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Headlines for Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Kansas School Funding Dispute Heading Back to High Court 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A dispute over whether Kansas must boost spending on its public schools by tens of millions of dollars each year is headed back to the state's highest court. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office notified a three-judge Shawnee County District Court panel this week that the state will appeal the panel's latest ruling in a lawsuit filed in 2010. The panel ruled in December that the state must spend at least $548 million more annually to fulfill its duty under the state constitution to provide a suitable education to every child. The state both appealed to the Supreme Court and asked the panel to reconsider. The high court told the lower court March 5 to review the state's request to reconsider. But the panel last week reaffirmed its December ruling.

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Kansas House Panel Passes Budget Requiring Tax Increases 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas panel has endorsed a $6.4 billion budget that doesn't balance without tax increases. The House Appropriations Committee approved the plan Tuesday. The budget would fall about $133 million short if the Legislature does not increase taxes on alcohol and cigarettes as Republican Governor Sam Brownback has recommended. Republican Representative Virgil Peck from Tyro said that he would not support a budget that increases spending without having secured the revenues to pay for it. Chairman and Republican Representative Ron Ryckman of Olathe said approving the plan would help clarify how much additional revenue the state will need through new taxes. The Senate approved the largest portion of the state budget by passing the governor's school funding overhaul Monday. Brownback is expected to sign the plan later this week.

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Kansas Closer to Allowing Concealed Carry with No Permit 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are moving closer to allowing residents 21 or older to carry concealed firearms without a state permit. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee approved a bill Tuesday ending the requirement for a permit. The committee's voice vote sends the measure to the full House for debate. The Senate approved the measure last month, and the House committee made only one technical change. Supporters argued that gun owners are responsible and shouldn't have to ask the government's permission to carry concealed. A permit costs $132.50, and a person seeking one must undergo eight hours of firearms training. The bill's opponents say the state still should require some training to carry a concealed firearm. But the Republican-dominated Legislature has strong pro-gun majorities in both chambers.

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Kansas Panel Moves to Give Fantasy Sports Legal Protections 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill that would keep fantasy sports leagues legal amid a dispute with the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission has moved forward by a state legislative panel. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee endorsed the bill Monday. It would define fantasy sports as a game of skill. The distinction is important because the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission said in August that fantasy sports meet the criteria of a lottery, which would make them illegal. Under the Kansas Constitution, only the state is allowed to administer lotteries. Republican Representative Brett Hildabrand of Shawnee said he introduced the legislation so ordinary Kansans who enjoy fantasy football would not become criminals. The federal government and 45 states consider fantasy sports legal games of skill. However, five states consider them illegal.

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University of Kansas Discusses Jet Use with State Lawmakers 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas officials have met with state legislators in Topeka to discuss the school's ownership and use of jets. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that officials told the House Standing Committee on Education Budget that the jet expenditures of $1.5 million are more than offset by revenue that the aircrafts generate from donor relations and athletics. The university has owned planes for several decades, but recently its endowment association has given the school money to purchase them. Taxpayers and students pay for the fuel, operations and maintenance of the jets. According to flight data obtained by the paper, about two-thirds of $3.5 million spent over five years was for Kansas coaches and athletic administrators. The rest of the money was used to fly top university officials. The university also flew doctors and medical staff 643 times to rural cities to treat patients.

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Kansas Senate Panel Considers Cutting Green Energy Incentive 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas renewable energy plants would lose their exemption to property tax under a bill discussed by a Senate panel. The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee held a hearing on the bill Monday. Companies producing energy from wind, solar or other renewable resources have been exempt from property tax since 1999. The bill would instead give those companies a 10-year exemption. Chairman and Republican Senator Les Donovan said that the bill still would provide an incentive for renewable investment, but require those companies to pay their fair share. But representatives of renewable energy companies testified that the bill would amount to breaking a contract with developers. They said it would unfairly punish those who invested in Kansas early, as they would owe back taxes.

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Researcher: Avian Flu Found in Kansas No Threat to Humans 

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas State University researcher says a strain of avian influenza found in Kansas is no threat to humans. Associate professor Scott Beyer says the H5N2 strain is extremely deadly in birds but has never been known to transmit to poultry products or humans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been tracking the spread of H5N2 in Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota and Arkansas. A flock of chickens and duck were killed Saturday in Leavenworth County after they were found to have the virus. The state is asking Leavenworth County residents with backyard poultry flocks to report them for monitoring. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Beyer believes the new strain is being spread through migration. He recommends poultry farmers set up a perimeter to protect their birds from transmission from other birds and dogs.

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US Ag Secretary Touts Moves to Boost Rural Economies

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined strategies his department is implementing aimed at boosting rural economies.  Vilsack told about 470 people attending the National Farmers Union convention in Wichita Monday that agriculture today is 12 times more productive than it was in 1950, when he was born. That means fewer people on the farm, and the challenge is keeping people in rural communities.  Part of his department's rural strategy is using conservation efforts that create markets. Another is developing local and regional food systems where smaller-sized operators can be profitable by selling in farmers markets, to schools and other local markets. Another piece is developing rural manufacturing facilities such as bioprocessing plants that create good paying jobs.  EPA administrator Gina McCarthy also touted biofuels as a major economic engine for rural economies. 

