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Headlines for Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Kansas news headlines from the Associated Press

2 Kansas Lawmakers Stripped of Committee Chairmanships 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas state lawmaker says he's resigning after House Speaker Ray Merrick stripped him and another Republican of their committee chairmanships. Merrick says his move followed what he called an attempt to manipulate rules by forcing debate on a Senate bill that could have led to expanded Kansas gambling. Merrick says he had a "very heavy heart" in ousting Representative John Rubin of Shawnee from leading the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. The House speaker also removed Abilene Representative John Barker as head of the House Rules Committee. Rubin later told the Topeka Capital-Journal that he would resign at the end of Tuesday, and that he had no further comment.


Kansas Senate Refuses to Override Veto of Power Plant Bill
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans upset with GOP Governor Sam Brownback failed by one vote to override his veto of a bill dealing with a canceled power plant. The vote Tuesday came after Brownback's warning that an override would jeopardize Kansas's credit ratings. Senators voted 26-13 to override, but critics needed one more vote for a two-thirds majority of 27 in the 40-member chamber. Republican Senator Jeff Melcher of Leawood was absent and couldn't be reached. Bipartisan opposition to the $20 million power plant forced Brownback to cancel it last month. The state would have demolished a government building near the Statehouse and its power plant and built a new plant. Brownback said the bill jeopardized the state's credit by declaring that the project was canceled because lawmakers refused to pay for it.


Kansas Senate Overrides Veto of Measure on American Royal 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican-dominated Kansas Senate has overridden a veto from GOP Governor Sam Brownback in an effort to block his administration's move to lure the American Royal horse and livestock exhibition to Kansas from Kansas City, Missouri. The vote Tuesday was 30-8. The House must also vote to override for the measure to become law. The measure Brownback vetoed was a provision in budget legislation that bars the administration from using bonds backed by state sales tax revenue to help finance the American Royal project. The prohibition would be removed if legislators enact changes to tighten up the bonding program. The Senate planned to have a debate Wednesday on a bill making such changes.


Kansas Lawmakers Suggest Shift in Power over School Funding 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two Republican lawmakers are suggesting that the Kansas Legislature turn the job of determining how state aid to public schools is distributed over to the State Board of Education. Representatives Gene Suellentrop of Wichita and Marvin Kleeb of Overland Park raised the idea during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on a school funding plan from the panel's chairman. The 10-member board would then face the burden of making sure the money is distributed fairly. The plan is designed to bring the state into compliance with a Kansas Supreme Court order last month saying have been unfairly shorted on their state aid. The plan would boost overall state spending on schools by nearly $39 million for the 2016-17 school year while shifting dollars among districts. Seventy-nine would still lose funds.


Kansas House Panel Hears Only Neutral Views on Funding Plan 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has heard only neutral testimony about a school funding plan drafted by its chairman. The four witnesses Tuesday before the Appropriations Committee endorsed the same goal of complying with a Kansas Supreme Court order last month. The court said the state had shorted poor school districts on state aid. They disagreed over the state's overall spending. The plan from Republican Representative Ron Ryckman Jr. boosts total aid by $39 million as it redistributes funds to poor districts from wealthier ones. But 79 of the state's 286 school districts would lose money. Two Johnson County districts and the Kansas Association of School Boards urged lawmakers to boost spending even more. But the conservative Kansas Policy Institute argues that the state is already spending enough money on schools.


Kansas Schools Debate Pits Wichita Against Johnson County 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Legislature's debate over school funding is turning into a battle between the two communities with the most clout. The dispute was evident Tuesday during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on plan for complying with a ruling last month from the Kansas Supreme Court. The court said the state was shorting poor school districts on their aid. The plan redistributes aid to help them and boosts total spending by nearly $39 million to soften the blow for potential losers. But the Blue Valley, Shawnee Mission and Olathe districts in Johnson County would lose a total of $4.6 million in aid during the 2016-17 school year. Johnson County is the state's most populous county. Meanwhile, the Wichita district would gain more than $9.6 million. Wichita is the state's largest city.


Kansas House Bill Allows Campus Religious Groups to Restrict Membership 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have approved a bill that allows faith-based groups on public college campuses to restrict membership based on religious beliefs. The bill passed 80-39 in first-round approval Tuesday in the House. It passed overwhelmingly in the Senate last year. If the bill wins final approval in the House, it will go to the governor for his signature. The measure prevents universities from withholding funding based on a group's decision to allow only members who share the organization's beliefs. Supporters say the bill is a response to pressure for school religious organizations to accept anyone as a member, even if their beliefs conflict with those of the group. Critics say the bill allows groups that are funded by taxpayer dollars to discriminate.


