Kansas Supreme Court Reviews Lawmakers' School Funding Changes
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The latest on the Kansas Supreme Court's hearing on public school funding (all times local):
The top school administrator in Kansas City, Kansas, says the state needs balanced tax policy to fix funding for its public schools. Superintendent Cynthia Lane was present Tuesday for a Kansas Supreme Court hearing on education funding changes made by legislators this year. The court told lawmakers in February to improve funding for poor school districts. The Legislature rewrote school funding laws but left most districts' aid unchanged. Lane said the changes only moved money around. An attorney for the districts suggested the court could order a boost in aid to poor districts and demand cuts elsewhere in the budget. Lane said that that would be only a temporary solution. She said the long-term remedy is tax policy that funds quality services. The state slashed income taxes in 2012 and 2013.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says the state Supreme Court has no reason to shut down public schools even if it doesn't like changes in the education funding system made earlier this year by lawmakers. Schmidt commented Tuesday after the court concluded a hearing on whether those changes comply with an order the justices issued in February. The court ordered lawmakers then to improve funding for poor school districts. Lawmakers rewrote part of the state's school funding formula but left most districts' aid unchanged. Schmidt said lawmakers made enough changes to make funding fairer for poor districts. An attorney for four school districts suing the state said the court could order lawmakers to boost aid to poor districts and cut spending elsewhere in the state budget.
An attorney for the state has urged the Kansas Supreme Court to pursue the narrowest possible remedy if the justices reject recent changes in the public school funding system. State Solicitor General Stephen McAllister made his plea Tuesday as the court concluded arguments on whether the changes comply with an earlier ruling made by the justices. The court ordered lawmakers in February to improve funding for poor school districts. The changes made by legislators rewrite part of the state's school funding formula but leave aid for most districts unchanged. Attorney Alan Rupe argued on behalf of four school districts suing the state that the court can order lawmakers to boost aid to poor districts and order them to cut spending elsewhere. But McAllister said such an order would be unprecedented.
A lawyer for four Kansas school districts has told the state Supreme Court that it should order lawmakers to boost aid to public schools and can require cuts in all other spending. Attorney Alan Rupe attempted Tuesday to persuade the court to reject education funding changes made earlier this year by the Republican-dominated Legislature. The court ordered lawmakers in February to improve funding for poor school districts. The changes leave most districts' aid unchanged. Rupe said the court has the power to order lawmakers to increase aid to poor districts. He said the court could also order the state to cut other spending so that schools get more. The Kansas Constitution requires legislators to make "suitable provision" for financing schools. Rupe said schools have priority over other governmental operations.
A lawyer for four Kansas school districts is arguing before the state Supreme Court that recent changes in education funding are unfair to poor school districts. Attorney Alan Rupe attempted Tuesday to persuade the court to reject the changes made earlier this year by the Republican-dominated Legislature. The justices are considering whether the changes comply with an order they issued in February. The court directed lawmakers to improve funding for poor districts and gave legislators until June 30 to approve a fix or face having schools shut down. This year's changes prevented any district from losing money and leave most districts' aid unchanged. Rupe said the education funding system now may be worse for poor districts. He represents the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, districts.
Kansas Supreme Court justices are pondering what would happen if they declare part of the state's education funding system unconstitutional without shutting down public schools. The issue arose Tuesday during the court's hearing on changes in school funding made earlier this year by legislators. The court is considering whether those changes are fair to poor districts. The court in February ordered lawmakers to improve poor districts' funding. The justices gave them until June 30 to fix the problems or face having schools shut down. State Solicitor General Stephen McAllister argued that the court should not shut down schools even if it doesn't like legislators' changes. But several justices asked whether schools could still operate effectively if striking down parts of the school aid formula denied districts part of their aid.
Kansas to Impose Limits on Local Property Taxes Next Year
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has signed a bill that will limit the power of Kansas cities and counties to levy property taxes starting next year. The new law revises a property tax lid that was enacted last year and had been set to take effect in January 2018. Brownback signed the bill Monday to make the effective date January 2017 instead. Cities and counties won't be allowed to spend an increase in property tax revenues above the rate of inflation without voters' approval. The law contains exceptions for bond payments, spending on court judgments and other items. Local officials who couldn't spend the extra revenues would have to drop tax levies. Supporters contend local voters will have more control over fiscal decisions. Critics worry that local services will be hurt.
