation program in 2010. The program is financed outside the state's main bank account with bonds, motor fuels taxes, vehicle registration fees and some sales tax revenues. The state has diverted highway funds in the past.
Kansas Attorney General Seeking Gay Marriage Clarity
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says his vigorous defense of the state's gay marriage ban is designed to get a final U.S. Supreme Court ruling on whether such bans are constitutional. Schmidt said in an Associated Press interview Wednesday that everyone is best served by a definitive ruling from the high court. The attorney general said that without such a ruling, uncertainty will remain about whether gay marriage legal throughout the state and whether gay couples' unions will remain legally valid. The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked the state from enforcing its gay marriage ban while a lawsuit moves through the federal courts. Couples have wed in some but not all of the state's 105 counties. Gay-rights advocate Tom Witt says Schmidt's argument is pointless.
Kansas Agencies Not Recognizing Gay Marriages
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Gay couples in Kansas can get married, but the state isn't yet allowing them to change their last names on their driver's licenses. The Wichita Eagle reports that state government agencies under Republican Governor Sam Brownback's direction aren't yet changing their policies on recognizing marriages. They include the Department of Revenue, which issues driver's licenses. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said Wednesday that changes will not be made while the state defends its ban on gay marriage as the federal courts consider a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The U.S. Supreme Court has said the state can't enforce its ban while the lawsuit proceeds, but marriage licenses aren't being issued to same-sex couples in some counties. Equality Kansas Executive Director Tom Witt called the administration's stance outrageous.
Kansas Senators Decry Rejection of Keystone Bill
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas U.S. Senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts are predicting that the Senate will move quickly to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline once fellow Republicans take control of the Senate in January. Moran and Roberts voted Tuesday evening for a measure approving the pipeline. However, it failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate on a 59-41 vote. The measure needed 60 votes to pass. The proposed pipeline for transporting oil from Canada to Texas has faced strong opposition from environmentalists. But the state's two Republican senators are vocal supporters. The company behind the project already has a pipeline through Kansas. Roberts said the Keystone measure failed because of "liberal obstructionists." Moran said it's only a matter of time before the pipeline is approved by Congress.
State Hospital at Risk of Losing Medicare Payments
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The federal government says the Osawatomie State Hospital has three weeks to fix problems or it will no longer be eligible for Medicare payments. State officials assured a legislative committee Tuesday that a plan for correcting problems is ready and Medicare payments to the hospital for the mentally ill are not expected to end. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports one of the longstanding issues at the hospital is overcrowding. As of Tuesday, the hospital had 221 patients, 15 over capacity. Kari Bruffett, secretary of the Department of Aging and Disability Services, says her agency is searching for ways the state's 26 licensed community mental health centers can share resources with the state hospital. It is also wants community hospitals that still have adult psychiatric units to expand their capacity.
Petition Seeks House Speaker's Ouster as Leader
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Democrats are pushing a petition calling for the ouster of the Republican House speaker for saying government employees produce nothing, but they acknowledge the effort is mainly to draw attention to the Stilwell representative's remarks. Ray Merrick told The Wichita Eagle last weekend that government workers are net consumers whose employment amounts to a Democratic jobs plan that doesn't stimulate the economy. Merrick later issued a statement praising state employees. Teachers, law enforcement officers, social service workers and court officials all are government workers. Overland Park Republican House member Stephanie Clayton told The Topeka Capital-Journal had heard from some constituents who are upset by the speaker's comment. Assistant House minority leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City acknowledges that Democrats don't have any influence on the choice of House speaker.
Arrest Made After Woman Raped, Burned in Wichita
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Police have identified a man arrested in connection with the rape and severe burning of a woman who was found in park near Wichita State University. Police Lieutenant James Espinoza confirmed late Thursday that the suspect is 26-year-old Cornell McNeal of Wichita. It's unclear whether he has an attorney, and no one answered the phone at his home. McNeal has not yet been formally charged. He's being held on suspicion of rape and attempted first-degree murder. Police say he was linked to the attack by forensic evidence obtained after the woman was found and taken to a hospital Friday night. Police are still investigating whether McNeal knew the 36-year-old victim, who is in critical condition. Police have not been able to talk with her.
