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Headlines for Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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

Kobach Asks Lawmakers for Power to Toss Local, State Votes 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is asking the Legislature to give him authority to bar potentially tens of thousands of people from casting votes in state or local races. The Lawrence Journal World reported the Republican asked a Senate committee Tuesday for legislation giving him power to hold "bifurcated" elections in Kansas. Federal courts have provisionally held that Kansas cannot require documents such a birth certificate or U.S. passport from people who register to vote at motor vehicle offices or with a national voter registration form. State courts have ruled Kobach has no authority to throw out votes cast by those people in local and state races. Kobach is fighting those rulings. Democrats plan to introduce measures to repeal the proof-of-citizenship requirement altogether.

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Kansas Legislators Skeptical of Budget Fix, Yet Moving Toward It 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are gravitating toward an accounting move proposed by Republican Governor Sam Brownback to help paper over a shortfall in the current state budget. They're receptive to his complicated plan even though some doubt it is a good idea. Brownback's plan would liquidate a state investment portfolio to raise cash to back $317 million in internal borrowing, with the state paying itself back over seven years. House and Senate committees reviewed Brownback's proposal Wednesday as many states struggle with budget problems. In Kansas, Oklahoma and Indiana, the problems are serious enough for legislators to reconsider past tax cuts designed to stimulate the economy. But Kansas can't raise taxes quickly enough to plug the projected $342 million hole in the budget for current fiscal year before it ends June 30.

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Attorney: Kansas State Treasurer Neutral on Loan Proposal

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An attorney for Kansas State Treasurer Ron Estes says Estes is remaining neutral on a key proposal from Republican Governor Sam Brownback for balancing the state's current budget. Treasurer's office General Counsel Scott Gates said Wednesday that if legislators liquidate a $317 million state investment portfolio, Estes wants the authority to re-establish one when state finances improve. Gates testified before the House Appropriations Committee during a briefing on Brownback's plan. Brownback wants to sell off the portfolio investments and loan the funds to general government programs. The loan would be repaid over seven years. Lawmakers created the portfolio in 2000 to increase the state's interest earnings on its idle funds. Kansas faces a projected $342 million shortfall in its budget for the fiscal year ending June 30.

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Kansas Lawmakers OK Bill to Rewrite Special Election Rules

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have given final approval to a bill rewriting rules for special congressional elections so military personnel overseas have more time to vote. The Senate approved the measure on a 40-0 vote Tuesday. The House passed the bill last week. It goes to Governor Sam Brownback and he is expected to sign it. The measure arose from congressman Mike Pompeo's nomination by President-elect Donald Trump as Central Intelligence Agency director. If Pompeo is confirmed, the 4th District in south-central Kansas would have the state's first special congressional election since 1950. State law says a special election must occur from 45 to 60 days after the governor declares a vacancy. The bill would make the window from 75 to 90 days to give people overseas more time to return ballots.

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Kansas Supreme Court to Hear Abortion Case March 16

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court will hear arguments March 16 in a case challenging a law that bans a second-trimester abortion procedure. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that two doctors have challenged a 2015 law that bans doctors from using forceps, clamps, scissors or similar instruments to remove a live fetus in pieces. Such instruments are used in certain dilation and evacuation procedures, which abortion rights supporters say are safer for the woman. A Shawnee County judge ruled the Kansas Constitution protects abortion rights independently of the U.S. Constitution and temporarily blocked the ban. An appeals court was split, leaving the ban in place. If the state Supreme Court agrees with the county judge, abortion opponents are concerned that state courts could reject abortion restrictions even if upheld by federal courts.

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WikiLeaks Hails Commutation of Manning Sentence

WASHINGTON (AP) — WikiLeaks says President Barack Obama may have saved Chelsea Manning's life by granting the former Army intelligence analyst clemency, but the decision doesn't make up for the harm Manning has suffered. The statement came after Obama announced Tuesday that Manning would be released May 17, cutting her sentence by almost 30 years. In a tweet soon after the announcement, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange thanked "everyone who campaigned for Chelsea Manning's clemency. Your courage & determination made the impossible possible." Assange didn't mention his earlier pledge that he would agree to U.S. extradition if Obama granted clemency to Manning. But Melinda Taylor, who serves on Assange's legal team, says, "Everything that he has said he's standing by."

