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Headlines for Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Here's a summary of the day's AP news headlines for our area, mostly Kansas.

Report: VA Medical Center Used Unauthorized Wait Lists 

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — An internal investigation has found that a Veterans Affairs medical center in Leavenworth used unauthorized wait lists, but didn't substantiate claims the lists were used to falsify wait times for veterans. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Veterans Affairs Inspector General's Office investigated falsified wait list claims following a 2014 complaint. Inspectors say Leavenworth eye clinic scheduling staff used wait lists that had not been approved by the VA. The report also says that staff members weren't trained to use the VA-approved electronic wait lists. The Veterans Health Administration, a component of the VA, doesn't track wait times for cataract surgery so inspectors concluded the Leavenworth facility didn't use unapproved lists to distort its wait times, as a complaint had claimed.


Former Kansas Magistrate Judge Faces Federal Charges 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former magistrate judge in Kansas faces federal charges accusing him of defrauding a judge's association out of about $24,000. The Joplin Globe reports former Magistrate Judge Bill Lyerla was indicted last month on wire fraud charges. The indictment was unsealed in early December when Lyerla pleaded innocent and was released on $5,000 bond. Online court records don't list a lawyer for Lyerla, who's accused of defrauding the Kansas District Magistrate Judges Association out of $24,000. Lyerla resigned after he was suspended in 2014 from the 11th Judicial District, which serves Cherokee, Labette and Crawford counties. The website of the Kansas District Magistrate Judges Association also lists Lyerla as a former treasurer for the association. A message left at a phone listing under Lyerla's name wasn't immediately returned.


Ex-Missouri Mayor Seeks Nuclear Compensation Program Hearing 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a former mayor of Kansas City, has announced that he will seek a hearing and a congressional investigation into a federal compensation program for employees who became ill after working in nuclear weapons plants. The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program was established in 2001. The Kansas City Star reports that Cleaver and other members of Congress say the program should get a closer look after an investigation by news organization McClatchy found that fewer than half of the people who have applied have received any money. McClatchy reported last week that 107,394 current and former nuclear workers have sought compensation for cancer and various other illnesses. Cleaver sent a letter to the House Committee on Government Reform requesting the investigation.


Kansas Utility Contracts Ford County Wind Farm 

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas electric utility provider has contracted with a company to construct a 280-megawatt wind farm for Ford County. The Hutchinson News reports that Westar Energy contracted the more than $400 million Western Plains Wind Farm with Infinity Wind Power of Santa Barbara, California. Construction is expected to start in late spring or early summer. Infinity will build the farm and then turn it over to Westar. Officials hope to have the farm completed by the end of 2016 or by early 2017. According to Westar, the Ford County project will include land lease royalties paid to local landowners and payments to local and county government of about $75 million during the first 20 years of operation. Utility officials say the project will create more than 200 construction jobs.


Kansas Supreme Court Rules Law Limiting Its Power Unconstitutional

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has struck down a law that attempts to curb its administrative power to appoint chief judges and threatened the state judiciary's entire budget.  The high court ruled today (WED) that the law changing how chief judges are selected is unconstitutional.  District Judge Larry Solomon of Kingman County challenged the 2014 law, which says judges in the state's 31 judicial districts pick their chief judges. The law takes that authority away from the Supreme Court.  The justices upheld a Shawnee County district judge ruling in September that the law improperly interfered with Supreme Court's power granted in the state constitution.  Lawmakers passed another law, now on hold, saying that if the administrative change is overturned, the court system's budget through June 2017 would be invalidated.


Overland Park Accountant Pleads Guilty to Stealing More than $4 Million

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City accountant accused of stealing more than $4 million from clients has pleaded guilty to federal charges.  Federal prosecutors in Kansas City said in a release that 42-year-old Thomas Hauk of Overland Park, Kansas, pleaded guilty Tuesday to several charges, including bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.  The prosecutor's office says Hauk was an accountant from 2005 to 2015 when he engaged in several schemes to defraud the company he worked for by embezzling more than $4 million from clients' accounts. He then used the money to pay for living expenses, vehicles and jewelry.  Sentencing hasn't been scheduled.