Suspect in Officer's Death Faces Gun Charges
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A parolee suspected of gunning down a Kansas City, Kansas, police detective has been charged in Missouri with felonies linked to gun-related crimes he allegedly committed before he was shot by police and arrested. Prosecutors in Jackson County (Missouri) charged 28-year-old Curtis Ayers with first-degree assault, resisting arrest, two counts of unlawful use of a weapon, and three counts of armed criminal action. The Wyandotte County district attorney plans to file charges Wednesday against Ayers. District Attorney Jerome Gorman has scheduled a noon news conference to announce the charges in connection with Monday's shooting death of Brad Lancaster. Court documents included with Tuesday's charges allege that Ayers, when cornered by police, also shot and wounded a woman during an attempted carjacking and fired at another motorist. Ayers is now hospitalized in stable condition.
Kansas Governor Orders Flags Lowered for Slain Officer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is ordering flags in Wyandotte County to be lowered to half-staff in memory of a slain police detective. Brownback directed the county's flags lowered Tuesday through sundown Wednesday in 39-year-old Brad Lancaster's honor. Police say Lancaster died at a hospital Monday about three hours after being shot near a racetrack in Kansas City, Kansas. A suspect, 28-year-old Curtis Ayers, has been arrested. Ayers was shot by police during an attempted carjacking. He is in stable condition Tuesday at a hospital. The local Fraternal Order of Police says a candlelight vigil in Lancaster's memory is scheduled for 7:30 pm Tuesday at City Hall in Kansas City, Kansas.
Kansas Man Sues over Wrongful Conviction, 15 Years in Prison
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas man who spent 15 years in prison for a rape and murder that his brother later confessed to committing is suing law enforcement officers for fabricating evidence that led to his conviction. Floyd Bledsoe of Hutchinson was freed in December after his brother, Tom, killed himself in prison and left behind a series of notes confessing to the November 1999 slaying of 14-year-old Camille Arfmann. The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday says Tom Bledsoe confessed several times to killing and raping the Oskaloosa girl soon after her disappearance, but investigators coached him to instead implicate his brother. Floyd Bledsoe was convicted in April 2000, briefly released on bond in June 2008 and returned to prison in July 2009 after the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the 2008 ruling.
Kansas Prosecutor Investigating Federal Election Official's Conduct
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Johnson County, Kansas District Attorney's office is looking into allegations of misuse of public funds by a top federal elections official. A spokeswoman said the county had concerns over an audit done when Brian Newby was Johnson County Election Commissioner. Newby left Kansas for a job as executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in November, 2015. Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe said in an emailed statement that his office "has and will continue to work with county commissioners" to review Newby's conduct. Voting rights advocacy groups are also requesting an investigation into Newby's conduct since moving to his new position in Washington. An Associated Press story indicated that Newby used his ties to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a leading advocate of voting restrictions, to help secure the top job at Election Assistance Commission. The EAC is a government agency entrusted with making voting more accessible. The AP story, based on emails obtained through open records requests, show that Newby used the federal position to implement rules requiring residents of Kansas, Alabama and Georgia to provide citizenship documentation to register to vote using a federal form.
Kansas Suspending Work on Limiting Plants' Carbon Emissions
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas is suspending its work on a plan for complying with federal regulations meant to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions from power plants. Governor Sam Brownback has signed legislation approved by the Legislature to put the work on hold because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in February. The new law takes effect May 19 and is a response to the high court's 5-4 ruling staying the federal rules until legal challenges are resolved. Wyoming and Virginia have enacted similar measures. The Kansas law will prevent state agencies from conducting studies or doing other work for a carbon-emissions plan while the U.S. Supreme Court's stay is in effect. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said Monday that the federal government is attempting an "unprecedented expansion'' of its power.
