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Headlines for Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Kansas House Panel Plans to Discuss Budget Issues This Week

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee plans to meet later this week to review a new, more pessimistic fiscal forecast for state government and to discuss budget issues. The Appropriations Committee's session Thursday would be the first legislative meeting since state officials and university economists issued the new forecast. Lawmakers are taking their annual spring break but the full House and Senate plan to reconvene April 29 so that the Legislature can wrap up its business for the year. The new fiscal forecast was issued Monday and cut projections for tax collections from now through June 2016 by $187 million. It revised a forecast made in November. State Budget Director Shawn Sullivan says lawmakers must fill a $400 million hole in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

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Big Piece of Plan for Balancing Kansas Budget Now in Doubt

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An $80 million piece of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's plan for balancing the next state budget is in trouble in the Legislature because a major health insurance company opposes it. Budget Director Shawn Sullivan said in a statement Wednesday that the Republican governor's office is having active discussions with Aetna, legislators and the state Insurance Department about the disputed measure. It would increase a fee paid by HMOs to 5.5 percent from 1 percent. Three private health insurers that manage the state's Medicaid program would pay most of it. But Aetna told legislators last month that it would pay $12 million a year in additional fees and Kansas consumers would see higher premiums. The Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure last month but it has stalled in the House.

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Kansas Lawmakers See $25M Worth of School Funding Surprises

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas would take an additional $25 million hit in its next state budget to provide the aid it has promised to public schools. Officials learned of the issue less than three weeks after Governor Sam Brownback signed legislation aimed at preventing school funding surprises. State officials said Tuesday that a property tax imposed by the state to raise money for schools is expected to generate $17.5 million less than previously anticipated during the fiscal year beginning July 1. Officials also predict that aid to school districts for construction projects will cost $7.5 million more than previously estimated. The GOP-controlled Legislature approved a measure in March to junk the state's per-pupil school funding formula and replace it with predictable ``block grants.'' The Republican governor signed the legislation April 2. 

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Kansas School District Considers Dropping Police Department

MAIZE, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Wichita school district is considering dissolving its police force to save money. The Maize school district notified parents Tuesday that administrators will recommend that the school board dissolve the police force. The district has four officers, who provide security for up to 7,000 students, staff and faculty in nine schools. The administrators said dissolving the force would save the district about $80,000. The district is expecting a budget reduction of about $351,000 for next school year. Maize Police Chief Matt Jensby told KWCH-TV the city and school district will come up with a plan for the city to provide security for the district, including adding city officers as full-time school resource officers. If the board approves the proposal, it would take effect July 1.

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CDC Eyeing Bird Flu Vaccine for Humans, Though Risk is Low 

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Federal officials say they're taking steps to create a human vaccine for the bird flu virus that's affected the Midwest poultry industry, though they still consider the danger to be low. Dr. Alicia Fry, an influenza expert with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says they're optimistic there won't be any human cases of the H5N2 strain that has cost chicken and turkey producers nearly 6.8 million birds so far. She said Wednesday that most human infections with other bird flu viruses have required close, prolonged contact with infected birds. So, officials are monitoring farm workers who've been exposed to affected flocks. Fry said the CDC has taken early steps toward developing a human vaccine in case it's needed, but that's a standard procedure with all emerging diseases.

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Kansas Man Pleads Not Guilty to Federal Terrorism Charges

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ A 20-year-old Topeka man pleads not guilty to federal charges accusing him of trying to bomb an Army installation in support of a terrorist group. John T. Booker Jr. appeared Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, wearing an orange jumpsuit and his legs in shackles. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Booker politely responded to Judge James P. O'Hara's questions as he entered his plea. He's charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to damage property by means of an explosive and attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State group. The Topeka man was arrested near Junction City on April 10 by FBI agents who say he was trying to arm a fake car bomb he planned to detonate at Fort Riley.

