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Headlines for Friday, May 10, 2019

Kansas Faces Questions About School Funding Law Before Court

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas's highest court is wrestling with whether a new public school funding law with bipartisan support provides enough additional money to ensure that the state's spending on education is sufficient.  State Supreme Court justices had pointed questions Thursday during a hearing for both the state's attorney and a lawyer representing four local school districts that sued Kansas in 2010. A law enacted last month increases education funding by roughly $90 million a year.  The state argues that this year's increase after others in recent years means the annual $4 billion-plus in funding satisfies the Kansas Constitution.  The court declared last year that a 2018 law promising funding increases wasn't sufficient because it hadn't accounted for inflation.  The school districts contend the state got the inflation calculation wrong and shorted schools.


Court: Kansas Senate Must Vote to Keep Nominee Off Bench

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Supreme Court ruling will force the state Senate to vote to reject a nominee for a lower-court judgeship if senators want to keep him off the bench because of his political tweets. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Friday that Gov. Laura Kelly did not have the authority to withdraw her nomination of Labette County District Judge Jeffry Jack for the state Court of Appeals. Kelly dropped Jack's nomination after political posts on his Twitter feed in 2017 came to light. Kelly chose a second nominee, but Senate President Susan Wagle argued that the appointment went to Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss. A 2013 law on appellate court appointments doesn't say what happens when a candidate withdraws. The Supreme Court said that means a nominee cannot withdraw.

(earlier reporting)

Top Kansas Court Considers Forcing Vote on Withdrawn Nominee

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Supreme Court has raised the possibility of forcing the state Senate to vote on an appointment to a lower court even though Governor Laura Kelly withdrew the nomination.   The Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday in a legal dispute that arose after Kelly withdrew her appointment in March of Labette County District Judge Jeffry Jack to the state Court of Appeals because of his political tweets in 2017.  The Democratic governor argues that she has the authority under a 2013 law to submit another nominee to the Republican-controlled Senate for potential confirmation. Senate President Susan Wagle says the next appointment goes to Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss.  Several Supreme Court justices suggested they could declare that the law didn't allow Jack's nomination to be withdrawn, forcing a vote.


Kansas Governor Hopes Extra State Dollars Prompt Tuition Cut

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly says she hopes that extra state funding for the Kansas higher education system will lead to lower tuition for students and their families. Kelly on Friday touted the additional $33 million included for higher education in a proposed $18.4 billion state budget for the fiscal year beginning in July. She said during a Statehouse news conference that legislators included the extra money hoping that the Kansas Board of Regents could keep university tuition flat. Kelly said she would like the regents to go further and reduce tuition. She said she's worried that students are being priced out of higher education. The regents have complained in the past that tight state funding has forced them to increase tuition to pay for vital programs on the campuses.


Call Center Workers Say Time Limits Short-Change Veterans

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Call center employees who work at the Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center say time limits on calls short-change veterans who are seeking assistance. Kelli Ross is vice president of Local 906 of the American Federation of Government Employees. He says the limit of just under 6 minutes per call was adversely affecting services being offered to veterans across the nation and putting call-taker jobs at risk. Ross says the time limit issue has been a sticking point for six years but recently came to a head when workers received a letter threatening termination for calls that go beyond the time limit. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports about a dozen employees protested outside the Topeka campus Wednesday. Call takers assist veterans with issues such as billing, prescription refills, eligibility and enrollments.


Report: Doors Unlocked Before Tiger Attack at Kansas Zoo

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state report says that safety doors in a Sumatran tiger's enclosure at a Kansas zoo were left unlocked before the animal attacked and injured a veteran zookeeper. The report released Friday by the Kansas Department of Labor agreed with the Topeka Zoo's assessment that no equipment failure or other problem with the enclosure led to the April 20 attack. Zookeeper Kristyn Hayden-Ortega was hospitalized after suffering puncture wounds and lacerations to her head, neck and back. Hayden-Ortega had gone into the outdoor area of the tiger's enclosure to clean it. The animal was supposed to be in an indoor area, behind two doors. The report says the doors "had been locked in the open position." The report said the zoo is now requiring that two employees check the doors.