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Student Health Insurance Rates to Increase Next School Year 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — After two years without increases, student health insurance premiums will go up more than 5 percent at state universities next year. The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved a 5.2 percent premium increase for all plans for the 2017-18 academic year. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that a student-only plan will cost $1,464 a year, an increase or $72. No changes to plan benefits were recommended. In 2017-18, plans for a student plus spouse, or student plus child, will cost $2,928 per year, an increase of $144. Plans for a student plus spouse and child, or student plus two children, will cost $4,392 per year, an increase of $216. And plans for a student plus spouse and two or more children will cost $5,856 per year, an increase of $288.

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Kansas House Committee Will Consider Halting Campus Carry
 
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Several Kansas lawmakers are seeking to weaken a law that will allow concealed guns on state college campuses starting this summer. A bill introduced Tuesday would permanently exempt several types of health care facilities and colleges from the law that allows guns in public buildings. That exemption will otherwise expire July 1. One of the bill's backers, Overland Park Republican Representative Stephanie Clayton, says lawmakers have heard from constituents who want campus carry stopped. But Representative John Whitmer says the bill is "dead on arrival" and possibly won't even get a committee hearing. Governor Sam Brownback signed the original measure. He has said that he supports the Second Amendment, but will give "due consideration to any bill that reaches his desk."

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Kansas Board of Regents Will Ask for Funding Restoration

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Board of Regents will ask the legislature to restore $30 million in funding that was cut last year. Regents CEO and President Blake Flanders says the board would like to see state funding stabilize. In 2012, tuition became a larger source of university revenue than state general fund support. Flanders noted the shift in a presentation Tuesday on the board's long-term goals to the Senate Education Committee. The Regents' goals include increasing educational attainment, aligning the higher education system with the needs of the economy and ensuring university excellence. Flanders says increasing attainment is necessary because higher wages will bring in more state income tax revenue. 

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Kansas Senate Confirms 3 Brownback Cabinet Appointments

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has confirmed Governor Sam Brownback's appointments of three Cabinet secretaries. The votes Tuesday evening mean Richard Carlson will continue serving as transportation secretary; Tim Keck, will continue as secretary for aging and disability services, and Joseph Norwood as corrections secretary. Each began serving last year replacing secretaries who had resigned or retired. The votes on Keck and Norwood were 40-0 in the Senate. But Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka protested Carlson's appointment because Carlson voted as a Kansas House member against 2010 legislation creating a 10-year transportation program. Carlson also supported income tax cuts that Hensley says led the state to raid highway funds to balance its budget. The vote on Carlson was 32-6.

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Kansas House Member Pursuing "Bathroom Bill" for Transgender Students 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Representative John Whitmer of Wichita says he's drafting a bill to require transgender students in public schools to use bathrooms associated with their genders at birth. Whitmer said Tuesday his bill also would impose the same policy for locker rooms and accommodations for students on overnight trips. Whitmer said he plans to introduce the measure soon. He said it will not apply to private schools or higher education, and it won't allow people to sue for damages if a school violates the policy. He and other supporters of such a policy believe it would protect students and their privacy. But LGBT-rights advocates say transgender students shouldn't be singled out because it will make them targets for bullying.

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Son Arrested After Exchange of Gunfire Kills Topeka Man 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Authorities say a Topeka man has been arrested after his father was killed and another person was wounded in an exchange of gunfire. Police say that gunfire erupted Tuesday afternoon after the 45-year-old father and his 21-year-old son attempted to rob another man. Police say the father was struck by multiple rounds of gunfire and died at a hospital. The victim of the attempted robbery was in "stable and non-life threatening condition" at a Topeka hospital. Authorities say the father and son had a "history of past disputes" with the wounded person, but no details were provided. The son was booked into jail on suspicion of attempted aggravated robbery and aggravated battery.

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Salina Gives Initial Approval to Tax Funding for Downtown Project

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The Salina City Commission has given initial approval to authorizing special tax funding for a multimillion dollar redevelopment project in downtown Salina. The commission voted Tuesday night on first reading to authorize $154 million in special tax funding for business and tourism projects. Commission members also approved a development agreement with Salina 2010, a private group leading the project. The Salina Journal reports that the project is expected to include about $105 million in private funding and $17.7 million in public funds. Other funding will include state-issued STAR bonds, Community Improvement District sales tax funds and Tax Increment Financing property tax funds. The major parts of the project include a field house, a hotel, streetscape improvements, a restaurant, an entertainment center, a car museum and housing.

