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Regional Headlines for Friday, July 26, 2013


Kansas Governor Calls 'Hard 50' Session for September 3

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Sam Brownback has called a special session of the Kansas Legislature for September 3 to rewrite the state's "Hard 50" criminal sentencing law. Brownback made the announcement Friday, two days after Attorney General Derek Schmidt requested a special session. Schmidt's request had bipartisan support from prosecutors and legislators. The law allows judges to sentence some convicted murderers to life in prison, with no chance for parole for 50 years. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision raised questions about the law's constitutionality. The high court ruled last month in a Virginia case that juries must consider whether the facts in a case trigger mandatory minimum sentences. In Kansas, judges weigh the evidence. Schmidt says revising the Kansas law as quickly as possible will protect public safety.

'Hard 50' Sentencing Applies to Pending KS Cases

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislators and prosecutors seeking a quick rewrite of the Kansas "Hard 50" law believe they can save the tough penalty in pending murder cases with new sentencing hearings for convicted offenders. Defense attorneys are skeptical that the state can apply a new law retroactively. Governor Sam Brownback on Friday called a special session of the Legislature for September 3 to rewrite the law. It allows judges to sentence convicted murderers to life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision raised questions about the law's constitutionality. Supporters of a special session argue lawmakers can change the law and apply it retroactively to existing cases. Defense attorneys say such attempts will be challenged.


Kansas Legislative Leaders to Appoint Study Panels

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislative leaders are preparing to appoint committees to study several issues before lawmakers convene their annual session in January. The Legislative Coordinating Council has scheduled a meeting for Monday afternoon. The council is the Legislature's top seven leaders, including Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ray Merrick. The agenda includes a discussion of potential study topics, including various budget issues. Legislative leaders typically appoint joint House-Senate committees to review issues and make recommendations ahead of each annual session. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King wants to have a daylong committee hearing on Governor Sam Brownback's next appointment to the Kansas Court of Appeals. Brownback must nominate a new judge by August 29. The appointment is subject to Senate confirmation when lawmakers reconvene in January.

KS County Officials Voice Confusion Over Delinquent Taxes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Some county officials are asking Kansas lawmakers to clarify whether back taxes on personal property follow the property, or should be assessed to its owner. The confusion arises when someone buys property, such as a boat or trailer, and then discovers the previous owner had not paid all the taxes. The state says the unpaid taxes follow the property. But some counties say the original owner should be responsible for paying the delinquent taxes. Kansas officials say state law requires that the tax bill stay with the property. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that many counties do not interpret the law that way. The discrepancy became more apparent when the Kansas Department of Revenue launched a program in May 2012 that allows county treasurers to more easily communicate with each other.

Body of Missing Osage County Man Found

LYNDON, Kan. (AP) — The body of a Lyndon man who had not been seen since July 15 has been found. The Osage County Sheriff says in a news release that the body of 67-year-old Raleigh Heskett was found Thursday inside his van. The vehicle was parked in Marion County, about 90 miles southwest of Lyndon. An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of his death.

Texas Homicide Suspect Caught After Police Chase

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas authorities say a suspect in at Texas homicide is hospitalized in Wichita with critical injuries and burns after a police pursuit in south-central Kansas. Kansas Turnpike Authority Lieutenant John Lehnherr says a trooper saw a vehicle driven by 27-year-old Anthony Ford heading south on the turnpike Thursday near Belle Plaine. Ford is a suspect in the stabbing death of a 23-year-old woman in Mansfield, Texas, on Sunday. When troopers tried to stop Ford's vehicle near Wellington, the driver fled. The chase reached speeds of 110 to 120 mph before Ford's vehicle left the road, flipped onto its top and caught fire. Ford is under guard at a Wichita hospital while being treated for his injuries. No one else was hurt.


Lightning Blamed for Fire at Kansas Middle School

GALVA, Kan. (AP) — The crew of a passing freight train is getting the credit for spotting an overnight fire that damaged a middle school in central Kansas. Authorities believe lightning started the fire at Canton-Galva Middle School. Damage was confined to the gymnasium, where flames left a large hole in the roof while charring the walls and floor. Canton-Galva superintendent Bill Seidl tells The McPherson Sentinel that  classes are expected to start as scheduled August 22. The building houses fourth- through eighth-graders. The conductor of a Union Pacific train called 911 after seeing the fire around 2:30 am Friday. Seidl says the quick report and the response by firefighters prevented damage that could have included a cave-in.


EPA Contractor Agrees to Pay $65,450 in Settlement

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A company the Environmental Protection Agency hired to remove lead paint from homes in Omaha, Nebraska has agreed to pay $65,450 for failing to take proper precautions. The EPA says Prudent Technologies of Kansas City, Missouri violated several rules for dealing with lead paint at two properties in Omaha. For instance, the agency says Prudent failed to cover the ground with plastic sheeting and post signs warning about lead paint around the job site. Most of eastern Omaha has been considered a Superfund site by the EPA because of the extent of lead contamination, which can endanger children's health, causing decreased intelligence, slow growth and behavior problems.

