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Headlines for Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Revenue Department: Same-Sex Couples Can File Joint Tax Returns

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback's office says same-sex couples in Kansas who were married last year after the state's ban was struck down in November can file their taxes jointly for the 2014 tax year. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said Tuesday that same-sex couples who filed for an extension on their 2014 taxes or want to go back and amend their taxes may file jointly. The Kansas Department of Revenue said Monday that couples would be able to file jointly for the current 2015 tax year. Hawley says the agency reviewed its policy and confirmed that gay couples also will be able to file jointly for 2014. Equality Kansas executive director Tom Witt hailed Tuesday's announcement, saying all married couples should be allowed to file their taxes jointly, if they choose.


ACLU: Court Needs to Directly Strike Down Kansas Ban 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union is arguing that a federal court needs to directly strike down the same-sex marriage ban in Kansas in the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the issue. Its latest filing Tuesday in the ongoing lawsuit opposes the state's efforts to have the case simply dismissed as moot now that such marriages are recognized. It contends courts across the country have since implemented the Supreme Court's decision by entering final judgments, not by dismissing cases. A spokeswoman for the governor did not immediately respond Wednesday to emailed requests seeking comment. The ACLU argued that neither the state's governor nor its attorney general has issued any clear directives or statements that the state of Kansas acknowledges the binding effect of the Supreme Court's ruling.


Kansas Lifts Teacher Licensure Requirement in 6 Districts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas State Board of Education is allowing unlicensed teachers to work in six school districts. The Topeka Capital Journal reports the measure narrowly passed Tuesday with a 6-4 vote after a compromise. Board member Kathy Busch of Wichita dropped her opposition when proponents tweaked the measure so the state board would retain greater control over hires in the six districts. More than a dozen educators and parents tried to dissuade the board from exempting the districts from the state's licensure regulations. The measure waives the state's licensure regulations for school districts in the Innovative Districts Coalition, a program the Legislature in 2013. Supporters contend it would help address teacher shortages and hard-to-fill subject areas. Opponents say it would hurt students and is a slippery slope for education. 


Brownback Raising Cash to Pay Down Campaign Debt

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Records show that the campaign finance team for Governor Sam Brownback's re-election has been working to pay off legal fees and debt from the 2014 election. Brownback and his campaign-finance team have been reaching out to potential donors since he was re-elected last November when he defeated Democratic nominee Paul Davis. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Brownback campaign's most recent finance report filed in January shows the campaign carried $300,000 in residual loan debt. The report also shows the campaign organization owed $200,000 to Brownback and $100,000 to Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer. Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley confirms the campaign is raising funds that will be used to repay existing loans and legal fees from the re-election campaign. But Hawley would not address how much the campaign still owes.


Moran Re-Election Campaign Has More Than $2.3M 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Senator Jerry Moran's re-election campaign says the campaign has more than $2.3 million in cash on hand for the 2016 general election. The Wichita Eagle reports that Moran, a Hays Republican, took in more than $914,000 during the second quarter of 2015. Moran started the year with about $1.4 million in the bank. Moran, who in 2010 won the seat previously held by Governor Sam Brownback, has also served previously in the U.S. House and Kansas Legislature. He is building up campaign funds for 2016 to defend his seat, although so far there is no announced Democratic opposition to Moran in the 2016 general election.


Mars Inc. to Build New Topeka Candy-Making Plant 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Mars Inc. is planning a new, $100 million candy-making facility in Kansas that will be built near where its first new plant in 35 years began churning out sweets last year. The company disclosed the deal Wednesday in advance of a Topeka economic development meeting. The development comes a little more than a year after the New Jersey-based company opened a $270 million plant south of Topeka, where M&M's and Snickers are made. After work on the 90,000-square-foot facility wraps up in late 2016, the company will add 70 full-time workers to the 200 already working in the city. Mars said in an email statement that the new facility, which is receiving economic development incentives, was designed to "add capacity." The company hasn't determined which candies it will make there.


Banks Say Few Hundred Customers Affected by ATM Skimmers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Two Wichita financial institutions say a few hundred customers were at risk of having their bank account information compromised after devices called skimmers were placed on at least five ATMs on the Fourth of July. Intrust Bank spokesman Tom Morrison told The Wichita Eagle fewer than 200 accounts were exposed to skimming devices placed over credit and debit card readers to illegally obtain information. Fidelity Bank spokeswoman Katie Grover says fewer than 100 accounts were exposed at her bank on the same day. Morrison says it was no coincidence that the skimming devices were attached to the ATMs on July 4, when the banks weren't open. Morrison and Grover say customers will not be held liable for fraudulent transactions.


