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Headlines for Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Feds Appeal Ruling in Voter Citizenship Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Federal election officials have appealed a judge's ruling requiring them to help Kansas and Arizona fully enforce state laws requiring voters to prove their U.S. citizenship. A court filing Wednesday comes a day after the U.S. Election Assistance Commission formally notified U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren of its intent to appeal his March 19 ruling. Melgren had ordered the agency to immediately modify a national voter registration form to add special instructions for Arizona and Kansas residents about those states' proof-of-citizenship requirements. The case has already been appealed to the 10th Circuit Court by more than a dozen voting rights organizations that had intervened in the case. Melgren has not yet ruled on the requests by the agency and those groups asking him to stay his order during the appeal.


KS House Speaker Defends Plan on Teacher Tenure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick is trying to blunt criticism of a proposal passed by legislators to end tenure for public school teachers. The Stilwell Republican said Wednesday the measure does not strip teachers of their right to due legal process when they face dismissal. The Kansas National Education Association contends the measure included in a school funding plan will eliminate protections against arbitrary firings. The teachers' union called Merrick's comments misleading. The measure would overturn Kansas law says a teacher who faces being dismissed after three years in the classroom has the right to have his or her case reviewed by an independent hearing officer. Merrick's office released a memo from legislative lawyers saying teachers still can have such hearings if they believe their constitutional rights were violated.


Voters Wrongly Removed from Rolls in Cherokee County

COLUMBUS, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in southeast Kansas say more than 4,800 voters may have been incorrectly removed from Cherokee County voter rolls. Cherokee County Clerk Rodney Edmondson said Tuesday 4,838 people had their statuses changed from "active" to "canceled" between December 1, 2010, and March 1, 2011. He says not all the names were removed improperly, but likely most were. Edmondson says it appears the voters' statuses were canceled because they hadn't voted in two consecutive state or federal general elections. He says Kansas law doesn't support cancellations on that basis. The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports that the Secretary of State's office notified Edmondson's office last October, prompting the investigation. The cancellations happened before Edmondson was clerk. He says his office is working to resolve the numbers before the next general election.


Trial Set for 2015 in Suit over KS Voter ID Law

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A federal trial is scheduled for May 2015 in a lawsuit challenging a Kansas law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. U.S. Magistrate Gerald Rushfelt in Kansas City, Kansas set a schedule this week for hearing the lawsuit. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is being sued by elderly northeast Kansas residents Arthur Spry and Charles Hamner. The law took effect in 2012. In the November election, ballots from Spry or Hamner weren't counted because neither showed photo ID at the polls. Both live in a retirement home in Overbrook. The lawsuit says neither man had a driver's license, computer or access to the birth records needed to secure a photo ID. The trial is expected to last three days, starting May 11, 2015.


KS Education Chief Resigning for Job in Middle East

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker is resigning to become an adviser to the chief education official in a major Middle Eastern city. DeBacker told the State Board of Education on Wednesday that she will step down May 14. She said she'll become an adviser to the director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council in the United Arab Emirates. She said she was recruited for the job. DeBacker is a 53-year-old Kansas native who joined the State Department of Education in 2003. She was named acting commissioner in 2009. The board then named her commissioner in 2010. Board members praised her as an innovative leader. The board named Deputy Commissioner Brad Neuenswander as acting commissioner while it conducts a search for DeBacker's replacement.



UPDATE: Police Link Kansas City-Area Highway Shootings


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police say they have linked some of the apparently random shootings targeting vehicles traveling on Kansas City-area highways over the past month. Kansas City, Missouri police didn't indicate Wednesday what led them to that conclusion. Federal authorities are helping investigate 13 shooting incidents between March 8 and April 6, three in which drivers were wounded. Ten of the shootings took place in Kansas City, while the other three were in the suburbs of Blue Springs and Lee's Summit, Missouri and Leawood, Kansas. Police say several other possible victims came forward after hearing about the shootings in the media, but it's unclear how many are connected. They also say victims and witnesses have provided inconsistent statements, making it difficult to get a grip on how many of the shootings are related.


Kansas Regents Pleased with Budget Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Leaders of the Kansas Board of Regents are pleased with legislative approval of a higher education budget that partly restores salary cuts imposed last year. The measure approved late Sunday contains money for the operating budgets of the six state universities, community colleges and technical schools. Regents Chairman Fred Logan said Wednesday that legislators approved nearly all of Governor Sam Brownback's recommendations for higher education, including granting $25 million in bonding authority for a new education building at the University of Kansas Medical Center. The spending was included in a bill that aimed to address court-ordered funding for public school districts. The bill is awaiting Brownback's signature.


