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Headlines for Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Kansas news headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Governor Seeks Changes to Revenue Estimating Process

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is seeking improvements to the revenue forecasting system after the state's monthly estimates became overly optimistic during the past year. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Brownback's administration said Monday that it'll consult with experts in other states to identify potential changes. The state missed revenue targets for 11 out of the past 12 months, and long-range forecasts have been downgraded during the past two years. The governor's critics say that it isn't the estimating process, but the state's tax policy, that's at fault as revenues continue to drop. The state is scheduled to release the March revenue report Friday. If the trend holds, the amount of generated revenue will fall below estimates. In the past, Brownback has made budget cuts in response to below-estimated revenue.


Kansas Governor Has Until April 8 to Act on School Aid Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has until April 8 to act on a school funding plan approved by legislators in hopes of satisfying a recent state Supreme Court order.  The Republican-dominated Legislature delivered the bill to the GOP governor's office Tuesday. The state constitution gives Brownback 10 days to review the measure. Lawmakers approved the bill last week to give the Supreme Court adequate time to review it. The high court ruled last month that the state isn't giving poor districts their fair share of more than $4 billion in annual state aid. The justices said lawmakers had until June 30 to fix the problems and threatened to shut down schools statewide. The plan redistributes $83 million in aid for the 2016-17 but prevents any school district from losing money. 


Kansas Democrats File Protest over School Finance Bill 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democrats in the Kansas Legislature have filed a formal protest against a bill passed last week to address spending for public education in the state. Republican supermajorities in the Statehouse quickly passed the bill in response to a state Supreme Court ruling that the current school finance formula was inequitable. The court threatened to close down public schools if the funding problems weren't addressed by the end of June. In their protest, Democrats say the bill benefits wealthier districts over poorer districts and doesn't consider the actual cost of public education. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the Democrats' formal protest puts their objections to the bill in records that the Supreme Court will likely use to determine if the new law is constitutional.


Kansas Forest Service Says Wildfire Largely Contained 

MEDICINE LODGE, Kan. (AP) — State fire officials say the biggest wildfire in Kansas history is about 80 percent contained, although firefighting efforts could be hindered by more gusty winds. The Kansas Forest Service says crews will continue to patrol areas where the wildfire has burned more than 500 square miles in Oklahoma and Kansas since last week. The National Weather Service says winds up to 30 mph, with 40 mph gusts, are expected to hit the sparsely populated fire zone today (TUE).  Kansas officials say it appears that nine homes were destroyed in Barber County, Kansas, where most of the damage occurred. Barber County officials say full damage estimates from the fire haven't been totaled but the cost of resources from outside fire departments and the use of Kansas National Guard Black Hawk helicopters to dump water on the fire had mounted to more than $1 million. That estimate doesn't include Barber County's costs, some state costs or damage to homes, property and livestock. 


Internet Outage Affects KU Lawrence Campus 

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that "a major fiber cable cut" somewhere on the University of Kansas Lawrence campus caused an Internet outage this (TUE) afternoon, shutting down Internet access on campus, as well as interrupting any access...on or KU websites and applications, including Blackboard and email. KU Information Technology tweeted that the department expects to restore service by tomorrow (WED) morning. 


Therapist: Convicted Killer Wrote of Wanting Suitcase Death

 OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) _ A therapist says an eastern Kansas man convicted of four 2013 killings once wrote that he wanted to die in a suitcase, but that he couldn't remember penning that when she questioned him in jail.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Robin Burgess recounted her interviews with Kyle Flack while testifying Tuesday during the penalty phase of Flack's Franklin County trial.  Flack last week was convicted of the slayings of Kaylie Bailey, her toddler daughter, Bailey's boyfriend and his roommate at a rural Ottawa farmhouse. The toddler's body was found in a suitcase in a creek. Jurors eventually will decide whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison for Flack.


Kansas Increases Pay for Nurses at Osawatomie State Hospital

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state will increase starting pay for nurses at Osawatomie State Hospital, which is struggling with staffing problems. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services announced Monday it will increase starting pay from $25.05 an hour to $28.44 an hour. Interim agency director Tim Keck says a study found starting salary for registered nurses at the hospital was 9 percent below comparable facilities. The hospital currently has more than 20 full-time registered nurses and uses 15 agency registered nurses. Osawatomie lost its federal certification last year over security lapses, including the reported rape of a worker by a patient. Osawatomie and the Larned state hospital had more than 350 open positions at the end of January, a combined vacancy rate of about 38 percent.


Kansas Postal Clerk Accused of Nearly $14K Workplace Theft

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A southern Kansas postal clerk is accused in federal court of stealing nearly $14,000 while at work. A federal grand jury in Wichita, Kansas, indicted 25-year-old Micah Hutchinson of Arkansas City of one count of employee theft from the U.S. Postal Service. The indictment alleges that from October to December of last year, Hutchinson issued to herself money orders worth roughly $13,780 while working at the post office in Rock, Kansas. She allegedly then cashed the money orders, using the money for her own benefit. Online court records don't show whether Hutchinson has an attorney. The felony count is punishable by up to a decade in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. 