Court Overturns Conviction in Homeless Activist's Death 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal appeals court has thrown out a woman's convictions for her role in the 2006 death of Topeka homeless activist David Owen. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday ruled Kimberly Sharp's confession should not have been admitted at her trial on first-degree murder and kidnapping charges. The decision is subject to the state's right to retry her within a reasonable time. The Kansas attorney general's office said it was consulting with the Shawnee County district attorney's office to determine potential next steps. A three-judge appeals panel said the homeless woman's statements were involuntary because police promised her no jail and help finding shelter for her and her children to live. She was among four people convicted in connection with Owen's death. Owen's body was found near the Kansas River a month after he disappeared.


Kansas Lottery, Casino Revenue Hits Record High 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Lottery is reporting a record high $155 million in lottery and casino gambling revenues during the fiscal year that just ended. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the state received $80 million from its share of profits from the three state-owned and operated casinos in Kansas City, Mulvane and Dodge City. That was about $1.3 million more than expected. The state receives 22 percent of the revenue from the three casinos. Lottery officials released unaudited figures showing sales of traditional lottery tickets grew 2.2 percent, to $264 million, during the fiscal year. Total revenues at the three casinos reached $365 million. The state general fund receives 29.5 percent of the proceeds from traditional lottery sales. At least 45 percent of the proceeds have to be paid out in prizes.


Religious Group Threatens Suit over VA Sweat Lodge Dispute

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A religious liberty group is now threatening to sue over the ongoing Native American sweat lodge dispute at the VA hospital in Wichita.  The Liberty Institute sent a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs alleging discrimination against Native American religious practices of veterans at the Robert J. Dole Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The sweat lodge's spiritual leader, who is a substance-abuse counselor at the center, has been indefinitely suspended. Members of the sweat lodge have been unable to meet for religious worship there without him. The medical center says in an emailed statement that it is working steadfastly with the local Native American community to find a trained spiritual leader to perform the August sweat, while at the same time respecting cultural traditions. 


60-Pound Dead Fish Found in Suburban Kansas Drainage Ditch 

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City animal control officer says she was skeptical when a man called to report a 4-foot-long carp in a drainage ditch. But Jamie Schmidt, a school resource officer with the Olathe, Kansas, Police Department, soon found herself wrapping up the 60-pound dead fish in trash bags and using a lift to get it into her truck. It was actually 3 ½ feet long. The Kansas City Star reports the unidentified man found the carp Friday in the ditch near an elementary school. Schmidt, who is filling in as animal control officer while the regular one is on maternity leave, thinks it came from a nearby lake after heavy rains. Schmidt says it was easier to haul the fish away dead than had it still been alive.


KU Attorney Defends University's Actions in Expulsion Case 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An attorney for the University of Kansas defended the university's actions during an appeals court hearing on whether the school had the right to expel a student based on offensive tweets and off-campus incidents. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports former KU student Navid Yeasin was suspended in November 2013 for violating an order not to contact his ex-girlfriend in any way. Yeasin sued last year and a Douglas County judge ruled in September the school did not have jurisdiction to expel him. The university appealed that decision to the Kansas Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel heard arguments from both sides on Tuesday but didn't immediately issue a ruling.


Kansas Fines AT&T for Overcharges 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has fined AT&T for overcharging the state's Lifeline program for a third year in a row. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Kansas Corporation Commission fined the company $15,000 for overcharging the state's Lifeline program by about $100,000 last year. AT&T received $476,000 in Lifeline credit last year. AT&T also paid $4,750 in December for overcharging more than $83,000 in 2012 and 2013. The fines stem from AT&T erroneously claiming Lifeline credit for customers who didn't qualify for the low-income phone service subsidy. Records also show the phone company has paid back the money it overcharged. The report also noted that in April, the Federal Communications Commission levied a $6.9 million fine against AT&T and its subsidiaries for Lifeline violations nationwide.


Report: More Than 70% of Young Kansans Unfit for Military Service

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A new report from a group of retired military leaders says the nation's obesity epidemic is causing significant recruiting problems for the military. One in three young adults nationwide is too fat to enlist. The report released Wednesday by a group calling itself Mission: Readiness, notes that 29 percent of teenagers in Kansas are overweight. Obesity is among the leading causes of military ineligibility among people ages 17 to 24. Other barriers are a lack of adequate education, a criminal history or drug use. All those put together mean 71 percent of young Kansans are ineligible for military service. 