Topeka Voters Pass $143M Bond

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka voters have approved a $143 million school bond issue that will help pay for tornado shelters and other improvements. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports early results show voters in Topeka Unified School District 501 approved the $143 million bond issue Tuesday. The bond will also pay for a career learning center, a new elementary school and other projects. Results of the mail-in vote showed 65 percent of the ballots cast supported the issue. Results will be finalized Monday. The plan calls for building Federal Emergency Management Agency-compliant storm shelters at the district's 12 schools that lack shelters. The bond issue also will pay for enhanced school security, including improved camera systems, panic buttons in front offices and classrooms and fencing and bullet-resistant window film on entryway doors.

Liberal Passes $127M School Bond

LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) — Voters in southwest Kansas have passed two ballot measures advancing a $127 million school district bond issue. The Hutchinson News reports voters in Liberal on Tuesday passed a proposed city sales tax increase of 0.5 percent to help finance the school bond. Voters also voted for a second ballot question approving the bond issue. The measure will help fund three new elementary schools and two new middle schools, as well as other facility upgrades. Proponents said state aid would cover about half of the $127 million. Opponents voiced concern about the impact on property taxes and the sales tax increase that could last 25 years.


Kansas Doctor Sentenced to 5 Years on Drug Charge

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 54-year-old physician has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for unlawfully prescribing drugs at his Manhattan, Kansas pain clinic. The U.S. Attorney's office says Michael P. Schuster also has agreed to pay more than $100,000 in restitution, a $25,000 fine and an additional $400,000 forfeiture money judgment. He also agreed in his plea deal Wednesday to forfeit his clinic building, a 2012 Ford pickup truck and more than $11,000 contained in two bank accounts. In his plea in January, Schuster admitted letting unlicensed employees write hundreds of prescriptions for painkillers and other controlled substances while he was traveling. Prosecutors say he directed staff members to distribute controlled substances using blank prescription pads he had signed in advance.


Halstead Offering Incentives to Move

HALSTEAD, Kan. (AP) — Halstead has begun offering financial incentives ranging up to $2,500 aimed at encouraging people to move to the south-central Kansas town. Halstead is offering Chamber Bucks, which can be spent only in Halstead, for city and school expenses and at most of the town's businesses. The Wichita Eagle reports the city will give $25 in Chamber Bucks for signing up for utilities or enrolling a child in school, and up to $1,500 for a new resident with a new student and new job in the town of about 1,800 residents northwest of Wichita. A newly built house earns $2,500 Chamber Bucks. City administrator J.R. Hatfield says the program will largely pay for itself with increased tax revenue.

Ex-School Board Head Sentenced on Drug Charges

WAKEENEY, Kan. (AP) — A former school board president from western Kansas has received a suspended sentence on drug charges. Fifty-three-year-old John Reeder was the leader of the Trego County Board of Education when he was arrested in January on several charges, including criminal use of a firearm. Reeder pleaded guilty in February to distributing marijuana and possessing methamphetamine. KWCH-TV reports that a Trego County judge on Tuesday sentenced Reeder to 22 months on the marijuana count and 15 months for possessing meth. The judge suspended the prison terms and placed Reeder on three years' probation to be supervised by the Kansas Department of Corrections.


Kansas Relays to Be Held at New Park

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence city commissioners have granted a permit to allow the Kansas Relays to be held at the new Rock Chalk Park later this month. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that commissioners agreed to grant the permit Tuesday. The relays are to be held at the new track and field stadium from April 16-19, even though the project isn't finished. Brad Nachtigal, an associate athletic director for the university, says if the weather cooperates, officials are expecting a large crowd at the relays, partly because local residents will be curious to see the complex. He says the public will get a good glimpse of the track and field, soccer and softball facilities, which will be privately owned and leased to KU Athletics.


Wichita Studies Water Options

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita officials studying long-term water supply options are considering expanding the city's aquifer recharge project. Wichita, which gets its water from Cheney Reservoir and wells in the Equus Beds aquifer, needs an additional source to provide water during severe drought. The Wichita Eagle reports City Manager Robert Layton tentatively advanced options during a City Council workshop Tuesday. The options include buying treated water from El Dorado Reservoir and expanding the aquifer recharge and storage recovery project. The aquifer project involves taking river water and storing it in the aquifer for later use. Another plan would have Wichita paying El Dorado $234 million for startup capital costs to cover a treatment plant and a pipeline. Wichita would receive treated water for free from El Dorado for a specified time.


Probation Ordered for Illegal Feather Sales

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An Oklahoma man has been sentenced in Kansas for selling feathers from federally protected eagles and hawks to an undercover federal agent. The U.S. Attorney's office says 33-year-old Brian Stoner, of Ponca City, was placed Wednesday on one year of federal probation. Stoner pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of violating a federal law on selling wildlife taken illegally. He admitted offering to sell the feathers to an undercover agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during a 2009 meeting in Lawrence. Prosecutors said the feathers came from three kinds of eagles and two kinds of hawks. U.S. law allows Native Americans to possess such feathers under proper circumstances, but sales are banned.


