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Headlines for Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Kansas Governor Unveils Plan to Close Budget Gap 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback's administration has outlined a plan for closing a shortfall in the current Kansas budget that includes making some cuts and diverting funds for highways and public pensions. Budget Director Shawn Sullivan outlined the proposal Tuesday in interviews with reporters. The plan avoids cutting aid to public schools and the state's Medicaid program for the needy. The governor can make some spending cuts himself but needs the Legislature's approval for some parts of his plan. Those parts include diverting nearly $96 million in funds for highway projects to general government programs. The plan would eliminate a projected $279 million shortfall in the budget for the fiscal year that began in July. The state still would face a $436 million shortfall for the next fiscal year.


GOP Leaders in Kansas Senate Criticize Budget Plan 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two GOP leaders in the Kansas Senate are criticizing Republican Governor Sam Brownback's plan for eliminating a projected $279 million shortfall in the current state budget. Brownback's plan would trim spending and divert funds for public pensions to general government programs. His administration unveiled it Tuesday. Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita said the governor is picking winners and losers by being selective in cutting. She said she prefers to see the burden of closing the budget shortfall spread evenly. Senate Vice President Jeff King of Independence criticized the plan for diverting $41 million in contributions to the state pension system. King is chairman of the Senate pensions committee. King said the plan threatens to undo gains made in recent years to improve the pension system's long-term financial health.


Preliminary Injunction Sought in Gay Marriage Case 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union is asking a judge to stop officials in Kansas from prohibiting same-sex weddings and denying benefits offered to opposite-sex married couples. The ACLU filed the request for a preliminary injunction Monday in federal court, saying that its case is likely to succeed. The U.S. Supreme Court last month blocked Kansas from enforcing its ban on same-sex marriages while the lawsuit proceeds in federal court. Same-sex couples in Kansas have since been marrying in some but not all of the state's 105 counties. But the ACLU's motion notes that the state isn't recognizing same-sex marriages for spousal health insurance benefits, state tax filing purposes and driver's license name changes. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has vowed to uphold the state's ban on same-sex marriages.


Lawmakers Vow to Revive “Religious Freedom” Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. _ Some religious leaders in Kansas are asking lawmakers to bring back a proposed law that would allow public and private workers to refuse service to gay couples. The proposal known as the "religious freedom bill" was approved in the state House in the last session but was never taken up in the Senate. Republican Representative Steve Brunk of Wichita says the bill is especially relevant now with same-sex marriages being performed in the state. "The primary thrust of the bill had to do with protecting the florist and the cakemaker and the photographer," Brunk said. "So that, if they didn't want to participate in a homosexual wedding, they wouldn't be forced to by the government." Gay rights leaders say gay men and lesbians already face high levels of discrimination in Kansas and, they say, the proposal would enshrine bigotry in state law. Representative Brunk says he expects the proposal to resurface when the legislature convenes in January.


Enrollment Increases Slightly at State Universities

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Board of Regents reports fall enrollment grew slightly at all six state universities, led by an increase of 453 students at Wichita State University. Fort Hays State saw its enrollment climb by 384 students, Kansas State University had a bump of 185 students and the University of Kansas added 177 students. Official enrollment numbers represent enrollment at each school as of the 20th day of class during the fall semester. Washburn University, a municipal university in Topeka, saw its enrollment decline by 196 students. 


Kansas School Employees Suspended in FBI Probe

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A Sedgewick County school district superintendent says two employees have been placed on administrative leave in connection with an ongoing FBI investigation. Maize Superintendent Doug Powers says the probe doesn't involve a student but didn't say what federal authorities are investigating. School board members didn't publicly address the November 18 search at their Monday meeting.  Powers says he hasn't received an update from the FBI since the search at the Maize Educational Support Center.  The district reset student and parent passwords to its online gradebook and student data system after the search. Powers says no information was compromised and the move was precautionary.  The employees' names and positions haven't been released. 


Topeka Waives $16K Bill for Grieving Family

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The city of Topeka is paying a $16,000 demolition fee originally billed to a family grieving the death of an 18-year-old woman in a house fire last month.  City Manager Jim Colson said Monday that he apologized to the family of Morgan Duncan, who died in a fire on November 20. The bill was for the demolition of the home in which Duncan lived. Her mother received the bill last week, just days before a memorial service. Colson said he ordered an investigation, and the city concluded that the demolition was necessary to put out the fire and keep fire and emergency personnel safe. Colson said that made the city responsible for the cost of hiring a private company to do the demolition work. 

Mom: Man Accused in Teen's Death Needs Mental Help 

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The mother of a Kansas City man accused of deliberately running down a Muslim teenager says her son is mentally ill and didn't commit a hate crime. Hawo Abdullahi of Minneapolis says her son, 34-year-old Ahmed H. Aden, needs help. Authorities say Aden was driving a sport utility vehicle that hit 15-year-old Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein on Thursday. The teen's legs were nearly severed and he died. Authorities are investigating it as a possible hate crime. Abdullahi expressed her condolences to Sheikh-Hussein's family, but says his death wasn't a hate crime because her son — who is also Somali and Muslim — isn't in his right mind. Minnesota court records show Aden was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2012, was committed to a hospital for treatment, and has a history of stopping medication.