Woman Killed in Blaze Just West of Downtown Topeka
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A woman has been killed in a house fire in a neighborhood just west of downtown Topeka. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the fire was reported around 8:20 am Thursday in the two-story home. Topeka Fire Marshal Mike Martin says crews likely will be on the scene "for most of the day." One person was able to escape, but a woman died inside the home. The fire sent smoke drifting above the downtown skyline for more than two miles away. The flames were so intense that an SUV that had been parked near the front porch also caught fire. At one point, firefighters and police officers restrained a man after he sprinted toward the still-burning house, apparently trying to get inside.
Kansas Nurse Returns to Jail After Bond Hike
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A former nurse who is charged with sexually assaulting four Kansas City, Kansas, hospital patients has returned to jail. The Kansas City Star reports that deputies took Dennis Clark into custody after a Wyandotte County judge increased his bond from $10,000 to $75,000. Prosecutors had requested the increase after the charges filed against the 47-year-old were amended. Clark now is charged with raping two patients at Providence Medical Center. He also faces charges of aggravated sexual battery involving two other patients. He's no longer employed at the hospital, and the Kansas Board of Nursing has revoked his nursing license. Meanwhile, police in two Johnson County cities are investigating similar allegations at hospitals where Clark formerly worked. His attorney didn't immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press.
Carjacking Suspects Crash into Kansas Duplex
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Two carjacking suspects have crashed into an Overland Park duplex while fleeing from police. Police reports say a man was attempting to pick up a prostitute around 1 am Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri, when his pickup truck was stolen. The Kansas City Star reports that officers pursued the stolen truck into Kansas. The chase ended when the driver lost control of the truck. One of the suspects ran into the bedroom of a home. Kansas City police say residents pointed out where the 21-year-old man was hiding in the bedroom. Police said a 33-year-old woman was found hiding between houses outside. The man and woman were arrested and taken to the Johnson County Jail.
DA: Wichita Police Fatal Shooting Justified
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett says a Wichita police officer was justified when he shot and killed a man in April. Bennett announced Wednesday that investigators found that 30-year-old David Zehring ignored commands to stop before he ran toward a sheriff's deputy with a knife. The shooting occurred April 10 after a police chase. Bennett says Zehring was not affected by two Taser shocks before he "aggressively approached" the Sedgwick County deputy, prompting the police officer to shoot. Video from the officer's car confirmed Bennett's account. Neighbors told police Zehring had made disturbing comments about police in the weeks before the shooting. And Bennett said Zehring's family indicated he "had deteriorated or certainly changed" after he suffered a head injury in a traffic accident.
Foul Play Not Suspected in Garden City Death
GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Garden City police say they do not suspect foul play in the death of a man whose body was found outside a convenience store. KAKE-TV reports that the body of 47-year-old Armando Alcantara Miranda was found Wednesday outside a Presto store. Police say Miranda had no known address and they are asking anyone who knew him to contact authorities. A Presto employee told police the man had purchased cigarettes at the store Tuesday evening and then walked behind the building. Customers found his body Wednesday morning.
Republican River States Pledge to Cooperate More
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The three states crossed by the Republican River have agreed on a new approach to managing water in the disputed basin. Officials in Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas say the agreements on how the river's water will be managed this year and next year show they are taking a more cooperative approach. In the past, disputes over the 1943 compact that spells out how much water each state is entitled to have wound up in the U.S. Supreme Court numerous times. The new agreements will allow some of the water owed to Kansas farmers this year to be kept in the Harlan County Reservoir in Nebraska until Kansas officials request it. Previously, the water would have been released this fall when farmers couldn't use it.
KU Hospital Receives $10 Million Challenge Grant
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - The University of Kansas Hospital has received a $10 million challenge grant for a new expansion project. The hospital announced Wednesday that it had received the grant from Kansas City civic leader Annette Bloch, president of the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation. The money is intended to support cancer programs at the new Cambridge North Tower. The programs will include construction and technology for interventional labs and operating suites for surgical oncology. The hospital announced the expansion earlier this year, with a goal of raising $100 million of the $279 million project through gifts and donations. The construction schedule depends on donations.
Kansas Casino Unveils $20M Expansion Project
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas casino has unveiled plans to build a meeting center and equestrian center that will enable it to host large horse shows. The Kansas Star Casino announced the $20 million expansion project Wednesday. The meeting center will be 11,000 square feet and the equestrian center will have 183 permanent stalls. Both facilities are set to open in December. The casino moved into its permanent location in December 2012. It also has a 300-room hotel on its property and a 42,000-square-foot arena. That arena can already host rodeos. But arena director Tim Lanier says the new outdoor center will allow the casino to put on a wide variety of horse shows.
