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Headlines for Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Here's a look at area headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Panel Endorses Brownback Transportation Leader Pick 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state Senate panel has approved Governor Sam Brownback's pick as leader of the Kansas Department of Transportation. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the Senate Confirmation Oversight Committee voted on Tuesday to send Richard Carlson's nomination for the position to the full Senate. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley was the only person on the committee to dissent to approving Carlson's nomination. Carlson took charge of KDOT in July as interim secretary. He was previously a legislative liaison for the Kansas Department of Revenue. Before that, Carlson chaired the House Taxation Committee, where he played a role in passing the 2012 tax bill.

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Kansas Governor Says Budget Will Include Rural Teachers Plan 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says his budget proposals next year will include a new scholarship program for training teachers for rural schools. Brownback also said in an Associated Press interview Wednesday that another initiative will help bring doctors and dental services to rural areas lacking them. The Republican governor acknowledged that he'll be pursuing the programs while outlining proposals for eliminating projected budget shortfalls totaling $1.1 billion through June 2019. But he said budgeting is about setting priorities. He said he will propose providing scholarships to university students who train to be teachers and serve in rural areas facing teacher shortages. Brownback also responded to criticism from Senate President Susan Wagle for not imposing immediate budget cuts. He said it would be "more constructive" for lawmakers to offer their own proposals.

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Budget Shortfall Leads to Delay for KDOT Road Projects

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Ten more Kansas road projects are being postponed because of the state's budget shortfall. Kansas Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Swartz told The Wichita Eagle on Wednesday that the department would be taking on more projects if "there wasn't some uncertainty right now." The state had planned to put 18 projects with estimated construction costs of around $24.7 million out to bid for work next month. That number has now been trimmed to eight projects that will cost $7.25 million. Last month, the department indefinitely postponed 24 road projects that would have cost $32 million. The state faces a projected $348 million budget shortfall this year with a larger shortfall of $582.6 million on track for the next fiscal year.

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New Topeka Psychiatric Facility to Provide 24 Beds

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A health care company is working to open the first private hospital in Topeka since the famed Menninger psychiatric clinic left town more than a decade ago. Plans call for the Freedom Behavioral Hospital of Topeka to open its door in Topeka within a week. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that it is housed in a former nursing home facility that underwent a $3.5 million renovation. The facility will add 24 beds for seniors age 50 and up to in-patient mental health care options in the capital city. Jason Reed is president and CEO of the parent company, Freedom Healthcare, of Lake Charles, Louisiana. He says the hospital is awaiting final regulatory approval from one agency. He says the hospital already is receiving calls from people seeking services.

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Pay to Double for Topeka Mayor, Council Members

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka City council members and the mayor will be paid twice as much next year. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that a divided council approved the increase Tuesday night. The annual pay for council members will increase to $20,000 from $10,000. And the mayor will earn $40,000, up from $20,000. Topeka has a weak mayor form of government. The mayor's job duties include overseeing council meetings and performing ceremonial tasks. Through the measure, governing body members also will consider approving a pay raise for council members and the mayor every four years. Any increase would be tied to the consumer price indexes of the previous years. Council members last approved a pay raise for themselves in 2004, and the raise took effect the following year.

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Kansas Regents Approve Universities' Concealed Carry Plans

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Board of Regents approved policies that detail how the state's six public universities will implement a state law allowing concealed handguns on campuses beginning next year. The regents approved the policies with little discussion Wednesday. Starting in July, the universities will be required to allow anyone 21 or older to have concealed handguns on campus in buildings that don't have security measures, such as metal detectors. The security measures generally are considered too expensive for most campus buildings, meaning concealed carry will be allowed in nearly all buildings on the campuses. Stun guns -- but not the more powerful Tasers -- also will be allowed. The universities can later ask the regents for permission to permanently or temporarily add security measure to prohibit concealed weapons at specific venues.