Activists Lobby Federal Reserve Official on Interest Rates

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank President Esther George says she advocates for ``a very slow process'' of getting interest rates back to something normal, while maintaining the recovery. George made the statement during a meeting Tuesday in Wichita with a coalition of labor and community leaders who champion working-class families. Sunflower Community Action and its allies were lobbying her to keep interest rates low to allow the economy time to fully recover for low-income people. Activists told her of their personal struggles feeding their families and paying bills on minimum wage jobs. George says the Federal Reserve plays an important role in the economy, but a narrow role relative to what it can directly affect. She cites other actors in the economy, such as the government and the private sector. 


Data Shows Percentage of Nonwhite Kansas College Students Increases

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ Recently released Kansas Board of Regents data shows that the percentage of minority students enrolled at the state's public colleges and universities increased 1.4 percent from the 2013-2014 academic year to the 2014-2015 academic year. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the largest minority groups across the Regents system are black and Hispanic students. The percentage of Hispanic students enrolled in higher education is smaller than the percentage of Hispanic residents in Kansas, while the percentage of black students is larger than the percentage of black Kansas residents. Although the percentage of minority students increased, there are still significant differences in the percentages of certain minorities at four-year universities compared with technical and community colleges.


Concerns Mount over Freeze Damage to Winter Wheat Crops

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Concerns are mounting over freeze damage to winter wheat crops that had broken dormancy weeks before temperatures plummeted in recent days.  Agricultural meteorologist Kyle Tapley of MDA Weather Services said Monday that most of the concern stems from freezing temperatures that hit the weekend of March 19-20. He says most of the impact is likely in the western Kansas. Unseasonably hot temperatures in February caused the wheat to come out of dormancy weeks earlier than normal, making the crop more vulnerable to cold weather. Clearwater farmer Scott Van Allen says the freeze damage began showing up this past week in his fields south of Wichita. He says one out of every 10 to 15 wheat heads that he examined had been frozen. 


Cargill Considers Relocating Wichita-Based Operations 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Agribusiness giant Cargill says it's considering moving several operations out of the Wichita building where they are headquartered. But the company hasn't said whether it's looking into moving the operations to another location within the city. Spokesman Mike Martin told The Wichita Eagle that all he could say was that the Minneapolis-based company was "looking at a variety of options." Wichita is home to the company's beef business; its turkey and cooked meat business, which includes deli meats; its value-added protein services, including its North American egg business; and its food distribution. Cargill has 900 employees in downtown Wichita. Many are housed in a 10-story building, but Martin says its classic configuration isn't a good thing for the company going forward. He says fewer professionals are attracted to traditional office space.


Former Union Officials Allege Defamation in Wichita Lawsuits 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two fired employees of a troubled union district office in Wichita are suing. Frank Molina Jr. and Becky Ledbetter allege wrongful termination, breach of contract and defamation in lawsuits filed this month in Sedgwick County. The Wichita Eagle reports that both lawsuits seek more than $75,000 in damages. The suit names the International Association of Machinists, its District 70 and several union officers. Molina is the former president of District 70, while Ledbetter was a business representative. The lawsuits come after the international union assumed operations of District 70 in February. In announcing the move in a letter to union members, Machinists International President Robert Martinez Jr. described "mass overspending." He also said there was "no proper approval for Lodge expenses." Court documents say those claims are "erroneous."


Suspect in Custody Following Bomb Threat in Kansas

SMITH CENTER, Kan. (AP) — Authorities have arrested a person suspected of making a bomb threat to a north-central Kansas school. The Salina Journal reports that the person was taken into custody Monday. No information about the suspect or circumstances surrounding the arrest was immediately available. Smith Center Superintendent Ron Meitler says a student found a note at Smith Center Junior Senior High School claiming there was a bomb, but he didn't know specifically where the note was found. Students were evacuated from the school in the Smith Center district after the 10:30 am threat. Smith County clerk Sharon Wolters says elementary children also were removed to the courthouse lawn and most were released to their parents by noon.


Heartland Park Topeka Owner Appeals Property Value 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The owner of a Topeka racetrack is appealing the county's $8.9 million appraisal. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Heartland Park Topeka owner Chris Payne filed the appeal Friday. In its first major assessment in decades, the nearly 480-acre facility was evaluated in September for the 2016 tax year. Payne's attorney, Wesley Carrillo, says the appraisal doesn't accurately reflect "the true value of the park." He says the land is high maintenance and would attract a limited interest from future buyers. Carrillo says parts of the park are in disrepair, and that Payne would like to invest a significant amount during the coming years to improve the park. Payne's company, Shelby LLC, would be expected to pay about $341,870 in taxes, based on last year's levy.