46 Indicted on Charges Related to Smuggling Drugs on Flights 

DALLAS (AP) — Federal authorities say 46 people are facing charges related to smuggling drugs on airline flights from Dallas to cities nationwide, including Wichita. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Dallas released a statement saying most of the defendants are from northern Texas. It's not clear how many are in custody. They face charges that include intent to distribute cocaine and methamphetamines, conspiracy and money laundering. The indictment says undercover agents gave some suspects packages purporting to be drugs that were carried on flights to Chicago, San Francisco and other cities for payments of up to $9,000. Authorities say four defendants either worked at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport or used ties to an airport worker to bypass security. 


Sirens Failed in Nickerson as Monday's Tornado Hit 

NICKERSON, Kan. (AP) - Tornado sirens failed to go off in Nickerson as a tornado hit the area Monday. Evan Seiwert with Reno County Emergency Management tells The Hutchinson News that none of the town's tornado sirens activated during severe weather event Monday evening. Seiwert said the sirens had passed a weekly test. He said it is unclear what the problem was, but that city equipment vendors have been out making repairs. When the system failed, the Nickerson Fire Department implemented a backup plan, which includes firetrucks going through the streets and sounding the sirens to alert residents about the imminent tornado. Seiwert said the tornado was on the ground for 22 minutes and moved northwest at about 10 mph. At least two homes were damaged. No injuries were reported. Emergency officials said sections of Reno County received up to 3 inches of rain. 


Construction to Start on Memorial to Kansas City Skywalk Disaster

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for a memorial to victims, rescuers and survivors of Kansas City's 1981 skywalk disaster. The Skywalk Memorial Foundation breaks ground on the memorial Friday in Hospital Hill Park, across the street from the former Hyatt Regency hotel where 114 people died in the collapse on July 17, 1981. More than 200 people were injured. The disaster occurred during a dance in the hotel lobby when two suspended skywalks came crashing down. There were no criminal charges, but the engineers responsible lost their licenses. There were also about $140 million in judgments and settlements. The memorial is expected to be completed by fall. The memorial design created by Kansas City native Rita Blitt includes a 20-foot abstract sculpture atop a pedestal.


Wichita State Observatory to Close after 35 Years

GODDARD, Kan. (AP) - Lake Afton Public Observatory is set to close after giving Kansas a glimpse of the stars for 35 years. The Wichita Eagle reports the observatory will offer its final public program on August 22. Officials at Wichita State University, which runs the Goddard telescope, say they can no longer afford to run the facility. University official Ron Matson says observatory attendance has been about 4,000 people a year, roughly half of the amount when it opened in 1981. He said the facility, which used to bring in revenue for the school, now costs the university about $50,000 to $70,000 a year. Observatory director Greg Novacek said part of the facility's demise is due to the high quality of images of space that are available on the Internet.


Missouri Authorities Recover Body of Missing Girl, 14 

NOEL, Mo. (AP) — Authorities in southwest Missouri have recovered the body of a 14-year-old girl downstream from where she was last seen earlier this week. McDonald County Sheriff Mike Hall says the girl was with family members at the Elk River when she went down a steep embankment, slipped off a rock and fell into the river on Monday. The Joplin Globe reports that search crews found the body of Wiver Moon, of Noel, early Wednesday. Chief Sheriff's Deputy Chris Allison says authorities had been searching the Elk River from Grand Lake to the scene in Noel. The Missouri State Highway Patrol has reported two other incidents on the Elk River this year. In June, an 8-year-old girl nearly drowned, and in May a 12-year-old Kansas boy died when his canoe capsized.


AP Source: Chiefs, Houston Reach 6-Year, $101 Million Deal 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A person familiar with the situation tells The Associated Press that the Chiefs and All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston have agreed to a six-year, $101 million contract that includes $52.5 million in guarantees. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the deal has not been announced. The sides had until late afternoon to work out a deal, otherwise Houston would have played the upcoming season under the franchise tag. The deal is not only the richest in franchise history but also the richest for a linebacker in NFL history. The only defensive player to sign for more is Ndamukong Suh, who reached a six-year, $114 million deal with Miami.


After World Series Run, Royals Proving Rebuild Was No Fluke 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Royals have proven last year was no fluke. As they hit the All-Star break with a big lead in the AL Central, they found themselves reveling in seven players chosen for the Midsummer Classic. And after a World Series run last year, they had manager Ned Yost and his staff on the bench Tuesday night in Cincinnati. But with the festivities over, the Royals now set their sights on returning to the playoffs, something they did last year for the first time since 1985. The Royals begin the second half Friday night in Chicago against the White Sox. They lead the Minnesota Twins by 4 1/2 games in the AL Central, with Detroit and Cleveland looming.


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