KU Journalism School Nets Major Bequest

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas journalism school has received a $1.36 million bequest from the estate of a Kansas couple. The university's Endowment Association announced Thursday that the bequest from John and Mary Kaiser will be added to a scholarship fund for journalism students that the couple started in 2005. The Lawrence Journal World reports that Mary Kaiser died in January at age 84. Her husband died in 2007 at 79. John Kaiser was a 1951 Kansas journalism graduate. The journalism school has awarded Kaiser Scholarships to nine students since 2005. The new bequest will allow the fund to more than double that number. Each scholarship lasts four years, and some have paid for a student's entire college education, which was the Kaisers' wish.


Kansas State Gets Grant to Combat Hunger in Africa

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State University has received a $13.7 million grant to help increase food supplies in Africa. The five-year grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development will be used to establish the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet. Both crops are important in dry regions of Africa. Associate agriculture economics professor Timothy Dalton will serve as the lab's director and develop a research network. The effort will involve universities, research centers, industries and non-governmental organizations. The network will work to improve the productivity, disease resistance, and value of sorghum and millet crops in Ethiopia, Senegal and Niger. Researchers also will help train scientists in those countries. Dalton says the goal is to reduce poverty and hunger.


Body Found in Search for Missing Missouri Runner

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Police in northwest Missouri are investigating whether a body found in a portable toilet near a school is that of a missing Liberty man. Thirty-year-old Chad Rogers is an experienced marathon runner who disappeared after leaving home for a run Monday night. Hundreds of friends and volunteers have searched for him since then. Liberty police say a body was found Friday morning in a construction crew's portable toilet outside a junior high school in the city. They're working with the Jackson County (Missouri) medical examiner for a positive identification and the cause of death. Rogers is a former youth minister at a Jefferson City church. Family members say he's been a stay-at-home dad since moving into his parents' home with his wife and 1-year-old son after returning recently to Liberty.


Salina Police Find 11 Dogs in Abandoned Home

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Some of the 11 dogs that were left abandoned in a Salina home are ready for adoption at the Salina Animal Shelter. The shelter has been caring for the four puppies and seven adult dogs since they were found in north Salina on Monday. Animal shelter coordinator Rose Base said renters left the dogs in the house, in the garage and in cages outside when they moved out at least a week ago. No food or fresh water was left with the animals. The Salina Journal reports that the dogs were found when the home owner and utility worker went to the house to shut off electrical service. The adult dogs will be ready for adoption starting Friday. The puppies will be available August 6.


Wichita 'Dream 9' Vigil Group Begins Hunger Strike

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Supporters of nine immigrant activists detained in Arizona after demanding re-entry from Mexico on humanitarian grounds say the group is now on a hunger strike seeking release. Among those pleading Friday for the group's release were the sisters of 37-year-old Claudia Amaro, a member of the group dubbed the "Dream 9" following their detentions Monday. The former Wichita woman was brought illegally into the U.S. as a child after her father was murdered in Mexico. She lived in Kansas for more than 17 years but returned to Mexico after her husband's deportation. Mohammad Abbollahi, an organizer with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, says the detained activists began the hunger strike Thursday. The supporters spoke during a Friday news conference and prayer vigil in Wichita organized by Sunflower Community Action.


Kansas City Wants Pension Investments to Avoid Gun Stocks

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City (Missouri) Council wants managers of the city pension funds to avoid investing in gun manufacturers. The council's vote on Thursday followed appeals by Mayor Sly James to pass the symbolic act as a response to gun violence in the city. Councilman John Sharp was the only member to vote against the proposal. He said none of the city's four pension funds currently hold stock in companies that make guns. And he says he considered the measure a criticism of lawful gun owners like himself. James said the measure was not aimed at lawful gun owners. The Kansas City Star reports that the resolution asks the boards of the city employees, firefighters, police and police civilian pension systems to consider adopting policies against investing in companies that make guns.

Emporia State University Sets Fundraising Record

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Emporia State University is celebrating a record year in fundraising, with more than $9.4 million in gifts and pledges during the fiscal year that ended June 1. University officials rang a bell near the football stadium Thursday to mark the achievement. The university is in the midst of a five- to seven-year capital campaign seeking to raise $45 million for scholarships, academic programs and other initiatives. The Emporia State Foundation says more than $13 million has been raised toward that goal. Emporia State is marking its 150th anniversary this year.


Judge to Rule Soon in KC Charter School Case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A judge has announced plans to rule by Monday on a Kansas City charter school's bid to stay open. Lawyers for Gordon Parks Elementary made their case Thursday and Friday in Cole County Circuit Court for a permanent injunction. A temporary injunction had allowed it to stay open through the end of classes in late June. Missouri education officials voted in May to pull the school's charter because of poor academic performance. The loss of the charter means a loss of state funding. School officials say their children are making progress even though many live in poverty. Gordon Parks Board President Doug Curry says the state "stacked the deck against Gordon Parks from the start." Gordon Parks had about 240 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.


Group of Chiefs Fans Hopes to Break Noise Record

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A group of Kansas City Chiefs fans is organizing an effort to break the world record for the loudest roar at a sports stadium sometime in the upcoming NFL season. The group calls itself "Terrorhead Returns" and says Guinness Book of World Records officials have given final approval for the record attempt, though no date has been set. Organizers say the effort is an attempt to unify the local fan base and revive Arrowhead Stadium's reputation as one of the loudest venues in the NFL. The effort follows a dismal season in which the Chiefs finished 2-14, dealt with the suicide of linebacker Jovan Belcher outside the stadium and saw the firings of head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli.


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