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Wichita Man Indicted on Federal Charges for Stealing Copper
 
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say that a man accused of stealing air-conditioning units has been federally indicted. The Wichita Eagle reports that Byron Stuckey faces three counts of venting a Class II substance for releasing Freon, a gas used as a refrigerant, when he allegedly cut copper tubing in units he stole in 2012 and 2014. Stuckey is currently imprisoned at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility in connection with the 2014 theft as well as forgery, identity theft and misdemeanor theft convictions from Sedgwick County. Police announced the indictment Monday after working with the Environmental Protection Agency's Kansas City office. According to Captain Jose Salcido, the indictment redefines the way police will go after people who steal air conditioners. Each count carries a potential sentence of five year in prison, and $250,000 in fines. Court records did not have an attorney listed for Stuckey.

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Trial Expected to Begin for Woman Accused in 2014 Lawrence Murder 

LAWRENCE, Kan.  - Prosecutors and defense attorneys say they expect to finish the jury selection process and that opening statements could begin today (TUE) in the first-degree murder trial of 20-year-old Sarah Gonzalez McLinn. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that McLinn is accused of killing 52-year-old Harold Sasko in January, 2014. Sasko owned a CiCi's Pizza restaurant franchise where McLinn was a former employee.  She was living at Sasko's home in Lawrence at the time of the killing. 

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Salina Child Molester Sentenced to Life in Prison 

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - A 73-year-old Salina man was sentenced to three life sentences with no chance of parole for 25 years for sexually molesting two preschool-aged children and a child in grade school. Gerald A. Jones was sentenced Monday. He pleaded no contest in December to three counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. The crimes involving two girls and a boy occurred between July and September 2014. The Salina Journal reports Jones apologized in court and said he didn't know why he committed the crimes. However Assistant Saline County Attorney Christina Trocheck said Jones had not really accepted responsibility.

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Man Charged with Murder in Death of Lawrence Woman

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A man has been charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with the death of a woman who lived two doors down from him at a Lawrence apartment complex. The Lawrence Journal-World reports 18-year-old Rontarus Washington Jr. was arrested in January in Mississippi and was returned to Lawrence. He was booked into Douglas County Jail early Monday morning. He made his first appearance via video in Douglas County District Court on Monday afternoon. He denied that he was involved in the death of 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso, whose body was found in November in her apartment. A judge set his bond at $750,000. His next court appearance is set for March 23.

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Kansas Man Convicted of Swindling Churchgoers Sentenced to Prison 

ATLANTA (AP) — Federal prosecutors say a businessman accused of swindling churchgoers in an investment scheme has been sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison. Authorities say 32-year-old Ephren Taylor II of Overland Park was sentenced Tuesday to 19 years and seven months. Prosecutors have said Taylor, former chief executive of North Carolina-based City Capital Corporation, convinced members of mostly African-American churches across the country to invest in small businesses and used their money to pay personal expenses. Prosecutors say more than 400 people invested more than $16 million in the scheme. Taylor's accomplice, 46-year-old Wendy Connor of Raleigh, North Carolina has also been sentenced to five years in prison. Taylor is ordered to pay more than $15.5 million in restitution. Connor is ordered to pay more than $5.8 million in restitution.

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Sheriff, Fire Chief Retiring in Ford County

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) - Two of the top administrators in Ford County in western Kansas are planning to retire. Retirements of Ford County Sheriff Dean Bush and Fire Chief Jay Taylor were both disclosed Monday. The Dodge City Daily Globe reports Bush's retirement will be effective June 30. He's been sheriff for 14 years and in law enforcement for 34 years. He said he wants to move back to his family's farm in Clark County and he could not be Ford County sheriff if he lives in another county. Bush sent his retirement letter to Governor Sam Brownback last week. Ford County commissioners said during a meeting Monday that Taylor asked for early retirement but did not disclose a reason. His retirement also will be effective in June.

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KCMO Police Involved in Shooting 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police say officers were involved in a non-fatal shooting Monday. Police said in a news release that the shootings occurred Monday afternoon in central Kansas City. Officers were responding to a shooting in progress and shot one armed person. That person and another person who was shot before police arrived were taken to a hospital in critical condition. The officers involved were not injured and were placed on administrative leave. No further details were immediately available.

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Kansas Growers Apply Fertilizer, Herbicides as Weather Warms

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas growers are picking up their farm activities with the recent mild weather. The National Agricultural Statistics Service said Monday that farmers are applying fertilizer and herbicides to fields and moving cattle off crop residue. Their latest snapshot pegs winter wheat condition as 13 percent poor to very poor. About 46 percent is rated as fair, 38 percent as good and 3 percent as excellent. No significant rain was reported this past week with the exception of extreme southeast Kansas. Topsoil moisture was rated as adequate to surplus in 53 percent of the state. Subsoil moisture was adequate in 45 percent of the state.

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Trial Starts in Lawsuit over Nebraska Funeral Protest Law 

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Trial has begun in a lawsuit challenging a Nebraska law that limits picketing at funerals. The case stems from a 2009 lawsuit filed by members of the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church that challenged Nebraska's funeral picketing law. The original 2006 law required protesters to stand 300 feet away from a funeral service, but it has since been amended to keep protesters at least 500 feet away. The church protests at funerals around the country contending that U.S. soldiers and others are being struck down by God for defending a nation that tolerates homosexuality. On Tuesday, a member of the church testified that Westboro members are often kept much further away from Nebraska funerals than the law's 500 feet, while counter-protesters are allowed as close to funerals as they want.

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Sporting Kansas City Assistant Coach Suspended, Fined 

NEW YORK (AP) — Sporting Kansas City assistant coach Mateus Manoel has been suspended one game and fined an undisclosed sum for entering the field during the 64th minute of Saturday's game against FC Dallas. Major League Soccer on Tuesday also fined FC Dallas midfielder Kyle Bekker for improper contact with Sporting Kansas City defender Kevin Ellis. He was cited for violating the policy of placing hands on an opponent's head or neck.

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