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Headlines for Friday, April 6, 2018

Area news headlines from the Associated Press

Senator Susan Wagle Unsure if School Funding Plan Will Satisfy Kansas Supreme Court

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle says she's not sure an education funding plan approved by her chamber will satisfy the state Supreme Court.  Wagle and other GOP senators touted the bill passed on a 21-18 vote Thursday as a good-faith effort to comply with a mandate from the high court. The measure would phase in a $274 million increase in education funding over five years.  But asked later whether the plan would satisfy the court, Wagle expressed doubt.  She said: "I'm not sure anything satisfies the Supreme Court."  The House has passed a plan to phase in a roughly $520 million increase over five years.  The Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's current funding of more than $4 billion a year is not sufficient under the state constitution.

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Kansas Senate Approves School Funding Plan Despite Skepticism

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republicans barely overcame bipartisan skepticism Thursday to push an education funding plan through the Kansas Senate, though even its top GOP leader had doubts that the measure would satisfy a court mandate to increase spending on public schools.  The vote was 21-18 on a bill that would phase in a $274 million increase in school funding over five years. Republican supporters said it was a good-faith effort to address the issues raised in a Kansas Supreme Court ruling last fall while not creating budget problems that would force lawmakers to increase taxes within two years.

The Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's current aid to its 286 local school districts of more than $4 billion a year is not sufficient for legislators to fulfill their duty under the Kansas Constitution to finance a suitable education for every child. Asked later whether the bill would satisfy the high court, Senate President Susan Wagle said she wasn't sure.  "I'm not sure anything satisfies the Supreme Court," the conservative Wichita Republican told reporters.

In the 40-member Senate, the bill split the 30 Republicans. Some of Wagle's fellow conservatives believe the court is improperly encroaching on the Legislature's power to determine how state funds are spent. They argued that the bill would spend too much money, even though a rival House plan would boost spending almost twice as much.

The nine Democrats and one independent member voted against the bill, joining with some GOP moderates who didn't think it provided enough money.  "This bill doesn't get us where we need to be," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. "This bill is woefully inadequate in terms of the funding it's providing."

Wagle had private meetings with Republicans to push them to vote yes. Senate GOP leaders also tried to sell fellow Republicans on voting for the bill to keep lawmakers moving toward meeting the court's mandate. The justices gave the attorney general until April 30 to report on how legislators fixed the problems the court identified.  "We're going to haggle over the dollars," Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Molly Baumgardner, a conservative Louisburg Republican, told fellow GOP senators during a caucus.

The House plan would phase in a roughly $520 million increase in education funding over five years, and Republican Governor Jeff Colyer publicly endorsed it Wednesday. The final version of a plan will be drafted by negotiators for the two chambers.  Colyer has called on the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass a bill before taking an annual 2½-week spring break (scheduled to start Saturday).

Lawmakers return from that break April 26 — only four days before the court's deadline.
Supporters of the House plan contend the state can cover the additional spending with the annual growth in the state's tax collections, which have been stronger than expected for 10 consecutive months.

The Supreme Court did not set a specific spending target in its October ruling but hinted that it could be $650 million more a year. The four school districts that sued the state in 2010 argue that the figure is even higher.


Kansas AG Begs Lawmakers to Pass School Funding Plan Soon

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt is begging lawmakers to approve a plan for increasing spending on public schools before taking their annual spring break. Schmidt sent a letter Friday to legislative leaders in both parties to express his "profound concern" that no education funding bill has passed. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's current funding of more than $4 billion a year is insufficient under the state constitution. Schmidt's office has until April 30 to report on how lawmakers responded. Schmidt said his office needs "adequate time" to prepare a report. Lawmakers were scheduled to start their annual break Saturday and reconvene April 26. The House and Senate have passed rival school funding plans, and negotiators for the two chambers were expected to start talks Friday.


