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Headlines for Wednesday, March 19, 2014


KS, AZ Prevail in Voter Citizenship Suit

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to help Kansas and Arizona enforce laws requiring new voters to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren in Wichita ruled Wednesday that the commission has no legal authority to deny requests from Kansas and Arizona to add state-specific instructions to a national voter registration form. The states sued to force the action. Both states require new voters to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship to election officials. The federal registration form requires only that prospective voters sign a statement that they are citizens. Melgren said the U.S. Constitution gives states the power to set voter qualifications, and Congress has not pre-empted it, even in enacting a federal voter-registration law in the 1990s.


Kobach: Court Ruling Ends KS 'Dual' Voting Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says there's no need to consider a so-called dual voter registration system in light of a federal judge's ruling about the state's proof-of-citizenship law for new voters. Under a dual registration system, voters using a state registration form and documenting their U.S. citizenship would be allowed to vote in all races. Others could register with a federal form but vote only in presidential, congressional and U.S. Senate races. The federal form requires only that voters sign a statement saying they're citizens. Kobach praised a ruling Wednesday from U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren in Wichita ordering the federal government to modify its national registration form to help Kansas and Arizona enforce their proof-of-citizenship laws. Before the decision, Kobach was considering a dual registration system.


Schodorf Criticizes Voter-Citizenship Ruling

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Democratic candidate for Kansas secretary of state says she's "appalled" by a federal judge's ruling requiring the federal government to help Kansas enforce its proof-of-citizenship law for new voters. Former state Senator Jean Schodorf of Wichita called Wednesday for an end to what she called a "war on voting" by Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach says the law prevents fraud and he's delighted with the ruling. Kobach wrote the law requiring new voters to provide documented proof of U.S. citizenship to register. But a few voters use a national form requiring only that they sign a statement saying they are citizens. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren ruled Wednesday that the federal government must modify the national form to include a specific proof-of-citizenship instruction for Kansas and Arizona.


KS Congressman Scrutinized for Basketball Ticket Raffle

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas congressman Tim Huelskamp has revised his plans for raffling off tickets to men's college basketball games for small campaign contributions because of legal questions. Huelskamp announced Tuesday he's no longer requiring a donation of at least $10 for a chance to win four tickets to NCAA men's tournament games this week in St. Louis. Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State will play. The Republican congressman opened the raffle Monday in an email to supporters, saying they could make donations until Wednesday morning. But Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson told Huelskamp's re-election campaign that the contest was illegal. The Kansas Constitution bans even charity raffles as private lotteries. Huelskamp is seeking a third term in the U.S. House from the 1st Congressional District.


House Bill on Anonymous Complaints Hits Big Hurdle

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A measure in the Kansas House that would eliminate anonymous complaints against police officers has run into stiff opposition by the NAACP and law enforcement agencies that say the bill would increase the public's mistrust of police. The Wichita Eagle reports House Bill 2698 would require anyone submitting a complaint against a law enforcement officer to sign an affidavit. It also would prohibit other law enforcement agencies from conducting their own investigations if a complaint already has been ruled false by the original agency. Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter testified Tuesday against the bill before the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee. He and law enforcement leaders from Johnson and Riley Counties said the bill would hamper their ability to conduct internal investigations. The committee took no action.

KS House Committee Advances Bill Raising Limits on Lawsuit Damages

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House committee has endorsed legislation allowing higher monetary damages in personal injury lawsuits while revising the rules of evidence in such cases. Tuesday's voice vote by the Commerce, Labor and Economic Committee sent the Senate-passed measure to the full House for debate. It would increase the state's $250,000 limit on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering to $300,000 in July and to $350,000 by July 2022. The change is a response to a 2012 Kansas Supreme Court ruling in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The court upheld the current limit but said it was troubled that it hadn't been adjusted for inflation since 1988. The bill also could narrow the use of expert testimony, and allow juries to be told that a plaintiff has received an insurance settlement.


Kansas House Approves Financial Literacy Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members have approved a bill that would require public school students to receive instruction on personal financial literacy and how to give a professional handshake. Wednesday's 110-12 vote sends the measure to the Senate. The bill would revise financial literacy standards for all grade levels. The material would be taught in math classes or other appropriate courses such as family and consumer science or economics. Proponents say students need to know more about managing money. Topics to be covered in the instruction include saving and investing, credit and debt and the importance of setting a budget. The bill also requires the State Board of Education to give lawmakers a report on student scores on financial literacy tests before the start of the 2015 legislative session.


Kansas, Missouri Consider Tanning Bed Restrictions

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A national debate over the safety of tanning beds has made its way to Kansas and Missouri, where lawmakers are considering measures that could sharply reduce their use by minors. The Kansas bill would ban minors from indoor tanning altogether, while Missouri's would require anyone under 17 to get their parents' consent before tanning. The Kansas City Star reports the legislation in both states is a response to public health advocates sounding alarms about risks associated with indoor tanning and added exposure to ultraviolet light — especially among teenagers. Six states already ban tanning for anyone under 18, and at least 33 states regulate tanning for minors. Tanning salon owners on both sides of the state line say lawmakers are going too far with the proposed restrictions.


Barbecue Smoker Suspected in Topeka Apartment Fire

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Damage is estimated at $180,000 in a fire that chased a dozen people from a central Topeka apartment complex. WIBW-TV reports that investigators believe the fire late Tuesday at the Pines Apartments originated in a barbecue smoker that was placed too close to combustible materials on a balcony. No injuries were reported, but firefighters rescued three dogs, two cats and a bearded dragon. The American Red Cross assisted 12 tenants displaced from 10 apartments. The Pines complex has had its share of calamities. A fire blamed on unattended cooking destroyed 10 units in 2008, and 90 units were destroyed by a fire in 1979. In addition, a Kansas Highway Patrol communications tower was toppled by high winds in 2005 and crashed onto a building and two cars at the complex.


