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Headlines for Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kansas House Panel Plans to Discuss Budget Issues This Week

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee plans to meet later this week to review a new, more pessimistic fiscal forecast for state government and to discuss budget issues. The Appropriations Committee's session Thursday would be the first legislative meeting since state officials and university economists issued the new forecast. Lawmakers are taking their annual spring break but the full House and Senate plan to reconvene April 29 so that the Legislature can wrap up its business for the year. The new fiscal forecast was issued Monday and cut projections for tax collections from now through June 2016 by $187 million. It revised a forecast made in November. State Budget Director Shawn Sullivan says lawmakers must fill a $400 million hole in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

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Kansas Lawmakers See $25M Worth of School Funding Surprises 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas would take an additional $25 million hit in its next state budget to provide the aid it has promised to public schools. Officials learned of the issue less than three weeks after Gov. Sam Brownback signed legislation aimed at preventing school funding surprises. State officials said Tuesday that a property tax imposed by the state to raise money for schools is expected to generate $17.5 million less than previously anticipated during the fiscal year beginning July 1. Officials also predict that aid to school districts for construction projects will cost $7.5 million more than previously estimated. The GOP-controlled Legislature approved a measure in March to junk the state's per-pupil school funding formula and replace it with predictable "block grants." The Republican governor signed the legislation April 2.

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Brownback Vetoes Bill Upping Regulations on Uber Drivers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Governor Sam Brownback has vetoed a bill that would have increased regulations on ride-hailing companies like Uber.  Brownback announced his decision in a statement Monday, saying the bill was "premature'' and might stifle growth. The bill would require some drivers for Uber and other ride-hailing companies to provide proof of broader insurance and undergo state background checks. Uber connects drivers to riders through a mobile app and lobbied fiercely against the bill, saying its passage would have forced the company to leave the state.  The bill passed with large majorities in both chambers and Republican Representative Scott Schwab from Olathe said the Legislature would attempt to override the governor's veto. This would require 84 votes in the 125-seat House and 27 votes in the 40-seat Senate. 

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Kansas City Bishop Resigns after Conviction Related to Sex Abuse 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Bishop Robert Finn has resigned as leader of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Roman Catholic Diocese. The Vatican announced Finn's resignation early this (TUE) morning. Finn became the highest-ranking U.S. church official convicted of a crime related to the church's child sexual abuse scandal after he waited six months to report a diocese priest suspected of abuse. Finn was convicted in September 2012 of failing to report child abuse suspicions. A diocese priest, Reverend Shawn Ratigan, was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. The Vatican appointed Kansas City, Kansas Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann to serve as the diocese’s interim leader.

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Reactions to Finn's Resignation Issued

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Bishop Robert Finn is urging followers to pray for his successor. The priest who led the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph in Missouri for nearly 10 years has resigned under a church law that allows bishops to leave early for illness or some "grave" reason that makes them unfit for office. But the resignation does not provide a specific reason. In 2012, Finn pleaded guilty to failing to report a suspected child abuser, becoming the highest-ranking church official in the U.S. to be convicted of not taking action in response to abuse allegations. Sister Jeanne Christensen, a member of the Sisters of Mercy who has been a vocal critic of Finn, says "it's sad" that it's taken this long for Finn to step down. And Rebecca Randles -- an attorney for several plaintiffs in abuse lawsuits -- says the resignation is an important step for abuse victims and the diocese.

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Kansas Man Pleads Not Guilty to Federal Terrorism Charges 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 20-year-old Kansas man has pleaded not guilty to federal charges accusing him of trying to bomb an Army installation for a terrorist group. John T. Booker Jr. appeared Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, wearing an orange jumpsuit and his legs in shackles. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Booker politely responded to Judge James P. O'Hara's questions as he entered his plea. He's charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to damage property by means of an explosive and attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State group. The Topeka man was arrested near Junction City on April 10 by FBI agents who say he was trying to arm a fake car bomb he planned to detonate at Fort Riley.

