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Headlines for Wednesday, January 21, 2015

President Obama Heads to Conservative States, Including Kansas 

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is heading to conservative-leaning Idaho to sell the economic proposals he outlined in his State of the Union address. It's the first time Obama has visited Idaho as president, though he did headline a rally in the state during his 2008 White House campaign. From Boise, Obama heads to Kansas, another state that typically backs Republicans. White House officials say Obama deliberately chose conservative states for his first stops following his annual address to Congress. Among the economic proposals that he outlined was a tax increase on the wealthy to pay for programs for the middle class. Obama's plans have been panned by the Republicans who now control Congress.

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Thousands Line Up for Tickets to Obama Speech

LAWRENCE, Kan. _ Thousands of students lined up Tuesday morning for tickets to see President Barack Obama speak at the University of Kansas. The Lawrence Journal World reports that the line stretched for more than a half mile and many said they arrived before dawn for the limited number of free tickets that the university started distributing at 9:00 am. KU students, faculty and staff got the first crack at the tickets for the president's speech set for tomorrow (THUR) morning at KU's Anschutz Sports Pavilion. The school's allotment of tickets ran out just after noon. Meanwhile, hundreds of people started lining up at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in the morning for tickets that were available to the general public starting at 5:00 pm. 

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Kansas Chief Justice Wants to Divert IT Funds to Court Operations 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss wants legislators to divert $3.1 million from a statewide e-filing system to court-system salaries to avoid employee furloughs before July. Nuss said Wednesday that revenues from court fees have fallen short of expectations, squeezing the judicial branch's budget. The chief justice spoke with reporters after delivering the annual State of the Judiciary address to about 170 people in the Supreme Court's chamber. Nuss's speech touched on several efficiency initiatives without directly mentioning budget problems. He also did not mention Republican Governor Sam Brownback's call to change how Supreme Court justices are selected. But afterward, Nuss defended the current system. An attorney-led nominating commission screens applicants for vacancies and names three finalists. The governor picks one, with no role for legislators.

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Kansas Transportation Secretary Reassures Lawmakers on Funding Cuts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas transportation officials are reassuring state lawmakers that they will not be forced to cut projects, despite major cuts in funding. Governor Sam Brownback has recommended transferring state transportation funds into general state coffers to fill shortfalls over the next three years. A total of $412 million would be transferred in fiscal year 2015 and $362 million in both 2016 and 2017 under his recommendations. Transportation Secretary Mike King told the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday that the department will be forced to delay some projects to preserve roads and bridges in the state. But King says the department expects to have the funds to complete those projects by 2020. He says the department also will supplement its funds next year by issuing $250 million in bonds.

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Kansas Governor's Pension Plans Would Boost Long-Term Costs 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators have learned that Republican Governor Sam Brownback's proposals for reducing the state's annual payments for public pensions would increase long-term costs by $3.7 billion. The House Appropriations Committee received a briefing Tuesday about Brownback's proposal to extend the time for closing a long-term funding gap for the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. A 2012 law commits the state to increasing payments to KPERS to eliminate a $9.8 billion shortfall in the pension system by 2033. Brownback wants the payoff date to be 2043 to lower the state's annual costs. He's also proposing to issue $1.5 billion in bonds to give KPERS an infusion of funds. But the changes would require larger-than-planned contributions to KPERS after 2032. Some lawmakers said they're concerned about the higher long-term costs.

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Kansas Children's Activists Object to Budget Transfers 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Children's advocates are pushing back against a move to transfer funds out of the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund to fill state budget shortfalls. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's proposed budget would transfer $31.8 million from the fund into the general state budget over the next three fiscal years. Kansas Budget Director Shawn Sullivan told the House Appropriation Committee Wednesday that the transfers would not cause cuts to programs and would tap only into excess funds. But Shannon Cotsoradis, CEO of the Kansas Action for Children, testified that because of the fund's fluctuating revenue stream, early education programs could be cut at short notice if the funds were transferred. She said the transfers would also deplete the fund at a time its revenues are projected to drop overall.