Topeka Police Investigate Warehouse Homicide
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police are investigating the death of a man whose body was found in a Topeka warehouse as a homicide. The victim was identified Tuesday as 64-year-old Curt Cochran. He was a teacher at Northern Hills Junior High School from 1975 to 1991 and was principal from 1991 to 2000. It is now called Seaman Middle School. Workers found Cochran's body Monday in the back room of a warehouse. He was part owner of 3 Men with a Truck & Trailer moving company. Topeka Police Major Bill Cochran says the investigation is continuing. He did not release details about why the death is considered a homicide.
Court Document: College Student Held Against Her Will
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Court documents allege that a man held a Lawrence college student against her will and beat her before returning her to her sorority six days later. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the allegations are part of recently released court documents in the case against 30-year-old Shane Steven Allen. He faces one felony charge of kidnapping and four felony charges of battery in the attack last month on a 20-year-old woman whom he met through a mobile dating app. An arrest affidavit filed in Douglas County District Court alleges that Allen beat the woman after accusing her of flirting with his friend. He is accused of telling her she couldn't go until her face healed. Allen is jailed on $100,000 bond. It wasn't immediately known if he had an attorney.
At Least 1 Shot Fired at Kansas School Bus; No Injuries
NEWTON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are searching for a teenage boy who allegedly shot at a Newton school bus. Harvey County Sheriff's spokeswoman Melissa Flavin says the bus was headed to pick up students at Walton Elementary School Tuesday when at least one shot was fired at the vehicle. The driver reported seeing a gun and hearing at least one shot. No one was injured. The sheriff's office says no bullet holes were found on the bus. The suspect was a teenager who was riding in a 2010 or later full-size pickup truck that was silver or gray. Newton schools were lockdown for about 30 minutes as a precaution.
Manhattan Man Charged with Death of Infant
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A Manhattan man has been charged in the death of an infant. Barry Disney, the senior deputy prosecutor at the Riley County attorney's office, says 25-year-old Andrew L. Gibson was charged Monday with first-degree felony murder and child abuse. Gibson is jailed on a $500,000 bond. He made a first appearance Monday, and a public defender was appointed to represent him. The Manhattan Mercury reports that officers responded to a call Thursday night about an infant who wasn't breathing. Efforts to revive the infant weren't successful, and the child was pronounced dead at a hospital. Police didn't immediately release the name of the baby.
Report Forecasts Bountiful Winter Wheat Crop
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The government is expecting a bountiful winter wheat harvest this year. The National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast on Tuesday U.S. winter wheat production to be up 4 percent from a year ago, with the nation's farmers expected to bring in 1.43 billion bushels. The agency says the expected yield of 47.8 bushels per acre would equal the record yield set in 1999, if realized. Hard red winter wheat, the type commonly grown in Kansas, is also forecast to be up 4 percent nationwide at 863 million bushels. Kansas, the nation's largest producer, is forecast to harvest 352.6 million bushels this year. Average yields in the state are expected to be 43 bushels per acre from 8.2 million acres. Kansas farmers last year harvested 321.9 million bushels.
Salina Residents Approve Sales Tax Increase
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Salina residents have approved a sales tax increase designed for city improvements. Saline County Clerk Don Merriman announced Tuesday that unofficial results of the mail-in election showed the tax passed by a vote of 6,216 to 5,350, or about 54 percent in favor to 46 percent opposed. The vote repeals an existing 0.4 percent special sales tax and increases it for businesses in Salina to 0.75 percent. It will be effective October 1. The city's total sales tax will be 8.75 percent. It is expected to raise $9.35 million per year. The Salina City Commission says the revenue will be used to improve neighborhood streets, fund capital projects, economic development, parks, capital improvements and cleanup of the old Smoky Hill River channel.
Child Porn Suspect Arrested at Kansas Nudist Center
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man who has been charged in Boston with one count of distributing child pornography has been arrested at a nudist center in northeast Kansas. The Kansas City Star reports that 58-year-old Christopher Jon Saemisch appeared Monday in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas. Federal prosecutors say Saemisch is a registered sex offender and that he was arrested Friday at the Gaea Retreat Center in rural Leavenworth County. No attorney is listed for the Olathe, Kansas, man in online court records. Court documents say he used the Internet to distribute child pornography to an inmate at a federal prison in Massachusetts. Saemisch is accused of writing emails saying he was collecting child pornography and wanted to travel to Europe to have sex with children.