Topeka Police Pulling Officers from Schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Topeka's new police chief says his department is providing more officers to the local school district than its contract requires and will be reassigning some of them. Soon after James Brown became chief in October he informed the Topeka School District of his intentions. Each year the school district signs a contract with the police department to boost its own 12-person police force. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports last year's contract called for the department to provide four officers to the school district for a fee of $366,000, but instead has been providing 11. Brown has pulled two officers from the school district and says he plans to remove more. Superintendent Julie Ford said her district can't pay $366,000 a year for fewer services than it previously received.


Kansas Highway Patrol Superintendent to Retire 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The head of the Kansas Highway Patrol says he plans to retire, effective January 5. The state announced the retirement plans of Colonel Ernest Garcia in a news release issued Monday. Garcia was appointed to the job in 2011. Before that, he was a 40-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He also was the Sergeant at Arms for the U.S. Senate. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the retirement comes months after a patrol survey indicated low morale among troopers and broad dissatisfaction with the agency's leaders.


Kansas City Suburb Considers Plastic Bag Ban

PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas City suburb of Prairie Village, Kansas, is considering enacting a ban or fines for using plastic grocery bags. Similar efforts in other U.S. cities have met with resistance and threats of lawsuits. But some cities, such as Seattle and Chicago, and the entire state of California, have banned the bags, which some consider bad for the environment. Roeland Park and Garden City, Kansas both studied the issue but dropped it. Ben Claypool, chairman of a citizens committee studying the issue in Prairie Village, says the idea is getting a lot of support. However, the process has just started and is expected to take months. 


Chiefs' Eric Berry Diagnosed with Cancer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and will begin chemotherapy for what doctors called a "very treatable and potentially curable'' form of cancer. Hodgkin's disease is a form of lymphoma originating in white blood cells. Berry had been undergoing tests at Emory University in Atlanta since an MRI exam nearly two weeks ago showed a mass on the right side of his chest that was suspected to be lymphoma. Berry said in a statement that he will "embrace this process and attack it the same way I do everything else in life. God has more than prepared me for it.''  The former All-Pro safety has already been ruled out for the remainder of the season.


Charges: Impostor Changed Name of ID Theft Victim 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An 81-year-old immigrant from Mexico who has lived unlawfully in the United States for decades has been charged in federal court in Kansas in what authorities say is one of the most ingenious identity theft cases in the country. The government contends in an indictment unsealed Tuesday that Ramon Perez-Rivera fraudulently succeeded in getting a California court to unwittingly legally change the name of the U.S. citizen whose identity had been stolen to his own real name. Perez-Rivera was then able to get the state to also change the name on the man's birth certificate. A 33-count indictment charges him with aggravated identity theft and other charges, including using making false statements to obtain food stamps and Medicaid, register to vote and get a U.S. passport and a driver's license.


Police: Man Put Gun in Baby Seat Next to Daughter
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a 20-year-old man has been arrested after placing a loaded, cocked gun in a car seat with his infant daughter. The Wichita Eagle reports the man was arrested late Sunday night after he burst into a house and demanded at gunpoint to be given the girl. Police say he "threatened to shoot everyone if he did not get his baby" and pointed the gun at several people inside the home to reinforce his threat. Police say he put the baby in a car seat and placed his gun next to her and tried to leave. Officers were called to the scene and arrested him there. The man was booked into Sedgwick County Jail on suspicion of aggravated assault with a firearm, aggravated burglary and child endangerment.


Hallmark Pulls Wrap After Swastika Complaint

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Hallmark Cards Inc. has removed a blue and silver gift wrap from circulation after a customer complained that she saw a swastika embedded in the design. The Kansas City, Missouri-based company alerted retailers to the problem Monday after receiving a complaint from a Walgreen's customer in Northridge, California. The disputed wrap was featured in a Hanukkah display but Hallmark spokeswoman Julie Elliott says the gift wrap wasn't intended for the Jewish holiday. Elliott said in a news release that Hallmark didn't intend to offend anyone. She said it was an oversight that no one at Hallmark noticed that intersecting lines in the paper could be seen as a swastika pattern.


Police Identify Woman Killed at KCK Lowe's Store

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Police have identified a woman fatally shot in a Lowe's Home Improvement store parking lot in Kansas City, Kansas. Police say a 28-year-old man has turned himself in to authorities in connection to the Sunday shooting death of 29-year-old Janet Billings of Bonner Springs. Police describe the man as a person of interest but haven't released his identity. They say the man and Billings knew each other but didn't say how. 