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Medical Marijuana Backers Make Case to Kansas Senate Panel 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Supporters of a bill to legalize medical marijuana made their case to aKansas Senate panel a day before opponents are scheduled to get their turn before committee members. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee held an informational hearing Wednesday to hear testimony from proponents of a measure sponsored by Democratic Senator David Haley of Kansas City. Speakers included legal and medical professionals and several people who said medical marijuana treatments would help them. Tatiana Lin, a senior analyst at the Kansas Health Institute, discussed a draft report on the bill's potential consequences. She said the institute's preliminary study predicted overall marijuana consumption would not increase as a result the bill, although a rise in marijuana consumption among at-risk residents was possible.

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2 Kansas Lawmakers Push Bills to Outlaw 'Revenge Porn'

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two Kansas lawmakers are pushing similar bills that would make it illegal to post nude photos or videos of a former spouse or significant other on the Internet without permission. Democratic Representative Sydney Carlin of Manhattan introduced her "revenge porn" bill on Tuesday, while Republican Representative Stephanie Clayton of Overland Park planned to introduce hers on Wednesday. Both said they were not aware the other was working on the same measure. State privacy and blackmail laws make it a crime to post pictures or videos of someone that were taken without consent. The new bills seek to also forbid posting of sexual material that was consensual during a relationship that has since ended.

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Judge Bars Defense from Seeing Evidence in Airport Bomb Case 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Attorneys for a man accused of plotting a suicide bomb attack at a Wichita airport are not being allowed to view some classified evidence in the case. U.S. District Judge Monti Belot issued a protective order Wednesday after examining the materials. Avionics technician Terry Loewen is accused of trying to drive a van filled with inert explosives onto the tarmac at Mid-Continent Airport in December 2013. The judge says disclosure could seriously damage national security. Belot also found none of the information was exculpatory, or favorable to the defendant.  Loewen has pleaded not guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to use an explosive device to damage property and attempting to give material support to al-Qaida.

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Fire Extinguished at School with Ties to Brown v. Board Case 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Crews have put out a small fire at a former all-white school that played a role in the historic Brown v. Board of Education desegregation case. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the fire was reported around 12:45 p.m. Wednesday at the old Sumner Elementary School building. The cause wasn't immediately known. In 1950, Linda Brown's father, Oliver Brown, tried unsuccessfully to enroll his daughter at Sumner School. Several other black Topeka parents also tried to enroll their children in all-white schools. They sued, and that case was combined with similar cases from Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware and Washington, D.C. The case led to the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling that overturned segregated education. The former Sumner School has remained empty since it was auctioned in 2009 to a religious group.

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Lawrence Homicide Retrial Will Stay in Douglas County

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ The retrial of a Lawrence man convicted of killing his wife more than a decade ago will remain in Douglas County. Attorneys for Martin Miller sought to move his trial out of the county, citing pretrial publicity in the case. District Judge Paula Martin rejected the request, saying community prejudice against Martin was only speculation. Miller was convicted in 2005 of first-degree murder in the July 2004 death of his wife, 46-year-old Mary Miller, at the couple's home in Lawrence. Prosecutors say Miller strangled his wife in her sleep because he was having an affair and wanted to collect $300,000 in life insurance. The Kansas Supreme Court overturned the conviction in February, citing errors in jury instructions in the first trial. The retrial is scheduled to begin March 20.  

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Vice Chairman Resigns from Kansas House Budget Committee

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A veteran central Kansas lawmaker has resigned from the state House Appropriations Committee, giving up his position as its vice chairman. Republican Representative John Edmonds of Great Bend says his other legislative duties and outside professional commitments don't leave him with enough time to serve on the budget-writing committee. Edmonds sent a letter Friday to Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr. and Ryckman made it public Tuesday. Edmonds served in the House from 1995 through 2006 and decided not to seek re-election that year. But he ran again successfully in 2012 and was re-elected last year. House Speaker Ray Merrick is expected to fill the vacancy on the Appropriations Committee this week.