Investigators: Truck Shifted Track Before Amtrak Accident 

CIMARRON, Kan. (AP) — Federal investigators say a feed truck from a nearby lot where cattle are fattened hit the track and shifted it before an Amtrak train derailed in southwest Kansas. National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener did not say on Tuesday if this was the cause of the Amtrak Southwest Chief's accident Monday. But he says the impact of the truck from the Cimarron Crossing Feeders shifted the train track 12 to 14 inches. The feed company declined comment Tuesday. The derailment injured at least 32 people although most were treated and released from the hospital. Two patients remained hospitalized in Kansas, one after undergoing surgery. The condition of two people flown to an Amarillo, Texas, hospital wasn't immediately known.


BNSF Seeks Input From Public on Train Track Incidents 

CIMARRON, Kan. (AP) — BNSF Railway is asking the public to contact their emergency number for any incident involving railroad tracks after an investigation found an agricultural truck from a nearby cattle feed yard damaged the track where an Amtrak train derailed in southwest Kansas. The company repaired on Tuesday about 1,000 feet of track at the site where several cars of Amtrak's Southwest Chief derailed a day earlier near Cimarron. National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener says the train was traveling 60 miles per hour when the engineer hit the emergency brake. It came to a stop 18 seconds later after traveling 919 feet. Video from the lead engine shows a "localized distortion" in tracks before the derailment. NTSB says it takes a year before it issues a final report on the cause.


Advocates Rally at Kansas Statehouse in Support of Education

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Education advocates held a rally Monday at the Statehouse in support of Kansas public schools. Speakers told the crowd that public education is under attack in Kansas and encouraged them to ask their lawmakers to boost school funding and stop pursuing legislation that they say targets teachers. More than a dozen people walked to the rally -- from as far away as Manhattan, Emporia and Kansas City -- to raise awareness about education funding. In recent years, Kansas lawmakers have proposed a number of bills that would minimize control of schools at the local level and centralize power in Topeka. Lawmakers say such legislation is necessary to cut back on spending and balance the state budget. 


Bill Would Lower Sales Tax on Food, Drop Kansas Business Tax Break 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita lawmaker's bill would roll back a tax exemption for business owners in order to reduce sales tax on groceries. Republican Representative Mark Hutton's bill is scheduled for a hearing today (TUE) before the House Taxation Committee. It would remove the income tax break for owners of limited liability companies and other pass-through businesses. The Kansas Department of Revenue says that action would raise about $261 million. That would allow the state to lower the sales tax on groceries between 2.6 percent and 2.9 percent. Hutton led a coalition last year that tried to remove the same income tax exemption. That effort stalled when Governor Sam Brownback threatened to veto any bill that contained that provision. Brownback has made similar comments this session.


Report Finds Wage Gap, Other Inequities for Women in Kansas 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A recent report has determined that women in Kansas who work full-time, year-round earn 79 cents for every dollar made by men. The Topeka Capital Journal reports that the University of Kansas Center for Science and Technology & Economic Policy was commissioned by the Women's Foundation to analyze factors such as economic well-being, health and civic engagement of women across the state. The report, titled "Status of Women in Kansas," found that the median earnings of women who work full-time, year-round is about $35,560 annually. Johnson County has the highest median earnings for women, while Gove County has the lowest. Women account for more than 49 percent of the employed individuals in Kansas.


Kansas Students Report Attack from Man Shouting 'Trump' 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police are investigating a report that two college students were attacked by a man shouting racial epithets and the name of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Wichita State University student body vice president Khondoker Usama, who is Muslim, said he and a Hispanic friend witnessed a white man calling a black customer a racial epithet at a convenience store before the man turned on him and his friend Saturday. Usama said he was pushed, and that his friend was punched and kicked. Usama said the man then rode away on his motorcycle, after circling them and shouting Trump's name. Police Lieutenant Jeff Gilmore told The Wichita Eagle that officers are seeking surveillance video from the store.


