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Headlines for Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Kansas AG Gives Governor Until Friday to Drop Welfare Plan

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas's top prosecutor is threatening to go to court if Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly doesn't drop a policy that allows some adults without children to receive welfare even if they don't meet work requirements. The Wichita Eagle reports that Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt has given Kelly a deadline of Friday to act. Kelly has stood by the policy and her office plans a news conference Thursday to address the issue. She has long been critical of the state's restrictions on welfare, which lawmakers placed into law under former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. The policy at issue represents an attempt to minimize welfare restrictions through agency action after unsuccessful attempts by Democrats to make changes through the legislative process.

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Kansas Supreme Court Justice Johnson to Retire in September

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Supreme Court justice whose votes in death penalty cases made him a political target plans to retire from the bench Sept. 8. The decision announced Wednesday by Justice Lee Johnson will give Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly her first appointment to the seven-member high court. It will not require Kansas Senate confirmation. Johnson was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2007 by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius after serving six years on the state Court of Appeals. He and other justices drew criticism for overturning death sentences in several capital murder cases. In 2014, a group formed by victims' friends and family sought to oust Johnson in a statewide yes-or-no vote on whether he would stay on the court. The vote to retain him was less than 53 percent.

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Former US Rep. Huelskamp Resigns as Leader of Think Tank

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Former western Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp has resigned as the leader of an Illinois-based group that dismisses climate change and promotes free-market policies. The Heartland Institute announced Huelskamp's departure last month from his job as the conservative think tank's president and chief executive officer. The board chose communications director Jim Lakely as interim president. The institute's co-founder, Joseph Bast, said in a statement that the board also elected other new officers and approved several new hires. The statement provided no reason for Huelskamp's departure, and neither Lakely nor Bast returned email messages from The Associated Press. Efforts to reach Huelskamp were unsuccessful. He served three terms in the U.S. House before losing the August 2016 Republican primary to now-U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, a Republican from Great Bend.

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Wichita State Lands $33M Contract for Army Missile Program

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita State University's aviation research program has landed a $33 million contract for the Army's high-speed missile program. The Wichita Eagle reports that the three-year contract calls for the National Institute for Aviation Research to make the missiles lighter and cheaper while improving performance. Wichita State interim president Andy Tompkins said in a news release Tuesday that the contract will give students, both undergraduates and graduates, "an advantage no other university in the country can match." The university previously was awarded a three-year, $23.5 million Air Force contract develop technology for automated, in-service inspection of military aircraft.

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Lawsuit: Deputy Forced Out of Job After Complaining About Sexual Assault

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas sheriff's deputy alleges in a lawsuit that she was forced out of her job after reporting that a fellow deputy had sexually assaulted her.  The Kansas City Star reports that the lawsuit was filed Monday in federal court. The suit says the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office fostered a culture of sexual harassment throughout the plaintiff's employment. It also says that after a two-month suspension, her abuser returned to work with no further disciplinary measures.  The sheriff's office declined to comment on the suit because the office has not been officially served with the documents.  The Star generally does not name victims of sexual assault without their permission. The Star has not named the deputy accused of sexual assault because the paper had not reached him individually for comment as of Tuesday.

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Developers Propose $500 Million Arts Campus, For-Profit College near Kansas Speedway

BONNER SPRINGS, Kan. (AP) — Developers are proposing a $500 million arts-and-entertainment campus in the Kansas City area with housing for students and seniors.  The Kansas City Star reports that the Bonner Springs City Council this week approved a zoning change that developers needed to move ahead with the 180-acre project. It would be near NASCAR's Kansas Speedway and the Village West shopping district at Interstates 70 and 435.  The campus would include a for-profit college to train people to work in film and television production and engineering, along with housing for its students. Plans also call for independent living, assistant living and a memory care facility for seniors.  The developers said they also plan to have three hotels, a 7,000-seat concert pavilion, a 1,800-seat performing arts center and an arena for competitive video gaming.

