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Headlines for Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Kansas Senate GOP Unveils Schools Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican leaders in the Kansas Senate have outlined a new school funding plan that would give local districts extra authority to increase property taxes to supplement their state funds. GOP leaders unveiled the plan Wednesday in a caucus of Republican senators. The plan is designed to meet a Kansas Supreme Court mandate for the state to boost aid to poor districts. The proposal would provide $134 million to poor districts. It would allow school districts to use property taxes to raise a local option budget of 33 percent. The state currently allows 31 percent.


Kansas House Approves Student Data Privacy Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has passed legislation aimed at restricting the identifiable information collected on public school students. The measure also specifies who may view such information, including parents and certain government agencies. Wednesday's 119-4 vote returns the bill to the Senate, which approved it earlier in slightly different form. Proponents said the bill would help protect students' identities and limit the disclosure of information collected about them to specific agencies, including local school districts, the Kansas education department and public health agencies. Legislators have raised concerns that data would be used inappropriately and shared with the federal government or other entities without parental consent. The bill requires a report on the law's implementation to be submitted to the governor and legislators in 2015.


House Rejects Senate Plan for Kansas Energy

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members have rejected a Senate plan to end the state's renewable energy standards despite concerns that the policies are leading to higher utility rates for businesses and residents. The chamber voted 77-44 on Wednesday to reject an attempt to place the bill in a conference committee, where House and Senate members could negotiate a compromise. The standards require utility companies to provide 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. They were put in place in 2009 when legislators allowed the construction of a coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas, as part of a trade-off struck by then-Governor Mark Parkinson and power plant supporters. Critics argued Wednesday that the energy standards are unnecessary and lead to higher utility rates. Supporters say the standards promote economic growth.


KS Senate Passes Bill Barring Medicaid Expansion

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican-dominated Kansas Senate wants to indefinitely extend a ban on expanding the state's Medicaid program in line with the federal health care overhaul. Senators approved a bill on a 33-7 vote Tuesday night saying the state couldn't expand Medicaid unless the Legislature approves the policy. The measure goes to the House. A ban included last year in budget legislation is set to expire with the appropriations law in July 2015. Medicaid provides health coverage for the needy and disabled. Supporters note that an expansion would help thousands of poor, working Kansans and that the federal government promises to pick up most of the cost. But GOP lawmakers see the 2010 federal health care law championed by Democratic President Barack Obama as burdensome and likely to harm the economy.

Lawrence Approves Rental Inspection Program

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A divided Lawrence City Commission has approved a program to license and inspect nearly every rental unit in the city. The commission voted 3-2 Tuesday night to begin the program but delayed starting inspections of multi-family rental units until July 2015. The program will require nearly every landlord to pay an annual license fee to the city for each dwelling. Ten percent of each landlord's rental units will be inspected every three years, with inspectors checking for violations of health and safety codes. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that several landlords attended the meeting to criticize the program. They contend the city's already is doing a poor job of running its current inspection program for single-family zoned neighborhoods. Supporters have been pushing for the program for more than five years.

Former KBI Official Due in Court

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former top official of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation is due in court on a charge of sexual exploitation of a child. Kyle Smith's next appearance in Shawnee County District Court had been scheduled for April. But court records show Smith is to appear Thursday morning to enter a plea. Smith, a former KBI deputy director, is charged with sexual exploitation of a child and interference with law enforcement. He's accused of possessing one sexually explicit photo of a minor in 2013. Thomas Haney, Smith's attorney, declined comment Wednesday. Haney has said previously that "no child was ever in danger." The KBI has said its human resources office issued a notice November 26 that Smith no longer worked for the agency. The office provided no details, calling it a personnel matter.


Kansas State Veterinary Dean to Step Down

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The dean of Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine has announced plans to step down by the middle of next year. The university said in a news release that Ralph C. Richardson will become a faculty member after leaving the job he has held since 1998. Richardson received his degree in veterinary medicine from Kansas State in 1970. Before returning to Manhattan to head the veterinary college, he served as head of the clinical sciences department at Purdue University. The Kansas State veterinary college has grown during Richardson's tenure from a graduating class of 79 students in 1998 to a current enrollment of 112 students in each incoming class. A precise timetable for Richardson's departure as dean will be announced later. The university says he plans to step down no later than July 2015.


Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Injured in Turnpike Accident

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Highway Patrol trooper is hospitalized after he was injured during a routine traffic stop on the Kansas Turnpike in east Wichita. The patrol says the trooper had pulled over a semi-trailer truck for a routine inspection Tuesday evening when his vehicle was hit from behind by a pickup truck. The trooper was taken to Wesley Medical Center in serious condition. The driver of the pickup truck suffered minor injuries. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.


Settlements Vary for 4 Juveniles in Kansas Suit

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Federal court records show settlements ranged from about $1.8 million to $55,000 for four juveniles who claimed a Kansas military school encouraged abuse by giving higher-ranking cadets authority to discipline younger cadets. Eleven former cadets filed a lawsuit in 2012 alleging that higher-ranking students abused younger students at St. John's Military School in Salina. The 126-year-old Episcopalian boarding school has long denied a culture of abuse exists. Parties in the case reached a settlement March 3, but details had not been previously released. Affidavits released Wednesday show the settlements for the four juveniles were for $55,000, $75,000, $100,000 and $1.8 million, about 40 percent of which would go to lawyers. Settlement terms for the adult plaintiffs were not subject to court approval and haven't been disclosed.


