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Headlines for Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Kansas Governor Signs Bill Addressing Budget Shortfall 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has signed a bill closing most of a projected $344 million shortfall in the state's current budget. Brownback announced his action Tuesday and said lawmakers worked hard in passing it last week. The bill mostly diverts money from highway projects and other special funds to general government spending. The state also is shorting contributions to pensions for teachers and government workers. Separately, Brownback announced plans last week to cut nearly $45 million in funding for public schools and higher education. Kansas also faces an additional shortfall of nearly $600 million in the budget for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1. The budget problems arose after lawmakers aggressively cut income taxes at Brownback's urging in 2012 and 2013.

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Kansas Governor Rescinds Order Protecting Gay State Workers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has rescinded a former governor's order barring discrimination against gays and lesbians in hiring and employment throughout much of state government.  The Republican said Tuesday he issued an executive order canceling the August 2007 order by Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius.  Sebelius ordered departments under the governor's direct control to bar discrimination in hiring and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  Kansas's anti-discrimination law covers private employers and housing, but it doesn't extend to gay, lesbian or transgender residents.  Brownback says legislators should approve any expansion of anti-discrimination laws, and that Sebelius, who later became President Barack Obama's health secretary, acted unilaterally. But he reaffirmed the state's commitment to preventing discrimination against state workers based on race, gender, religion or national origin. 

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Kansas Democrats Condemn Narrowing of Anti-Bias Protections

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A decision by Republican Governor Sam Brownback to narrow an anti-discrimination policy for Kansas government workers has prompted a Democratic lawmaker to introduce a bill aimed at protecting gays and lesbians. Democratic state Representative John Carmichael of Wichita on Tuesday asked the Kansas House Judiciary Committee to sponsor a measure to bar discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The committee agreed to do so. Carmichael's bill would expand the state's existing anti-discrimination act, which does not specifically cover gays, lesbians and transgender residents. He said he acted in response to Brownback's decision to rescind a previous Democratic governor's executive order barring such discrimination in state government hiring and employment. House Minority Leader, Democratic Representative Tom Burroughs, also condemned Brownback's action.

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Kansas Democrats Pushing Proposals Aimed at Boosting Wages 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democrats have outlined proposals to increase the state's minimum wage and set higher wages on public works projects. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka and House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City had a Statehouse news conference Tuesday to unveil the measures. They said their proposals would help working-class families. One proposal would boost the state's $7.25-an-hour minimum wage to $11.32 an hour over five years. Another would require contractors on public projects to pay what's known as the prevailing wage in the local area for each job. The figure is set by the federal government, and critics say it typically follows union pay scales. Republicans who control the Legislature resist such proposals and worry that they'll raise costs for businesses and for public projects. The Democratic leaders' proposals also include restoring an income tax credit for child care expenses and a refund previously available to low-income renters and increasing rebates that poor families receive for sales taxes paid on food. 

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Kansas Legislators Open 2 Days of Hearings on Marriage 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers want to lower the state's divorce rate. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee on Wednesday conducted the first of two informational hearings on marriage called by the committee's chairman, Representative Steve Brunk. The Wichita Republican says the state has an interest in keeping marriages together. Three people testified favor of reforms, suggesting the state provide counseling to couples seeking divorce. Glenn Stanton of the conservative organization Focus on the Family said married people are healthier and happier than their unwed peers and the social cost of divorce to the state is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Kansas courts have the option to mandate counseling only when the divorce involves children. The state does not have a mandatory waiting period for divorce petitioners.

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Affidavit: Mexican Cartels Laundering Drug Proceeds in Southwest Kansas 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal Drug Enforcement Agency affidavit obtained by The Associated Press says a Mexican cartel is suspected of laundering $2 million in drug proceeds through a small southwest Kansas bank to avoid tighter restrictions on U.S. currency in its home country. A search warrant filed Tuesday in federal court lays out the investigation into alleged money laundering between 2011 and 2014 by a cartel known as the Mexican Mennonites and others. The warrant was executed against a former banking official. Plains State Bank senior vice president Lindsey Schartz says two ex-employees named in a Drug Enforcement Administration affidavit no longer work there. The case was sealed Wednesday after the AP contacted prosecutors. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom says it is an ongoing investigation. No charges have been filed.

