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Headlines for Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Kansas Senate Passes Bill Voiding Local Gun Regulations

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved legislation that would strip cities and counties of their power to regulate firearms and nullify existing local gun ordinances. The 34-2 vote Wednesday sends the measure to the House. A House committee has endorsed a similar bill, but the chamber hasn't taken it up. Supporters are hoping a version will clear the Legislature this week and go to Governor Sam Brownback. The Senate bill would ensure that the open carrying of firearms is legal across the state, but local officials could still prevent it inside public buildings. Supporters say a patchwork of local regulations confuses gun owners and infringes upon gun-ownership rights guaranteed by the state and U.S. constitutions. Opponents contend cities and counties know best whether gun restrictions are appropriate for their communities.


Kansas House Panel Approves School Funding Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has approved an education funding plan that would boost the state's total annual aid to public schools by $78 million. The Appropriations Committee voted 12-11 late Tuesday to send the measure to the full House for debate later this week. The measure is designed to satisfy a Kansas Supreme Court decision last month directing lawmakers to increasing aid to poor school districts. The plan would provide an additional $141 million to poor districts. But it would offset the cost by trimming $63 million from other forms of aid to all school districts. It would reduce the state's funding for school transportation programs, teacher pensions and programs helping students at risk of failing. School districts also could levy additional local property taxes to supplement their state funds.


Tax Credit Clouds Future of Kansas Senate School Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Critics of an amendment to give a property tax credit to parents of students attending private schools in Kansas are questioning its legality and financial impact. Supporters of the plan say it's all about fairness. Senator Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican, says Wednesday that the idea is to help defray the costs for parents who choose to send their children to nonpublic schools. Parents would get a credit equal to the cost of tuition, fees or other expenses deducted from their school property taxes every year. The language was inserted Tuesday by the Senate Ways and Means Committee in its $129 million school funding package. The provision was one of several amendments to a bill aimed at satisfying a March 7 Kansas Supreme Court opinion regarding school spending.


Bill for Luring Casino to Southeast Kansas Passes Legislature

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill aimed at bringing a state-owned casino to southeast Kansas has cleared the state Legislature and is going to Governor Sam Brownback. The House approved the proposal Wednesday on an 84-36 vote. The Senate approved it last week. The bill lowers the investment required for a southeast Kansas casino from $225 million to $50 million. The state also would drop the fee it charges to a prospective developer to $5.5 million from $25 million. A casino in southeast Kansas was authorized by a 2007 law, but area officials say the required investment and the fee are too high to attract interest from developers. The Kansas Lottery owns the rights to the gambling but would have a private developer build and operate the casino.


KDOT Reports 2014 Costliest Winter Since 2008

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Department of Transportation says the winter season of 2014 was its most expensive in several years. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the department spent an estimated $22 million to keep state highways open for travel during the rough winter weather. That's the most the department's had to spend since the winter of 2008, when it spent $23.7 million. The department says this year's numbers won't be finalized until the end of the fiscal year. KDOT says the lowest amount the department has spent in the last seven years was $6.8 million in 2012.


Immigration Sweep Nets 19 Arrests in Kansas

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) — Immigration officials say 19 people were arrested in an operation in Liberal in the southwest Kansas. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a news release Wednesday that the operation was part of its commitment to prioritize the removal of immigrants with criminal histories and serious violators of immigration laws. The three-day sweep concluded last Thursday. ICE says the arrests included 18 immigrants with prior convictions for drug trafficking, drug manufacturing, aggravated assault, burglary, domestic assault, driving under the influence and illegal re-entry after deportation. The group included five who were also fugitives with outstanding orders of deportation. Four of them had been previously deported. Two women and 17 men were arrested. Eleven had come to the United States from Mexico, seven from Guatemala and one from Honduras.

Kansas Senate Approves Bill Addressing Legal Issues Arising From Abortion Lawsuits

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved abortion legislation addressing legal issues raised in state and federal lawsuits filed by abortion providers. The 33-7 vote Wednesday sends the measure to the House. Supporters hope the measure can clear the Legislature this week and go to Governor Sam Brownback. Abortion opponents have said the bill makes minor changes in existing laws rather than setting new policy. Planned Parenthood officially is neutral on it. The bill revises a requirement that the home pages of abortion providers' websites link to a state health department site with information about pregnancy and fetal development. Providers would no longer have to say that the state's information is accurate and objective. The measure also revises language in Kansas laws on medical emergencies in which abortion restrictions are waived.


KS Secretary of State Wants Stronger Prairie Chicken Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Secretary of State Kris Kobach says a Kansas House committee has taken the teeth out of legislation to protest the federal government's listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. Kobach on Wednesday described the bill as being "gutted." The measure still declares that the federal government has no authority to regulate prairie chickens or their habitats in Kansas. But the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee removed a provision making it a felony for a federal employee to attempt to enforce federal laws, regulations or treaties dealing with the bird. Kobach had a staffer with his re-election campaign tweet to his supporters to contact lawmakers. State officials worry that the listing will allow the federal government to force landowners to adopt costly conservation practices.