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Prosecutors Seek More Info in Marijuana Advocate's Case 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors are seeking more information before deciding whether to charge a medical marijuana advocate who lost custody of her 11-year-old son following comments the boy made in a drug education program at a Kansas school. Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier said Wednesday she has asked Garden City police for follow-up reports in the case of 37-year-old Shona Banda. Those are expected to be completed within 10 days. Banda referred any comment to her attorney, who did not immediately return a message. Authorities were called to the boy's school on March 24. A search of their house found marijuana and other drug-related items. Police referred the case on Monday to the county attorney, saying possible charges include possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of drug paraphernalia and child endangerment.

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Judge Rules Man Was Competent During 2011 Murder Trial 

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has ruled that a Salina man was mentally competent when he stood trial for murder in 2011. Saline County District Court Judge Patrick Thompson on Tuesday denied Thomas Jenkins's  motion to dismiss his conviction for first-degree murder in the June 2009 death of 24-year-old Alfred Mack Jr. in Salina. The Kansas Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court last October to decide the competency issue. Prosecutors acknowledged that a competency hearing that was ordered for Jenkins in 2010 was never conducted and he was on suicide watch before the trial. The Salina Journal reports that a psychotherapist found him competent for trial in 2010. Thompson heard testimony from the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney and others who interacted with Jenkins at the time of the trial.

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4 Arrested Following Highway Chase Near Salina

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says four men have been arrested following a highway chase that ended near Salina when their vehicle's tires were flattened. Trooper Ben Gardner says the men were booked into Saline County Jail on Tuesday afternoon. He expects the driver and three passengers to face fleeing and eluding charges. Gardner said that a trooper attempted to stop a car about 12 miles west of Salina, but it sped away. He said stop sticks eventually punctured the vehicle's tires near Salina.

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Former US Senator to Receive Honorary Degree from Kansas State University

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Former U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker is receiving an honorary doctorate degree from Kansas State University. The university announced Wednesday that the degree will be awarded May 15 during the Graduate School's commencement ceremony in Bramlage Coliseum. She's also delivering the commencement speech. University president Kirk Schulz says the nearly two decades Kassebaum Baker spent in the Senate are "evidence of her dedication to service and diplomacy." Kassebaum Baker graduated from the University of Kansas in 1954. Her ties to Kansas State date from 1966 when the Landon Lecture Series on Public Issues was inaugurated as a tribute to her father, former Kansas Governor Alfred Landon. Her four children are Wildcats and graduated in the 1980s. Kassebaum Baker lives on her farm in Morris County, Kansas.

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Federal Agency Investigating Colorado Springs Plane Delay 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Transportation is investigating an incident on Friday in which passengers on a United Express flight were diverted from Denver International Airport to the Colorado Springs Airport and spent nearly six hours on the tarmac before they were allowed to leave the aircraft. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, federal rules limit how long passengers can be kept on the tarmac, but there are exceptions United Express Flight 4934, operated by Republic Airlines, was one of eight flights diverted from Denver International Airport to Colorado Springs because of weather. The flight left Kansas City at 5 am and landed in Colorado Springs around 7:30 am. Passengers were later put on buses to DIA. A spokesman for Republic did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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Search Underway for 2 Men Accused in Kidnapping, Robbery

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The search continues for two men who kidnapped a rural Wichita man from his home and took him to a local business where the thieves stole roughly $175,000 worth of property. KAKE-TV reports that two armed men wearing ski masks entered the man's home just east of Wichita around 3 am Tuesday and robbed him and his wife. The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office says the suspects then took the 72-year-old man to Heartland Coin Gallery, which he owns, and took cash, coins, jewelry and seven guns before fleeing in the man's car. Officials say the victim was not hurt.

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Man Sentenced for Robbing Same Bank He Stole from 8 Years Ago

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man is going back to prison for robbing the same bank he held up eight years ago. The U.S. attorney's office says in a news release that 52-year-old Mark Finnigin was sentenced Wednesday to 63 months after pleading guilty during the same hearing to robbing Emprise Bank on July 22, 2014. Prosecutors say he entered the bank and demanded $10,000. Before the clerk could finish putting the cash on the counter, he took $4,000 and fled. A surveillance camera at a nearby store recorded him getting into a minivan. This is the same bank Finnigin robbed in 2007. He got 51 years in prison for that robbery.