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Eli Young Band's Tour Bus Destroyed by Fire; Band Not on Bus 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A tour bus belonging to the country group Eli Young Band was damaged in a fire on the Kansas Turnpike, destroying most of the band's electronic and sound equipment. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the driver was the only person with the bus when the fire started late Tuesday while it was parked at a service area east of downtown Topeka. He had just filled up the bus and parked it for the night, and escaped. Shawnee Heights Fire District Battalion Chief Rick Deibert says the bus and a trailer were a complete loss. The fire apparently started in the engine compartment but the cause is under investigation. The tour bus was en route to Mahnomen, Minnesota, where the band was scheduled to perform Friday night.

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Missouri Supreme Court Orders Kansas City Vote on Wage Hike 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Supreme Court is ordering Kansas City to put a proposed minimum-wage hike to $15 an hour on the ballot. Supreme Court justices ruled Tuesday that a vote is needed before judges can decide if a wage increase is lawful. A group of citizens had collected enough signatures to force a vote on minimum wage in 2015. But the vote was scheduled to take place after the enactment of a new state law prohibiting local minimum wages from being set higher than the state's minimum wage. Missouri's minimum wage is $7.70 an hour. Kansas City argued it shouldn't be forced to spend money on an election for an issue banned by state law. Supreme Court justices say the issue must go before voters before it can be challenged in court.

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Alabama Man Arrested in Kansas Kidnapping and Robbery 

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) - Authorities say an Alabama man suspected in a kidnapping and robbery in eastern Kansas has been arrested after fleeing from law enforcement in a stolen pickup truck. The Lyon County, Kansas, sheriff's office says that the man surrendered Tuesday after ditching the truck and fleeing on foot. He is being held on various charges, including kidnapping, robbery, possession of stolen property and criminal possession of a firearm. Authorities say the kidnapping and robbery occurred in Coffey County, Kansas. 

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3 Missourians Sentenced for Fraudulent Drug Scheme 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Three Missourians have been sentenced for taking part in conspiracies to pass fraudulent prescriptions and steal oxycodone pills by robbing pharmacies. Federal prosecutors say 22-year-old Julian King, of Kansas City, was sentenced Wednesday to one year and nine months in prison without parole. On Tuesday, 31-year-old Tara Childress was sentenced to 12½ years without parole and 33-year-old Michael Bellinghausen was sentenced to 11 years without parole. Childress and Bellinghausen are both from Gladstone. The three are among nine co-defendants who have pleaded guilty in this case. Bellinghausen and Childress admitted they helped pass numerous fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone and using or selling the pills. Once it became harder to fill the prescriptions, the group began robbing Kansas City-area pharmacies for oxycodone. King admitted to participating in two of the robberies.

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Kansas Grasslands Included in USDA Conservation Program 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — More than 7,400 acres of Kansas grasslands have been included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's program for grasslands conservation.  In the voluntary Grasslands Conservation Reserve Program, grasslands threatened by either development or conversion to row crops are instead maintained as livestock grazing areas. The Wichita Eagle reports that about 200,000 of the 300,000 total acres accepted into the program were offered by small-scale livestock operations with 100 or fewer head of cattle. According to a USDA statement, participants can receive annual payment of up to 75 percent of their land's grazing value. The statement says the department has invested more than $29 billion since 2009 to "help producers make conservation improvements." 

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Former Doctor Pleads Guilty to Fraud 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A former Kansas City doctor pleaded guilty to committing health care fraud for the second time. The Kansas City Star reports 74-year-old Wayne Williamson admitted in federal court Tuesday that he performed disability examinations while working as a consultant for an Independence medical clinic between 2013 and 2015. Federal prosecutors say the examinations were a violation of the contract between the clinic and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs because it stated exams could only be done by licensed providers. Williamson lost his medical license in 2010 after pleading guilty to health care fraud, conspiracy to distribute prescription drugs and harassing or attempting to harass an investigator with the Missouri State Board of Healing Arts. The former doctor must repay the government nearly $40,000 for the examinations.

 

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