Man Pleads Guilty in Crash That Killed Part-Time Officer

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A 25-year-old man has pleaded guilty in an Overland Park traffic crash in suburban Kansas City that killed a part-time police officer. The Kansas City Star reports that Dana Patton pleaded guilty Monday to reckless second-degree murder in the death of 58-year-old David M. Stubbs. Patton also pleaded guilty to six counts of aggravated battery for injuries suffered by others involved in the crash last October, and aggravated burglary. Police say Stubbs was killed at an intersection when a car driven by Patton ran a red light. Authorities say Patton ran away from the scene of the crash, but was arrested after breaking into a nearby apartment. Patton's sentencing is scheduled for May 26.


Former Trucking Company Owner Pleads Guilty to Tax Evasion  

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The U.S. Attorney's office says the former owner of a trucking company in Kansas City, Kansas, pleaded guilty Monday to evading federal income taxes. Clifford Copp, of Overland Park, Kansas, the owner of Copp Trucking Co., pleaded guilty Monday to one count of tax evasion.  Copp admitted he filed federal tax forms that in 2001 that said the company owed about $939,408 in employment taxes but the company didn't pay the taxes. In February 2004, Copp was assessed penalties of $669,037 but concealed income when the Internal Revenue Service began collection. He also concealed his ownership interest in assets including livestock, life insurance and farm equipment, as well as in a company he formed called Wildcat Limo, LLC.  


Feds: Risk of 2016 Quakes Increases, Especially in Oklahoma 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal scientists say the chance of damaging earthquakes hitting east of the Rockies has increased significantly, much of it a man-made byproduct of drilling for energy. Oklahoma now has a 1 in 8 chance of damaging quakes in 2016, surpassing California as the state with the highest probability. In a first-of-its-kind effort, U.S. Geological Survey Monday released a map for damaging quakes in the current year. USGS seismologists said 7 million people live in areas where the risk has dramatically jumped for earthquakes caused by disposal of wastewater, a byproduct of drilling for oil and gas. That is mostly concentrated in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. Natural earthquake risk also increased around the New Madrid fault in Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas and Illinois.


Pair of Earthquakes Hit Central Oklahoma

CRESCENT, Okla. (AP) - The U.S. Geological Survey says two earthquakes hit central Oklahoma during the overnight and early morning hours today (TUE). No damage or injuries have been reported. The USGS says a 4.2 magnitude quake struck in Logan County late Monday night north of Crescent, Oklahoma.  It was reportedly felt as far north as Wichita, Kansas. A 4.1 magnitude earthquake hit the same area shortly after 5 a.m. this morning (TUE). The federal agency says that quake's epicenter was about 37 miles north of Oklahoma City. On Monday, the USGS released a survey that found Oklahoma has a 1 in 8 chance of damaging quakes in 2016, surpassing California as the state with the highest probability.


"Religious Freedom" Amendment Could Cost Kansas City $50 Million

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The director of the Kansas City Sports Commission says the city could lose more than $50 million if voters approve a constitutional amendment that would allow Missouri business owners to cite their religious beliefs when refusing services for same-sex weddings. Kathy Nelson, commission president and CEO, says the "religious freedom" amendment could hurt Kansas City for at least the next 10 years. The amendment would create legal protections for business owners who cite religious objections for refusing to provide services for same-sex weddings. The measure has passed the state Senate. If approved by the House, it would be on the ballot later this year. The Kansas City Star reports the NCAA has expressed concerns about the proposed amendment and suggested it could cost Missouri future opportunities to host athletic events.


Former Kansas Insurance Company Employee Sentenced for Embezzlement 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former Topeka insurance company employee had been sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for embezzlement. The U.S. attorney's office says 47-year-old Erin Rebecca Thomas also was ordered Monday to pay $215,000 in restitution. The former Topeka woman admitted through her plea to wrongdoing while working as a service representative for American Home Life Insurance Company. Federal prosecutors say she created 22 separate fraudulent transactions. In processing the policy of a person who died in 2010, she created a fictitious change of beneficiary request naming herself as beneficiary and had the benefit check deposited in her personal account.


Jayhawks Guard Selden to Skip Senior Season for NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ University of Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. is skipping his senior season to enter the NBA draft. Selden and Jayhawks coach Bill Self announced his decision in a statement Tuesday, three days after a season-ending loss to Villanova in the NCAA Tournament. Selden plans to hire representation in the coming weeks, which means he won't be able to pull his name out of the draft. Selden averaged 13.8 points this past season, helping the Jayhawks win their 12th consecutive Big 12 championship. He shot 47 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc. Freshman forward Cheick Diallo has also indicated plans to enter the draft, though he has not hired an agent. That means he could back out of the draft by May 25 and return to school. 


Chiefs GM John Dorsey Defends Justin Houston Case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey defended the club's handling of Pro Bowl linebacker Justin Houston, who underwent surgery on his ACL last month and could miss the upcoming season. In his first comments since news of the surgery became public, Dorsey said the Chiefs' medical staff and renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews worked in concert in diagnosing and treating Houston's injury. Houston hurt his left knee against Buffalo in November, and at the time he was diagnosed with a hyperextension. He returned for the playoffs but was so limited that he was rendered ineffective. He ultimately had surgery to repair the ligament in mid-February.

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