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Cowley County Deputies Searching for Escaped Inmate 

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) — Cowley County deputies are searching for a 28-year-old inmate after they say he didn't return to the jail from his court-ordered furlough. Deputies say they were notified Monday that John Douglas Wooten didn't return to Cowley County Jail. Wooten was in custody for theft, forgery, making false information, bond violation and failure to appear. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call authorities.

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Kansas Speedway Announces Safety Improvements
 
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Speedway is planning new safety improvements before next month's NASCAR races. The Kansas City Star reports that officials at the Kansas City, Kansas, track announced Wednesday that two sand barrels will be installed at the leading edge of the pit-road exit. There also will be an additional tire pack will be installed at the pit-road entrance, and interior walls along turns two and three will be extended. All tracks that host NASCAR events are studying their safety measures following Kyle Busch's crash in February at Daytona. Busch broke his right leg and left foot in the Xfinity Series opener when he spun and hit a concrete wall that was not protected by an energy-absorbing SAFER barrier. More safety enhancements are planned before the race weekend in October.

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Reactions to Finn's Resignation Issued

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Bishop Robert Finn is urging followers to pray for his successor. The priest who led the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph in Missouri for nearly 10 years has resigned under a church law that allows bishops to leave early for illness or some "grave" reason that makes them unfit for office. But the resignation does not provide a specific reason. In 2012, Finn pleaded guilty to failing to report a suspected child abuser, becoming the highest-ranking church official in the U.S. to be convicted of not taking action in response to abuse allegations. Sister Jeanne Christensen, a member of the Sisters of Mercy who has been a vocal critic of Finn, says "it's sad" that it's taken this long for Finn to step down. And Rebecca Randles -- an attorney for several plaintiffs in abuse lawsuits -- says the resignation is an important step for abuse victims and the diocese.

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Study Links Swarm of Quakes in Texas to Natural Gas Drilling 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Scientists have linked a swarm of small earthquakes west of Fort Worth to nearby natural gas wells and wastewater injection. A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications says researchers from Southern Methodist University and the U.S. Geological Survey monitored the shaking from nearly 30 small quakes around Azle from November 2013 to January 2014. The area hadn't had any recorded quakes in 150 years. The scientists say the shaking decreased when the volume of injections did. They have concluded that removing saltwater from the wells and injecting that wastewater back underground is "the most likely cause" for the swarm of quakes. Other studies have made a connection between wastewater injections and a spike in earthquakes in Oklahoma and southern Kansas.

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Emerald Ash Borer Traps to Be Set Across Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State and national agricultural workers are planning to set traps across Kansas to prevent the spread of a destructive beetle. The state announced Tuesday that 163 traps will be set to catch the emerald ash borer and detect unknown populations. The traps will be set in 23 counties starting this month. The beetle kills North American ash trees after it emerges in June and July. Most of the traps will be three-sided, purple, sticky prisms. Others are funnel shaped and are coated with Fluon, a slippery resin. The Kansas Department of Agriculture says the traps present no danger to humans, pets or wildlife. The state is asking Kansans to report downed traps to the agriculture department at 785.564.6698.

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Kaw Nation Planning to Return to Kansas Tribal Land 

COUNCIL GROVE, Kan. (AP) - An American Indian tribe is returning to its land in northeast Kansas, beginning with a ceremony Saturday. The Kaw Nation, also called the Kanza, will perform ritual dances Saturday south of Council Grove. It is a step toward establishing a gathering place to educate, promote and preserve the American Indian heritage for a tribe for which the state of Kansas is named. The Wichita Eagle reports the dances will be performed at the site of the last Kaw villages in Kansas before the Kaw was forced to move to Indian Territory in Oklahoma in 1873. On February 28, 2000, the Kaw Nation bought 146.8 acres of land along the Little John Creek near Council Grove. It has been working with the state to re-establish its ties to Kansas.