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6 Kansas Districts to Close Early Citing Budget Cuts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - At least six school districts in Kansas plan to close early this May because of budget concerns. A K-12 block grant bill, which cut about $50 million in operating and maintenance aid from the budgets of most school districts in the state, went into effect for the current school year. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that according to school board minutes and public announcements on district websites, schools that have shortened their calendars are Concordia Unified School District 333, Twin Valley USD 240, Smoky Valley USD 400, Haven USD 312, Skyline USD 438 and Shawnee Heights USD 450. Most school districts in the state exceed the required amount of days for a school year, which makes it possible for them to drop a few days without violating any rules.

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CDC: 10 Listeria Illnesses Now Linked to Blue Bell Products 

HOUSTON (AP) — Federal regulators say they're now aware of 10 listeria illnesses linked to ice cream and other products made by Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries over the last five years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had previously reported eight illnesses from Kansas and Texas, including three deaths in Kansas. The agency said Tuesday that two more illnesses have been confirmed in Oklahoma and Arizona. CDC says those sickened fell ill between January 2010 and January 2015. Blue Bell recalled all of its products late Monday after two samples of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream tested positive for listeria bacteria. The recall includes ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks distributed in 23 states and abroad.

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Study Links Swarm of Quakes in Texas to Natural Gas Drilling 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Scientists have linked a swarm of small earthquakes west of Fort Worth to nearby natural gas wells and wastewater injection. A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications says researchers from Southern Methodist University and the U.S. Geological Survey monitored the shaking from nearly 30 small quakes around Azle from November 2013 to January 2014. The area hadn't had any recorded quakes in 150 years. The scientists say the shaking decreased when the volume of injections did. They have concluded that removing saltwater from the wells and injecting that wastewater back underground is "the most likely cause" for the swarm of quakes. Other studies have made a connection between wastewater injections and a spike in earthquakes in Oklahoma and southern Kansas.

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Feds Charge Ex-Bank President, Others with Money Laundering 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged a former bank president and two of his customers in a conspiracy to launder drug money in Kansas for Mexican cartels. Two other former bank employees were also charged with failing to report the suspicious financial transactions. The U.S. attorney's office says the 37-count indictment unsealed Tuesday in Kansas is part of a larger investigation with indictments across the country. That probe has resulted in 20 indictments against defendants in Indiana, Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia, Oklahoma, Colorado and Mexico. Prosecutors say George Enns and his wife, Agatha, of Meade, Kansas, deposited millions in drug proceeds into their account at the Plains State Bank in Kansas while former bank president James Kirk Friend of Plains failed to report the suspicious activity. No attorneys were listed in court records.

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Police: Man Dies After Shooting Himself in Leg, Crashing Car 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a man has died after accidentally shooting himself in the leg and then crashing his vehicle while trying to get to a hospital. Lieutenant James Espinoza said 28-year-old Kenneth Richards III shot himself in the upper left thigh in his car. Richards lost control of his vehicle Monday morning while trying to get to a hospital and crashed. Espinoza said an autopsy will determine his cause of death.

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Marion Man Sentenced to 14 Years for Lewd Contact with Child

MARION, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says a Marion man must serve more than 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to lewd contact with a 9-year-old child. A Marion County judge sentenced 47-year-old Kenneth Newell to 177 months in prison on Monday. Newell was charged with two counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child younger than 14. He pleaded guilty last month.

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Fiery Crash Kills Kansas Couple in Southwestern Illinois

WASHINGTON PARK, Ill. (AP) — Authorities say a couple from Kansas died in a fiery crash along Interstate 64 in southwestern Illinois. The Belleville News-Democrat reports 68-year-old Ervin Huflig and 63-year-old Mary Huflig of Lawrence, Kansas, were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident Monday evening in Washington Park. St. Clair County Deputy Coroner Dean Darnall says the couple was driving an RV, with a minivan in tow, when they lost control of the vehicle, causing it to strike a large sign post and burst into flames. He says the Hufligs were on their way from Kansas to Kentucky. Coroner Rick Stone says it appears one of the tires blew. He says the Hufligs probably died in the fire. Eastbound lanes on the highway were closed for several hours after the crash.

