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Headlines for Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Kansas Court Orders More State Spending on Schools 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state district court panel has ruled that Kansas isn't spending enough money on its public schools to provide a suitable education for every child. The three judges on Tuesday did not set a specific figure but said evidence indicates the state needs to spend at least $548 million more a year. An attempt by Republican Governor Sam Brownback and the GOP-dominated Legislature to comply would complicate efforts to close state budget shortfalls. It also would jeopardize aggressive personal income tax cuts enacted at Brownback's urging to boost the economy. The state is expected to appeal the Shawnee County District Court panel's decision to the Kansas Supreme Court. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the parents of more than 30 students and four school districts.


Kansas Education Groups Praise Ruling on Funding 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Groups representing Kansas teachers, parents and school boards say a court ruling on education funding validates their arguments that the state is underfunding its schools. But the ruling Tuesday from a three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court drew strong criticism from a conservative think tank. The ruling says the state isn't spending enough money on public schools to provide a suitable education for every child. Among the groups praising the decision were Kansas Families for Education, the Kansas Association of School Boards and the Kansas National Education Association. The KNEA is the state's largest union for teachers. But Dave Trabert, president of the conservative Kansas Policy Institute, says the judges ignored facts showing schools are adequately funded and issued a political decision.


Court Won't Reconsider States' Citizenship Lawsuit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal appeals court has refused to reconsider a decision allowing residents of Kansas and Arizona to register to vote without providing proof of their U.S. citizenship. A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver issued a one-sentence ruling Monday denying a request from the two states. The appeals court ruled in November that Kansas and Arizona cannot demand help from federal officials in enforcing state laws requiring new voters to submit a birth certificate or other papers documenting U.S. citizenship. The same panel overturned a ruling in March by U.S. District Court Judge Eric Melgren requiring the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to revise its federal voter registration form for those states to require proof of citizenship.


Kansas City Health Officials Say Flu Season 'Unprecedented'
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas City-area hospital and health officials say this year's flu season so far has seen an "unprecedented" number of cases. The University of Kansas was treating 23 inpatients with the flu on Tuesday, along with 13 others with suspected cases of the flu. Two other influenza patients have died this year at the hospital. Chief medical officer Lee Norman says in his past eight years at the hospital he's seen at most 10 hospitalized at any given time. Norman says as of Monday 10 of 28 Kansas City-area hospitals weren't accepting helicopters bringing patients to their emergency rooms, which are packed with flu patients. The Kansas Department of Health reported 333 deaths related to influenza or pneumonia between September and Dec. 20. More than 1,100 in Kansas died of the flu last season, which typically ends in March. Chief epidemiologist Larry Franken of the Wyandotte County Public Health Department says numbers this year are troubling because the flu normally hits the hardest in January or February. Franken says he's concerned 2015 will bring similarly high numbers of flu cases in the area.


Tyson Foods Adds Line, Jobs in Emporia

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Tyson Foods has added a $3 million line at its plant in Emporia, creating about 16 new jobs. The company says the additional line was needed to make a product for a national foodservice customer. The Emporia Gazette reports Tyson built a new room to house the line, modified existing refrigeration and installed new equipment. The state provided tax credits for capital investments and training credits to Tyson to support the expansion. About 950 people currently work at the plant.


Kansas Survey to Study Dropping Groundwater Levels

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Researchers are planning to measure ground water in western Kansas to check for dropping water levels. The Kansas Geological Survey based at the University of Kansas will work with the Department of Agriculture in early January to track a drop in aquifer levels over the past 60 years. A statement from the university says annual data has shown decreases in groundwater levels in the High Plains aquifer. Research cited sparse rains and a rise in irrigation usage. The underground aquifer is the main water source for irrigation, cities and industries in western and central Kansas. Survey water-data manager Brownie Wilson says most of western Kansas had moderate to severe drought this month. Counties on the Oklahoma border had extreme drought.