3 Teenage Girls Report Sexual Assaults at Wichita YMCA

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Police say a 31-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of rape after three teenage girls reported being sexually assaulted at the downtown Wichita YMCA.  The Wichita Eagle reports that officers responded to a sexual assault call at the facility Wednesday night.  Wichita police officer Charley Davidson says two 16-year-old girls and a 17-year-old girl reported being sexually assaulted in the indoor pool area by a man they did not know.  Jail records show the suspect was arrested early Thursday morning and booked into jail on suspicion of rape, aggravated sexual battery and two counts of sexual battery.

Shots Fired in Manhattan but No One Hurt
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP/KPR) - Some tense moments in Manhattan, as reports surfaced late Thursday morning of a possible active shooter on the K-State campus.  That turned out NOT to be the case.  School officials say a dispute between individuals led to shots being fired in a parking lot... but the incident was apparently unrelated to the K-State campus.  No injuries were reported after shots were fired around 11 am Thursday and authorities quickly announced there was "no ongoing threat." K-State later issued a statement saying the original contact between the individuals occurred off campus and continued in a parking lot on campus.  The victim, who is not a student, drove to the Riley County Police Department to report the incident.  


UPDATE: The Kansas Turnpike Authority reports that the turnpike is now open in all directions.

Kansas Turnpike Reopens Near Oklahoma After Flooding

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A stretch of the Kansas Turnpike has reopened near the Oklahoma border after a flooding creek inundated the roadway.  The Kansas Turnpike Authorities said in a tweet Thursday night that, "The first 24 hours belonged to Mother Nature; the second 24 hours belonged to us." The tweet included a video of the flooding and crews working to repair the toll road, which had been closed south of the exit in Wellington.  The area flooded Wednesday when up to 10 inches of rain fell across parts of the state in just 24 hours. Flooding also forced evacuations and school closures. Wellington is about 30 miles south of Wichita.

(earlier reporting)

Unclear When Flooded Kansas Turnpike Will Reopen

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Officials aren't sure when the Kansas Turnpike will reopen near the Oklahoma border after a surging creek sent floodwaters pouring over the asphalt.  The Wichita Eagle reports that issues arose early Wednesday when a tributary of the Arkansas River (called Slate Creek) overflowed. No one was hurt, but the toll road is closed south of the exit in Wellington, which is about 30 miles south of Wichita.  The Kansas Turnpike Authority says crews have yet to assess the condition of the asphalt roadway and won't be able to see much until after the water recedes.  The best detour around the closed highway is also unclear.  The Turnpike was planned and mostly completed before the interstate highway designation in Kansas, and federal planners chose not to build parallel routes.


Missouri River Causes New Problems in Areas Levees Broke

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ The Missouri River is causing new problems in a flood-battered part of northwest Missouri where levees were busted in March.  The rain-swollen waterway has again inundated the tiny village of Big Lake in Holt County, where some residents were beginning to clean up after the last deluge.  Holt County emergency management director Tom Bullock said Friday that water levels haven't dropped enough to fix the earthen levees that protect the area after the last round of flooding. That means even moderately high river levels can cause problems. He calls it "a continuous mess.''  Several roads are closed again, including U.S. 59, a key transportation artery between northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri.  In eastern Missouri, water levels are falling along the Mississippi River after some levees were busted.


Man Jailed on Suspicion of Fleeing from Police with Kids

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a suspected drunken driver who fled from police with two children in his car crashed into a parked vehicle outside a Wichita senior center. The Wichita Eagle reports that 34-year-old Markston Adkins, of Wichita, was booked into jail on suspicion of driving under the influence, aggravated child endangerment and several other charges. The Kansas Highway Patrol says a trooper attempted to stop him Wednesday for a traffic violation. The crash report says the trooper stopped the pursuit before Adkins's car jumped a curb and struck the parked vehicle. Adkins was taken to a hospital with a suspected minor injury. The crash log says a 3-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl in his car had complaints of pain, but the report indicates that they weren't taken to a hospital.