US Attorney's Office Collects Over $11.4M in Kansas
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The U.S. attorney's office says it has collected more than $11.4 million this year from criminal and civil actions in Kansas. That includes $5 million collected in criminal cases and $6.4 million collected in civil actions. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said in a news release Wednesday that his office works hard to be good stewards of taxpayers' money. He noted that the collections almost equaled his office's total budget of $11.9 million. Grissom cited as an example an investigation of a cancer clinic in Kansas this year. The Hope Cancer Institute and Dr. Raj Sadasivan agreed to pay $2.9 million to make up for false claims they submitted to Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs. On the national level, the Justice Department collected $24.7 billion.
Mostly-Abandoned Kansas City Building Collapses
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A vehicle involved in a police chase slammed into a mostly abandoned building in downtown Kansas City, causing a partial collapse. Local media reports the accident occurred Thursday morning and the female driver of the car was able to get out. The building reportedly was being used to store cars or as a parking garage and police don't believe anyone was inside. The northwest corner of the building collapsed after the vehicle rammed into it. Further information on what prompted the chase was not immediately available. Public Works employees were to treat water that was causing some ice due to a damaged nearby fire hydrant.
Man Convicted in Salina Homicide to Get New Trial
SALINA, Kan. (AP) - A man who was convicted in a 2003 homicide in Salina will go on trial again in January. The new trial for 52-year-old Douglas Aldrich of Kanopolis will be held January 12 in Saline County District Court. He was sentenced to 51½ years after being convicted in 2003 of second-degree murder for the stabbing death of Jerald Bird outside a Salina bar. Aldrich contends the stabbing was in self-defense. A Salina County judge on Wednesday denied a request to reduce Aldrich's bond from $1 million to $100,000. Aldrich's conviction was set aside in 2012 after he complained his original attorney was ineffective.
7 Kansas Hunters Plead to Violating Federal Law
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Seven Kansas hunters pleaded guilty and were sentenced for violating federal laws protecting birds. The U.S. Attorney's office says in a news release the men admitted to exceeding the daily limit for mourning doves during opening weekend of the dove hunt in Graham County. Another man admitted to shooting an owl, which violates the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The treaty classifies mourning doves as migratory game birds and owls as migratory non-game birds. Four of the men were sentenced to one year of probation, during which they cannot hunt, fish or trap. They also face fines of $2,000 fine and must pay $3,000 restitution to the state. Three others were given two years of probation with the hunting, fishing and trapping ban, with $2,000 fines and $5,000 in restitution.
Survey Suggests Economy Still Slow in Rural Areas
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The economic outlook for rural areas of 10 states in the Plains and the West improved in November, but the monthly survey of bankers doesn't suggest much growth. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says low grain and energy prices continue to limit the economy in rural areas. The overall economic index for the region improved for the first time since May, but it only reached the neutral score of 50. That's up from 43.4 in October. The survey indexes range from 0 to 100. Any score below 50 suggests decline in that factor in the months ahead. Bankers from rural areas of Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.
Papal Official Tempers Point About Accused Bishops
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The head of Pope Francis's commission to fight sex abuse is tempering his remarks about accountability for bishops accused of covering up for abusive priests, saying they deserve a fair hearing, too. Cardinal Sean O'Malley, archbishop of Boston, told "60 Minutes" news program last week that the Vatican must "urgently" address the situation of Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, the highest-ranking church official in the U.S. to be convicted of failing to take action in response to abuse allegations. In a comment posted Wednesday on thebostonpilot.com, the website of the archdiocesan newspaper of Boston, O'Malley stood by his remarks but said bishops deserve due process even as they are held accountable for protecting abusers.
Kansas City Students Stage Walkout During Nixon Speech
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Governor Jay Nixon says he understands the concerns of Kansas City students who walked out a speech he was giving in an apparent protest of the police shooting in Ferguson. Nixon was talking Thursday at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy when a handful of students raised their hands over their heads in a gesture associated with the Ferguson protests. The Kansas City Star reports that the students then left through an auditorium door without disrupting the speech. Nixon was at Lincoln to recognize its status as a National Blue Ribbon School, one of the nation's top awards for academic excellence. Nixon says the students "are going to be — and need to be — a force, so that we can be a better state and better society after this."