Man Shot to Death During Attempted Break-In

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office is investigating the death of a 27-year-old man after an attempted break-in at a home. Captain Greg Pollock says officers found a man dead Monday in front of a home near Haysville where a resident reported an attempted break-in. The man was identified Tuesday as Cody Don Reid of Wichita. Pollock says shortly after the attempted break-in, the homeowner heard gunshots and saw the man who tried to get into the home lying in the yard and a car speeding away. Pollock says the residents weren't involved in the shooting and were not hurt. Officers are searching for two vehicles of interest: One is a dark-colored sedan, late 1980s or early 1990s model. The other is a silver 4-door Chrysler Cirrus with Kansas tag 497-GZG.


Worker Dies at Kansas City-Area Ford Plant
CLAYCOMO, Mo. (AP) — Ford Motor Company officials say a person has died in an accident at a company plant in suburban Kansas City. The company released a statement Tuesday confirming the death at the Claycomo Assembly Plant but few other details were released. Emergency responders were called to the plant north of Kansas City about 10:30 am Tuesday. The company said in its statement that the worker died in an "occupational incident." The Kansas City Star reports an Occupational Safety & Health Administration official says the worker was struck by a piece of equipment. Kansas City-area acting OSHO administrator Bonita Winingham says another Missouri worker died this fall after being hit by equipment. The administration is investigating the incident, and Ford also promised a full investigation.


Kansas Governor's Chief of Staff Stepping Down 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's chief of staff is stepping down next week to take a job with an auto industry group in Washington. Brownback's office announced Landon Fulmer's departure Monday. Fulmer has been the Republican governor's chief of staff since April 2012. Fulmer will become vice president of state affairs with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The group represents 12 companies accounting for 77 percent of U.S. car and light truck sales. Brownback said he is promoting Jon Hummell from policy director to chief of staff. Hummell will keep his duties as policy director until the position can be filled. The governor's office also said that Chuck Knapp will serve as chief of staff to Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer while remaining as operations director at the Department for Children and Families.


Rise in Homeless Students Continues in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas education officials say the number of homeless students in the state's schools continues to increase. The Kansas State Department of Education reports nearly 10,400 homeless children attended public schools last year, a thousand more than a year earlier. Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, public schools reported increases of 45 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Tate Toedman, the education department's child homelessness program coordinator, said families are taking longer to recover from homelessness than in the past. The federal government requires schools to track homeless students in order to receive support and service programs that help the children stay in school.


Response to Kansas Medicaid Suit Alleges Extortion

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A firm managing part of the Medicaid program in Kansas and its parent company allege in court documents that a former executive tried to "extort'' $3 million from them after being fired.  Sunflower State Health Plan and parent Centene Corporation made the allegations Monday in response to a federal lawsuit filed in October by former Sunflower Vice President Jacqueline Leary.  Leary alleges in her lawsuit that she was wrongfully fired in January after protesting potentially improper cost-cutting moves for the Kansas Medicaid program.  Sunflower and Centene said Leary demanded $3 million from them in February. Medicaid covers health services for the poor and disabled. Kansas has turned its administration over to three private companies, including Sunflower. 


Guidelines Proposed for Frivolous Court Pleadings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Supreme Court is studying proposed guidelines for judges grappling with people who file repetitive, malicious or frivolous pleadings. The proposed guidelines by the judicial branch's Access to Justice Committee are meant to act as a resource for judges when considering filing restrictions in court cases. The 18-member panel made up of lawyers and judges has written a report that outlines court precedent and advice for judges when confronted with difficult litigants. The guidelines say a judge should provide litigants a chance to present their objections to proposed restrictions. After considering the litigant's response, the judge should weigh whether he or she should impose filing restrictions. A committee member tells the Topeka Capital-Journal that the guidelines seek to balance management of court dockets while respecting a person's constitutional rights.


Kansas GOP Chairman to Seek Another Term

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Republican Party's chairman is seeking a second two-year term after the GOP swept all statewide and congressional races in the November election. State GOP Chairman Kelly Arnold announced his plans in a letter to fellow Republicans. The decision on retaining Arnold as chairman will be made by the Republican State Committee during a January 31 meeting in Topeka that is part of the GOP's annual Kansas Days convention. Arnold says he's running for re-election because the party needs to maintain the momentum it captured this year. He says the state GOP raised and spent $3.6 million during the last election cycle. Arnold is from Wichita and also has served six years as Sedgwick County clerk.