Thieves Hit Kansas Agriculture Museum

BONNER SPRINGS, Kan. (AP) _ Police are seeking help to identify whoever stole items from the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame's collection.  Bonner Springs police say thieves broke into the center on September 10 and November 5. Stolen items include an antique coin collection valued at $25,000, mantel clocks and cast iron agricultural models. Center officials say a pair of laptop computers was taken in the September break-in. The 160-acre facility has separate museums and many exhibits that give an extensive history of farming and agriculture. Police are asking the public to call with any information related to the thefts.


KCC Recommends Chanute Broadband Plan

CHANUTE, Kan. (AP) - The staff of the Kansas Corporation Commission is recommending approval of Chanute's plans to provide ultra-high fast broadband internet to its residents. The Wichita Eagle reports the three members of the KCC will make the final decision but staff recommendations usually are highly influential. Chanute officials want to extend internet service that would be 14 times faster and 60 percent cheaper than any Internet service city residents currently can receive. KCC staff who studied Chanute's plan says it would not duplicate existing broadband service and it is appropriate for the city to provide Internet service to its residents. AT&T, which provides service to Chanute, has asked to intervene in the case. But a company official said Monday the company had not taken a position on Chanute's plan.


MO Governor Asks for Analysis of Tolls on I-70 

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is asking state highway officials to analyze the potential of turning Interstate 70 into a toll road. Nixon sent a letter Tuesday to the transportation commission requesting a report by the end of December on options for using tolls to improve and expand I-70. Highway officials have said the interstate between suburban St. Louis and suburban Kansas City is in need of a complete makeover and have talked for years about widening it to three lanes in each direction. Voters in August defeated a proposed sales tax that would have funded the I-70 project and numerous others. The transportation department suggested several years ago that I-70 could be rebuilt by a private company that could collect tolls. But that measure failed to pass the Legislature.


Empire Electric Seeks Rate Increase for Environmental Costs 

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) - The Empire District Electric Co. in Joplin is asking the Kansas Corporation Commission to approve a rate increase to pay for environmental compliance at its Asbury plant. The environmental rider would mean a $3.67 per month increase for Kansas customers using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of energy. Empire is asking that the rider be effective March 1.  Empire spokeswoman Julie Maus says the environmental costs include equipment needed to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, particulate matter and mercury emissions. The Joplin Globe reports the total cost is between $112 million and $130 million. Empire asked the Missouri Public Service Commission in August for a 5.5 percent increase, or $24.3 million, from its Missouri customers for environmental compliance. 


Wichita School District to Sell Administration Building

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The administration of Wichita's school district will be moving to another building in 2016. The Wichita school board voted Monday to sell the district's downtown administration building to a developer for $1.2 million. The building will be renovated into loft apartments. The district will lease the building for $4,700 a month until it can move into the current Southeast High School after a new Southeast High opens in the fall of 2016. The district's administrative center has been housed at the nine-story Alvin E. Morris Administrative Center since 1994. 

Kansas City Man Sentenced in Truck, Cargo Thefts 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City man has been sentenced to 21 years and 10 months in prison for his role in the theft of commercial trucks and their cargo over a 14-year period. Forty-three-year-old Kenneth Borders of Kansas City received the punishment on Monday. He was also ordered to pay nearly $1.3 million in restitution to 27 victims. Borders and two other men in February were convicted of stealing trucks and trailers in Missouri, Kansas, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska since 1998. The men stole $125,000 worth of frozen ribs, nearly $60,000 in chicken wings and about 21,000 pounds of Little Sizzler sausages. Authorities say they sold the items cheaply to anyone who would buy it, sometimes out of the back of the trailer. The other men are awaiting sentencing.


Traylor Will Not Play for KU vs Georgetown

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ University of Kansas basketball player Jamari Traylor has been suspended for Wednesday night's game at Georgetown after he was arrested over the weekend for interfering with a police officer. Coach Bill Self said Monday that Traylor would travel with the No. 10 Jayhawks but would not play against the Hoyas. He said that Traylor is "a good kid who made a bad choice'' and that Self hopes the situation has been put behind him.  Traylor was arrested shortly after 2 am Sunday near campus, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office said. He posted $100 bond and was released. He is due in court December 23. Rodriguez Coleman, a backup wide receiver on the KU football team, also was arrested early Sunday, posted $100 bond and was released. New football coach David Beaty said he was handling the matter internally.


David Beaty Introduced as New KU Football Coach

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ David Beaty was introduced as the University of Kansas's third coach in the past five years Monday, promising to rebuild the long-stagnant program through "hard work and earning everything.'' Beaty was hired Friday to replace Charlie Weis, who was fired four games into his third season on the job. Beaty wasted no time in announcing that Clint Bowen, who had been serving as interim coach, would remain on his staff as defensive coordinator. In an interview with The Associated Press, Beaty said he would spend the next week working simultaneously on filling out his staff and hitting the recruiting trail. Coaches only have until Sunday before the NCAA begins a ``dead period'' in recruiting.  Beaty takes over a program that won just three games last season.


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