KS Joins Oklahoma in Lawsuit on Wildlife Regulation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has joined Oklahoma in a lawsuit challenging the process used by the federal government to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office announced Wednesday that Kansas on Tuesday became part of a case filed earlier this month in federal court in Oklahoma. Oklahoma filed the lawsuit before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formally listed the lesser prairie chicken as threatened. It argues the service is not following the process spelled out by federal law. Kansas officials contend that the listing isn't necessary because the five states with lesser prairie chicken habitats have developed a conservation plan. They are Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. The federal agency says the lesser prairie chicken's population has declined dramatically since 2012.

Driver Who Hit Toll Plaza Might Have Been Asleep

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The company that hired a Colorado man who died when he hit a toll plaza on the Kansas Turnpike says it appears the man was asleep at the wheel. However, The Kansas Highway Patrol says the cause of the accident is still under investigation. Thirty-year-old Sergiy Angelchev of Aurora, Colorado died Saturday when his tractor-trailer hit the toll booth on westbound Interstate 70 in Leavenworth County. A passenger in the truck is hospitalized in critical condition. The toll plaza was not staffed at the time of the accident. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Angelchev's manager for Eastern Freight Solutions says photos taken just before the crash appear to show him sleeping. He had driven about 955 miles in two days when the accident occurred.

Food Supplier Recalling 8,700 Pounds of Chicken

ENID, Okla. (AP) — A food supplier with operations in Oklahoma is recalling more than 8,700 pounds of frozen chicken products because of misbranding and undeclared allergens. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the products from AdvancePierre Foods were formulated with milk and soy, which are not declared on the label. The recall affects 10-pound bulk cases of Our Down Home Style Chicken Breast Fritters for Chicken Frying. The USDA says the products were distributed to food-service establishments in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia. The USDA says it's received no reports of illnesses. Advance Food Company was founded in Enid, Oklahoma in 1973. In 2010, the company merged with Pierre Foods to create AdvancePierre Foods, which has headquarters in Ohio.


State Assessment Tests Hit by Cyber Attacks

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas schools already struggling to administer math and reading assessment tests are now dealing with another problem. State education officials say unknown people launched cyber-attacks against the tests last week. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the attackers slowed down or disabled networks used to administer the tests by overwhelming them with traffic, rather than hacking into them. The attacks started Thursday and briefly stopped on Sunday. Testing ran smoothly on Monday but the cyber-attacks resumed on Tuesday. Officials from the Kansas State Department of Education and the University of Kansas testing center said Tuesday no student data was compromised. The tests have already been plagued by technology problems this year, prompting several districts to delay or cancel administering them.


Feds Outline Abortion Threat Appeal Before Court

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Justice Department has asked a federal appeals court to set oral arguments in the case of a Kansas abortion opponent who sent a letter to a Wichita doctor saying someone might place an explosive under her car. The government set out the grounds of its appeal Wednesday in filings to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. At issue is whether U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten was wrong in concluding Angel Dillard's letter was not a "true threat." Marten summarily ruled last year that Dillard's letter to a Wichita doctor who planned to offer abortion services was constitutionally protected speech. Dillard claims in a cross-appeal that the government violated her speech and religious rights when it sued her for sending the letter to Dr. Mila Means in 2011.


Sheriff Says Efforts to Stop Sexual Assaults at Sedgwick County Jail Continue

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Sedgwick County sheriff says there have been increased efforts to combat sexual assaults in the county jail. The Wichita Eagle reports that Sheriff Jeff Easter said Wednesday the efforts since he became sheriff in December 2012, include enhanced training for staff and allowing more ways for inmates to report incidents. Easter's comments Wednesday come about a week after a former sheriff's deputy was charged with unlawful sexual relations involving two inmates. The sheriff says his office is also adding about 250 video cameras to the jail to deter attacks. The cameras are part of security system improvements costing $4.5 million.


Kansas City Remains in Race to Host GOP Convention

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City remains in the running to host the 2016 Republican National Convention. The Republican National Committee said Wednesday that the list of competing cities had been narrowed from eight to six. Besides Kansas City, those still in the running are Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver and Las Vegas. Republican staff members now will visit each of the six cities for a more in-depth look at the financing, convention site, media work space and hotels. They are to present their findings to a site selection committee in May. The panel then will determine which sites will get official visits from the full delegation of Republican National Committee members. The two applicants eliminated Wednesday were Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio. Kansas City last hosted the Republican National Convention in 1976.


Officials Set Traps to Find Ash Borer Infestations

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal and state agriculture officials are setting 568 traps across Kansas to detect and prevent the spread of the emerald ash borer. The beetle has killed millions of ash trees since it was first discovered in North America in 2002. In Kansas, it was found in Wyandotte County in 2012 and Johnson County in 2013. Kansas is participating in a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey to monitor known infestations and detect unknown beetle populations. The state plans to set up 80 traps in Barton, Bourbon, Douglas, Ellsworth, Leavenworth, Marion and Osage. USDA is also putting some up. Traps are coated with a nontoxic glue. Kansas has implemented an intrastate quarantine for firewood, nursery plants and mulch for affected counties to prevent further spread of the pest.