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JCCC President Announces Retirement

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City community college's president has announced plans to retire just months after controversy erupted over statements he purportedly made about the affluence of its students.  Johnson County Community College said Tuesday that Joe Sopcich plans to step down July 1, 2020. The board renewed his contract last month.  A college spokesman noted that Sopcich turns 65 in April 2020.  Issues arose in February when a Democratic National Committee member live-tweeted remarks he overheard Sopcich make while discussing tuition increases with a college trustee during a breakfast at a Washington, D.C., hotel.  In one tweet, Sopcich was quoted as saying, "Show me anyone who struggles at JCCC..I walk the parking lot and I see a whole lot of very nice cars."  Sopcich previously described the conversation as "hyperbole."

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Moderate Republican in Kansas House Resigning, Citing Health

TORONTO, Kan. (AP) — A moderate Republican legislator from southeast Kansas plans to resign Saturday for health reasons.  State Rep. Larry Hibbard of Toronto told The Hutchinson News that he has chronic hives and has to "get rid of some stress." Hibbard said he already had planned not to seek re-election next year.  Hibbard is a rancher who won his House seat easily in 2012 but faced a serious Republican primary challenge in 2018.  He voted in 2017 to reverse past income tax cuts championed by former Republican Governor Sam Brownback. He supported GOP tax relief legislation this year but voted to sustain Democratic Governor Laura Kelly's veto of one of the measures.  Hibbard also supported a plan Kelly favored to expand Medicaid.  Republican precinct committee members in Hibbard's district will name his replacement.

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Former Aide to Governor Sebelius Running for Congress in Kansas 2nd District

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A one-time speechwriter for former Governor Kathleen Sebelius says she will begin a campaign on Tuesday for an eastern Kansas congressional seat.  The Kansas City Star reports that Democrat Abbie Hodgson will seek the party's nomination to challenge freshman GOP Rep. Steve Watkins in Kansas' 2nd Congressional District, which includes Lawrence, Topeka and Leavenworth.  The 37-year-old Hodgson is a former Kansas House Democratic staff member who has spent the past two years working in Washington, D.C., for Pew Charitable Trusts. She has  moved back to Kansas and says she will step down from her position with Pew's State Strategy Group.  Hodgson said her campaign will focus on health care, agriculture, trade policy and the financial well-being of Kansans.  The 42-year-old Watkins defeated former state legislative leader Paul Davis last year.

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Toll Machine Pays Out at Kansas Turnpike Booth Near Casino

MULVANE, Kan. (AP) — Officials say a malfunctioning toll machine spat out coins instead of accepting money near a Wichita area casino. The Wichita Eagle reports that Kansas Turnpike Authority spokeswoman Rachel Bell says the agency learned Tuesday morning about the problem with the machine at the Mulvane exit. The agency then inadvertently divulged details about the mishap when it sent a text alert to its public subscribers. The note said there was "NO WAY" to know the exact dollar amount that was taken. KTA says the message was meant to be internal but made it out into the public realm after someone newly responsible for disseminating messages through the KTA's alert system "just sent it to the wrong group" of subscribers. Bell wasn't immediately sure how many customers used the machine while it was malfunctioning.

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Kansas Man on Horseback Finds Missing 87-Year-Old Woman

STERLING, Kan. (AP) — A man on horseback has found a missing 87-year-old Kansas woman with Alzheimer's.  KWCH-TV reports that 76-year-old Garry Battey was out riding when he found Vonita Renae Colle safe Tuesday about a quarter mile from her home in Sterling. Colle had been reported missing Monday, leading to a search. Battey says the Lord told him where to go.  Colle was taken to a hospital for evaluation, and a statewide Silver Alert for her was canceled.

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Kansas Judge Won't Give Go-Ahead for Telemedicine Abortions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state court judge is declining to give a Kansas clinic permission to provide telemedicine abortions.  Shawnee County District Judge Teresa Watson Monday rejected a request from the Trust Women Foundation to block Kansas from prohibiting telemedicine abortions.  Trust Women operates a Wichita clinic that in October began providing pregnancy-ending medications to patients who conferred with off-site doctors by webcam. But the clinic stopped December 31 because the legal climate was uncertain.  Another Shawnee County judge ruled December 31 in another case that three bans enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature since 2011 can't be enforced. But Trust Women said state and local officials wouldn't promise that the abortions would be allowed.  The earlier decision was not binding on Watson when Trust Women filed its own lawsuit in January.

