Legislative Agenda Expected to Include KS Prison Sentences, Prison Space
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are expected to reopen debate of the state's "Hard 50" prison-sentence law with a proposal to make it the default punishment for premeditated first-degree murder. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce is writing a bill to make the change. The current default is life without parole for at least 25 years for such crimes, though prosecutors can seek 50-year sentences in certain circumstances. The debate follows September's special session in which legislators rewrote the "Hard 50" law to comply with a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court's ruling said juries, not judges, could determine whether a defendant should receive an upward sentence for such crimes.
Damage Put at $100K in Statehouse Sprinkler Leak
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in Topeka say a sprinkler malfunction at the Statehouse caused an estimated $100,000 in damage. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that firefighters were called to the Statehouse at 6:30 pm Tuesday. Fire Department Battalion Chief Ron Hufford says damage to the sprinkler system caused heavy leaking from pipes near a ground-floor entryway on the building's north side. Firefighters spent a couple of hours removing the water. The cause of the malfunction was under investigation.
Board of Education Considers Student Study Plan Requirement
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas State Board of Education is weighing whether to require public school students to develop Individual Plans of Study to serve as roadmaps for their high school class choices. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the board is expected to tell lawmakers early next year whether such plans should be mandatory. In 2010 the board said one of its goals was to have all students develop an IPS. Some studies have suggested that designing an education plan around a single career goal might not be the best idea for children. But Patrick Kelly, director of career and technical education for the Lawrence School District, says the process of planning is a good skill for students to learn regardless of how those plans turn out.
Geologists Expect Further Drop in High Plains Aquifer Levels
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Scientists who plan to measure the water levels in a western Kansas aquifer system this winter say they expect declines similar to those in recent years. Kansas Geological Survey researchers last year found the groundwater levels in the High Plains Aquifer had dropped an average of 3.5 feet. That's the second-largest single-year decline they had ever recorded, behind only the 4.25-foot drop measured the year prior. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that five years of drought have forced farmers to rely more on irrigation to grow their crops. But experts say such heavy usage puts a critical water resource in danger of drying up. The High Plains aquifer is a large network of underground water-bearing rocks that stretches from South Dakota to Texas.
Suspect Held in Fatal Lawrence Stabbing
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence police have arrested a suspect in a fatal Christmas morning stabbing that followed a domestic disturbance. Officers were called to an apartment around 3:30 am Wednesday and found a victim with critical injuries. Police say lifesaving measures were unsuccessful. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that a 27-year-old woman was arrested at the scene and booked into the Douglas County jail on suspicion of second-degree murder. Police Sergeant Trent McKinley said the victim's identity was being withheld because the stabbing occurred during a domestic disturbance. The suspect is expected to make an initial court appearance Thursday.
2 Arrested in NW Kansas Mail Thefts
HAYS, Kan. (AP) — Investigators in northwest Kansas are hopeful that they've solved a rash of thefts from rural mailboxes. The Hays Daily News reports the Ellis County sheriff's department arrested two suspects — a male and a female — on Tuesday. The suspects' names won't be released until charges are filed. The thieves hit at least seven mailboxes in rural Ellis County between Hays and Victoria earlier this month. Investigators believe the thieves were looking for cards and envelopes containing cash. They made off with some pieces of mail and left the rest scattered on the ground.
Fire Hits Cargill's Dodge City Plant
DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — The Cargill beef packing plant in Dodge City is expected to resume full production by the end of the week following a fire in the kill floor area. No injuries were reported in the fire Monday night, but 1,000 employees were evacuated and firefighters took several hours to put out all the hotspots. KAKE-TV reports operations were suspended Tuesday, and a Cargill spokesman said the plant had already planned to suspend production on Christmas Day. The spokesman said production will resume Thursday, and the plant will be fully operational on Friday. The cause of the fire is being investigated. More than 2,700 people work at the southwest Kansas plant.
Court Ruling to Dictate KS School Funding Debate
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A long fight over how the state funds its public schools will move from the courts to the Capitol next year after the Kansas Supreme Court issues a ruling. It could force state lawmakers to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more to school districts — or require they do nothing at all. A lower court has ruled the state is not meeting its constitutional obligations for funding schools and has ordered an increase in spending of more than $440 million. The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in October and its decision is expected around the same time the legislative session begins on January 13. Kansas will spend more than $3 billion in the current fiscal year, and Republican leaders show no indication they will increase that amount willingly.
