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Headlines for Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Kansas Governor, Top GOP Lawmakers at Odds over Income Taxes 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback and top GOP legislators are at odds over reconsidering an income tax break for business owners enacted by lawmakers three years ago. Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita and House Taxation Committee Chairman Marvin Kleeb of Overland Park said Wednesday that a reconsideration of the policy will get a serious look. Brownback and lawmakers must close a projected budget shortfall that legislative researchers peg at $422 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The state slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging to stimulate the economy. It exempted 281,000 business owners and 53,000 farmers from income taxes. Brownback said Wednesday that he wants to preserve the policy. He said among other alternatives, he'll push legislators to eliminate income tax deductions instead.

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Sex Predator Bill Scrutinized After Audit of State Program 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill that some lawmakers say would make it more difficult for sex offenders confined for treatment to appeal for their release is facing fresh scrutiny after a report by the state auditor found flaws in the program. The report released Tuesday said the cost of the Kansas sexual predator treatment program could double by 2025 because only three have been released from it since 1994 and its population continues to rise. Offenders deemed to be sexual predators are committed to Larned State Hospital after they serve their criminal penalties and are released only after completing a seven-phase treatment plan. The bill would move patients' grievances and petitions for release from a courtroom setting to a meeting with an administrative lawyer who would decide the case by phone or video conference.

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Kansas House Speaker: No Debate on Religious Objections Bill 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick says he's not planning to have his chamber debate a bill aimed at protecting college religious groups that want to limit their membership. Merrick said Wednesday that the House must concentrate on closing a budget shortfall and drafting a plan to raise new revenues. The Stilwell Republican's comments came hours after the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups said during a news conference that the bill would force state colleges to financially support discrimination. The bill would prohibit state colleges from providing resources to groups for requiring leaders or members to profess certain religious beliefs or adhere to a faith-based code of conduct. Supporters say the measure ensures that groups can operate in line with their beliefs. The Senate passed it last month.

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Judge Rebukes Government over Covert Searches in Kansas 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas judge has put the government on notice that the court will no longer tolerate its "indifference and willful disregard" of legal requirements in conducting covert searches. U.S. Magistrate Judge Teresa James provided a rare public glimpse into the sloppy handling of delayed-notice warrants when she recently rebuked Kansas prosecutors. The public scolding comes amid the growing use of the surreptitious warrants nationwide, especially in Kansas. Congress authorized delayed-notice warrants in the Patriot Act as a way to fight terrorism. But critics say the warrants are being used for routine criminal investigations. The Justice Department has long defended covert searches, calling them in a 2004 report to Congress "a vital and time-honored tool for fighting crime."

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KanCare Organizations Lose Millions, but Less Than in 2013

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The three companies that make up Kansas's Medicaid services delivery system lost millions of dollars last year but not as much as the year before. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Amerigroup, Sunflower Health Plan and United Healthcare lost a combined $52 million in 2014 after losing roughly $116 million in 2013. Of the managed care organizations operating under KanCare, United Healthcare fared the best last year with only $1.5 million in losses. Amerigroup lost $16 million and Sunflower lost about $35 million. The Legislative Oversight Committee received the figures on Tuesday. Kansas Department of Health and Environment health care finance director Mike Randol made a presentation summarizing the information. Randol says the organizations lost a total of about $170 million in the past two years.

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Kansas AG's Office: Abortion Lawsuit Costs Known for Weeks 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office says legislators have known for weeks that the state could spend up to $450,000 to defend a new law banning a procedure common in second trimester abortions. Abortion providers have said they're considering lawsuits. Spokeswoman Jennifer Rapp said Tuesday that Schmidt's office supplied figures to Governor Sam Brownback's budget staff at its request for an estimate of potential defense costs for lawmakers in February. Legislative researchers included the numbers last week in a list of budget items for lawmakers to consider. The new law bars doctors from using forceps, clamps or similar instruments on a live fetus to remove it from the womb in pieces. Kansas was the first state to enact such a measure, and the law takes effect in July.

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Kansas AG: Private Emails by State Officials Not Public

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says state officials aren't required to publicly disclose emails sent through private accounts even if the messages involve public business. Schmidt said in a legal opinion Tuesday that individual state employees don't meet the legal definition of a government agency or government-funded entity under the Kansas Open Records Act. The act requires agencies or government-funded entities to make their records available to the public, though it contains dozens of exceptions. The Republican attorney general issued the opinion at the request of Kansas Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. Hensley sought the opinion following disclosures that Budget Director Shawn Sullivan used a private email account at least twice in December to circulate details about budget proposals to a group that included two lobbyists.

