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Headlines for Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Here's a look at Kansas news headlines from the Associated Press, as compiled by the KPR News Team.

Report: Kansas Needs State Oversight of Local School Bonds 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new report from Republican legislators in Kansas says the state needs to provide greater oversight over local school construction projects. The report approved Tuesday recommends creating a legislative committee. It would review proposals from school districts to issue bonds for construction projects when a district will receive state aid to help with the cost. It also suggests that lawmakers limit the projects eligible for state aid. The state helps poor districts with bond payments. The cost of that aid has jumped. The report is from a House-Senate committee that studied school funding issues last fall. The committee is recommending that Kansas overhaul how it distributes more than $4 billion in aid to its public schools. Democrats opposed the report and said the bonding proposals insult local school boards.

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Kansas Teachers, Lobbyists Discuss Merit Pay in Hearing 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislators in Kansas are considering a merit pay system to reward higher quality teachers, although they are hearing plenty of opposition. A House Education Committee hearing on Tuesday allowed teachers and lobbyists to discuss the issue. Republican Governor Sam Brownback's policy director, Brandon Smith, spoke in favor of merit pay and compared it to efforts that proved successful in the District of Columbia and states such as New York. But Kansas Families for Education lobbyist Brian Koon said merit pay risks leaving vulnerable children behind. He has two high-needs children. The State Board of Education provides $1,100 scholarships to give teachers an incentive to attain a national certificate in their teaching specialties. But Kansas law does not mandate merit pay. The committee does not yet have a bill.

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Official Defends Kansas Department for Children, Families 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The head of the Kansas Department for Children and Families is defending the agency's efforts to ensure the safety of children in the foster care system. The Wichita Eagle reports that agency Secretary Phyllis Gilmore spoke Tuesday to the House Committee on Children & Seniors. The appearance came less than a week after another committee approved an audit of the agency. Gilmore called the state's foster care system one of the safest in the nation. A November report showed five children died in the foster care system during the 2015 fiscal year, which ended in June. Only one death was attributed to maltreatment. Other reasons for fatalities included illness and car accidents.

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Shift of Kansas Children's Initiative Fund Criticized 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback's office is defending a budget proposal that a child advocate says would make it easier for Kansas to siphon money from early childhood education. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Brownback unveiled last week a state budget that would shift the entire Children's Initiatives Fund to the State General Fund in fiscal year 2017. The governor's office says the move is meant to increase accountability and consolidate early childhood programs within the Kansas State Department of Education, which education commissioner Randy Watson says sought the change to better coordinate initiatives. Shannon Cotsoradis, CEO of Kansas Action for Children, said she does not see how the move leads to better coordination. The governor's spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, said existing childhood programs funded by the Children's Initiatives Fund will be continued to be fully funded.

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Kansas Senate Postpones Vote on Fix for Court System Budget
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate is postponing a vote on a bill for ensuring that state courts remain open following a legal dispute involving the judiciary's budget. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said Tuesday that the chamber might debate the measure next week. But the Senate had been expediting the measure so members could have voted on it without debate as early as Thursday. But an unnamed senator objected to having no debate. The bill repeals a 2015 law that nullified the judiciary's entire budget if the courts struck down a 2014 law enacted by Republican legislators. The 2014 law stripped the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to appoint chief judges in the state's 31 judicial districts, letting local judges do it. The high court invalidated the law in December.

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Kansas House Passes Change for Citizen-Called Grand Juries 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill aimed at making it harder for judges or prosecutors to influence the work of grand juries convened by citizens. The vote Tuesday was 101-20 on a bill that would allow people who are responsible for calling a grand jury to observe a judge's instructions to the jurors. The measure goes next to the Senate. Supporters said the bill would make grand juries less secretive and more responsive to the people who call them. Kansas is one of six states allowing citizens to petition for grand juries. The 1887 law was rarely used until about a decade ago, when anti-abortion activists began using it to convene grand jury investigations of abortion clinics. The law also has since also been used to investigate adult bookstores.