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Prosecutors Question Kobach Claims of Voter Fraud in Kansas 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach wants lawmakers to give him the power to press voter fraud charges, saying prosecutors don't pursue cases he refers. The state's top federal prosecutor says Kobach hasn't sent him any cases. The conservative Republican publicly chastised Kansas-based U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom late last year for not prosecuting cases referred by Kobach. But in a November 6 letter sent from Grissom to Kobach and obtained by The Associated Press, the prosecutor said his office received no voter fraud cases from Kobach. Kobach acknowledged to the AP last week that his office hasn't sent Grissom any suspected voter fraud cases. He says he was citing cases referred by his predecessor. Grissom says the FBI determined two cases referred before Kobach took office in 2011 weren't fraud.

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Kansas Moves to Narrow Teacher, School Board Negotiations

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Negotiations between teachers and school boards may be drastically narrowed as the Kansas Legislature looks for greater efficiency.  The House Education Committee approved a bill Tuesday that would require the two parties to only negotiate salaries and work hours in yearly talks. Both sides would have to agree beforehand to discuss any other subject, such as sick leave, insurance or safety. Associations of teachers, administrators and school boards have criticized the bill, preferring instead a compromise they reached last month. Under that agreement, each side could propose five subjects in talks in addition to wages. A Senate panel conducted a hearing Tuesday on a compromise bill. Cheryl Semmel of United School Administrators of Kansas said she is hopeful the compromise will have a better chance in the Senate. 

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Local Kansas Officials Oppose Bill Limiting Records Fees

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Cities and counties in Kansas oppose a southeast Kansas lawmaker's proposal to limit what government agencies can charge for fulfilling requests for public records. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee had a hearing but took no action Tuesday on a bill from Republican Senator Jacob LaTurner of Pittsburg. The measure would make documents free when less than an hour of staff time went into retrieving a record and the record is 25 or fewer pages. If more than 25 pages are produced, governments could charge no more than 25 cents per page. League of Kansas Municipalities attorney Nicole Proulx Aiken testified that the bill would erode local control and create unfunded mandates because governments might not be able recoup their costs.

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Person Hospitalized After Shooting Involving Topeka Police 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police say a person is hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries after being shot by a police officer during a confrontation. The department said in a news release that the shooting Wednesday morning occurred as officers were investigating a report of a suspicious vehicle in southeast Topeka. An officer determined the vehicle was stolen and when he returned to the vehicle, police say the driver tried to grab the officer's weapon. The two struggled before the officer broke away and fired at the suspect. A second person in the car was not injured. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation will lead the investigation. The names of those involved have not been released.

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Kansas Lawmaker Wants Changes in Foster Care Program

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas state senator wants to offer more money under a proposed foster care program to married couples who don't have alcohol and tobacco in their homes and regularly attend church. The Wichita Eagle reports Republican Senator Forrest Knox says he's looking to provide more stability for children. His bill would set up the CARE family program, in which those eligible would be paid more than other foster care homes. Qualification requirements include a husband and a wife being married for at least seven years. One of them also can't work outside the home. Under the planned program, families could receive state money to help homeschool their foster kids or send them to a private school. A Senate panel is expected to discuss the bill Thursday.

