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Headlines for Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tornadoes, Hail Possible Across Southern Great Plains

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - The National Weather Service says there is a slight chance that storms carrying large hail and tornadoes could hit parts of the Great Plains today in an area including Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and North Texas. Richard Thompson at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, says tennis-ball-sized hail and tornadoes could form Wednesday afternoon. He says it's too early to tell how many storms are projected or where in the region they could hit. Thunderstorms are projected for much of the area. The severe weather is expected to taper off by about 10 pm, but storms are projected daily throughout the region through Saturday.

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Kansas Legislators Start Work on Plan for Raising Taxes 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas homeowners would pay higher property taxes to help close a projected state budget shortfall under a proposal endorsed by a legislative committee. The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee began work Tuesday on a plan to increase taxes, but members immediately tabled Governor Sam Brownback's plan to raise alcohol and tobacco taxes. Members voted instead to increase property taxes for most homeowners by $46 a year. They also backed a plan to overhaul property taxes on vehicles. The Senate committee plans to fold all of its measures into a single bill. The first pieces would raise about $50 million during the fiscal year beginning July 1. The Legislature's research staff says lawmakers must close a $422 million shortfall in the budget for the next fiscal year.

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Brownback, Legislators Give 5 School Districts More Funding 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback and legislative leaders have agreed to give five school districts roughly half a million dollars in additional funding. The State Finance Council, which is comprised of the governor and leaders from each chamber, voted Monday to give more money to districts hit hard by recent policy changes and unforeseen expenses. Eight districts requested about $1.1 million from the $4 million extraordinary needs fund. The panel voted to partially fund five of those requests. Superintendents testified that they had been squeezed due to enrollment changes, rising costs and Brownback's "block grant" school funding law, which cut $51 million in funding districts expected for the current fiscal year. The governor's office denied in a statement that the block grant reform was to blame for shortfalls.

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Kansas Lawmakers Override Veto of Rules for Firms Like Uber

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Ride-hailing company Uber says it is pulling out of Kansas after the state Legislature overrode Governor Sam Brownback's veto of new regulations. The company said in a statement shortly after Tuesday's House vote that it was ceasing operations in the state. Both legislative chambers surpassed the two-thirds majority of votes needed for the override.  Uber's statement said it was saddened by the loss of jobs and transportation choices for consumers.  The measure requires drivers for ride-hailing companies to undergo state background checks and carry additional auto insurance coverage.  Uber connects drivers to riders through a mobile app, and was operating in Wichita and Kansas City.  The Uber app displayed a message saying ``KANSAS JUST SHUT DOWN UBER'' to Kansas users after the Senate vote. 

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Kansas Legislature Approves Civil Service System Changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have given final approval to a bill backed by Republicans to make it easier for state agencies to move jobs out of the civil service system. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday on a 24-16 vote. The House approved the bill in March, and it goes next to Governor Sam Brownback. Supporters of the bill say the measure would give agencies more flexibility and allow them to better reward high-performing workers. They said the goal is to have agencies operate more like private businesses. But Democrats and other critics argued that state workers would be stripped of needed job protections. Civil service workers have more job security than non-civil service workers. The state has about 13,000 civil service employees.

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Kansas House Postpones Vote on Fantasy Sports Legislation 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has postponed a vote on a bill that would define fantasy sports as legal. The chamber passed over the bill in its schedule Wednesday, but a spokeswoman for House Speaker Ray Merrick said it would be addressed on Thursday. The measure would clarify an ongoing dispute over the legal status of fantasy football. The state's gambling regulator announced in August it viewed private fantasy sports leagues as illegal lotteries. But Attorney General Derek Schmidt released an opinion in April asserting that they are legal games of skill. About 41.5 million Americans spent an average of $111 on fantasy sports in 2014, according to data from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

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Kansas AG Outlines Proposal for Disclosure of Private Emails 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has outlined a proposal for requiring the disclosure of some private emails from public officials when they deal with government business. But Schmidt said in a letter Wednesday to the director of the Legislature's bill-drafting staff that expanding the Kansas Open Records Act is difficult because of free-speech protections for state employees. Schmidt issued a legal opinion last week saying state employees using private accounts or devices are not covered by the records act. The law requires agencies and other government-funded entities to make their records available to the public. Schmidt faced criticism for the opinion and said in his letter Wednesday that the law should be revised. The Kansas Press Association said it would work closely with Schmidt and legislators on a fix.

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Kansas Senate Advances Bill on EPA Gas Emissions Rule

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill approved by the Kansas Senate would require legislators to sign off on the state's plan for complying with a federal rule aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The Senate's vote Tuesday was 34-3. The House passed a version of the bill in March but must consider changes made by senators. The Senate version would allow the Kansas secretary of health and environment to draft a plan for complying with the new rule from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The plan could include voluntary agreements with utilities to lower carbon emissions that have been linked to climate change. But an 11-member legislative committee would have to approve the plan before the state could submit it to the EPA.