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Report: Residents Buy Groceries Out of State Due to Food Tax

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new study shows Kansas's high sales taxes on groceries have people crossing state lines to shop, particularly residents living in border counties.  The trend hurts low-income families, rural grocery stores and local governments.  Wichita State University's Kansas Public Finance Center analyzed the latest available food sales data and estimated that Kansas lost $345.6 million in food sales in 2013. The data does not include last year's sales tax hike that boosted Kansas' food sales tax to one of the highest in the nation.  The state's largest county, Johnson County, suffered the biggest losses with an estimated $93 million loss in food sales. But the losses on a per capita basis hit the smaller border counties the hardest.  Kansas is one of only 14 states that taxes groceries. Neighboring Nebraska and Colorado do not.

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Oklahoma, Kansas Still Grappling with Earthquakes

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Associated Press data analysis shows earthquakes are getting more frequent and stronger in Oklahoma but coming less often in Kansas. Scientists connect these man-made quakes to underground injections of wastewater from oil and gas drilling. Kansas restricted the volume of such injections, but Oklahoma took a different approach.  Officials say both Oklahoma and Kansas changed their drilling regulations amid a rise in the number of earthquakes last year, but only Kansas has seen a marked drop in the number of temblors.  An Associated Press analysis shows that between late 2014 and late 2015, the number of Kansas quakes fell by 60 percent. Oklahoma's rose 10 percent over the same period.  Kansas regulated how much wastewater could be injected into the earth after its use in oil and gas drilling. Oklahoma initially put limits on how deep the water could go.  Scientists say it is too early to reach firm conclusions, but fear that Oklahoma's trend of having more, smaller earthquakes could be setting a course for the big one. Earthquakes two weeks ago knocked out power in an Oklahoma City suburb.

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Prosecutor: Stiffer Charges Mulled in Kansas Child's Death 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors say they may upgrade murder charges against a Kansas man and wife accused in the death of a child who authorities believe is the man's missing 7-year-old son and may have been fed to pigs. Wyandotte County Deputy District Attorney Sheri Lidtke told a judge Tuesday that charges against Michael and Heather Jones may be upgraded to premeditated first-degree murder in the coming weeks. She didn't say what evidence prosecutors may have to support the new charge, which carries a minimum 50-year prison sentence. The Joneses are currently charged with felony murder, which carries a life sentence but parole eligibility after 20 years. Authorities found remains of a juvenile on the family's property in November. Tests to identify the remains are pending. Another hearing is scheduled for April 8.

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No Charges Expected Against Officials in Bledsoe Case

OSKALOOSA, Kan. (AP) — Jefferson County Attorney Jason Belveal says he doesn't expect to file charges against officials involved in an investigation that led to a man being wrongly convicted in the 1999 death of a 14-year-old Kansas girl.  Belveal says a former prosecutor, county sheriff and a Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent made mistakes while investigating the case of Floyd Bledsoe but he doesn't believe the mistakes were intentional.  Bledsoe served more than 15 years in prison for the death of 14-year-old Zetta Camille Arfmann before his conviction was overturned and he was released from prison last year. His brother, Tom Bledsoe, admitted to the crime in notes he left before he committed suicide.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the KBI is re-examining the case but it's unlikely to address the original investigation.

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Sheriff: Inmate Dies at Sedgwick County Jail; Cause Unknown 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a 24-year-old inmate of the Sedgwick County Adult Detention Facility has died of an unknown cause. The sheriff's office says in a news release that the inmate was found  unresponsive in his cell at around 10:15 am. Both onsite medical staff and emergency responders were unable to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at 10:55 am. Officials say the death will be investigated by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the sheriff's office. Authorities are not releasing the identity until the family has been notified. He was booked into the jail on September 30, 2013 on felony charges.

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Quapaw Tribe Sues Kansas over Casino Dispute 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An Oklahoma Indian tribe has filed a federal lawsuit against Kansas in the dispute over casino gambling. The Quapaw tribe alleges the state has failed to negotiate in good faith over proposed gambling on tribal land in Cherokee County. The lawsuit contends early discussions were cooperative, but those talks stalled when the state wanted to develop a state-owned casino in the area. The tribe's chairman, John Berrey, said in an emailed statement it has to stand up for the rights of Indian tribes. Neither the governor's office, nor the attorney general's office immediately responded to a request for comment. A federal judge last month dismissed a separate lawsuit filed by Kansas seeking to prevent the tribe's Oklahoma casino from expanding into Kansas. The state has appealed that decision.