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Feds Charge Ex-Bank President, Others with Money Laundering

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Federal prosecutors have charged a former bank president and two of his customers in a conspiracy to launder drug money in Kansas for Mexican cartels. Two other former bank employees were also charged with failing to report the suspicious financial transactions. The U.S. attorney's office says the 37-count indictment unsealed Tuesday in Kansas is part of a larger investigation with indictments across the country. That probe has resulted in 20 indictments against defendants in Indiana, Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia, Oklahoma, Colorado and Mexico. Prosecutors say George Enns and his wife, Agatha, of Meade, Kansas, deposited millions in drug proceeds into their account at the Plains State Bank in Kansas while former bank president James Kirk Friend of Plains failed to report the suspicious activity.  

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Kansas Officials Host Conference on Crime Victims' Rights

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt are hosting a two-day conference this week on crime victims' rights. The conference begins Thursday at the Hyatt Regency hotel and convention center in downtown Wichita. Brownback is scheduled to make opening remarks Thursday morning. Schmidt plans to present awards during a Friday luncheon to recognize professionals and volunteers who provide services to crime victims. It will be the 18th annual state conference on crime victims' rights, and the attorney general's office says this year's focus is the need for community leaders and groups to provide services and support to victims. The conference includes more than 30 workshops.

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Pittsburg State Officially Opens New Athletic Center

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — Hundreds of people turned out to cheer the official opening of a new athletic center and track at Pittsburg State University. The $13 million Robert Plaster Center includes an indoor football practice field, a 300-meter track, a strength and conditioning center and locker rooms. Its grand opening was Tuesday. The Joplin Globe reports the project was funded by private donors, student fees, Crawford County and the city of Pittsburg. The Harvey Dean Track is one of only six collegiately-owned 300-meter tracks in the country. Before it opened, the center was chosen to host the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships in 2016 and 2018 and the NJCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in 2017 and 2019.

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Beaty Leads First Spring Practices as New KU Football Coach

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — One thing has become clear during David Beaty's first spring in charge of the University of Kansas football program: he likes to get things done at lightning pace. He wants guys running between drills. He wants them moving quickly from one play to the next in practice. He wants them hustling in and out of the huddle at a sprint. Perhaps it will all pay off with a quick turnaround. The new-look Jayhawks are preparing for a public unveiling in their annual spring game on Saturday. Beaty, who had been the wide receivers coach at Texas A&M, know what it takes to win at Kansas. He was part of Mark Mangino's staff during their most recent run at glory.

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Royals' Herrera Suspended, Ventura Fined for Incident vs A's 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Major League Baseball suspended Kansas City's Kelvin Herrera for five games and fined him and fellow pitcher Yordano Ventura after both targeted Brett Lawrie during a testy series against Oakland over the weekend. Herrera was tossed in the eighth inning of Sunday's game after throwing behind Lawrie. Ventura was ejected from Saturday's game when he hit Lawrie with a pitch after Josh Reddick's home run. Both incidents came after Lawrie's hard slide into Alcides Escobar injured the left knee of the Kansas City shortstop on Friday and caused benches to clear. Escobar called it a "dirty slide" and did not play Saturday or Sunday. MLB did not disclose the amounts of the fines. Herrera can appeal his suspension or it can take effect beginning Tuesday night against Minnesota.

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Royals Defeat Twins 6-5 in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Mike Moustakas hit a two-run homer and drove in the go-ahead run with a single in the eighth inning, as the Kansas City Royals rallied to beat the Minnesota Twins 6-5 on Tuesday night. The Royals trailed 5-3 in the sixth when Christian Colon started their comeback with an RBI double. Colon added a run-scoring groundout off the Twins' Casey Fien (0-1) in the eighth to tie the game. Moustakas'  eighth inning single put the Royals in the lead. Kansas City's Chris Young (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings in relief of struggling starter Jason Vargas, and Wade Davis breezed through the ninth for his third save of the season.
 

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