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Headlines for Tuesday, April 1, 2014


UPDATE: Kansas Legislators Work on School Funding Plans

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Budget committees in the Kansas House and Senate are working on competing proposals to increase aid to poor school districts to satisfy a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees met into Tuesday evening. Both were considering proposals to boost aid to poor districts by $129 million during the next school year. The panels were weighing various proposals to offset the cost by trimming other types of aid to all districts, including transportation funds. The House committee also was considering proposals aimed at increasing the number of independently run charter schools in Kansas. Governor Sam Brownback said he remains confident that lawmakers can pass a single plan this week. The Kansas Supreme Court's ruling in an education funding lawsuit was handed down on March 7.

Report: Kansas Economic Growth Trails Neighbors

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new report by a nonpartisan Wichita business coalition indicates Kansas's economic recovery is lagging in comparison to five nearby states in nearly a dozen key measures associated with employment and business expansion. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Kansas Economic Progress Council issued the report Monday using information released last month by the Council of Economic Advisors, created two years ago by Governor Sam Brownback. The report shows improvements in the state's economy trail growth in 11 of 12 categories compared with Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Arkansas, though Kansas does lead in the number of building permits issued. Brownback spokeswoman Sara Belfry says the report indicates that Kansas is closing the gap with surrounding states and that momentum will grow in 2014 as income taxes are lowered again.


UPDATE: KS Senate Advances Bill Voiding Local Gun Rules

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has rejected a proposal to keep concealed guns out of libraries and local community centers. Senators considered Kansas City Democrat Pat Pettey's proposal Tuesday before giving first-round approval to a bill stripping cities and counties of their power to regulate guns. Pettey offered her proposal as an amendment. The Senate rejected it on a voice vote and then advanced the measure on a voice vote. The Senate plans to take final action on the bill Wednesday to determine whether it goes to the House. Pettey wanted to change a law enacted last year requiring local governments to allow state permit holders to carry concealed guns into public buildings after 2017 unless the buildings have adequate security. Pettey wanted to exempt libraries and community centers.


Feds Seek Stay of Order in Voter Citizenship Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal election officials are asking a federal judge to stay his order that the agency help Kansas and Arizona enforce state laws requiring voters to prove their U.S. citizenship. The court filing Monday comes after U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren ruled on March 19 that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission should immediately modify a national voter registration form. The agency argues the case violates the fundamental right to register to vote. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Tuesday that if the stay is granted, Kansas would implement a dual election system in which voters who registered using the federal form could vote only in federal races. He says it's unlikely that the court would grant the stay.


Kansas Senate Advances Technical Abortion Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has given first-round approval to abortion legislation that addresses legal issues raised in state and federal lawsuits filed by abortion providers. Tuesday's voice vote advanced the measure to a second Senate vote, expected Wednesday. Passage would send the measure goes to the House. Abortion opponents have said the bill makes minor changes in existing laws rather than setting new policy. Planned Parenthood officially is neutral on it. The bill revises a requirement that the home pages of abortion providers' websites link to a state health department site with information about pregnancy and fetal development. Providers would no longer have to say that the state's information is accurate and objective. The measure also revises language in Kansas laws on medical emergencies in which abortion restrictions are waived.


Kansas House Panel Approves Prairie Chicken Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved a bill declaring that the federal government has no authority to regulate prairie chickens or their habitat in the state. The measure is a response to the federal government's listing last week of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. Members of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee approved the bill on a voice vote Tuesday. Debate in the full House is expected later this week. The committee jettisoned a section making it a felony for a federal employee to try to enforce any federal regulation, law or treaty on prairie chickens. Instead, the bill would allow the Kansas attorney general to go to court to block action by federal employees. The Senate approved the stronger version of the bill in February.


Kansas Man Accused in Guitar String Decapitation

LYNDON, Kan. (AP) — A man accused of beheading a Topeka resident with a guitar string has pleaded not guilty to premeditated first-degree murder. Police say 29-year-old James Paul Harris practiced voodoo and kept the head of 49-year-old James Gerety to talk to after the March or April 2011 killing. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Gerety's partial remains were found a year later in Carbondale, 18 miles south of Topeka. Harris's former girlfriend testified in March that he told her he used a guitar string to sever Gerety's head. She said he disposed of the body but kept the head. A Topeka police officer said the ex-girlfriend told him Harris practiced voodoo and that he liked to talk to the head. A judge on Monday set Harris's trial for June 23.

Victim in Fatal Arizona Fall Was Kansas Native

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — An Arizona State University student who fell to her death over the weekend is being remembered in Kansas as an outstanding student at Manhattan High School. The Manhattan Mercury reports that police in Tempe, Arizona are still investigating the death early Sunday of 18-year-old Naomi McClendon. Authorities there said McClendon fell from a 10th-floor balcony at a student apartment building. McClendon was last year's student body president at Manhattan High School, where her father directs the orchestras and her mother teaches language arts. Manhattan High principal Greg Hoyt said Monday grief counselors were being made available. Staff recalled McClendon as one of the high school's top achievers. She was a member of the forensics and debate team, an editor on the school newspaper and the singer in a rock band.