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Vandals Cause More than $30,000 in Damage to Baldwin City Train

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — An association that operates a historic railroad in northeast Kansas has suffered tens of thousands of dollars in damages from vandals and other intruders over the past several years.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the Midland Railroad Historical Association hauls around 25,000 passengers between Baldwin City and Ottawa each year. It also showcases multiple historic pieces of train equipment.  General Manager Allen Kinsley says that last week, a passenger car built in 1916 was vandalized yet again. The car was taken out of service years ago and sidelined until some wheel work could be done.  Since it's been out of service, the car has been frequently visited by vandals and thieves looking for scrap copper.  He says damage estimates exceed the insurance policy maximum of $30,000.

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Westar Energy Offers Customers Alternative Energy Option

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Westar Energy is looking for customers interested in using some solar energy without having to install equipment.  The utility announced Monday it will build a solar array if enough customers agree by the end of March to buy at least 1 megawatt of power. That's enough electricity to power 164 homes.  Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig says anyone in Westar's territory could participate in the program.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that a household would pay about $10 per month to receive about 15 percent of its electricity through the solar community project. The incentive is that the rates would be locked in for as long as the customer is enrolled, regardless of how regular rates fluctuate.  Customers can enroll by visiting Westar's website, WestarEnergy.com/communitysolar.

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Program Helps Kansans Pay for Winter Energy Bills

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The state will begin accepting applications this week for the energy assistance program.  The Kansas Department for Children and Families says it will start accepting applications Tuesday for LIEAP - the state's Low Income Energy Assistance Program to help qualifying households pay winter heating bills.  The agency says the primary groups assisted are people with disabilities, older adults and families with children.  The Wichita Eagle reports that income eligibility requirements are 130 percent of the federal poverty level. Applicants also have to be responsible for direct payment of their heating bills to qualify.  The agency says in a release that nearly 48,000 households received an average payment of $412 last year. The energy assistance is a once a year benefit.

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Minor Injury in 'Hard Touchdown' at Wichita's Jabara Airport 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Emergency responders say a small plane carrying two people onboard had a "hard touchdown" at Wichita's Jabara airport, but no one was seriously hurt. Wichita Fire Department's battalion chief, Stuart Bevis, said the plane came down at 12:30 pm Tuesday on the north end of the airport runway. He says one person was treated for minor injuries at the scene, but refused transport to the hospital. He says the main issue emergency responders have been dealing with now is fuel leaking from one of the wing tanks. A photo tweeted out by the Wichita fire department shows the plane on its nose. The FAA says it is investigating the incident involving a Socata TBM700, a single-engine turboprop light business aircraft that slid off the runway after landing.

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Midwest Business Leaders Join for Regional Effort 

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Business leaders from Des Moines and four other Midwestern cities have announced the launch of a regional economic initiative. The Tuesday kick-off event was held at the Greater Des Moines Partnership to announce the Heartland Civic Collaborative, a coalition of metro areas made up of Des Moines, Kansas City, Omaha and St. Louis that will work to strengthen the region's economic competitiveness. Members of the group said they would work together to lobby federal officials and seek funding for projects that help the region's long-term growth. Other goals include improving interstate transportation, supporting entrepreneurs, and increasing the number of biotech and science organizations in each state.

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Airman from Nickerson Dies in Non-Combat Incident in Qatar

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A U.S. Airman from Kansas has died in a non-combat related incident while serving in Qatar.  The Department of Defense says that 42-year-old Air Force Major John D. Gerrie died Saturday in Al Udeid Air Base. The exact cause of his death has not been released.  The department says Gerrie was supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel. He was assigned to 453rd Electronic Warfare Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.  Gerrie is a native of Nickerson, Kansas.