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KU Fraternity Expels 4 Members for Mocking Muslims 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A fraternity at the University of Kansas has kicked out four members after a video posted on social media showed someone mocking Muslims. Zeta Beta Tau chapter president Jason Finkelstein said Wednesday that the traditionally Jewish fraternity learned of the video April 10 and expelled the members the next day. He said it appears the clip was posted April 9 via the app Yeti. In a written statement released over the weekend to the school's student newspaper, the University Daily Kansan, the fraternity said it takes a "strong stance against bigotry and intolerance in all forms." The student paper obtained the clip, which shows a man wrapped in a blanket with his face and head covered. He can be heard saying "Allahu akbar," Arabic for "God is great."

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Topeka Officials Puzzled by 3 Million Gallon Sewage Overflow 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka officials are encouraging anyone using the Kansas River to take precautions after an equipment failure allowed 3 million of gallons of raw sewage to seep into the waterway. Water Pollution Control general manager Bob Sample says the leak began about 1 pm Friday when the South Kansas River pump station had a power outage. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports it wasn't discovered until noon Sunday when an operator noticed unusually low flows at a wastewater treatment plant. Sample says the leak went unnoticed because it was the weekend, and because a backup generator also failed and didn't send notification to a monitoring system. The city on Tuesday said it still doesn't know what caused the malfunction. Sample says it's the largest Topeka overflow he has seen.

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No New Trial for Woman Convicted in Lawrence Man's Death 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A judge has denied an attorney's request for a new trial for a 20-year-old woman convicted of killing her 52-year-old roommate in Lawrence. District Court Judge Paula Martin on Wednesday denied a second trial for Sarah McLinn. She was convicted in March of first-degree murder in the January 2014 death of Harold Sasko, who was found bound and nearly decapitated in the home they shared. Martin ordered that McLinn be evaluated at Larned State Hospital as part of her pre-sentence investigation. The jury recommended that McLinn be sentenced to 50 years in prison with no chance of parole. Or the judge could sentence her to Larned State Hospital. Her attorney, Carl Cornwell, contends McLinn suffered from mental illness and could not have formed the intent to kill Sasko.

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Former Police Chief Indicted in Gun Sale Scheme

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former police chief and three other ex-officers have now been indicted in a gun sale conspiracy at the Bel Aire Police Department. Grand jury indictments handed up Tuesday against ex-chief John R. Daily of Bel Aire and former officer Ricky L. Swanson of Wichita are the two latest in what prosecutors say was a conspiracy to buy discounted firearms. Both were charged with wire fraud and mail fraud. Federal prosecutors allege the officers falsely represented the weapons were police department property to take advantage of special pricing and tax exemptions. Court records do not show whether they have an attorney, and no one returned a voice message left at Daily's home. Two other former officers were charged in December for their roles in the scheme.

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Teenager Drowns in River in Eastern Kansas 

BURLINGTON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a 13-year-old boy has drowned in a river in eastern Kansas. The Coffey County Sheriff's Office says in a news release that Matthew Edwards of Burlington drowned Tuesday evening in the Neosho River in Burlington. Numerous agencies responded to the river and worked for about an hour to recover the teenager from the water. Details about what led to the boy's drowning were not released.

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Foreign Military Officials Tour Fort Riley Army Base 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Military representatives from more than 30 countries are visiting Fort Riley this week. The officers will continue their visit Wednesday as a part of the "Spring 2015 Foreign Military Attaché Orientation" event, which will last until Thursday. The officers will have the opportunity to interact with Fort Riley soldiers and learn about the installation. The group will tour of the base and visit the 1st Infantry Division headquarters. They will also receive informational briefings and learn about Fort Riley's mission readiness, sustainability and community partnerships. Fort Riley was founded in 1853 and is the largest base in the state. It employs more than 25,000 military and civilian workers. About 500 troops from the base are currently deployed to Iraq as a part of the country's military campaign against ISIS.

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School Finance Summit at Wichita State Postponed 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A school finance summit was postponed a day after leaders of conservative think tank said they were concerned it would be a one-sided event because they were not invited. However, organizers of the event scheduled for May 7 at Wichita State University said they postponed the summit because state lawmakers would be in session and unable to attend. The Wichita Eagle reports that the meeting was planned to talk about new block grant funding for schools. Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, says he was glad the event was postponed and hoped his group would be included if it is held. So far, the summit has not been rescheduled.