Combine-Sharing Program Aims to Boost Farm Income
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A combine-sharing program touted as the first of its kind in the country aims to give farmers a chance to make some money off expensive equipment that sits idle after harvest is finished. FarmLink announced Wednesday its farmer-to-farmer program, which allows farmers with spring or early summer harvests in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas to rent their combines to farmers with later harvests farther north. The Kansas City, Missouri-based company picks up the combines, maintains and repairs them as needed and then returns them to their owners. The company contends growers can make as much as $40,000 a year in extra income from equipment that would otherwise sit mostly unused. The program begins with the 2015 harvest season, but the company already has begun signing up farmers.
Man Sentenced in Fatal Fall of Manhattan Native at ASU
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - One of the men accused of alcohol-related violations in connection with the fatal fall of an Arizona State University student has been sentenced. A Maricopa County Superior Court spokeswoman says Commissioner Julie Newell sentenced David Siegal to 18 months of probation with a deferred jail term of 45 days. Siegal also must complete 30 hours community service and cannot consume alcohol. The 20-year-old Siegal pleaded guilty earlier this month to one misdemeanor count of being a minor in possession of liquor. Naomi McClendon plunged 10 floors to her death March 30 from an apartment complex near ASU's campus. Tempe police say the 18-year-old woman from Manhattan, Kansas, initially attended an "all-you-can-drink" party thrown by ASU fraternity members. Surveillance video showed her stumbling and intoxicated when she entered the residential building.
Audit: Missouri Charter Schools Botched Closings
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Missouri audit claims two Kansas City charter schools botched their closures by overspending and providing poor documentation. The Kansas City Star reports an audit released Tuesday shows there were "major errors" when Imagine Renaissance Academy and Urban Community Leadership Academy shut their doors in 2012. Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich's report says Urban Community Leadership Academy did not provide records for almost $118,000 in closing expenses. UCLA school board member Kendra Kemp-Trammel didn't immediately return a phone message seeking comment. Schweich's office says Imagine Renaissance Academy wasted thousands of dollars by doling out too many responsibilities to its law firm without reviewing less-expensive options. That school told auditors it turned to the law firm after staff members failed to handle duties related to the closing.
Kansas Man Dies After Combine, 2 Vehicles Collide
BELOIT, Kan. (AP) _ An 86-year-old northwest Kansas man died and another man was injured in an accident involving two vehicles and a combine in north-central Kansas.The Kansas Highway Patrol says the accident Tuesday night on Kansas Highway 24 five miles west of Beloit killed Meryl G. Garey, of Downs, and injured 46-year-old Paul D. Remus, of Beloit. The patrol says Remus was driving a combine, followed by a pickup driven by his 19-year-old son. When Garey tried to pass the two vehicles, his truck hit the left rear wheel of the combine. Garey's truck overturned and slid into the north guardrail. The extent of Paul Remus's injuries was not available. His son was not hurt.
23-Year-Old Red Panda Dies at Southwest Kansas Zoo
GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) - Veterinarians at a southwest Kansas zoo have euthanized a 23-year-old red panda who suffered from arthritis. The Lee Richardson Zoo in Garden City says the red panda named Firecracker was put down this week because of health complications of old age. Zookeepers say the animal lived for 23 years and 4 months. Firecracker was transferred to Garden City in 2000 from the National Zoo in the District of Columbia. The pandas are indigenous to east Asia. They have red and white markings and bushy tails. They grow to about the size of a house cat.
Manfred Given 5-Year Term as Baseball Commissioner
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Rob Manfred has been given a five-year term as baseball commissioner when he succeeds Bud Selig in two months. Baseball owners voted the term Thursday at their first meeting since electing Manfred over Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner on August 14. Manfred, who has worked for Major League Baseball since 1998, will take over from the 80-year-old Selig on January 25. Selig said Manfred's term was approved "unanimously, quietly and quickly," and the transition of power to baseball's longtime executive has been orderly. "That's the way it's supposed to be," Selig said after two days of meetings. Manfred said that improving pace of play will remain a priority. He also said replay will be similar to this past season, and changes will stem from technology and "how long it takes to get replay going."