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Woman Found Dead in Overland Park Apartment

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Overland Park police are investigating the death of a woman whose body was found in an apartment as a homicide. Police found the body of 35-year-old Jennifer Lopez of Overland Park Monday evening inside an apartment just south of Shawnee Mission North High School Monday evening.  Police say an acquaintance of the woman was arrested and is being held in the Johnson County jail pending charges.

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Leavenworth Man and Woman Killed in Crash

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have identified a man and a woman killed in a fiery crash in Kansas City, Kansas.  Police say the victims were 65-year-old Howard C. Levite and 47-year-old Erica L. Cortez, of Leavenworth.  They died early Friday when their speeding vehicle left the roadway, hit a tree stump and caught on fire. The accident remains under investigation.

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Kansas City Man Accused of Killing Father Outside Restaurant

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 19-year-old man faces charges accusing him of fatally shooting his adoptive father outside a suburban Kansas City fast-food restaurant where both men worked.  The Jackson County (Missouri) prosecutor's office said in a release Saturday that Shaquil Roland of Kansas City is charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the shooting death Friday of his adoptive father, 33-year-old Antonio Dennis. Dennis was the manager of the Lee's Summit restaurant, where Roland also worked.  The prosecutor's office says Dennis was shot Friday outside the restaurant after he and Roland had an argument inside the restaurant and then moved outside. The victim was found in the restaurant's parking lot and died at an area hospital.  Prosecutors have requested a bond of $200,000 cash.  It's unclear if Roland has a lawyer.

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Salina, Great Bend Lose Seaport Airlines Service

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A Portland, Oregon-based airline has ended service to Great Bend and Salina, effective immediately.  Seaport Airlines announced Friday that it would no longer fly to the two Kansas cities and five other cities in California. The company blamed a pilot shortage for ending its service.  KAKE-TV reports that Salina Airport Director Tim Rogers says Seaport's poor service has led to a drop in passengers.  Rogers says Great Lakes Airlines will return to Salina, beginning April 1. Rogers says Great Lakes will fly to Denver in 30 seat Embraer turboprops.  Great Bend Airport Director Martin Miller says his city won't know if it will get new airline service until the U.S. Department of Transportation decides whether it still qualifies for essential air service.

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State Prepares to Measure Kindergartners' Academic Readiness

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state's education department is planning to develop a system to measure the academic readiness of kindergartners.  The Kansas State Board of Education this week voted to instruct the Kansas State Department of Education to develop a system designed to identify children who need extra support in their early education.  Jim McNiece, a Wichita Republican and chairman of the state board, says the state has long recorded education outcomes but has not concentrated on children who need help when they are young.  The board also adopted a five-point framework for school accountability designed to help individual children.  Education commissioner Randy Watson says the state will have to rework its accreditation system to fit the new framework.

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Kansas Measure Would Allow Wrongful Conviction Compensation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new measure in the Kansas Legislature is aimed at compensating people wrongfully convicted of crimes and was inspired by the case of a man whose murder conviction was recently vacated.  Representative Ramon Gonzalez presented draft legislation to the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice on Thursday. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that hearings on the measure haven't been scheduled.  Gonzalez works as a special prosecutor for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. He spent several months reopening an investigation into the 1999 murder of Camille Arfmann in Oskaloosa. Floyd Bledsoe spent 16 years in prison for Arfmann's murder but had his convictions vacated by a Jefferson County judge in December.  Gonzalez says other states allow compensation for the wrongfully convicted.

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KU Now Houses Document Proving WWII Military Sex Slaves Used by Japanese

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A 1945 report proving that Japan had government-controlled brothels during World War II has been added to a University of Kansas library.  Longtime university history professor Grant Goodman was a 20-year-old second lieutenant in the Army's Military Intelligence Service when he translated the report about the brothels — some featuring enslaved "comfort girls" from across Asia.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that decades later and before his 2014 death, Goodman shared the document with the world in an article. The attention is credited with contributing to Japan's 1993 formal apology to former prostitutes now known as "comfort women."  Just last month, Japan for the first time pledged government money — $8.3 million — to a foundation supporting the few remaining sex slaves from Korea, now in their 80s and 90s.

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