Kansas City Police Investigate Report of Recorded Assault

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police are investigating a report that two teenage boys recorded themselves sexually assaulting a teenage girl and posted the video to social media.  The Kansas City Star reports that a police report says the video was posted briefly to Facebook after the alleged incident Saturday. The report says the video shows a 16-year-old girl apparently unconscious on a bed. The girl is naked from the waist down, with her shirt pulled up, exposing her bra and breasts.  The report says one boy recorded the other teen fondling the girl.  A friend of the teenage girl told police she saw the recording posted on Facebook and alerted police. She said she took a screen shot of the video as evidence.  The police department's crimes against children unit is investigating.


Former Kansas Trooper Guilty of Threatening Family

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas Highway Patrol trooper has been convicted of threatening his wife and children.  The Great Bend Tribune reports that Darrin Hirsh was convicted Tuesday in Barton County District Court of aggravated assault, criminal threat and domestic battery. He was found not guilty of witness intimidation and violating a protective order.  Hirsh was accused of threatening his wife with a handgun and verbally threatening the life of her and their children on March 12, 2013, and with violating a protective order on March 11 and 12, 2014.  The witness intimidation counts alleged he tried to keep his wife from reporting the crime.


Judge: County Commission Applications Constitute Open Records

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Candidates' applications for two county commission openings filled last year by Governor Sam Brownback are not exempt from the Kansas open records law, a judge has ruled.  Shawnee County District Judge Rebecca Crotty sided with The Salina Journal and The Associated Press in ordering the disclosure of information on more than two dozen applicants for newly created Saline County Commission seats.  Saline County residents voted in November 2014 to expand the commission from three to five members. The AP and the newspaper argued that applicants' names and other details are public information, but Brownback's office said they were personnel records. The AP and the newspaper filed a lawsuit seeking the information in January.  The judge denied the media request for attorney's fees after finding that the state's refusal to disclose the records was done in good faith and with a reasonable basis. Crotty also noted that while the applications did not qualify for the exemption under the open records law, some of the personal information, such as Social Security numbers, would need to be redacted.  The governor's office said it does not comment on matters under litigation.  Media attorney Nathaniel Berg said the governor's attorneys had indicated they planned to appeal an earlier ruling in September in which Crotty denied the state's motions to dismiss the lawsuit and enter a judgment in their favor.  "I certainly think it is a victory for the Kansas Open Records Act and the intent of the Legislature had when they drafted it," Berg said of the ruling.


Kansas Chemical Company Fined $1 Million for Hazardous Waste Dumps

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas chemical manufacturing has been fined $1 million after admitting it unlawfully dumped hazardous wastes down a saltwater disposal well.  JACAM Manufacturing LLC of Sterling, Kansas, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Wichita to one count of violating the federal Safe Water Drinking Act and one count of violating the Resource Conservation Recovery Act.  Its president, Jason West, entered the plea on his company's behalf under a deal with prosecutors that spared shareholders, employees and contractors from charges.  West declined comment after the hearing, saying the company would issue a news release later.  The company was charged last month with injecting hazardous chemicals down a well in Rice County without a permit.  JACAM makes and sells specialty chemicals used in the oil and gas production and industrial markets.


University of Kansas Names Director for Office of Multicultural Affairs

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A longtime member of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Kansas has been named permanent director of the department, which provides diversity education programs across campus.  Precious Porras has been interim director of OMA since May and will become its new director on January 4. She joined the office in 2005 and was named its assistant director of diversity education the next year.  Her appointment comes more than a month after protests led by a student group that says university administrators haven't made progress on fixing problems faced by minority and "marginalized" students.  Porras expects to finish a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies at the university next year.