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Charges Added in Killing of Kansas Gun Store Owner 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Four men charged with killing a suburban Kansas City gun store owner will face additional charges. The suspects were already charged with first-degree felony murder in the January shooting death of Jon Bieker in Shawnee, Kansas. He was killed while defending his wife during a robbery at the She's A Pistol gun store. His wife, Becky Bieker, suffered only minor injuries. A preliminary hearing scheduled for Monday was postponed until July 27 at the request of defense attorneys. The Kansas City Star reports that the suspects — Londro E. Patterson III, Deanthony A. Wiley, Nicquan K. Midgyett, and Hakeem W. Malik, — are now also charged with attempted aggravated robbery, conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery and aggravated battery. All four suspects are being held in the Johnson County Jail.

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Medical Marijuana Activist in Kansas Could Face Charges

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A medical marijuana advocate has lost custody of her 11-year-old son at least temporarily and could face possible charges following comments the boy made during a drug education program at his Kansas school.  Garden City Police said the case of 37-year-old Shona Banda was forwarded Monday to prosecutors for a decision about any charges. Police said in a statement that possible charges include possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of drug paraphernalia and child endangerment. No arrests have been made.  Police were called to the boy's school on March 24. A search of the house found marijuana and other drug-related items. After a hearing Monday, the divorced Garden City mother says she is not giving up on regaining custody of her son.

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Rains Slow Spring Planting in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Heavy rains across Kansas this past week have slowed spring planting due to wet soils. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 1 percent of the soybeans and 23 percent of the corn in Kansas has now been planted. The agency says precipitation came across the eastern two-thirds of Kansas, with heavier amounts in south-central Kansas. Southwestern counties stayed mostly dry. About 28 percent of the state's winter wheat crop is rated in poor to very poor condition despite the welcomed moisture. About 46 percent of the wheat is in fair condition with 24 percent in good and 2 percent excellent shape. About 4 percent of the state's wheat crop has now headed.

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KU Hires Schneider to Coach Women's Basketball Team

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ The University of Kansas has hired Brandon Schneider to turn around its struggling women's basketball program. Schneider, who led Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas to the past two Southland Conference championships, will be introduced at a news conference today (TUE). The Jayhawks fired Bonnie Henrickson last month after 11 seasons that included two trips to the Sweet 16, but not enough consistency to keep the program among the Big 12's best. Schneider won more than 300 games and the Division II national championship with Emporia State before taking over the program at Stephen F. Austin where he led the team to 95 wins in five seasons, and made three appearances in postseason tournaments. 

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Royals Beat Twins, 7-1 in Series Opener

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Royals' pitcher Edinson Volquez (2-1) dodged trouble for seven innings as Kansas City pounded the Minnesota Twins, 7-1 on Monday night. Volquez allowed five hits while striking out five with only one walk. Alcides Escobar returned from a sprained knee to score a run, and Kendrys Morales and Paulo Orlando drove in a pair each. Twins' right-hander Kyle Gibson (1-2) gave up four runs in five-plus innings. The Royals have two more games versus the Twins at Kauffman Stadium before leaving on a week-long road trip to Chicago and Cleveland.

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Royals' Herrera Suspended, Ventura Fined for Incident vs A's 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Major League Baseball suspended Kansas City's Kelvin Herrera for five games and fined him and fellow pitcher Yordano Ventura after both targeted Brett Lawrie during a testy series against Oakland over the weekend. Herrera was tossed in the eighth inning of Sunday's game after throwing behind Lawrie. Ventura was ejected from Saturday's game when he hit Lawrie with a pitch after Josh Reddick's home run. Both incidents came after Lawrie's hard slide into Alcides Escobar injured the left knee of the Kansas City shortstop on Friday and caused benches to clear. Escobar called it a "dirty slide" and did not play Saturday or Sunday. MLB did not disclose the amounts of the fines. Herrera can appeal his suspension or it can take effect beginning Tuesday night against Minnesota.

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