Union Alleges Spirit Used Health Info in Firing Decisions

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An engineering union is accusing Spirit AeroSystems, Inc., of laying off hundreds of workers last year because they were too old and a burden on health insurance costs. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace made the allegations in discrimination complaints filed Wednesday with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by 10 ex-employees. They claim they were laid off after Spirit became a self-insured company. The ex-workers also want the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate whether the Wichita aerospace company unlawfully obtained their confidential medical information. Spirit AeroSystems says in a statement that the allegations are distorted and inaccurate. It says it needed to reduce costs and that personal medical information wasn't used to make layoff decisions.

Forecasters: Storms Could Hit Plains Thursday

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — The Storm Prediction Center says there is a slight risk of severe weather in parts of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma on Thursday. The greatest risk will be in western Arkansas, southwestern Missouri and eastern Oklahoma. Forecasters said heating within a 100-mile-wide corridor should make the atmosphere unstable ahead of an approaching cold front. Storms could develop from an area roughly from Kansas City to the Arklatex. The forecasters said data suggest supercells could form and that some could produce large hail and possibly tornadoes, especially between southwestern Missouri and the Red River. The threat will decrease overnight Thursday, but there's also a slight risk of severe weather Friday for an area from the Arklatex to the southern Appalachians and north into the Missouri bootheel and southern Kentucky.


Political Instability, Weather Spur Wheat Prices

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Market analysts say political instability in the Ukraine, freeze damage and drought are conspiring to drive up wheat prices. U.S. Wheat Associates, the industry's agricultural trade group, says in a recent report that concern over the political situation in Ukraine — which supplies 6 percent of the world's wheat export market — was one of the factors for the price spikes. But the group's market analyst, Casey Chumrau, also says fears about drought in the United States and other wheat-producing countries are pushing prices higher. Also spurring market concerns is the potential for freeze damage stemming from this year's frigid winter. It's unclear how much consumers will be affected by the increases, but analysts say U.S. farmers are poised to cash in on the uncertainty.


Kansas Youths to Host Immigration Conference

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas youths are hosting a day-long immigration conference and legislative forum in Wichita this weekend. Carlos Vargas and Erika Andiola, co-founders of the national Dream Act Coalition, will join a group of youths involved locally with the Kansas People's Action. The six-hour conference on "Keeping the Dream Alive" begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at 1751 N. Ash in Wichita. The conference will devote time to educating local voters about issues faced by immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. The conference seeks to teach local youth that they can be involved in the political process by using their voices to influence others who can vote.

2 Men Who Died in Tower Collapse Identified

BLAINE, Kan. (AP) — The Pottawatomie County Sheriff's Office says two men who died when communications towers collapsed were from Missouri. The victims of Tuesday's collapse were 38-year-old Martin Powers, of St. Charles, Missouri and 25-year-old Seth Garner, 25, of St. Peters, Missouri. They were contract workers for Wireless Horizon. They died when the Union Pacific communications towers collapsed near Blaine in northeast Kansas, about 50 miles northwest of Topeka. Officials say one of the towers was recently built and the other was an older structure that was being dismantled by the two workers who died. Both men were more than 250 feet above the ground when the tower fell. One died at the scene and the other at a hospital.


Program Launched to Aid in Tracking Lost Dementia Patients

PLATTE CITY, Mo. (AP) — Platte County is beginning a program officials hope will help more quickly find missing people who are suffering from diseases that leave them mentally impaired. The Project Lifesaver program will provide monitoring devices similar to a hospital bracelet to people with Alzheimer's, dementia, autism and Down syndrome. The sheriff's department will then use specific radio frequencies to find people who walk away from their homes or caregivers. The Kansas City Star reports that the effort in Platte County is expected to begin this spring. The bracelet and transmitter will cost $400 for the first year, with an annual subscription fee of $300.


NTSB Issues Safety Alert on Wrong Airport Landings

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A federal agency overseeing transportation safety is warning pilots to take extra precautions after a pair of recent plane landings at the wrong airports. The National Transportation Safety Board issued the safety alert Wednesday, about three months after a Southwest Airlines plane with 124 passengers mistakenly landed at a small airport in Hollister, Missouri rather than one several miles away in Branson. An Atlas Air cargo plane headed for a military base near Wichita, Kansas in November 2013 instead landed 12 miles away at an airstrip with a runway half the size. The safety alert notes that the risks of wrong landings increase at night and when other airports are nearby. Government safety data shows that at least 150 flights made such mistakes over the past two decades.


Dodge City Community College OKs Fort Hays Plan

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Despite concerns expressed by faculty members and others, the Dodge City Community College Board of Trustees approved a proposal that would eventually give administrative control of the school to Fort Hays State University. The board's vote Tuesday night is a one step in a long process. The proposal must still be approved by the Kansas Board of Regents, the state Legislature and the governor. The proposal would create an Institute of Applied Technology on the Dodge City campus, with Fort Hays also offering some four-year degree programs. The Dodge City Daily Globe reports that faculty members, who learned of the plan Saturday, issued a statement questioning whether the college will be able to continue its mission as a low-cost, open enrollment institution.




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