Hays Fined $18K for Wastewater Violation

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency has fined the city of Hays for violations at the city's wastewater treatment facility. The Hays Daily News reports that the EPA fined the city $18,000 for the 2012 violations. The EPA's initial fine was $29,000, but the amount was lowered after negotiations. The city was fined for problems stemming from the testing processes to lower nitrates, ammonia and phosphates. The unsuccessful experiment led to excessive ammonia levels for several days before staff caught the error and reported it to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The Hays City Commission is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the issue. Commissioners can opt to pay the penalty or challenge it in court. City staff has recommended accepting the decision.


Haysville Residents Approve 1 Cent Sales Tax

HAYSVILLE, Kan. (AP) — A 1-cent retail sales tax was approved in Haysville, but not by much. The Sedgwick County Election office says the tax for road maintenance and parks and recreation programs passed Tuesday with 284 voting yes, and 267 opposed. The city's sales tax will now be 8.5 percent. The city plans to use funds from the tax to widen some roads and add recreation programs. The new tax takes effect July 1. City officials estimate it will raise nearly $500,000 each year until it expires in 10 years.

Ellis County Investigating Arsons

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — A $2,500 reward is being offered for information leading to a conviction in several recent arsons in Ellis County. The Hays Daily News reports that authorities have been investigating as many as 20 fires in the county. Ellis County Sheriff Ed Harbin says detectives have interviewed numerous people, but they haven't said how the fires started. The Kansas Fire Marshal's office has said the fires started March 6 and continued for another 10 days, culminating in a massive grass fire that burned nearly 1,200 acres of grassland in northwest Ellis County. The reward will be paid upon the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the fires.


KS Group Seeks to Decriminalize Marijuana

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A statewide group seeking to legalize marijuana in Kansas has launched a petition drive in Wichita to remove criminal penalties for possessing an ounce or less of the substance. The Wichita Eagle reports that members of the group Kansas for Change told City Council members Tuesday they would be back with at least 4,300 verified signatures on the petitions. It will be up to the council to approve the proposal or place it on a ballot for a public vote. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett says even if the petition drive were to succeed and voters agree, state and federal laws prohibiting possession of marijuana still take precedence. Esau Freeman with Kansas for Change said similar petition drives are underway in Topeka, Wyandotte County, Emporia, Salina and Lawrence.


Highland Community College Coach Pleads Guilty in Car Theft Ring

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The women's basketball coach at Highland Community College in northeast Kansas has pleaded guilty to being part of a car theft ring. William Smith, the former women's basketball coach at Southeast Missouri State University, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of conspiracy and five counts of mail fraud. Prosecutors say Smith and 20 other people — mostly from the St. Louis area — stole or fraudulently obtained vehicles from individuals and automobile dealerships in Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. They then staged accidents and filed false theft reports to obtain insurance money. The St. Joseph News-Press reports Smith pleaded guilty to obtaining fraudulent transfer titles from the Osage Nation for five vehicles in 2011 and 2012. The transfer titles allowed the vehicles to be resold.


No Trial for Driver in KS School Bus Mishap

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — The driver of a school bus that toppled into a south-central Kansas creek last October has been granted diversion on a single misdemeanor charge. KWCH-TV reports that Morris Peterson had been scheduled to go on trial Wednesday in Butler County on misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and child endangerment. But prosecutors on Monday dropped the reckless driving charge and put the endangerment charge on hold for a year. The case will be dismissed if Peterson does not have any violations in that time. Ten children were aboard the Douglass School District bus on October 31 when high water swept it off the road and into a rain-swollen creek. Investigators said Peterson misjudged the edge of a railing on a low-water bridge. All of the children got out through an emergency exit.


Wichita Man Pleads Guilty in Shooting Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 22-year-old Wichita man has pleaded guilty in the 2013 death of a former high school football player. The Wichita Eagle reports that Eric Jackson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the 2013 shooting death of 19-year-old Jordan Turner, a former football player at Wichita South High School. Turner was shot to death in a field last March. His body was found about a month after he was shot. Two co-defendants have been convicted of first-degree murder. Jackson's sentencing is May 7.


Umpires Use Instant Replay Review in Royals-Tigers Game

DETROIT (AP) — Umpires overturned a call at first base in the sixth inning of Detroit's game against the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday, the first time baseball's expanded instant replay system has been used at Comerica Park. Tyler Collins of the Tigers was initially called out at first, giving Kansas City a 4-6-3 double play. Detroit manager Brad Ausmus came out to talk to first base umpire Chris Conroy, and the play was then reviewed. The crowd cheered its approval when the review began, and then again when a replay on the scoreboard showed Collins appeared to beat the relay to first. The call was overturned after a delay officially announced at 3 minutes.



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