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Popular Cafe Among Casualties of July 4 Flooding in Kansas

DURHAM, Kan. (AP) — The owners of a tiny central Kansas cafe whose Mennonite-style cooking had a large following are looking for someone else to reopen the business after it suffered extensive damage in Fourth of July flash flooding.  The Wichita Eagle reports that the restaurant, called Main Street Cafe, was among one of many businesses and homes flooded in the Marion County town of Durham after a thunderstorm. Wendell Wedel says the cafe he had run with his wife, Linda, for 24 years was filled with about 32 inches of water.  Wedel, who's 65, says he might keep his sausage-making business going, but he hopes that someone younger will step in and reopen the cafe.  Durham has around 110 residents and is located about 55 miles north of Wichita.

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ACLU of Kansas Selects Google Manager as New Director

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has named a Google manager and former U.S. State Department employee as its new executive director.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Nadine Farid Johnson takes over Monday. The ACLU of Kansas has fought legal battles with the state over voting rights issues, the ability of transgender residents to alter their birth certificates and rules restricting protests at the Statehouse.  Former Executive Director Micah Kubic resigned last year to lead the ACLU of Florida.  Johnson has been a manager at Google for two years, overseeing diversity and inclusion initiatives on the company's Los Angeles campus. She worked for the U.S. State Department from 2011 to 2017 and developed policy on the Middle East and North Africa.

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Woman Charged with Dragging Deputy While Fleeing Stop

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A woman has been charged with dragging a Kansas sheriff's deputy while fleeing after being stopped. KFDI reports that 45-year-old Melissa Heinzman was arrested Tuesday night. She is charged with aggravated battery of a law enforcement officer, failure to stop at an accident and other charges. Heinzman was accused of dragging a Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy about 100 feet (30.5 meters) during a June 23rd traffic stop. The deputy wasn't seriously hurt. Her bond is set at $250,000.

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Woman Who Shot Gun over 'Ridiculous' DMV Wait Is Charged

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A 34-year-old Missouri woman is charged with first-degree making a terrorist threat and unlawful use of a weapon after firing a gun outside a Department of Motor Vehicles office, apparently because she was upset about the long wait in line. Vanessa Richey of Kansas City was charged Tuesday. She has no listed attorney. Witnesses told authorities that Richey complained about the wait time Tuesday morning, calling it ``ridiculous.'' Officer Darin Snapp says DMV staff asked Richey to leave because she was being "loud and obnoxious.'' He says the woman then said she was going to get a gun. Snapp says an off-duty officer who heard a gunshot approached the woman and ordered her to put the gun down. No one was hurt. 

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Wichita Opens Wetlands Park in Migratory Bird Resting Spot

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita has opened a 91-acre wetland park in an area where thousands of migratory birds stop each year.  The Wichita Eagle reports that visitors to the Pracht Wetlands Park can walk over galvanized-steel boardwalks and watch birds behind two observation points that are similar to duck blinds. Eventually there will be a half-mile loop of boardwalk circling the northern half of the park with multiple observation points and an observation tower.  The total budget for the project is around $7.5 million. The City Council representative for the area, Bryan Frye, says that just under $2 million has been invested in it so far.  Just to the west of the park, a major new retail-and-restaurant development is in the works. Frye described the project as "an eco-tourism opportunity."

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Keystone XL Pipeline Opponents Seek to Block Construction

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Opponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline are asking a judge to again block construction of the $8 billion project after President Donald Trump issued it a new permit. Attorneys for environmental groups made the request Wednesday in a lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Montana. They say Trump's permit was illegal. The 1,184-mile (1,900-kilometer) pipeline proposed by TC Energy would carry crude from Canada to Nebraska. Opponents contend it would make climate change worse by increasing fossil fuel consumption. Morris temporarily blocked construction last year, saying officials had not fully considered oil spills and other impacts. That ruling was upheld on appeal, only to have Trump issue a new permit in March. Government attorneys say that permit is not subject to environmental laws. They want the lawsuit dismissed.

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Man Killed in Hit-and-Run Crash on Kansas Highway

NORTON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a man has been killed in a hit-and-run crash on a Kansas highway. The Kansas Highway Patrol says 22-year-old Tyler Kuhn, of Norton, was struck Tuesday night while walking across U.S. 36 in Norton County. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The patrol reported provided no information about the vehicle that hit him.

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