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Headlines for Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Here's a look at area headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Governor Names Lawmaker as New State Treasurer 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has appointed a legislator as the next state treasurer to replace Republican Ron Estes after Estes won a special congressional election. Brownback announced Tuesday that GOP state Senator Jake LaTurner of Pittsburg will serve the rest of Estes's four-year term as treasurer. LaTurner said he will seek a full term in 2018. Twenty-nine-year-old LaTurner has been active in Republican politics in southeast Kansas for at least a decade. He previously served on congresswoman Lynn Jenkins's staff, was elected to the Senate in 2012 and re-elected last year. The 60-year-old Estes was elected last week to replace former congressman Mike Pompeo in the 4th District of south-central Kansas following Pompeo's appointment as CIA director. Estes plans to leave the treasurer's office next week.

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Judge Orders Kansas Official to Produce Plan Taken to Trump

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A federal judge has ordered Kansas's top elections official to turn over proposed changes to federal voting rights laws that he took to a meeting with President Donald Trump. After privately examining the documents, U.S. Magistrate James O'Hara ruled Monday that parts of documents from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach are ``unquestionably relevant'' to a lawsuit challenging a state law requiring voters provide proof of their U.S. citizenship when registering. The order also instructs Kobach to produce a related internal document about proposed changes to the National Voter Registration Act. The ruling allowed him to redact parts of the plan that did not involve the voting rights issues. An Associated Press photo of that November meeting showed Kobach holding a paper outlining homeland security issues. 

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New Kansas Congressman Estes Plans to Take Office Next Week 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Republican Ron Estes plans to take his seat next Tuesday, April 25,  as the congressman representing south-central Kansas. Estes is Kansas state treasurer and won a special election for the 4th Congressional District seat previously held by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Estes plans to step down as state treasurer when he's sworn in as congressman. He submitted his resignation to Governor Sam Brownback Monday. A state board plans to convene April 24 to certify the special election results. Brownback will name the next treasurer. Estes defeated Democrat James Thompson for the congressional seat by 7 percentage points. The race drew national attention because Pompeo won his last three elections by more than 30 percentage points. 

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Health Care Firm to Stop Operations at St. Francis Hospital, With or Without a Buyer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The owner of a nonprofit Catholic hospital in Topeka says it will stop operating the hospital whether or not it is successful in finding a buyer for the financially troubled facility. Denver-based SCL Health said in a statement Tuesday that it is willing to donate the St. Francis hospital to another organization to keep the 378-bed facility open. The company issued the statement shortly after Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said he had secured a promise from its CEO not to announce a closing Tuesday. Brownback said SCL promised it would work with state and local officials to find a way to keep the hospital open. SCL has been looking for a buyer for St. Francis since May 2016.

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Vigil for Financially Troubled Topeka Hospital Draws Many

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Hundreds of people gathered in Topeka for a candlelight vigil in support of a financially troubled nonprofit Catholic hospital that faces an uncertain future. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that nurses, physicians, maintenance staff, security guards, clergy and former patients marched Monday night in front of St. Francis Hospital. Anna Munns, who works in patient access, created the event on Facebook. She says the 378-bed hospital is a "huge part of the community." St. Francis's Denver-based owners, SCL Health, has reported financial losses in recent years. It placed St. Francis on the market 11 months ago, leaving 1,600 employees increasingly anxious about its future. Former state lawmaker David Heinemann says it's important to re-examine Medicaid expansion, saying the failure to expand the program appears to be affecting St. Francis.

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Kansas Grocery Stores Will Start Selling Full-Strength Beer 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas grocery and convenience stores will be able to sell regular beer starting in 2019 after a years-long effort to get full-strength brews into the stores. Republican Governor Sam Brownback signed a bill Tuesday allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell beer with up to 6 percent alcohol by volume. They can now sell cereal malt beverage with 3.2 percent alcohol by weight. In exchange, liquor stores will be able to sell cereal malt beverages and more non-alcoholic products, such as shot glasses, mixers, lottery tickets and tobacco products. The House and Senate passed the bill earlier this month. Lawmakers have debated the issue for years. Some said they were concerned large grocery chains would put independent liquor stores out of business. But grocery and liquor stores found the compromise.