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Sedgwick County Rejects State Grant to Address Obesity 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County commissioners have rejected a $580,000 state grant aimed at controlling obesity and diabetes because the majority said overweight people already know why they're fat. Commission Chairman Richard Ranzau says he's overweight because he eats too much and doesn't exercise enough. He says that's his fault — not the government's. Interim county health director Adrienne Byrne-Lutz says Sedgwick County has higher rates of diabetes and heart disease than the state average. She says the Kansas Department of Health and Environment grant would have been used to educate people about health risks and give them tools to make better decisions. The Wichita Eagle reports that Ranzau, a former physician assistant, doesn't understand why people think health problems like obesity are society's fault.

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Kansas Lawmakers Seek Jail Time for Scrap Metal Thefts 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas lawmakers are considering a bill that would toughen punishments for scrap metal theft amid a sharp increase in the crime statewide. Law enforcement officials and representatives of utility companies testified during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday that millions of dollars in damage are being done to businesses and homes each year by scrap thieves seeking precious metals. They said existing laws fail to adequately address the issue. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce criticized the bill, saying its proposed punishments were excessive. Under the bill, first time offenders would face 11 to 34 months in jail, while repeat offenders could face more than 11 years behind bars. The bill would also set up a database that would help law enforcement track metal transactions by scrap dealers and recycling centers.

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Freight Plane Crashes in Northwest Kansas 

GOODLAND, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Highway Patrol says a pilot escaped injury when a freight plane crashed in northwest Kansas. Emergency crews are on the scene of the twin-engine plane crash in Sherman County. It was reported about 9 am Wednesday. No passengers were on board Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Tod Hileman says the plane was carrying UPS cargo. It was registered to Key Lime Air of Englewood, Colorado. The company said in a statement that the plane experienced and engine "anomaly" during the flight and went down safely in a rural area near Goodland. Hileman says the Federal Aviation Administration has been notified of the crash.

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Kansas City Firefighters Clear Smoke from JJ's Restaurant 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City firefighters have extinguished a fire at a restaurant that recently reopened after the original location was leveled nearly two years ago in a deadly explosion. The Kansas City Star reports that the new JJ's restaurant near the upscale County Club Plaza shopping and entertainment district had to be evacuated Wednesday morning because of heavy smoke. Battalion Chief Jeff Johnson of the fire department said there weren't injuries and described the damage as "minimal." JJ's co-owner Jimmy Frantze said the restaurant opened for lunch after a visit from a city health official. JJ's re-opened in November. The business has been closed since February 2013, when the explosion caused by a natural gas leak killed server Megan Cramer, destroyed the restaurant and damaged two neighboring buildings.

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University of Kansas to Offer Spanish Minor 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas says it will respond to strong student demand and offer a minor in Spanish, beginning in the fall semester. The university announced Tuesday that students minoring in Spanish will take a combination of language, culture and literature courses, plus a new Spanish 101 course. That course will be designed to review the opportunities that come with the degree. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the university receives 60 to 80 inquiries a year from students about a Spanish minor. The Student Senate passed a resolution in 2012 supporting the minor.

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Leavenworth Man to Stand Trial for 2013 Murder 

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A rural Leavenworth man will stand trial for first-degree murder in the shooting death of another man in 2013. A Leavenworth County District Court judge ruled Tuesday that there was enough evidence to try 49-year-old Jeffery Sifford for the death of 58-year-old Richard Luse, of rural Easton. After the ruling, Sifford pleaded not guilty. Luse was found wounded in December 2013 in a travel trailer at a Sifford's home. Luse later died at a hospital. The Leavenworth Times reports that Sifford was originally charged with second-degree murder but the charge was amended in October. Sifford's attorney, John Bryant, argued unsuccessfully Tuesday that there wasn't sufficient evidence to support the first-degree murder charge. At the defense's request, the judge also ordered Sifford to undergo a mental evaluation before the trial.

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Pittsburg Woman Pleads Guilty in Husband's Death

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A southeast Kansas woman pleaded guilty to shooting her estranged husband to death two years ago at her father's home. Fifty-three-year-old Carla C. Moutz, of Pittsburg, was scheduled for trial this week in Crawford County District Court. The Joplin Globe reports she instead pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated assault for shooting her husband in May 2013. Sentencing was scheduled for February 27. Prosectuors say Moutz shot her estranged husband, 49-year-old John Moutz, in Pittsburg, after an alcohol-fueled argument.