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City of Lawrence Asked to Back State Park Recreation Center 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The city of Lawrence is being asked to join Kansas to help financially back a $70 million outdoor recreation center at Clinton State Park that could include whitewater rafting. Other potential activities at the proposed center would be a 1,500-acre facility hosting outdoor activities including zip lines, biking, running, hiking, climbing and paddle boarding. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the company Plei would run the center. Lawrence city manager Tom Markus says the city would have to look for money outside of its current budget if the City Commission agreed to help fund the center. State tourism officials say the financing tool most likely to be used for the project would be Sales Tax Revenue Bonds. The project is set to be presented to the Douglas County Commission on Wednesday.

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CVS Plans 360-Job KCMO Distribution Center

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Drugstore chain CVS Pharmacy says it plans to build a Kansas City, Missouri, distribution center, creating an expected 360 jobs. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announced the 762,000-square-foot project Wednesday, saying it's headed to 71 acres of the Skyport Industrial Park. The planned center will serve more than 370 CVS stores in the Midwest. CVS already has 18 distribution centers nationwide. CVS expects to break ground on the project in January, with an expected opening in 2018. The cost of the project was not released.

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OSHA Investigating Western Kansas Oil-Drilling Fire

SHARON SPRINGS, Kan. (AP) — Federal workplace safety officials are investigating a western Kansas oil field explosion that injured five workers, two of them critically. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration says the accident Monday near Sharon Springs in Wallace County happened when gas made its way onto the deck floor of a warming hut, which included running heaters. OSHA investigators say the men were employed by Wichita-based Murfin Drilling Co. Wallace County Fire Chief Jay Sharp says responding crews were able to put the fire out quickly. 

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2 Former Employees Refile Discrimination Suits Against Emporia State

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — A former Emporia State University assistant professor has refiled a federal discrimination lawsuit against the university and several administrators, and his wife has filed a separate lawsuit also claiming the school discriminated against her. Melvin Hale and his wife, Angelica, who are black, allege in the lawsuits that the school discriminated against them after they complained about a racial incident in April 2015 while they worked in the School of Library and Information Management. The Hales say school administrators conducted a biased investigation and then retaliated against them. Both lost their jobs and they no longer live in Emporia. Melvin Hale's original lawsuit was dismissed at his request in October. Emporia State says an investigation found no evidence of a hate crime against the Hales.

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Suspect in Garden City Bomb Plot Seeks Mental Evaluation

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — One of three western Kansas men accused of plotting to bomb an apartment complex where Somali immigrants live is asking for a court-ordered mental health evaluation. KWCH-TV reports that Patrick Stein's attorneys made the request in a filing in federal court in Wichita. Attorneys say they believe the evaluation is needed as part of the defense for 47-year-old Stein defense. Prosecutors say Stein, 51-year-old Gavin Wright and 49-year-old Curtis Allen were part of a racist militia group called The Crusaders. They're accused of conspiring to detonate truck bombs at an apartment complex where 120 Somali immigrants live in Garden City. One of the units was used as a mosque. All three men have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to go on trial next April.

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Wichita Man Sentenced to Prison for Theft of Joyland Clown Statue

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has been ordered to spend more than a year in prison for the theft of a clown statue that was the mascot of a closed Kansas amusement park. Forty-one-year-old Damian Mayes was sentenced Tuesday in Sedgwick County, where he pleaded no contest in October to felony theft. The nearly life-sized carved wood statue of Louie the Clown and other items missing from the former Joyland Amusement Park in Wichita were found at Mayes' home. Mayes was an employee of the park who helped build and repair organs. He also helped restore the clown that played an automated organ near Joyland's entrance for decades before the park closed in 2006. The clown statue disappeared from Joyland sometime in 2005 and was officially reported stolen in 2010.