Kansas Supreme Court Overturns Convictions in Double Murder

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday overturned a former Topeka woman's convictions for killing her ex-husband and his fiancee in 2002, finding that prosecutors falsely claimed at trial that her former spouse had taken out a protection from abuse order against her. The justices wrote that prosecutors used that false claim and circumstantial evidence to support their case that Dana Chandler was dangerous. Chandler had consistently said she did not fatally shoot the couple, and no physical evidence tied her to the crime, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported . Chandler's prosecution "unfortunately illustrates how a desire to win can eclipse the state's responsibility to safeguard the fundamental constitutional right to a fair trial owed to any defendant facing criminal prosecution in a Kansas courtroom," the justices concluded. The court wrote that no protection order existed but prosecutors had claimed several times that it did before recently acknowledging they were wrong. "But that concession," Supreme Court Justice Dan Biles wrote, "while laudable, was a long time coming — even though we would expect the state never to shield something so obviously indefensible." Attorney Stacey Schlimmer, who represented Chandler before the Supreme Court, said the opinion affirmed the Supreme Court's view that lawyers who engage in inappropriate behavior do so at their own peril. "It's something that's more prevalent than people realize," Schlimmer said. "This needs to be a message to our district court judges." Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay must now decide whether to bring Chandler to trial again more than 15 years after the crimes. Chandler, 58, was the focus of the investigation almost immediately after Michael Sisco and Karen Harkness were shot to death at Harkness's home in Topeka, although she lived in Denver at the time. She wasn't arrested until 2011 after a cold case unit set up by then-District Attorney Chad Taylor investigated. She was sentenced to 100 years in prison. "I did not murder Mike or Karen," Chandler said at the sentencing hearing. "There was no evidence that I ever owned or possessed a weapon used to commit this crime, nor that there was any evidence that I was at the crime scene." Jodi Litfin, assistant solicitor general for Kansas who took over the case for Shawnee County, conceded that then-Deputy District Attorney Jacqie Spradling falsely introduced evidence at trial. But she argued the mistake wasn't malicious and didn't justify reversing the convictions.


Bill Barring Guns from Domestic Abusers Goes to Kansas Governor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill that would bar people convicted of domestic violence from owning guns is on its way to Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer.  The bill, approved 113-6 in the House on Thursday, also would make it illegal for people subject to protection from stalking and abuse orders, fugitives from justice and people in the country illegally to own or possess firearms, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.  Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which advocates for tougher gun laws, had lobbied for the bill, which also had support from law enforcement groups.  Federal law already prohibits domestic abusers from possessing firearms for five years following conviction. The Kansas bill allows state prosecution of offenders. Supporters say that's important because federal prosecutors rarely take up the cases.


New Kansas License Plates Will Look a Little Different

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is planning a new way to deliver license plates to vehicle owners. The Kansas Department of Revenue said Friday the plates will have the same design but be flat. And they will be printed on demand and sent to vehicle owners, rather than preprinting plates and keeping them in stock. Governor Jeff Colyer said in a statement the change will modernize how Kansas delivers license plates, noting the former process has been in place since 1913. The department says the new process will eliminate millions of dollars of license plate inventory. Once the transition is complete, drivers will place an order for a new plate at county motor vehicle offices and will be given a 30-day temporary tag. The permanent plate will be delivered within 10-14 business days.


Man Who Shot 3 Members of a Kansas Family Sentenced to Life

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man who shot and killed three people inside a Kansas City, Kansas, home has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.  The Kansas City Star reports 29-year-old Jason Tucker was given the sentence Thursday. He pleaded guilty in February to capital murder in the May 2017 deaths of Vincent Rocha, his wife Bernadette Gosserand, and his adult son Jeremy Rocha.  Wyandotte County prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty in exchange for Tucker's guilty plea.  The shooting stemmed from an ongoing dispute between Tucker and Gosserand's son, Bryan Balza, who had sought an order of protection from Tucker.  Prosecutors say Tucker confronted and shot Balza on the front porch of the family's home, then went inside and killed the three victims. Balza survived.