4 Kansas City Trump Protesters Issued Disorderly Conduct Citations

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Kansas City police say four people who were arrested at a weekend rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump have been issued disorderly conduct citations. The Kansas City Star reports that the ticketed protesters were 22-year-old Kendrick Washington, of Chicago; 20-year-old Alexander Fisher, of Overland Park, Kansas; 28-year-old Shane Stange, of Kansas City; and 37-year-old Megan Gallant, of Kansas City. Protests erupted Saturday night during the Trump rally in downtown Kansas City. Police Captain Tye Grant says the department is pleased that no one was injured. Grant says officers used pepper spray twice, both times when protesters tried to step into the street. 


Franklin County Jurors Shown Crime Scene Photos in Quadruple Killing

OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) - Jurors in the quadruple homicide trial of an eastern Kansas man have been shown crime scene photos. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the photos were shown Monday as the second week in the trial of 30-year-old Kyle T. Flack began in Franklin County District Court. He is charged with capital murder in the deaths of 21-year-old Kaylie Bailey and her 18-month-old daughter, Lana, on May 1, 2013. He also is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of 30-year-old Andrew Stout and 31-year-old Steven White, who were killed days earlier. District Judge Eric W. Godderz allowed the prosecution to present the photos.


Wichita Eagle to Transfer Printing to Kansas City Star 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wichita Eagle plans to transfer its printing and packaging operations to the Kansas City Star and sell its property in Wichita. Roy Heatherly, president and publisher of the Eagle, said Monday the newspaper will look for a new location in downtown Wichita. The changes will eliminate 27 full-time and 47 part-time jobs. The newspaper reported the transfer of operations will be effective May 29. The Star and Eagle are among 29 daily newspapers owned by the McClatchy Co. Heatherly says the Eagle is not abandoning its print format but the move will help it focus on a growing digital audience. He says the paper is strong and profitable. The Star's press pavilion in Kansas City, Missouri, prints other state newspapers, including the Lawrence Journal-World and Topeka Capital-Journal.


Kansas Woman Pleads Guilty in Child Porn Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Dodge City woman accused of creating a video of herself engaged in a sex act with a child under 5 years old and uploading it to the Internet has pleaded guilty. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said that 25-year-old Ashley Marie Kelly pleaded guilty to one count of producing child pornography on Monday. Grissom said that Kelly used a smartphone to record the act and posted the video to her Google Drive account. Grissom said that Google notified the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Attorneys have agreed to recommend a sentence of 25 years in federal prison. Kelly is scheduled to be sentenced June 1.


Missouri Supreme Court Upholds Death Penalty for 3 Murders 

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of a Kansas man convicted of killing three relatives in Missouri. The court on Tuesday rejected appeals for Robert Blurton, who sought to have his convictions and sentence overturned. Blurton, of Garnett, Kansas, was sentenced to death in June 2013 for the deaths of his aunt and uncle, Donnie and Sharon Luetjen and the couple's 15-year-old granddaughter, Taron Luetjen. Prosecutors said Blurton killed his victims in June 2009 at the couple's Cole Camp home during a robbery. Blurton's attorneys argued the trial judge made errors in allowing certain testimony and evidence, not instructing the jury on a possible second-degree murder conviction and not declaring a mistrial because some crime scene photographs were inadvertently displayed before the verdict.


Missouri Man Sentenced for Drug-Related Triple Homicide 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An Independence man will serve 27 years with no chance of parole for a drug-related robbery in Independence that left three people dead. Kevin M. Finley was sentenced Tuesday for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and using a firearm during a drug trafficking crime. Federal prosecutors say he and three co-defendants planned to steal methamphetamine from a home in Independence. The November 2012 robbery ended with three of the home's residents shot to death A 12-year-old boy was wounded. Prosecutors say the occupants of the home were bound and beaten before they were shot. The dead were Martin "Tomas" Dominguez-Gregorio; his girlfriend, Maria Guadalupe Hernandez-Corona and her son, Antonio Hernandez. A 12-year-old son of Hernandez-Corona was wounded when he tried to protect his mother.


Final AP Poll, NCAA Tournament Don't Agree on Top 4 

The final Associated Press college basketball poll and the NCAA Tournament don't agree on the top four teams. Kansas is No. 1 for the third straight week and fifth overall, while Michigan State, not one of the NCAA field's top four seeds, is second followed by North Carolina and Virginia. The Jayhawks (30-4) received 63 first-place votes Monday from the 65-member national media panel. Michigan State, a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, got the other two No. 1 votes. Oregon, the NCAA's other No. 1 seed, is fifth followed by Villanova, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Xavier. Miami and Kentucky are tied for 10th. There were six No. 1s this season — one off the record set in 1982-83 — and Kansas's five weeks were the most on top.


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