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Headlines for Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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

1 Critical, 1 Serious After Fire at Kansas Group Home

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a fire in a residential group home in suburban Kansas City has sent one person to the hospital in critical condition and another in serious condition.  The Overland Park Fire Department said in a news release that crews were called early today (WED) to the home for people with disabilities. Four people had evacuated when fire crews arrived, and two others were rescued from the home's second floor. All six were taken to area hospitals, with four of them in good condition.  Crews were able to contain the fire in about thirty minutes. Fire damage was contained to the back part of the home, including the kitchen and basement areas. The rest of the home had moderate smoke damage.  The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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Suburban Kansas City Apartment Fire Ruled Accidental; Started by Welder's Spark

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say a welder accidentally started a fire that spread from a suburban Kansas City apartment complex that was under construction to nearly two dozen homes.  Overland Park Fire Marshal Mark Sweany said Tuesday evening that the fire started Monday when a welder ignited wooden building materials at the multimillion-dollar CityPlace development. The blaze leveled one large, four-story apartment building and heavily damaged a second. Intense heat and the burning debris that rained down also spread the fire into a nearby neighborhood.  Three firefighters were treated for minor injuries.  Overland Park Fire Chief Bryan Dehner says the building where the fire started was "vulnerable" because it was so early in the construction process that it lacked fire deterrents such as sprinklers.

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Ex-Youth Center Worker at Fort Leavenworth Gets Prison for Child Sex Crimes

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A former worker at a youth center on Kansas' Fort Leavenworth has been sentenced to seven years and seven months in prison for the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl.  The Kansas City Star reports that 24-year-old Nicholas Clark was sentenced in Leavenworth County District Court for aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated solicitation of a child.  Authorities said Clark solicited the child at the center in August 2014, and that the girl's mother went to police after finding conversations between Clark and the girl on the girl's cell phone.

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Topeka Man Sentenced for Sex Trafficking Teen 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man was sentenced to 47 months in federal prison for the sex trafficking of a 17-year-old girl. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports 30-year-old Reginald Eugene Newman pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said Monday that Newman admitted in his plea to taking a teenage girl in March 2015 from Topeka for the purpose of prostitution. Beall said Newman and his wife Tiara rented two rooms at a Junction City hotel, using one of the rooms for commercial sex acts. A Fort Riley soldier paid $250 to have sex with the 17-year-old and Tiara Newman. Reginald Newman is alleged to also have held a gun to the victim's head if she didn't participate in prostitution. Tiara Newman was sentenced earlier this month to 34 months in federal prison.

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Feds Designate $6 Million for Ranchers Affected by Wildfires in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The U.S. Department of Agriculture is designating more than $6 million to help farmers and ranchers affected by recent wildfires in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The funding announced Tuesday will be distributed through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help restore grazing lands, rebuild fencing and protect damaged watersheds. U.S. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas says he is pleased USDA acted swiftly to aid producers recovering from the largest wildfire in state history. He says the impacts are devastating for many Kansans because the fires not only consumed livestock, grazing lands and fencing but also in some cases homes, machinery and equipment. The program is administered by USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Services. 

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Kansas Budget Woes Complicate Plans to Shore-Up State Pension System

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are trying to avoid the kind funding moves with public employee pensions that previously clouded the retirement system's long-term financial health.  But lawmakers are wrestling with the state's serious budget problems and were not sure Wednesday whether the state could afford its full, annual commitments.  Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed freezing annual pension contributions at 2016 levels to help erase projected budget shortfalls totaling more than $1 billion through June 2019.  The Senate budget committee has added a total of $330 million to its proposed budgets for the two fiscal years beginning in July 1 to keep contributions where they're supposed to be. Its House counterpart voted Wednesday to put off a decision.  The annual contributions were set to increase to bolster the pension system's health.

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Kansas Lawmakers Embrace Old Concepts in New School Formula

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas legislators are moving toward distributing state dollars to public schools through a complicated per-student formula much like one they discarded two years ago. A special House committee outlined an education funding plan Tuesday that uses basic concepts from the state's previous funding formula. The panel plans to have hearings Thursday and Friday. The Kansas Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to enact a school funding law by June 30 after ruling that the state isn't spending enough on its public schools. Republican legislators in 2015 replaced the old formula with a system of ``block grants'' for school districts. The committee's proposal would set a funding amount for each student, then add extra resources for students with special needs. School districts would be required to impose local property taxes to help finance their operations. 

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Kansas Governor Signs Sales Tax Break After Wildfires

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas residents are getting a sales tax break to rebuild fences on agricultural land after wildfires burned more than 1,000 square miles.  Governor Sam Brownback signed a bill today (WED) that would allow people to buy supplies to rebuild their fences without paying sales tax. It goes toward rebuilding fences that burned, not new construction. The Legislature passed the measure unanimously.  Brownback says the tax break doesn't make up what farmers and ranchers lost but it could help ease the recovery.  Lawmakers gave a similar tax break last year after a wildfire caused damage in two counties. Brownback also declared a state of emergency March 5 and signed an executive order to help bring in relief supplies.

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Judge Dismisses Rowers' Lawsuit Against University of Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the University of Kansas by parents of two former rowers who alleged they were sexually assaulted by a former football player in a dorm.  The Kansas City Star reports Douglas County District Judge B. Kay Hoff dismissed the lawsuit on Friday, ruling that the former rowers have left the university and no longer face an immediate threat of harm.  The lawsuit initially filed by James and Amanda Tackett claimed that when recruiting their daughter to attend Kansas, the school falsely advertised safe dorms.  That lawsuit later was joined by James McClure and daughter Sarah McClure, who said she was sexually assaulted in 2015 by the same football player who fellow rower Daisy Tackett said also had attacked her a year earlier.  An attorney for the families says they will appeal Hoff's ruling.  The football player wasn't charged.

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Groups Seek to Intervene in Keystone XL Review

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Activists who want to derail the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska have asked to intervene in a state commission's review of the route through the state.  Applications submitted today (WED) to the Nebraska Public Service Commission argue that opponents should be allowed to formally participate in the case.  Intervening would let them file legal briefs, cross-examine witnesses and present formal arguments alongside attorneys for pipeline developer TransCanada.  Nebraska requires residents to show a "substantial legal interest" in a project before they can intervene. Commission Chairman Tim Schram will decide who qualifies.  Linda Anderson of Bold Nebraska says her pipeline opposition group will argue that opponents have an interest as taxpayers and consumers of the state's water.  TransCanada spokesman Terry Cuhna says the company will keep working with residents.

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Man Acquitted in Fatal Home Invasion Shooting Near Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man has been acquitted in a fatal home invasion shooting near Topeka.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 26-year-old Angel Gabriel Olavarria-Velez was cleared Friday of premeditated first-degree murder in the 2014 death of 29-year-old Dustin McKinney and several other felonies.  Defense attorney Gary Conwell said Tuesday that Olavarria-Velez told him from the beginning that he wasn't involved in the slaying. After the final prosecution witness testified, Conwell sought a directed verdict from the judge for acquittal. Court records show that prosecutors didn't oppose it.  Olavarria-Velez did plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of intimidation of a witness and felony interference with law enforcement. Sentencing is set for May 11.  Another man pleaded no contest previously to voluntary manslaughter in McKinney's death, and two others were arrested last week.

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Wichita Crash Injures Driver, Causes Power Outage

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Authorities say a Wichita crash that critically injured a man has caused a power outage in the surrounding area. KSNW-TV reports that a truck collided with a power pole around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, sending the driver to a hospital. Downed power poles started a fire in a nearby field and left nearly 190 customers without power.

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