Group Launches TV Ad Praising Kansas Governor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A group backing Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has launched a TV ad noting the state's relatively low unemployment rate and saying the Republican incumbent has a plan for investing in education. Road Map Solutions began the 30-second spot Tuesday on broadcast and cable stations in Topeka and Wichita. The group is a nonprofit set up by Brownback's allies, with former Brownback chief of staff David Kensinger as its president. Kensinger said the group plans to run the TV spots for at least 10 days and spend at least $82,000. Brownback is proposing to phase in full state funding for all-day kindergarten. Brownback is running for re-election. His Democratic challenger, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, has criticized Brownback over education funding. Spokesman Chris Pumpelly said Davis is focused on helping Kansas families.

State Fire Marshal Seeks NW Kansas Arsonist

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Fire Marshal's office is asking for help finding out who is responsible for nearly two dozen arsons in northwest Kansas. State Fire Marshal Doug Jorgensen says it's vital to apprehend the person starting the fires before someone is seriously injured or there is a major properly loss. Twenty fires in Ellis County since March 6 have been ruled incendiary or crimes of arson. Many of them have been grass fires that also have burned trees, sheds and an old granary in the Hays area. A news release from Jorgensen's office says the fires pose obvious safety concerns for residents, first responders and surrounding properties.


Michigan Atty General Seeks Subpoenas in Propane Pricing Probe

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan is seeking civil subpoenas against a propane company and its affiliate following consumer complaints tied to pricing. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a petition for the subpoenas Wednesday in Saginaw County Circuit Court. Schuette's office says it has received 65 complaints against Ferrellgas and Best Propane. It says the complaints include allegations of excessive pricing and price misrepresentation to consumers. The subpoenas are part of Schuette's investigation into propane pricing this winter. Schuette's office says some customers may have been charged more than $8 per gallon for propane while the statewide average retail price was as high as $3.76 last month. The Associated Press left phone messages late Wednesday afternoon seeking comment from Overland Park, Kansas-based Ferrellgas and Battle Creek, Michigan-based Best Propane.


Trial Delayed in KS Boy's Abuse Death

HIAWATHA, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas woman accused in the abuse death of her boyfriend's 4-year-old son will have more time to prepare for trial. KNZA-FM reports 28-year-old Janice Summerford, of Hiawatha, had been scheduled to go on trial April on charges including first-degree murder and child abuse. But a Brown County judge has rescheduled the trial to September 29. The defense requested the continuance to allow time for an expert in women's abuse issues to examine Summerford. Summerford was initially charged with aiding and abetting the March 2013 death of Mekhi Boone. The charge was amended in September to first-degree murder, after investigators said she had been the child's primary caregiver. The boy's father, Lee Davis IV, was convicted earlier of second-degree murder and sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison.


KC Zoo Rethinking Policies in Wake of Free-Day Fights

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Zoo officials say they will review their policies after a number of fights broke out during a free day at the zoo, punctuated by shots fired near the parking lot as police tried to get the mayhem under control. The Kansas City Star reports there were no gunshot injuries Tuesday, but witnesses say they feared for their lives as chaos broke out around them as they were trying to leave. The zoo offers four free days a year as part of a promise to voters in Clay and Jackson counties in return for approving a one-eighth-cent zoo sales tax in 2011. Similar fights broke out last year during a free day in April, prompting the zoo to move the events from weekends to Tuesdays this year.


Former US Defense Secretary to Lecture in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is returning to his hometown later this month to talk about his new book. The Wichita Eagle reports Gates served as defense secretary from 2006 to 2011 after spending nearly 27 years with the Central Intelligence Agency. He was CIA director from 1991 until 1993 and received numerous awards for his work. Gates was born in Wichita and graduated in 1961 from East High School, where he returned in 2009 to be keynote speaker for the school's graduation ceremonies. The next year he was named Kansan of the Year at the annual dinner of the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas. He will present a lecture and sign books March 31 at Wichita State University.


Cindy McCain to Speak at Dole Institute

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The wife of Arizona Senator John McCain visits Lawrence next week to discuss leadership, her humanitarian work and life on the campaign trail. Cindy Hensley McCain will speak the evening of March 25 at the Dole Institute of Politics on the University of Kansas campus. Institute director Bill Lacy says McCain is best known publicly as the wife of the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. But she also chairs her family's business, Hensley & Company, a major Anheuser-Busch distributor. In 1988, McCain founded the American Voluntary Medical Team, which provides emergency medical and surgical care to poor children worldwide. She also serves on the board of a nonprofit dedicated to landmine removal and weapons destruction in war-torn countries. And she's active in fighting human trafficking in the U.S. and around the world.


Kansas College Developing 10-Year Growth Plan

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A southeastern Kansas community college is undertaking a long-term growth plan. The Arkansas City Traveler reports that the Cowley College Board of Trustees has approved a $95,000 contract with engineering firm Bartlett & West to develop the plan. The college is located in Arkansas City and is part of the Kansas Board of Regents system. Funds for the 10-year strategic plan were set aside for new initiatives launched by college president Clark Williams, who took office last summer. Williams says the project will include an academic plan developed by the college, and a facilities master plan to be created by the engineering firm. College executive vice president Tony Crouch says the engineering portion will focus on using the school's facilities to accommodate new technologies and programs outlined in the academic plan.



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