DA: Committee Did Not Violate Open Meetings Law

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A prosecutor says Wichita's Airport Naming Committee did not violate the Kansas Open Meetings Act when it held two meetings without prior notification to the public. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said in a statement Tuesday that a survey of local media found that none had specifically asked to be notified of panel's meetings. He contends that absent a request for notification, a failure to give notice does not trigger a violation of the act. The city of Wichita notified Bennett's office in March that its Airport Naming Committee held meetings in December and January without prior public notification. The city routinely notifies local media of public meetings. Bennett says that is commendable, but a lapse in its execution does not equate to an open meetings violation.


Lawnmower Fire Destroys 2 Homes in Kansas

DERBY, Kan. (AP) — Investigators are blaming a lawnmower and spilled gasoline for a fire that destroyed two homes in the southern Kansas town of Derby. KAKE-TV reports that winds were gusting at more than 30 mph when the fire broke out Monday afternoon. Derby Fire Chief Brad Delay said the owner of one of the houses had spilled gasoline on his lawnmower, which backfired and caught fire when he started the machine. The man ran to get a garden hose, but his house was immediately engulfed in flames. The fire quickly spread to the neighboring house, which was also destroyed. Officials put the estimated loss of the two homes at $150,000 apiece, plus the value of their contents. The man operating the lawnmower was treated at a doctor's office for burns.


Man Dies in Tractor Accident in Northeast KS

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas man died after a tractor accident near Holton. Jackson County (Kansas) Sheriff Tim Morse says a relative found the man Monday after the tractor he was driving rolled down a terrace and injured him. The accident happened north of Holton. The man's name has not been released.


Topeka Zoo Expecting Arrival of Tiger Cubs

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Topeka Zoo says it is expecting some new tiger cubs but it's not sure how many. Zoo officials announced Tuesday that its Sumatran tiger, Jingga, is expecting. Zoo director Brendan Wiley says an ultrasound two weeks ago showed two, possibly three, cubs. The birth is expected sometime in May. The cubs' father is Rojo. Wiley says the births would be important because Sumatran tigers are critically endangered, with only about 500 left in the wild. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that when the cubs are born, they won't go on public display for about 90 days. Wiley says the cubs will stay with their parents for at least the first two years, then be paired with other tigers based on their genetic match.


Report: Kansas Winter Wheat Crop Needs Moisture

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The latest government snapshot says the Kansas winter wheat crop is in need of moisture in most of the state. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 25 percent of the state's wheat crop is in poor to very poor condition. About 43 percent is rated as fair, with 30 percent in good and 2 percent in excellent condition. The report noted the persistence of dry conditions in southwest Kansas during the past week, while parts of eastern and northwest Kansas received some light rain and snow. Extremely windy conditions have caused blowing soils, particularly in southwest Kansas. Farmers have also just started putting in their corn crops. An estimated 1 percent of the planned crop has now been planted.

Midwest Economic Survey Index Rises Slightly

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A monthly economic index for nine Midwestern and Plains states has risen slightly, suggesting economic growth over the next three to six months. A report issued late Monday says the overall Mid-America Business Conditions Index inched up to 58.2 in March from 57.4 in February. Looking six months ahead, the business confidence portion of the overall index declined to a still strong 59.0 from 59.7 in February. The survey results from supply managers are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth, while a score below that suggests decline. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Avila University Begins 3-Part Construction Plan

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Construction has started at Avila University in Kansas City on library renovations and a new health & science complex. The university held a ceremony Monday to begin renovation of the library into a Learning Commons. A second phase will create a Science & Health Complex in renovated space in O'Rielly Hall. The school also plans a 130-space parking lot. The Kansas City Star reports the projects are expected to be completed by August. Avila officials say the school has met a challenge grant and will receive $1 million from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation. That means the college successfully raised the $7 million needed for the two projects. The parking lot is funded by a bond issue.

Dallas-Based Natural Gas Distributor Launches 'iDig It' Campaign

DALLAS (AP) — Noticing markers and safety flags around digging sites could earn a lucky shutterbug $811. Dallas-based natural gas distributor Atmos Energy Corporation has launched a nationwide social media safety campaign seeking public photos of the proper way to mark a site for digging. The "iDig It" campaign began Tuesday and runs through April 30 to remind people to call 811 before digging. The 811 program provides notification to participating utilities to mark underground line locations. Spokesman John McDill says the greatest risk to underground natural gas pipelines is accidental damage during excavation. Participants could win an $811 gift card by snapping a photo of a professionally marked digging site and posting it online. Atmos Energy serves parts of Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.


Mexican State Blames Railways in Migrant Crimes

VERACRUZ, Mexico (AP) — Prosecutors in southern Mexico have filed a criminal complaint that alleges railway companies or their employees were complicit in crimes against migrants who ride their trains. The attorney general of the Gulf coast state of Veracruz says he filed a complaint with federal prosecutors against the Ferrosur Mexican rail line and a subsidiary of the U.S. line Kansas City Southern. Migrants from Central America hop aboard trains to reach the U.S. border, but are frequently beaten and robbed by criminal gangs once aboard. Attorney General Luis Angel Bravo says migrants claim the trains make unscheduled stops that allow criminals to climb aboard. Bravo says the complaint was filed late Monday. Neither company immediately responded to requests for comment Tuesday.


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