Kansas City's National WWI Museum's New Exhibit Focuses on Bloody Battles
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A new exhibit at the National World War I Museum and Memorial focuses on two pivotal battles and features more graphic material than other temporary displays mounted by the facility. The Kansas City Star reports that the centennial exhibit, "They Shall Not Pass 1916," covers the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Verdun. Only three of the 150 or so items on display in the exhibit have ever been publicly displayed before. Some of the items include a British helmet with a bullet hole on the top, a German coil of barbed wire and an imperial Russian pilot's leather coat. Photos show terrain cratered by explosives and dead soldiers. The exhibit opened Friday at the museum in Kansas City, Missouri, and runs until next March.
Douglas County Describes Old Schoolhouse Property as 'Junk Yard'
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Douglas County commissioners are asking a judge to stop a family from dumping junk at an old schoolhouse property south of Lawrence. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that a petition filed in Douglas County District Court requests a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction. The property includes a rural schoolhouse that was built in 1890. The petition describes the property as a "junk yard" and describes it as "dangerous" and a "nuisance" that could harm the health, welfare and safety of other residents. Junk on the property includes old cars and tires, machinery, vehicle motor parts and yard equipment. It's an unusual step for the county, whose code-enforcement philosophy in recent years has been to work with violators rather than to penalize them.
Student Suffers Head Injury After Jumping in Retention Pond
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a 16-year-old has been flown to a hospital after diving head-first into a retention pond near a Lawrence high school. 6 News in Lawrence reports that the student was injured Monday afternoon near Free State High School. Lawrence Fire Chief Mark Bradford says the student was taken to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. His injury wasn't considered life threatening. The name of the student wasn't immediately released.
KCMO Man Files Paternity Claim Against Prince's Estate
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Colorado inmate has filed a paternity claim with a Minnesota court against the estate of Prince, claiming the musician is his biological father. In filings with Carver County District Court, Carlin Q. Williams of Kansas City, Missouri, seeks DNA testing to determine if he's Prince's child. In an affidavit included with the court filing, Williams's mother, Marsha Henson, says she had sex with Prince in July 1976 and gave birth to her son the following April. Under Minnesota law, children are first in line to inherit, which would put Williams ahead of Prince's siblings if the court agrees he is Prince's son. Williams's attorney, Patrick Cousins, of West Palm Beach, Florida, confirmed to The Associated Press on Tuesday that his client is currently imprisoned. Court and prison records show Williams is at the maximum security federal prison in Florence, Colorado, after pleading guilty in 2013 to unlawfully transporting a firearm. He was sentenced to seven years and eight months behind bars.
Kansas City Streetcars Transport 32K Riders in First Weekend
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — More than 32,000 passengers have ridden Kansas City's new streetcars on the first weekend of operation, far exceeding ridership projections. Kansas City Streetcar Authority officials tell The Kansas City Star that ridership peaked Saturday with nearly 15,000 people getting on along the 2.2-mile route through downtown. More than 12,000 people rode the streetcar Friday. There were nearly 5,500 passengers Sunday, but that was still more than twice the prediction of 2,700 average daily riders once the novelty wears off. Numbers for the first workday of streetcar operations on Monday weren't available. The sole glitch this weekend was an indicator light on a door that went out Saturday. The car was taken to a maintenance shop and was back in service in about a half hour.
Yankees Beat Slumping Royals, 6-3, to Win Game One of Series
NEW YORK (AP) — The Yankee's Carlos Beltran hit two of New York's five solo homers in the first three innings off Royals' pitcher Chris Young. Aroldis Chapman allowed one run in his Yankees debut before closing out a 6-3 victory over the slumping Kansas City Royals on Monday night. The Yankees won the opener of a four-game series against the defending World Series champions. Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer homered for the Royals, who have lost 10 of their last 13 games and fell below .500 for the first time since July, 2014. Kansas City faces the Yankees in 3 more games before returning to Kauffman Stadium for a weekend home stand versus the Atlanta Braves.