Reno County Bans E-Cigarettes over Abuse Concerns

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Reno County commissioners have approved a ban on all electronic cigarettes in county buildings and vehicles because people might put illegal substances in them. KWBW Radio reports commissioners felt it would take too much time to police each individual person who uses the devices, so they decided to ban them altogether. The commission's vote on Tuesday applies to county employees and members of the public in county buildings. The county's smoking policy allows people to light up outside county buildings at least 10 feet from entrances, operable windows or ventilation systems leading into the facilities.


Elderly Care Program Expands to 59 Kansas Counties

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A program touted as a community-based alternative to costly nursing home care for the elderly is making a major expansion in Kansas. The Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE, now serves eight Kansas counties. Soon it will be available in 59 counties, all in eastern and central Kansas. Thirty states have PACE programs. Kansas Department for Aging and Disabilities Services Secretary Shawn Sullivan was in Wichita Wednesday where he toured the facilities of the local Via Christi HOPE program. Sullivan says most seniors generally prefer to stay in their own homes rather than go into nursing facilities, and PACE lets them do that. PACE provides medical and social services for people who qualify for nursing home care but can live safely at home with assistance.


Wichita Council Reaffirms Name Change for Airport

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wichita City Council has reaffirmed its decision to rename Mid-Continent Airport to Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport a day after the city's airport advisory board voted 10-1 against the change. The Wichita Eagle reports Tuesday's 5-2 council vote was the same as in March, when members first approved the change. It was largely a symbolic vote and cleared the way for the new name to go to the Federal Aviation Administration for paperwork changes. The new name becomes effective next year when a new terminal opens. The two council members opposed to the change criticized the $270,000 cost to the airport and city to change the name and highway signage. A former county commissioner also argued that young people don't even know who Eisenhower was.


Competency Hearing Set in Sex Trafficking Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has scheduled a mental competency hearing for a woman accused of sex trafficking at Asian massage parlors in Wichita. A federal court notation entered Tuesday shows an April 24 hearing for Wichita resident Yan Zhang. The trial for Zhang and her husband, Gary H. Kidgell, of Waltham, Massachusetts has been in limbo since January. Zhang's attorney requested the mental health evaluation on the day their trial was to have begun in January. They are charged with sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion. One count also charges Kidgell with harboring an immigrant who was unlawfully in the country. The couple is accused of recruiting women from around the country to come to Wichita to work at massage parlors, then coercing them into prostitution.


St. Joseph Passes Smoking Ban

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — St. Joseph voters have passed an indoor smoking ban. The St. Joseph News-Press reports that unofficial results from Tuesday's election show the ban passed by more than 800 votes. Under the ban, which goes into effect June 7, smoking will no longer be allowed in any indoor place of employment, including bars and restaurants. Smoking will be allowed on the St. Jo Frontier Casino gambling floor until all other casinos in the Kansas City area go smoke-free. Smoking also will be allowed in 10 percent of hotel rooms and in private clubs when no employees are present. According to the ordinance, anyone not in compliance will be fined $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second violation and up to $500 for each additional violation in a year.

Missouri Legislator Withdraws from Primary

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Jackson County (Missouri) legislator has withdrawn from the Democratic primary amid concerns about a previous felony conviction. The Kansas City Star reports that Jackson County Legislator James Tindall has withdrawn his name from the August primary ballot. Tindall's status has been in question since he was elected in 2006 to the first of two terms in the county legislature. Previously, Tindall served 14 years on the county governing board before resigning in 1996. He was convicted three years later of federal tax fraud, which is a felony. State law forbids felons from holding elected office. Tindall referred questions to his attorney, Pat McInerney, who said he'd comment later. Two other Democrat candidates are in the race so far. No one from an opposing party has filed.


Couple Gives $1.5M to Kansas State Project

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — An Arizona couple has given Kansas State University $1.5 million toward the expansion of the College of Engineering. The university announced the gift from Tucson residents Alan and Jan Levin on Tuesday. The Levins are natives of Kensington, Kansas, and own Century Park Properties LLC in Tucson. The donation will help complete the fourth phase of the $45 million expansion of the engineering college. The project will consolidate operations now spread among multiple campus locations. Kansas State hopes to finish the expansion by the fall of 2015. The university says the Alan and Jan Levin Student Design Team Suite will offer space for design competitions. Alan Levin earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Kansas State, and Jan Levin worked for K-State Research and Extension.


Jayhawks Center Embiid Declares for NBA Draft


LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas freshman Joel Embiid will enter the NBA draft after a breakthrough season that ended with a stress fracture in his back that kept the 7-footer out of the NCAA tournament. Embiid had been mulling whether to return for his sophomore season for weeks. He said during a news conference Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse that he reached his decision Sunday. The native of Cameroon is still raw, having only picked up the game a few years ago. But his natural athleticism made a believer out of NBA scouts, and many believe Embiid will join teammate Andrew Wiggins among the first few picks in the June draft. Wiggins has already declared his intention to enter the NBA draft, leaving KU after his freshman season.



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