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Kansas Student's Documentary Stirs Controversy 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A high-school student's documentary, "Where the Buffaloed Roam: An Ode to the Kansas Budget," is raising a stir. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the 51-minute movie was featured this month at the Kansas City FilmFest in Missouri. Released in February by Louisburg High School student Carson Tappan, the film was posted to YouTube on Sunday. The film highlights major income tax cuts that Republican Governor Sam Brownback championed in 2012 and 2013 to help stimulate the economy. The cuts have contributed to massive revenue shortfalls. President Dave Trabert of the conservative Kansas Policy Institute wrote a critical blog post about the film this month. He wrote that it "merely presents a political viewpoint that doesn't let facts get in the way of the story it wants to tell."

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Kansas City Traffic Stop Leads to Huge Meth Bust

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Highway Patrol has discovered more than 90 pounds of methamphetamine during a routine traffic stop. The Kansas City Star reports that the discovery was made Tuesday after a trooper pulled over a vehicle. According to a spokesman for the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department, the methamphetamine is believed to have a street value of $2 million to $3 million, and to have originated in Mexico. Its destination was not known. The spokesman said officers, including the narcotics unit that was called for assistance, found 15 packages of methamphetamine inside a large wooden crate. The driver of the vehicle was taken into custody and is being questioned.

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Kansas Man Pleads No Contest to First-Degree Murder Charge

MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — A 31-year-old central Kansas man has pleaded no contest to a first-degree murder charge in connection with the November death of a former Oregon resident. Clinton Bascue of McPherson entered his plea Monday in McPherson County District Court in the death of 39-year-old James Avery Croft. Croft, originally from Portland, Oregon, before moving to McPherson, was found on November 15 in a car that was in a ditch near Galva, 10 miles east of McPherson. A second person, 28-year-old Kamra Kay Farrell, also has been charged in Croft's death. Her next court appearance also is scheduled for July 6, about four hours before Bascue is sentenced. Farrell's bond is set at $500,000, while Bascue's was revoked as a result of his plea.

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Kansas Oil Production Rose in 2014; Gas Declined

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Newly released numbers show oil production is increasing in Kansas, but natural gas production continues to decline. The Kansas Geological Survey released production numbers for 2014 on Monday. They showed that Kansas produced about 49.5 million barrels of oil last year, marking a 5.7 percent increase from 2013. Despite falling prices, last year's oil production was at its highest level in Kansas since 1995. Meanwhile, natural gas production fell by 2.5 percent to about 287.6 billion cubic feet. With a one-year exception, production in Kansas has dropped every year since 1996. Ellis County was the top oil producer in Kansas, with about 3.4 million barrels in 2014. Harper County wasn't far behind, with 2.9 million barrels.

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Senator Pat Roberts Elected to Lead Eisenhower Memorial Project 

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Senator Pat Roberts has been elected chairman of the commission working to build a memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower near the National Mall. Roberts, a Republican from Eisenhower's home state, was elected Wednesday during a meeting of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission at the Capitol. California Democratic Representative Mike Thompson was elected vice chairman. Former chairman Rocco Siciliano led the effort for 15 years and oversaw hiring Frank Gehry as the designer. Now it falls to Roberts to build support to complete the memorial. The project has been delayed for years over objections to the design by Eisenhower's family and some groups. Roberts says it hasn't been easy to advance the project. But he says Eisenhower never stopped in the face of adversity and the commission won't either.

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Wichita Eagle Publisher to Become McClatchy Vice President

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kim Nussbaum, president and publisher of The Wichita Eagle for nearly four years, will become advertising vice president for The McClatchy Company, parent company of The Eagle. Her last day in Wichita will be May 29. The company said Nussbaum's appointment is part of a reorganization to strengthen McClatchy's sales and marketing and accelerate its digital revenue growth. Nussbaum will be based in Sacramento, California. Nussbaum came to McClatchy and The Eagle in August 2011 from the Abilene, Texas, Reporter-News, where she was president and publisher. She worked in newspapers for more than 30 years, primarily in advertising and marketing, before going to Abilene in 2007. McClatchy also announced Monday that Don Burk, vice president for advertising at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, will be corporate sales director.

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Sedgwick County Prosecutor: No Felony Charges Against NFL's Joseph Randle 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas prosecutors say there is not sufficient evidence to bring felony charges against Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle after a domestic disturbance. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Wednesday his office has completed its review of the February 3 incident involving Randle and the mother of his child at a hotel in Wichita. The case may still be referred by police to the city prosecutor's office for potential misdemeanor charges. A former girlfriend, Dalia Jacobs, told police Randle brandished a gun and broke a car window during the altercation. She filed for a protective order the next day, claiming Randle pointed a gun at a vehicle with their son and Jacobs's friend inside. Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple said the team would have no comment.

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