Lawrence Library Gets $230,000 Gift from Former KU Librarian

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence Public Library has received a gift of nearly $230,000 from the estate of a former librarian.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the library gift from the estate of Ann L. Hyde is the largest single contribution the library has ever received.  Hyde was the manuscripts librarian in the Department of Special Collections at the university's Kenneth Spencer Research Library. She retired in 2000 and died in 2014 at age 83.  The Lawrence Humane Society announced last week that Hyde's estate also gave the shelter nearly $500,000. The gift will go toward the humane society's future $5 million project to either renovate its facility or build a new one.


Kansas Gains Population More Slowly than US, Neighbors

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has slower population growth than neighboring states and the U.S. as a whole.  U.S. Census Bureau figures released Tuesday estimate that Kansas' total population grew by three-tenths of 1 percent from July 2014 to July 2015. The state gained about 9,100 residents to make its population almost 2.912 million.  The national growth rate was almost eight-tenths of 1 percent. Also, Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri all had higher growth rates than Kansas.  Colorado's growth rate of nearly 1.9 percent was the second-best in the nation, behind North Dakota's nearly 2.3 percent.  Kansas ranked 32nd among states and the District of Columbia in its growth rate.  The Census Bureau also said Kansas saw a net loss from migration over the year of 2 residents per 1,000.


Independence, Missouri Raises Smoking Age to 21

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — Independence has become the third Kansas City area city to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone younger than 21.  The Kansas City Star reports that the Independence City Council voted Monday to bans sales of tobacco products to anyone younger than 21.  The Independence vote follows similar actions by the Kansas City Council and the Board Of Commissioners of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, which last month banned the sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products to people younger than age 21.  The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce hope to convince every municipality in the Kansas City metro area to raise the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21, the same as for alcohol.


17-Year-Old Charged in Shooting Death in KCK

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A 17-year-old has been charged in a Kansas City, Kansas, shooting death.  The Wyandotte County district attorney's office announced Tuesday that the teen is charged with one count of first-degree murder in the November 4 death of 37-year-old Andrew Harman. The Kansas City, Kansas, teen also is charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, and one count of criminal possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.  The teen is in custody, and a hearing on the district attorney's motion to prosecute him as an adult is not yet scheduled.  Police are investigating.


Kansas Group Plans Restoration of Monarch Butterfly Habitat

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition has plans to restore, or create, 12,000 acres of monarch butterfly habitat.  The coalition received $125,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help restore monarch butterfly habitat across Kansas.  The foundation recently launched the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund to help restore up to 33,000 acres of monarch habitat in the country after the butterfly population dropped from 1 billion to fewer than 60 million over the past 20 years.  The coalition plans to hold informational meeting next year to educate ranchers about its project. Coalition coordinator Barth Crouch says the project aims to restore and enhance mixed-grass and tallgrass ecosystem functions and use invasive-species control and prescribed fire practices in the Red Hills and Flint Hills.


Fundraiser Launched to Restore Prairie Parcel at University of Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Historic Mount Oread Friends has kicked off a crowdfunding effort for the University of Kansas' Prairie Acre restoration project with a $2,500 donation.  The Prairie Acre is a swath of grass that was designated in 1932 to remain undeveloped and protected by the university. The Historic Mount Oread Friends is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving historic architecture and open spaces of the university's campus.  School hopes to raise a total of $10,000 by January 13 to help start the first phase of the Prairie Acre project. Jeff Severin, director of the school's Center for Sustainability, says that the total cost for phase one is about $22,500.  Restoration plans include replanting native species and repairing the rock wall around the area.


Douglas County Considers Cost for Fairgrounds Upgrade

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Douglas County Commission will consider approving a maximum price of approximately $2.35 million for the first phase of the county fairgrounds renovation.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the commission will discuss the cost at its meeting Wednesday.  Assistant County Administrator Sarah Plinsky says abatement and demolition can begin as early as Monday if it's approved.  The first phase's area surrounds two buildings in the southwest portion of the fairgrounds. The buildings will be demolished and replaced with the new meeting hall.  The first phase also includes utilities, north and south parking lots, and some grading.  The full project's cost was originally estimated at $6.5 million, which the county has secured in reserves. The updated budget requires nearly $700,000 more.  Plinsky says the source of the extra cost will be determined in the next few months.



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