Designer of Waterslide Where Boy Died Booked into Kansas Jail 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The designer of a waterslide at a Kansas waterpark where a 10-year-old boy died has been booked into a Kansas jail. John Schooley, who designed the Verruckt slide for the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kansas, is charged with second-degree murder in the 2016 death of Caleb Schwab. Fox4KC  reports Schooley was released from a Texas jail and was booked into the Wyandotte County jail this (FRI) afternoon. His attorney, J. Justin Johnston, says in a bond motion that Schooley's design for the waterslide and the raft involved in the boy's death were modified after the ride was commissioned, meaning his design is not responsible for the fatality. The motion seeking to reduce Schooley's bond says he wasn't affiliated with the Kansas park after April 2015.


Holton Man Pleads No Contest After Standoff with Police

HOLTON, Kan. (AP) — A Holton man pleaded no contest to attempted murder and other crimes after a standoff where authorities say he fired shots at officers and his wife. Patrick Wayne Miller entered the plea Friday to attempted first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that on December 3, Holton police and Jackson County Sheriff's deputies responded to a call about a domestic dispute. Police say Miller ran into his house and fired several times at officers and his wife, who was in a police car. No one was injured. A Holton officer returned fire but no one was hit. Miller surrendered after a two-hour standoff. His wife, Erica Bell, was later charged with aggravated assault and two counts of domestic battery.


Schlitterbahn Co-Owner Pleads Not Guilty in Boy's Death

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A co-owner of Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the decapitation death of a 10-year-old boy on a massive waterslide.  Jeff Henry appeared Thursday in Wyandotte County District Court after being indicted in the 2016 death of Caleb Schwab. The boy died and two women were injured when their raft went airborne and hit an overhead loop on the slide.  Henry was ordered to surrender his passport but District Judge Robert Burns rejected a prosecution request that he be required to wear a GPS locator while out on bond awaiting trial. Burns said he wasn't convinced by the state's arguments that Henry was a flight risk.  A trial date was tentatively set for September 10, but Burns and Henry's attorney suggested that date could change.


2 Women Arrested in Hoax Emergency Call Case in Kansas

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Two women have been arrested on suspicion of making a hoax emergency call that led police to order a man from a Hutchinson garage at gunpoint while he held a 3-month-old baby amid a custody dispute. The Hutchinson News reports that the women were arrested Wednesday and booked on suspicion of making a false call for emergency services. An affidavit read Thursday during their first appearance says police surrounded the garage after receiving a call that an armed man had battered two family members and didn't want to return to prison. No one was hurt before or during the call. A judge found probable cause for the women's arrest and ordered them to reappear next week. No charges were immediately filed. One of the women is awaiting sentencing for battery.


Man Who Fell Through Ex Girlfriend's Ceiling Arrested - Again

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man who was hospitalized after sneaking into his ex-girlfriend's home and falling through the ceiling has been arrested for alleging stealing clothes from another home after leaving the hospital.  The Salina Journal reports Tyler Bergkamp was arrested several hours after he walked out of Salina Regional Health Center on Tuesday.  He'd been arrested last week, after authorities said he broke into his ex-girlfriend's home and hid in the attic for a couple hours before falling through the ceiling. On Tuesday, a woman reported finding a hospital gown on her bed and noticing her clothing had been disturbed.  Salina police say they'd received a medical-emergency call about Bergkamp and later found him wearing the woman's T-shirt.  Bergkamp faces charges in both cases. Prosecutors didn't respond to an email asking whether Bergkamp had an attorney.