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Kansas Lawmakers Fight over Animal Inspection Reform Bill 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Lawmakers in Kansas are debating the fairness of proposed inspection protocols and fee increases for animal breeders and
shelters. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports some legislators want to pass a state law forbidding the Kansas Department of Agriculture, which inspects pet animal businesses, from giving breeders advance notice of inspections. They are also considering implementing a fee on facilities that skip inspections or need to be re-inspected after failing. Republican Representative Doug Blex of Independence says it would be ludicrous to apply the same surprise inspections used at child care centers to facilities devoted to raising puppies. The agriculture department has unsuccessfully sought to make these changes for at least five years. Any proposed bill would be acted on after the Legislature returns to Topeka on May 1.

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Report: Mistrust Between Kansas Prosecutors, Defense Harmful 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors in Kansas City, Kansas, have agreed with an expert's finding that a "climate of mistrust" exists between themselves and defense attorneys, and it's harming the interests of justice. That acknowledgement comes in a filing Monday following a special master's report saying most defense suspicions that the government was monitoring attorney-client communications were groundless. The court appointed David Cohen to investigate recordings at the Correction Corp. of America prison in Leavenworth. Cohen says the level of distrust is not typical and exists more in Kansas City, Kansas, than in Kansas City, Missouri, or even in Topeka and Wichita. His report concluded no individuals used the prison video system to monitor attorney meetings. The federal public defender insists the problem is deeper and more serious than mistrust between opposing counsel.

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First Case Against Man Charged with Sexual Assaults Begins 

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) — The first trial has started for a man who is charged with sexually assaulting a teenager and five women in a case that has divided the small Kansas town of Holton. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the trial focuses on claims that 22-year-old Jacob Ewing sexually assaulted the teen in a rural cemetery. He's charged with aggravated indecent liberties and aggravated criminal sodomy with a child under 14 years old. Ewing has entered not guilty pleas in all the cases. The charges involving the five women will be tried separately. Finding jurors whose minds weren't made up was a struggle Monday. About half of the 142 people who were part of the pool of prospective jurors raised their hands when asked whether they know Ewing or his family.

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Presidential Budget Proposal Would End Amtrak Service in Kansas Cities 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A budget proposal that puts an Amtrak passenger train route at risk is raising concerns. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that President Donald Trump's budget calls for the elimination of federal subsidies for some money-losing long-distance train routes. An Amtrak spokesman said that the final budget plan for federal aid hasn't been released but he confirmed that the Southwest Chief is among several routes targeted for elimination. The Chief passes through Kansas on its daily runs between Chicago and Los Angeles. It has stops in several Kansas towns, including Topeka, Lawrence, Garden City and Hutchinson. Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins has voiced concern, saying that "infrastructure is vital to Kansas and rural America." Kansas generates nearly 50,000 passengers per year for Amtrak.

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Kansas VA Official Fired for Inappropriate Conduct 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A high-level, Topeka-based Veterans Affairs official has been fired following an investigation into inappropriate conduct regarding sexually charged communication. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports  that the investigation alleges former Health Resource Center director Robert Downs and a female VA employee exchanged hundreds of salacious chat messages, most made during business hours, for over two years. The woman was based at the Asheville, North Carolina, VA Medical Center. In addition to sexually provocative messages, the two allegedly discussed travel plans to see each other and the woman's job prospects at Kansas VA offices. Downs says the relationship was consensual and no one benefited professionally. But he adds he takes full responsibility and is ready to move on.

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Former Kansas Corrections Officer Sentenced to Probation

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A former Johnson County corrections employee was sentenced to six months in prison for lewd behavior and trafficking in contraband. The Kansas City Star reports 25-year-old Alyssa Jo Staats was sentenced Monday six months in jail as a condition for a two-year probation sentence. Staats was originally charged last year with having unlawful sexual relations with an adult offender in the county's Therapeutic Community, an intensive drug treatment program. She pleaded no contest and was found guilty in December on amended charges of trafficking contraband in a correctional facility, obstructing a law enforcement officer and lewd and lascivious behavior.

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Body Found Amid Search for Fleeing Man Who Leapt into River 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities searching for a man who jumped off a Kansas River bridge while fleeing from law enforcement have found a body. WIBW reports that Pottawatomie County Sheriff Greg Riat said in a statement that that the body was found Monday about a mile from the bridge and near the bank. A man jumped from the bridge northeast of Paxico earlier this month when the pursuit ended with him crashing into a patrol car. The man was being sought in connection with an alleged auto theft in Wamego. Highway patrol aircraft and sheriff's office and Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism watercraft have been used in the search. Riat says the identity of the man will be released pending positive identification.