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Lobbyists Informed About Budget Proposal Earlier Than Disclosed

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Newly released emails obtained by the Topeka Capital-Journal show the governor's administration informed two lobbyists about its budget efforts weeks earlier than previously disclosed. The emails showed they were included on a December 6 email thread about the budget. President Kent Glasscock of Kansas State University Institute for Commercialization also was included. The newspaper made an open records request to the school for emails between Glasscock and the state's budget director. Most of the emails' content was redacted. KMAN reports the university on Wednesday said Glasscock has consulted with several governors on budget issues and it wasn't appropriate for Kansas State to comment on who was consulted. A spokeswoman for Governor Sam Brownback says he consulted with several people during budget discussions. The WIchita Eagle first reported that the budget director emailed the two lobbyists on December 23.
 
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Autopsy Report Says Driver Drunk at Time of Fatal Crash 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An autopsy report shows the 39-year-old driver in an August traffic accident that killed him and his teenage passenger had a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that James Ford Bowen of Paxico and his passenger, 16-year-old Matthew Robert Allen of Topeka, died of blunt force injuries. Police say they were killed when the 2000 Toyota SUV Bowen was driving at 12:43 am on August 4 hit an unoccupied 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee parked on a Topeka street. Both were pronounced dead at the scene at 12:49 am. Bowen's autopsy showed his blood-alcohol level was .177 when he died. Bowen had been paroled three days earlier after serving time on four convictions for forgery and one for theft, all committed in 2006.

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Dairy Farmers of America Moving HQ from Missouri to Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Kansas City's largest private company is moving from Missouri to Kansas after its new, $30 million headquarters in Wyandotte County is completed. Dairy Farmers of America is owned by 15,000 dairy farmers nationwide and had $18 billion in revenues last year. Farmers promote milk and export dairy products and powders to nearly 50 countries through the DFA. The company was formed in 1998 and has leased 72,000 square feet near Kansas City International Airport since then. The new building will be 100,000 square feet with an open floor plan to house the cooperative's 325 employees. DFA spokeswoman Monica Massey says the decision was made after looking at all options based on its commitment to remain in the metropolitan area.

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$51K Fine Proposed Against Seaboard Foods for Oklahoma Plant Violations

GUYMON, Okla. (AP) — The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is proposing a $51,000 fine against Seaboard Foods LLC for allegedly exposing workers at a plant in the Oklahoma Panhandle to anhydrous ammonia. OSHA said in a news release Wednesday that the proposed fine is the result of an inspection that began in October at Seaboard's plant in Guymon. Kansas-based Seaboard said in a statement that providing a safe workplace is its top priority and that the company is "cooperating with OSHA to resolve the matter." Anhydrous ammonia is used in refrigeration and can damage the lungs, skin and eyes. Seaboard has 15 business days after receiving the citations to either comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or fight the citations and recommended fine.

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Altoona City Clerk Pleads Guilty to Fraud Scheme 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The former Altoona city clerk has admitted that she defrauded the southeast Kansas town of nearly $48,000. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said in a news release Wednesday that 30-year-old Chrystal Scherbarth pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud. In her plea, she admitted she used her access to the city's accounts at the First Neodesha Bank in the scheme She fraudulently increased her hourly and overtime pay and credited herself with unearned vacation and sick leave. The crime cost Altoona more than $47,800. Sentencing is set for April 29. She faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison and a fine up to $1 million.

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Deputies Ruled Justified in Fatal Shooting of Kansas Man 

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Two Saline County sheriff's deputies have been cleared of any wrongdoing in the January 7 shooting of a central Kansas man who pointed a semi-automatic handgun at them. The Salina Journal reports the officers returned to duty on Tuesday, five weeks after fatally shooting 35-year-old Brock D. Nichols near Assaria. Sheriff Glen Kochanowski says County Attorney Ellen Mitchell concluded that the use of force was lawful and justified. The deputies were sent to Nichols's home northeast of Assaria to check the welfare of a toddler. Nichols was shot after he went into a dark bedroom, spun around and pointed a gun at the deputies. The sheriff did not identify the two deputies, who were doing as "well as expected" in returning to work.