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Kansas Senate Approves New Rules for Public Employee Pensions 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Senate has approved a bill to rewrite the rules for teachers, school administrators and other public employees who return to work after retiring. The Senate's unanimous vote Tuesday sends the measure to the House. The state allows public employees to retire but return to work and earn up to $20,000 a year while drawing their pension benefits. Schools regularly use the program to bring veteran workers back into hard-to-fill positions. The working-after-retirement program is due to expire at the end of June. The bill extends the program for two years but then makes changes, starting in July 2017. The changes are designed to prevent workers and employers from setting up post-retirement jobs before a worker retires. Also, workers would be allowed to earn $25,000 in their post-retirement jobs.

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Kansas Democratic Party Names New Executive Director

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Democratic Party is getting a new executive director. The party announced Tuesday that Kerry Gooch will step into the job after Jason Perkey left to take over as executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party. At 24, Gooch will be among the youngest executive directors of a state Democratic organization in the nation, and Kansas Chairman Larry Meeker said Gooch will help to attract and retain young people. Gooch said in a statement that he looks forward to strengthening the party while working to hold Republican Gov. Sam Brownback accountable. He formally served as political director for the party and is a native of Wichita. He is a grandson of former state Senator U.L. "Rip" Gooch, also from Wichita.

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Kansas House Rejects New Rules on Land Annexation

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The House has rejected a measure that would have given county commissions the ability to block most land annexations by cities. The chamber voted 65-57 to reject the bill Wednesday. Cities would need to obtain county approval to annex land under the bill.  Republican Representative Ken Corbet from Topeka said he supported the measure and that land annexations deprive counties of revenue, which hurt residents of townships.  Several lawmakers objected to the annexation portion because it was bundled into the bill during negotiations with the Senate. A separate bill dealing with annexation had passed the House, but the language inserted by the Senate was significantly broader. The bill also would have made tweaks to laws concerning auto maintenance bids, sewer district contracting and the governance of improvement districts. 

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2 Topeka Residents Accused of Sex Trafficking of Minor 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka couple is facing federal charges after a grand jury returned indictments accusing them of forcing a teenage girl into prostitution. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom's office says 29-year-old Reginald Newman and his 21-year-old wife, Tiara Jade Newman, are charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor and sex trafficking of a minor. Prosecutors say the victim was introduced to the couple on March 21 and engaged her in prostitution through March 30. The indictment alleges Reginald Newman held a gun to the 17-year-old victim's head and threatened to kill her if she didn't participate in a commercial sex act. Both defendants remain in state custody after being charged last month with aggravated human trafficking in the same case.

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Court Enters Not Guilty Plea in Bomb Conspiracy Case 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal magistrate has entered a not guilty plea on behalf of a Topeka man charged with conspiracy in a plot to bomb the Fort Riley military base. Alexander E. Blair stood silent at his arraignment Wednesday on a criminal information accusing him of conspiring with John T. Booker, Jr., in the planned attack. The court then entered the plea for him. Previously Blair had initially been charged with failing to report the plot to authorities, but the conspiracy charge unsealed Tuesday is more serious. A status conference was set for June 8. U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary Sebelius ordered the prosecutor and defense attorney to meet before then and discuss in good faith whether the case can be resolved with a plea change or whether it will require a trial.

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Judge Cancels Trial of Kansas Couple in Assisted Living Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A couple accused of stealing more than $1.5 million from a Wichita company that owns assisted living centers in Kansas and Missouri is expected to plead to charges later this month.  Brent Shryock of Augusta had been scheduled to go to trial Tuesday on mail fraud charges, but notified the court the day before it was to begin that he wanted to change his plea. His hearing is May 13. A court notation Wednesday shows his wife, Lori Shryock, also plans to change her plea. Her hearing is May 14. The indictment alleges the crimes were committed while Brent Shryock was employed as information systems director for Presbyterian Manors of Mid-America. He was in charge of purchasing equipment. Prosecutors say the couple created four fictitious companies to submit fraudulent invoices. 

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Topeka Council Rejects Purchase of Heartland Racetrack 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Topeka City Council has voted down a plan to buy the Heartland Park Topeka racetrack. The council Tuesday night rejected a resolution to allow the city manager to reissue STAR bonds with an estimated value between $4.8 million and $5.5 million to buy the track. The vote is the latest move in a controversy that began when the city voted in 2006 to issue $10.46 million in STAR bonds to finance improvements at Heartland Park, expecting that revenue from the park would pay off the bonds. That never happened and the city was facing millions of dollars in debts on the bonds. Last August, the council voted to buy racetrack to try and develop it but that decision was criticized and caused months of controversy, leading to Tuesday's vote.

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Hall Foundation Gives University of Kansas $1.46M 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Hall Family Foundation has made a $1.46 million gift and challenge grant to the University of Kansas to support the humanities. The university said in a news release Wednesday that $468,800 of the gift will be used for fellowships for four incoming humanities doctoral students. A $1 million challenge grant, when matched, will be used for endowed fellowships for mid-career faculty members in the humanities. Both fellowships will be administered by university's Hall Center for the Humanities. The Kansas Endowment is seeking donors to establish four fellowship endowments to qualify for the matching funds for the $1 million challenge grant.