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FBI Announces Hotline After Missouri Teacher Charged with Sex Crimes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The FBI has set up a hotline to collect information about a suburban Kansas City teacher whose is charged with six second-degree statutory sodomy counts. The FBI's Kansas City Child Exploitation Task Force has joined Blue Springs police in investigating sexual misconduct allegations against James Green Jr. The 52-year-old Blue Springs man is on administrative leave from his teaching and coaching jobs in the North Kansas City School District. While working for Blue Springs South High School, he's accused of sexually assaulting a Smithville High School student in 2005. Court documents say Green told police he's had sexual relationships with two underage boys and secretly filmed boys in locker rooms.

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Kansas Chemical Company Reopens After Fire

STERLING, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas chemical plant reopened for business after a fire damaged one building in the complex. The fire broke out Thursday at the JACAM chemical plant complex near Sterling. No injuries were reported. Spokeswoman Laura Snyder told The Hutchinson News the plant resumed operations Monday. The cause of the fire has not been determined. The massive building that burned was for manufacturing and storing a type of clay that helps create "drilling mud" used in oil and gas production. The six employees who worked in the building evacuated safely when the fire started. Snyder says company officials plan to rebuild the building that burned. The damaged structure was one of 18 at the Sterling site.

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Wounded Woman Found on Missouri Railroad Tracks 

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) - Police are investigating after a wounded woman was found on railroad tracks in suburban Kansas City. The Kansas City Star reports that a caller reported finding the woman early this (TUE) morning on the tracks in Independence, Missouri. Responding officers determined that the woman had been shot. She was rushed to a hospital. The extent of her injuries weren't immediately known. No suspect information was available.

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Kansas Sampler Festival to End Nearly 3 Decade Run in May

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — A spring festival that gives people ideas for Kansas day trips will end its nearly three decade run next month. The Kansas Sampler Festival is planned for May 6 and 7 at Winfield's Island Park. It began in 1990 as a book-signing party for the "Kansas Weekend Guide" book. The second version of the book will make its debut at this year's festival. The festival features representatives from 130 Kansas towns. It includes crafts, food, musicians, artists and dancers. A shift in focus is planned starting next year. That's when the foundation that promotes the festival plans to create an annual Kansas Road Trip that will encourage exploration of specific regions of the state.

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Kansas Volunteer Firefighters Underfunded When Needed Most 

GREENWOOD, Kan. (AP) — Volunteer firefighters who make up 90 percent of Kansas' firefighters are in need of additional funding. The Wichita Eagle reports that Kansas spends about $300,000 at the state level on firefighting, less than almost any other state. This resulted in local firefighters having no extra help to fight the state's biggest wildfire in March, which burned more than 450,000 acres in Kansas. Much of volunteer firefighters' equipment often breaks down when most needed because of old age. Departments end up spending most of their training time repairing trucks because it's too expensive to replace them. Kansas State Firefighters Association President Kevin Flory says firefighters get their money from local property taxes, so they would need to better advocate for the departments if they want more funding.

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Rains Help Winter Wheat, Delay Corn Planting in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Rainfall in central and eastern Kansas is greening pastures and helping winter wheat, but is delaying corn planting. Most western counties remain dry. That is the latest assessment Monday from The National Agricultural Statistics Service of crop progress in Kansas. The agency rated the state's winter wheat crop as 6 percent excellent, 45 percent good and 33 percent fair. About 16 percent is in poor to very poor condition. About 9 percent of the wheat has now headed. Kansas farmers have planted just 9 percent of their corn crop. That is well behind the 32 percent that was in the ground by this time a year ago. It is also behind the 18 percent average. Livestock producers are now 91 percent finished with calving and 96 percent done with lambing.
 
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Victims of Deadly KCK Crash Identified 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have identified the victims of a deadly Kansas City, Kansas, crash as two men in their twenties. Police said Tuesday that the victims were 28-year-old Samuel Vissepo-Quinones and 23-year-old Bryan Viera-Duran. The Kansas City, Kansas, men were in a sport utility vehicle that was struck Saturday while turning into an apartment complex. Both victims were taken to hospitals, where they died of their injuries. The driver of the car and three juveniles were taken to area hospitals with minor injuries. The accident remains under investigation.

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KU Freshman Josh Jackson Says He Is Entering NBA Draft 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas freshman Josh Jackson has announced he will enter the NBA draft. Jackson, who released a statement on Monday, was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and a berth in the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight. The 6-foot-8 Jackson has signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group. Jackson arrived at Kansas after a stellar prep career in Detroit and Napa, California. He says in the statement that after "consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA Draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball." He added that he was thankful for "all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas."

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