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Hutchinson to Vote on Sales Tax Increase for Arena

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) _ Hutchinson residents will vote in April on a proposed 0.35 percent sales tax increase to improve the city's sports arena. Supporters got a boost Tuesday when The National Junior College Athletic Association said it would keep its men's national championship basketball tournament in Hutchinson for another 25 years if the Sports Arena is significantly improved. The city council voted Tuesday to put the proposal on the April 7 ballot. The Hutchinson News reports revenue from the increase would fund most of a proposed $29 million plan to improve the arena, which was built in 1962. The NJCAA said in a letter to the city that it has already approved the 25-year extension, if the tax passes. The tournament is currently under a 10-year contract that ends in 2017.  

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Equus Beds Aquifer Plan Expected Monday

PRETTY PRAIRIE, Kan. (AP) — After two years of study, Equus Beds groundwater officials will present a proposal for sustaining the aquifer at a meeting next week. The findings will be discussed at 7 pm Monday meeting at Pretty Prairie Middle School. The Hutchinson News reports water levels in southern Reno County have declined 1 to 7 feet during the past 12 years, amid a multi-year drought and increased development. Equus Beds Groundwater Management District Manager Tim Boese says the board wants to ensure the area is operating under safe yields, or the amount of water that can be withdrawn without producing negative effects. The proposal is to reduce the recharge rate used by the district when calculating safe yield.

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Sheriff: Central Kansas Man Died of Exposure 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Preliminary autopsy results show a man whose body was found in an ice-covered central Kansas creek died of exposure to the cold. The Saline County sheriff said Tuesday that no foul play is suspected in the death of 65-year-old Robert Lloyd Basye. His body was found Thursday in Mulberry Creek in north Saline County by a man who had been walking in the area with his daughter. Deputies found several places where it appeared Basye might have slid down an embankment toward the creek. The Salina Journal reports that the investigation isn't complete, and full autopsy results are still to come.

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Young Kansas Farmers Gather for Annual Conference

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - More than 500 young farmers are expected to gather in Manhattan this week for the annual Kansas Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers leaders conference. The three-day event kicks off Friday with various competitions, while the opening keynote address on Saturday will focus on genetically engineered crops. Workshops throughout the day also include information about crop insurance, farm data, water and the state Legislature. The event is being held at the Manhattan Conference Center at the Hilton Garden Inn.

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Iowa State Defeats K-State, 77-71

AMES, Iowa (AP) — No. 9 Iowa State held off Kansas State 77-71 on Tuesday night, moving into a tie for first place in the Big 12. The Cyclones (14-3, 4-1) joined No. 11 Kansas atop the league. Iowa State beat the Jayhawks in Ames 86-81 on Saturday. Jameel McKay led the Cyclones with 15 points off the bench while Nino Williams had a season-high 22 points for Kansas State (11-8, 4-2), whose winning streak was snapped at four games.

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Forward Claudio Bieler Leaves Sporting KC 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Sporting Kansas City parted ways with forward Claudio Bieler Tuesday after two seasons. Bieler joined the franchise as a designated player and was the team's top scorer in 2013 with 10 goals in the MLS regular season. He wound up with 16 goals and five assists in 54 appearances over the past two seasons. Bieler's highlight came last season, when he scored twice in a 3-0 victory over Real Esteli in the CONCACAF Champions League. The move leaves Sporting KC with a vacant international roster and designated player spot.

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Kansas State President Named New NCAA Board Chairman 

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kansas State President Kirk Schulz has been named the new chairman of the NCAA's board of governors. He will hold that job through the governing body's annual convention in January 2017. He replaces Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon, whose term ended last weekend. The restructured board is now comprised of 20 presidents and chancellors from all three divisions and will oversee decisions that apply to all NCAA members. Schulz has served on the Division I board of directors and the executive committee since 2012. He also helped create the restructured governance model that was adopted last year and implemented during last week's convention in Washington. Schulz has served as Kansas State president since 2009.

 

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