KC Parish Revives New Year's Day Mass for First Responders

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Kansas City parish will continue a tradition of offering a New Year's Day Mass to honor police officers and other first responders who died in the line of duty. The Mass at St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church will be at 10 a.m. Thursday. The custom started in 1924 but ended in the 1960s after the church's then-pastor died. The tradition was revived about five years ago after Reverend Ernie Davis found an old chalice and asked volunteers to clean it. The Kansas City Star reports the chalice had an inscription honoring Dennis Whalen, a Kansas City police officer who was shot to death on New Year's Eve 1923. It was donated by Whalen's wife. After Davis discovered the chalice's history he revived the special Mass.


Fagron Sterile Plans Expansion in Wichita 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Fagron (FAW-grawn) Sterile Services, which manufactures sterile products for medical use, is planning an expansion in Wichita. The Netherlands-based company, which acquired Wichita's JCB Laboratories in January, says the expansion could bring 100 new jobs to Wichita in the next three years at its new 49,000-square-foot plant. JCB president Brian Williamson will provide the same products that JCB does but the new plant will have cutting-edge, automated technology. He says JCB and Fagron needed to have two plants in case a disaster damages one of the facilities. He expects to have an occupancy certificate for the new plant by July 1. The new space will have a maximum capacity of about 100 employees, who will be hired in the next three years.


Kansas Church Reports Major Theft After Christmas 

BUCYRUS, Kan. (AP) — A small Catholic parish in eastern Kansas is suffering a blow to its Christmas spirit. The pastor of the Queen of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Bucyrus told his congregation Sunday that someone had cleaned out the church's safe sometime after Christmas. KSHB-TV reports the Rev. Larry Albertson told his congregation to cancel any checks they wrote to the church. He said someone who knew where things were located in the church opened the safe and walked off with contributions made during five Christmas Masses. The thief then returned the key to the safe. Albertson estimates the loss is close to $15,000. Bucyrus, an unincorporated town of about 200 people, is about 30 miles south of Kansas City, Missouri.


Missouri Man Sentenced for Selling Stolen Items 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City man was sentenced to five years in federal prison without parole for leading a burglary ring that sold stolen items on eBay. Federal prosecutors say 37-year-old Nathaniel Dixon of Lee's Summit was also ordered Tuesday to pay $104,657 in restitution and forfeit $125,921 to the government. Prosecutors say the group stole items from vehicles of at least 144 victims in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Items from inside the vehicles, as well as tires and wheels. The items were sold on Dixon's eBay account. The theft ring caused a loss of about $476,000 to the victims. In a separate case, 36-year-old Nickalass King was sentenced to three years and three months without parole for his role in the conspiracy and for violating his supervised release.


Royals' Gordon Undergoes Surgery on Right Wrist 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon has had surgery on his right wrist, and the four-time Gold Glove winner should be ready for the season opener against the White Sox on April 6. The surgery, an extensor retinaculum repair, was performed by Dr. Bruce Toby at the University of Kansas Hospital on Tuesday. It is not yet clear when Gordon will be able to start in spring training. Royals trainer Nick Kenney says in a statement that Gordon reached out to the team about some wrist discomfort last week. Gordon traveled to Kansas City and underwent testing, and the surgery was scheduled immediately so that he would be ready for the upcoming season. Gordon dealt with pain in the same wrist midway through last season but did not miss significant playing time. He aggravated the injury during his winter training sessions.


Royals Sign Pitcher Edinson Volquez

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Royals have announced the signing of right-handed pitcher Edinson Volquez to a $20 million, two-year contract that includes a mutual option for the 2017 season. Volquez fills a big gap by taking James Shields' spot in the rotation. Shields became a free agent and it was unlikely the Royals would be able to keep him. The Royals have already signed designated hitter Kendrys Morales and outfielder Alex Rios to fill two of their other pressing needs. They also signed pitcher Kris Medlen, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and could help contribute midway through the season.


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