No One Hurt When Strong Winds Blow Roof off Kansas School

HAVILAND, Kan. (AP) — Strong winds have torn the roof off a Kansas grade school cafeteria and deposited its remains in an adjacent parking lot.  Haviland Grade School principal Mark Clodfelter says about 70 students, from kindergarten through eighth-grade, were at school around 3 pm Tuesday when the cafeteria roof blew away. The Wichita Eagle reports that no one was hurt.  School surveillance video shows the flat, white roof rise from one end, fly up and then crumble as it hits the parking lot containing several parked cars. The National Weather Service says the wind was gusting up to 70 mph (113 kph) in the area at the time.  Classes at the school are expected to resume Friday after repairs are completed. Haviland is about 100 miles west of Wichita.


Chinese National Sentenced for Stealing Proprietary Engineered Rice

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Chinese national who lived in Manhattan, Kansas, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiring to steal proprietary rice seeds developed in the U.S. and giving them to visitors from China.  Federal prosecutors on Wednesday announced 51-year-old Weiqiang Zhang's sentence on two counts of conspiracy and one count of interstate transportation of stolen property. He was convicted in February 2017.  Zhang was a rice breeder for Ventria Bioscience in Junction City, Kansas, which developed genetically engineered rice for therapeutic and medical fields.  Prosecutors said Zhang stored hundreds of seeds from Ventria at his home. In 2013, Zhang toured facilities in the Midwest with officials from a crop research institute in China. Federal officials found Ventria seeds in the visitors' luggage as they prepared to return to China.


Oklahoma Teacher Walkout Stretches into 5th Day

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A teachers strike in Oklahoma is stretching into a fifth day, and a state union leader says he doesn't think pending revenue bills are enough to stop the walkout from extending into next week.  The Senate is expected to consider separate proposals Friday to expand tribal gambling and tax certain internet sales that are expected to generate roughly $40 million annually.  The Oklahoma Education Association's executive director, David Duvall, says he doesn't think those are enough to keep teachers from walking out again next week.  Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation last week granting teachers pay raises of about $6,100 as well as tens of millions of new dollars for public schools. But many educators said classrooms need more money and walked out of school to protest at the Capitol.


Police: Civil War Artifacts Stolen from Missouri Museum

SEDALIA, Mo. (AP) — Authorities say several thousand dollars-worth of Civil War artifacts have been stolen from a small Missouri museum.  Sedalia police said in a news release that a Pettis County Museum official told police that he tracked missing items, including a surgical kit, firearms and sword, to a Tennessee collector. The collector told police he had purchased the artifacts from a man who volunteered at the museum until the fall of 2017. The release said the volunteer was "deceitful" about how he'd obtained the artifacts.  Police say the former volunteer, who now lives in Kansas, confessed and that the case has been turned over to prosecutors. No charges were immediately filed. The collector resold the artifacts, and police and the historical society are working to retrieve as many of them as possible.


Kansas State Athletics Eliminates Annual Student Fee

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State University students will no longer be required to pay a fee to supports athletics. Kansas State Athletics and student government announced Friday the fee will end in the 2018-19 school year, a year earlier than had previously been announced. Kansas State officials say the decision makes it the only university athletics program in the state and one of only a few in the country to operate with no direct or indirect university and student funding or state support. The Student Government Association allocated $350,000 for intercollegiate athletics during the current fiscal year, most of which helped pay some of the $1.1 million the athletic department pays to student workers each year. The announcement comes after the department recently eliminated more than $2.6 million in other direct and indirect university funding.


KU's Vick Joins Newman in Planning to Enter NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — University of Kansas junior guard Lagerald Vick plans to skip his senior season and enter the NBA draft. Vick averaged 12.1 points and 4.8 rebounds this season while earning All-Big 12 honorable mention honors. His mother, La La Vick, told The Kansas City Star that her son planned to hire an agent. Vick's decision, announced Friday in a news release, made him the second Jayhawk to announce for the NBA draft this week. Sophomore Malik Newman announced Wednesday that he would enter the draft and hire an agent. Vick was inconsistent for much of the season but averaged 13.5 points in Kansas' first four NCAA Tournament games. Coach Bill Self said it was time for Vick to move on and explore his professional options.


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