Dozens Brave Frigid Temperatures for Free Dental Work
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — Sub-zero wind chills weren't enough to keep people from lining up before dawn on Christmas Eve for free dental work at a suburban Kansas City clinic. The Kansas City Star reports that 11 clinics in Missouri, including the Comfort Dental office in Independence and another in Kansas City, offered free dental care Tuesday. The tradition started 30 years ago in Colorado, where dentist Rick Kushner offered free dental care to anyone who showed up at his office on Christmas Eve. His practice has since expanded, and now some 6,000 people receive free care. Among those in line at the Independence clinic was 22-year-old Amanda Tully, who showed up at 4:30 am with a bad tooth that had bothered her for nearly four months.
UPDATE: Pratt House Fire Kills Twin Toddlers
PRATT, Kan. (AP) — The two children killed in a south-central Kansas house fire have been identified as 23-month-old twin boys. KAKE-TV reports the Pratt Police Department said in a release Tuesday that the twins were inside the burning home when firefighters arrived Monday afternoon. The twins were identified as Jayce and Jasper Ibarra, who would have turned 2 in January. Their mother, 24-year-old Destry Ibarra, escaped from the house. She was reported to be in good condition Tuesday in the burn unit at Via Christi-St. Francis hospital in Wichita. Police say the children's father was not home when the fire broke out. The Kansas Fire Marshal is working with police to determine the cause of the blaze.
2 Killed in Southeast Kansas Crash
SEDAN, Kan. (AP) — Two people are dead following a head-on collision in southeastern Kansas. The Kansas Highway Patrol says the crash happened Wednesday on U.S. 166 in Chautauqua County, about two miles south of sedan. The patrol said 67-year-old Linda Jo Creamer of Willard, Missouri lost control of her car while trying to pass another westbound vehicle. Creamer's car went into the eastbound lane and collided with a car driven by 68-year-old Phillip Schulz, of Stafford, Kansas. Both drivers were killed.
Snowy Owls Arriving Early in Missouri
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri conservation agents are asking drivers to watch for snowy owls as the arctic birds arrive to search for food. KOMU-TV reports that the owls are being spotted farther south and earlier than usual in Missouri. A record 69 snowy owls were seen in Missouri during the 2011-2012 season, and Conservation Department wildlife ecologist Brad Jacobs says the record could fall this season. Jacobs said sightings in Missouri peak about every four years, typically when populations of their prey in the high arctic of North America and Eurasia fall sharply. The owls have been seen since December 1 in Kirksville, Trenton, Macon and Smithville Lake near Kansas City. Snowy owls typically hunt in open areas and often land on highways, where they may be too focused to notice oncoming vehicles.
Northeast KS Duck Hunter Drowns in Icy Lake
JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — A northeast Kansas sheriff says a hunter who drowned while trying to retrieve a duck at an icy lake was a member of the military. Authorities initially believed the victim and a fellow serviceman fell into Milford Lake on Tuesday morning after their boat capsized. But KJCK-AM reports Geary County Sheriff Tony Wolf later said the victim went out alone on a makeshift boat to retrieve a duck shot by his hunting partner from shore. Wolf says the victim stepped onto an ice sheet when the boat began taking on water, then fell through the ice. A search for the body was suspended Tuesday. The victim's name has not been released, and it's not clear if the two men were stationed at the nearby Fort Riley Army post.
KS Lawyer Killed in Water Scooter Crash
ENGLEWOOD, Fla. (AP) — A lawyer from Kansas is dead after the water scooter he was operating collided with a motorboat in southwest Florida. The crash happened Sunday afternoon in Charlotte County. Charlotte County Fire and EMS spokeswoman Dee Hawkins told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that 54-year-old Lee Hollis of Leawood died Monday. Doctors amputated one of his legs on Sunday afternoon. Investigators say all four occupants of the boat were ejected during the crash. A 38-year-old woman suffered a traumatic chest injury and was airlifted to a Fort Myers hospital. The 43-year-old man who was operating the boat, a 40-year-old woman and a 12-year-old boy suffered minor injuries. People on a nearby sailboat helped rescue the injured. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Gary Morse says the cause of the crash is under investigation.
KS Parolee Fights for Family Reunion
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Sedgwick County parolee convicted when he was 18 of having sex with a 15-year-old is fighting state rules preventing him from having contact with his children. Nathan Walker would like to spend Christmas at home with his wife and newborn son, Noah, as well as his 5-year-old stepson. Instead he's living in a halfway house a few miles away. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Walker has started a website dedicated to fighting the order from the state Prisoner Review Board. Corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay says Walker's parole terms include no contact with minor children except with advance permission from his parole officer and consultation with the sex offender treatment program. Defense attorney John Stang says Walker's situation isn't unique for teenage Kansans convicted of unlawful voluntary sexual relations.