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HCA Midwest Settles Charity Dispute in Kansas City Area 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City will pay $15 million to settle a dispute over whether it provided charity health care in the Kansas City area. The money will go to the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, which was created after HCA's purchase in 2003 of former Health Midwest hospitals in the area. HCA Midwest officials said the organization has exceeded its charity obligations by providing "tens of millions of dollars" in free or uncompensated care every year. The company didn't say exactly how much charity care it provided. The Kansas City Star reported Wednesday that HCA was required to provide at least $653 million in charity and uncompensated care in the Kansas City area for 10 years ending in March 2013.

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Affidavit: Suspect Shot Girl During Police Chase

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) - A court document says a 5-year-old girl who died during a police chase in eastern Kansas was shot by the man she was with, not by police officers. Cadence Harris was found dead inside a car driven by Marcas McGowan after he exchanged gunfire with Leavenworth police last July. Prosecutors allege McGowan took the girl from her mother's home in Atchison and led police on a chase that ended in Leavenworth County. Investigators provided details about who shot the girl after a judge ordered the release of an affidavit supporting felony first-degree murder and other charges against McGowan. He has pleaded not guilty. Investigators concluded that a "defect" inside the car was consistent with a bullet hitting the girl from inside the vehicle.

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Suspect in Kansas Jewish Sites Killings Gets New Lawyer 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A white supremacist accused of killing three people outside Jewish sites in Kansas has been assigned a new attorney in his capital murder case. The Kansas City Star reports that veteran death penalty defense lawyer Mark Manna of Topeka has been assigned to represent 74-year-old Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. Miller's previous attorney withdrew last week, citing a breakdown in communications with Miller. Miller, of Aurora, Missouri, is accused of fatally shooting three people on April 13, 2014. Prosecutors say he killed 69-year-old William Corporon and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, outside the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, then fatally shot 53-year-old Terri LaManno at the nearby Village Shalom care center. Miller has said he wanted to kill Jews. None of his victims was Jewish.

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Wichita to Accept Donated Mural by Blackbear Bosin 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A mural by a well-known Kiowa-Comanche artist is being hung in a Wichita museum that focuses on the Plains Indians. The Wichita Eagle reports that a March 13 unveiling is planned at the Mid-America All-Indian Center for the last large mural painted by Blackbear Bosin. The acrylic mural on canvas, entitled "From Whence All Life," was commissioned by Farm Credit Bank and displayed in 1972. Bosin is most famous for creating the 44-foot tall steel Keeper of the Plains statue at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers. Last fall, the owner of the Farm Credit Bank building — CoBank out of Colorado — offered to donate the art to the city. City documents say an independent appraisal in November valued the mural at $185,000.

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Study: Groundwater Depletion Slowing in Western Kansas 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Geological Survey says average groundwater levels are still declining in western Kansas, but at a slower rate. The agency on Tuesday released preliminary data from the measurements of some 1,400 water wells taken earlier this year. Most of the wells draw from the High Plains aquifer, which includes the Equus Beds and Great Bend Prairie aquifer in south-central Kansas and the Ogallala aquifer in western Kansas. Water levels declined an average of 0.87 feet in 2014, a slightly slower rate than the 0.9 feet drop in 2013. But it is far less than the 2.7-foot drop in water levels seen in 2012, the 2.8-foot decline in 2011 and the 1.18-foot decline in 2010. Southwest Kansas had the greatest declines, with average groundwater levels falling 1.92 feet.

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Kansas Defeats Texas Tech, 73-51

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Wayne Selden Jr. scored 16 points as No. 8 Kansas beat Texas Tech 73-51 on Tuesday night. The Jayhawks (20-4, 9-2 Big 12) reached the 20-win mark for the 26th straight season. Perry Ellis scored 14 points and Frank Mason III, Brannen Greene and Cliff Alexander each added 10 in the win. Norense Odiase scored 13 points and Devaughtah Williams added 11 for the Red Raiders (12-13, 2-10).

 

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