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Battery Charge Dismissed Against KU Forward Bragg

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ Authorities have dismissed a battery charge against University of Kansas basketball player Carlton Bragg Jr. and charged the woman who accused him of shoving her into a stairwell. Bragg, a 20-year-old sophomore, was suspended indefinitely from the KU basketball team after he was arrested Friday. It wasn't immediately clear whether he'll be reinstated. The Douglas County district attorney's office said Wednesday in a release that charge was dismissed after law enforcement reviewed surveillance video.  That video showed that before a man ``forcefully'' shoved a woman away from him and caused her to fall backward into an ascending staircase, the woman shoved, slapped and struck the man and put her hands around his neck. The DA's office says Saleeha Soofi faces one count of battery. It's unclear whether she has a lawyer. 

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Interim President Named for Fort Hays State University 

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — A former president of the Kansas Board of Regents has been named interim president for Fort Hays State University. The Board of Regents said Wednesday in a release that Andy Tompkins will serve as interim president at Fort Hays State beginning Monday. Tompkins retired as president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents in June 2015 after serving in that post for five years. Mirta M. Martin resigned as president of Fort Hays State last month. The board said Tompkins has a master's degree from Emporia State University and his doctorate in educational administration from the University of Kansas.

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Judge: Mistakenly Sold Apollo 11 Moon Mission Bag is Buyer's 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that a bag used to collect lunar samples during the first manned mission to the moon legally belongs to an Illinois woman who bought it for $995 when it was mistakenly sold during a government auction. Judge J. Thomas Marten, of the U.S. District Court in Wichita, Kansas, says in his ruling Wednesday that he doesn't have the authority to reverse the sale of the bag used during the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969. The white bag has lunar material embedded in its fabric, and the government considers it "a rare artifact, if not a national treasure." NASA was not informed of its sale. It was recovered in 2003 during a criminal investigation against a Kansas space museum director but was misidentified. Nancy Carlson, of Inverness, Illinois, bought last year knowing only that it had been used during a space flight, but not which one.

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Fumes Sicken 15 Students at Missouri High School 

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Officials at a high school in suburban Kansas City, Missouri, say more than a dozen students were taken to a hospital as a precaution after being sickened by fumes. Liberty High School's principal, April Adams, told parents in a statement that the odor that sickened about 15 students forced that wing of the school to be evacuated Wednesday morning until the source of the fumes was determined. Students were allowed to remain in unaffected sections of the school. The Liberty Fire Department and district officials attributed the fumes to the failure of an electrical heating unit.

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Missouri Man Accused in Kansas City-Area Shooting Death 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Police have arrested a man accused of fatally shooting a 23-year-old Independence, Missouri man in December. Jackson County prosecutors charged 20-year-old Tyrone Willard II of Kansas City on Tuesday with second-degree murder in the December 4th death of Phillip Diaz outside an apartment complex. Willard also is charged with distributing a controlled substance. Police tracked a car described at the crime scene to someone who knew Willard, and Diaz's last text message was from Willard. Authorities say Willard told investigators he met Diaz for a drug deal, and that Diaz was shot during that transaction.

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Former Missouri Postal Worker Pleads Guilty to Mail Theft 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former U.S. Postal Service worker from suburban Kansas City has pleaded guilty to stealing mail. The U.S. attorney's office says 22-year-old Shannon Hill, of Lee's Summit, entered the plea Tuesday in federal court. She admitted to taking nearly $800 worth of cash and gift cards from mail addressed to 33 victims in Kansas City, Raytown, and Parkville. The thefts occurred from April 2015 through March 2016. A sentencing hearing hasn't been scheduled.

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Kansas Woman Who Graduated from College at Age 95 Has Died 

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas woman who became national news when she graduated from college at the age of 95 and continued taking classes until she was 100, has died. Nola Ochs was 105 when she died Friday at a senior living home in Dodge City. The Beckwith Funeral Home in Jetmore says her funeral is scheduled for Thursday in Dodge City. Ochs earned a general studies degree with an emphasis in history from Fort Hays State University in 2007. At the time, the Guinness World Records said she was the oldest college graduate in the world. She then earned a master's degree in liberal studies with a concentration on history in 2010, at the age of 98. She continued taking classes until age 100 before returning to her family's farm near Jetmore.
 

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