Authorities Warn of Man Impersonating Kansas Patrol Trooper

MANKATO, Kan. (AP) - Authorities are investigating a report that someone is impersonating a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper in north-central Kansas.  The Jewell County Sheriff's Office says the suspect was reported to be driving a White Chevy 4 door Impala with a spotlight.  The suspect was said to be wearing a tan polo shirt and black slacks.  Anyone with information is urged to call law enforcement.

Eudora High School Graduates Seek to Remember Classmate Who Died

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Some graduating students are seeking to remember during commencement a Kansas classmate who died two weeks before the start of her senior year. The Lawrence Journal-World reports 17-year-old Aftyn Hankins died on Aug. 2 following a car accident in Meriden. As her classmates prepare to graduate, they say they feel a sense of poignancy about what might have been and want to see her acknowledged in some way at Saturday's ceremony at Eudora High School. The students requested an empty chair and a mention of her name. But the school's principal says it is against board policies that prohibit memorials and allow only eligible students to participate in the graduation ceremonies. Some students are now planning to wear a ribbon and a photo of Aftyn pinned to their graduation gowns.


Government Forecasts Bountiful Kansas Wheat Crop

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A government report forecasts a bountiful Kansas winter wheat harvest. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Friday that this year's wheat crop is expected to be up 17 percent from a year ago. It predicted Kansas growers would bring in 323 million bushels. The agency forecast the state's average yield at 49 bushels per acre, up 11 bushels from last year. It also anticipated that grain would be harvested from 6.6 million acres in Kansas, down 700,000 acres from a year ago. The government's estimate is a bit more optimistic than the one put out by participants in last week's winter wheat tour who estimated the size of the Kansas crop at 306.5 million bushels.


White Man Convicted for Kicking Black Toddler in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A 32-year-old white man has been convicted of attempted aggravated battery and disorderly conduct for kicking a 1-year-old black boy and shouting racial slurs in a Kansas grocery store.  Trace Riff also was convicted of unlawful abuse of toxic vapors and possession of methamphetamine in an unrelated case after entering what's known as an Alford plea to all the charges. The plea means Riff maintains his innocence but acknowledges there's enough evidence for a conviction.  The Wichita Eagle reports witnesses told police the boy was holding his 11-year-old sister's hand on Dec. 23 when Riff knocked the child over, yelled a racial slur and shouted that he is a white supremacist. The toddler was not injured.  Riff's family says he has a history of mental health and substance abuse problems.


Fleeing Driver Charged with Murder in Deadly Kansas Crash

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A fleeing driver in a Wichita crash that killed two people and injured her passenger has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The Wichita Eagle reports that 24-year-old Mia Collins made her first court appearance Friday on nine counts, including aggravated battery, possession of methamphetamine and driving while license suspended. She is accused of leading officers on a chase Sunday in a stolen BMW. After about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers), the car collided with a car and another SUV at an intersection. The crash killed 70-year-old Maria Wood and 12-year-old Rosemary McElroy and critically injured Wood's daughter, 36-year-old Jenny Wood, a popular Wichita musician known for performing with children. The driver of the SUV that was hit also was hurt. Collins was on probation at the time.


NASCAR's Bubba Wallace Struggling with Depression

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace acknowledged covering up depression "for many years" before breaking down in near tears during a media session ahead of Saturday night's race at Kansas Speedway. The 25-year-old Wallace has struggled throughout his second full season at NASCAR's top level, his best finish coming in 17th at Martinsville. The iconic No. 43 of Richard Petty Motorsports sits 28th in the standings, a long way from being in week-to-week contention. Wallace was talking about the challenges facing the team Friday when he said, "You try to be the best you can and sometimes it ain't damn good enough." He later admitted to experiencing "depression and everything with it," and that he has kept it hidden in part by getting behind the wheel. At that point, Wallace said he was "on the verge of breaking down" and buried his face in his hands.


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