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Highway Reopens Following Truck Accident 

MAIZE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas highway has reopened after being closed for several hours when cattle escaped after a semi-trailer truck rolled over near Wichita. The Kansas Highway Patrol says Kansas 96 near Maize reopened about noon. It was closed when the truck crashed around 4 am Wednesday northwest of Wichita. The driver was not hurt. The driver was hauling about 60 cattle from Hutchinson to Eureka. About five cattle died in the accident and several others escaped the truck and roamed near the highway. Cowboys and animal control workers were called in to corral the cattle and get them into another truck. Authorities say heavy rain at the time might have contributed to the accident.

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Man Arrested in Connection to McPherson Death Released 

McPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — A McPherson man who was arrested in connection to the death of another man has been released without charges. McPherson County Attorney David Page said Tuesday that he has determined no foul play was involved in the death of 64-year-old Kinley Cobb. On April 26, officers responded to a report of intoxicated people and found Cobb seriously injured. He was transported to McPherson Hospital and later a Wichita hospital, where he eventually died. Page says Cobb was found on the sidewalk the night of his death, but he would not say how Cobb died. The suspect was eventually arrested on April 29. McPherson police said in a news release that "critical new information" leading to "dismissed charges" wasn't received until Monday. Police officials say they are not authorized to release any information regarding the case.

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Kansas Wheat Tour Finds Poor Crop Conditions on First Day 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Participants in the winter wheat tour are forecasting low crop yields in fields along northern Kansas counties that they looked at during the first day. The industry group Kansas Wheat reports that the expected average yield of 34.3 for the first day was slightly lower than last year's estimate for the first leg. It was the lowest first day average since 2001. The tour's estimate reflects the findings of the 92 participants who traveled in 21 vehicles along six routes to inspect 284 fields on Tuesday before ending up for the day in Colby. Participants in the annual Wheat Quality Tour are findng drought stress, stripe rust disease, winter kill and pest infestations. The tour continues Wednesday across western Kansas. Its statewide forecast is announced Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri.

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Emporia State Names Vietti as Interim President 

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Emporia State University has named a retired community college president to serve as its interim president. The Kansas Board of Regents announced Tuesday that Jacqueline Vietti will start in her new role at Emporia State on June 1. Vietti was president of Butler Community College for 17 years before retiring in 2012. Since then, she has been a guest lecturer, an evaluator for the Higher Learning Commission and a member of several boards. She will be interim president while the search continues for a permanent president to replace Michael Shonrock, who announced in April that he would was resigning to become president of Linwood University on June 1.

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Washington College Names Sheila Bair 28th President 

CHESTERTOWN, Md. (AP) — Washington College on Maryland's Eastern Shore has a new president. The school announced Wednesday that Sheila C. Bair, the former chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, would be the school's 28th president. Bair will be the first female president of the college, which was founded in 1782. Bair earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy at the University of Kansas in 1974 and a law degree from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1978. She headed the FDIC from 2006 to 2011. Bair succeeds former president Mitchell B. Reiss, who stepped down to lead the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Bair will officially take over on August 1.

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Utah Company Gives Notice of Nursing Home Closures 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A Utah company is closing a Rock Springs, Wyoming nursing home and staff and residents at another home the company operates in Saratoga are bracing for similar news. Deseret Health Group of Bountiful, Utah, gave 60-day notice Friday to Wyoming regulators that it will close its Rock Springs operation. The company has notified Kansas and Nebraska regulators of similar closings. Attempts to reach company officials Wednesday were unsuccessful. Melissa Elliott is administrator of the Rock Springs nursing home, which has 90 staff members and 58 residents. She's working with state and local officials trying to keep it open. Anita Mills is administrator of the Saratoga home, which has 40 staff and 25 residents. She says residents will move to other facilities soon if the company doesn't succeed in selling the home.

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Former Basketball Coach Pleads Guilty to Child Sex Crimes

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas high school basketball coach could face up to life in prison after pleading guilty to child sex crimes. KAKE-TV reports 21-year-old Patrick Kent Blevins on Tuesday waived his right to a trial and pleaded guilty to indecent liberties with a child. Prosecutors say he fondled six boys. Blevins was formerly an assistant girls' basketball coach at Trinity Catholic High School in Hutchinson, but was not a teacher. He was arrested in March and charged with four counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child and one count of aggravated criminal sodomy. Blevins waived his right to appeal his sentence as part of the plea deal.

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Royals Best Indians, 5-3, in Series Opener

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Eric Hosmer hit a three-run homer to help the Kansas City Royals beat Cleveland 5-3 on Tuesday night. Hosmer also had an RBI triple in the eighth inning. Pitcher Jason Vargas (3-1) only allowed two hits over six innings. Ryan Madson pitched a perfect seventh for Kansas City, but Kelvin Herrera allowed a homer for Cleveland's Lonnie Chisenhall in the eighth, ending his streak of 105 innings without allowing a home run. Herrera still handed over a lead to Wade Davis, who cruised through the ninth for his sixth save.
 

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