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Headlines for Monday, August 20, 2018

Democrat Challenges Independent's Bid for Kansas Governor

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Democratic legislative leader's aide is challenging businessman Greg Orman's right to appear on the November ballot as an independent candidate for Kansas governor. Attorney Will Lawrence filed a formal objection Monday. Lawrence is attorney and chief of staff for Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. The secretary of state's office said petitions submitted by Orman contained signatures from more than 7,000 registered voters when he needed 5,000 signatures. Lawrence argued in his objection that some county election officers took a day more than state law allows to finish validating thousands of signatures. Orman spokesman Sam Edelen called the objection "frivolous" and said it shows "the lengths to which the supporters of the failed system will go."
"They want to avoid giving voters a real choice at all costs," Edelen said in an email. Many Democrats fear Orman's candidacy will help the Republican nominee Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The challenge will be considered by Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann and Kobach's top deputy, all Republicans.

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Kansas and Missouri Hope to Attract Nearly 700 USDA Jobs 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas and Missouri officials hope to attract the nearly 700 well-paying USDA jobs that are being moved out of Washington D.C.  The Kansas City Star reports that Kansas and Missouri hope to land the jobs for the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture when they move as part of a reorganization announced this month. All those jobs pay more than $100,000 annually.  Missouri U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler says the move makes sense because the Agriculture Department already has offices in Kansas City and St. Louis.  USDA officials say the move is designed to put workers closer to the farmers they serve while offering a lower cost of living. The goal is to reduce turnover in these offices.

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Investigators: Violent Crime Rate Rising in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Violent crime rates in Kansas continue to trend upward as last year's murder rate was more than 40 percent higher than the 10-year average, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The bureau released its annual report Friday, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Local and state agencies reported 176 murders to the bureau in 2017, a nearly 19 percent increase from 2016, according to the report. The murder rate increased more than 12 percent from 2015 to 2016. The number of cases involving multiple victims also increased last year. Topeka recorded 30 homicides in 2017, its highest number of homicides on record. Identifying reasons can be difficult because circumstances surrounding the death are unknown in about 1 in 5 cases, said KBI Director Kirk Thompson.

"We believe drug abuse and drug violence has an impact. In the last year, many of the murder and attempted murder cases the KBI investigated were directly related to drug activity," Thompson said. "We also suspect that gang violence and social issues such as poverty play a role in the increase in crime we're experiencing."

Authorities found that 22 percent of murders were a result of domestic violence and 21 percent stemmed from arguments. Gang activity was a factor in 11 percent of murder cases and drug trafficking was a factor in 10 percent. Bureau officials said they have seen an increase in requests for assistance from local law enforcement on violent crime cases. Other violent crimes such as robbery and rape have also trended upward. Topeka police reported 272 robberies and 62 rapes last year, while the Shawnee County Sheriff's Office investigated nine robberies and two rapes. More than 1,200 rapes were reported in Kansas, a nearly 8 percent increase from 2016.

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Kansas Cancels Open Government Training for Lack of Interest

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State officials have cancelled training sessions on open government in Colby and Garden City due to lack of interest. The Kansas attorney general's office says in a news release it determined too few people were interested in attending this week's training in western Kansas to justify the expense of providing them. Just eight people registered for the two sessions. Sessions scheduled on Thursday and Friday in Topeka and Fredonia are still on. Others are being planned for Topeka and Johnson County. The free public seminars about the Kansas Open Records Act and the Kansas Open Meetings Act are sponsored by the Sunshine Coalition for Open Government and the attorney general's office. The state's attorney general's office is charged by law with training and enforcement of government transparency laws.

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Kansas to Offer Amnesty Day for People Owing Child Support

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The state of Kansas will offer one day of amnesty for people who have bench warrants for not paying child support.  The Department of Children and Families says the warrants will be lifted on Aug. 31. People must pay either $500 or two months of support, whichever is the lesser amount.  The agency says more than 1,100 Kansans have warrants for failing to pay child support.  Agency spokeswoman Taylor Forrest says more than 100 non-custodial parents went to DCF offices last year on amnesty day to discuss their cases but some of them didn't have active bench warrants.  Forrest says the annual amnesty day is designed to help people avoid prosecution for failing to pay child support while also allowing their children to receive the support they deserve.

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Autopsy: Drunk Motorist Killed Himself, Topeka Officer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A newly-released autopsy reports says a 72-year-old Lawrence man was driving drunk when he collided with a vehicle driven by an off-duty Topeka police officer, killing both men. The crash on May 29 killed 25-year-old officer Trey McCluskey, of Mayetta, and Peter Bieri. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the autopsy found Bieri's blood-alcohol level was much as three times the legal limit when he drove the wrong way on U.S. 75 north of Topeka and collided with McCluskey's vehicle. The autopsy listed "ethanol intoxication" as a contributing factor in Bieri's death. No alcohol or drugs were found in McCluskey's system. McCluskey's wife, 25-year-old Taylor McCluskey, survived after being hospitalized for injuries suffered in the crash.

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Bike-Riding Bandit Sentenced for Kansas Bank Robbery

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — A 57-year-old Kansas man who fled on a bicycle after robbing a bank last year has been sentenced to three years and one month in federal prison. The Kansas City Star reports that Richard Armenta, of Overland Park, was sentenced Monday for robbing a Capital Federal Savings Bank branch in November 2017. He pleaded guilty in June. Prosecutors say Armenta got away with cash. Witnesses to the robbery told investigators the suspect was riding a blue bicycle and had a spider web tattoo on his hand. About a week after the robbery, police responded to a disturbance involving Armenta. He was arrested after an officer recognized the tattoo and noticed Armenta had a blue bicycle in the back of his pickup.

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Police: Deaths of Mother and Son Appear to Be Murder-Suicide

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say the deaths of a woman and her son appear to a murder-suicide. Officers were called to a Wichita home late Sunday by a woman who said her family was concerned because they had not been able to reach her sister. Police found 55-year-old Debra Fisher dead from a stab wound. Her 28-year-old son, Cody Comstock, was found dead in a separate room of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police say they are not looking for any suspects in the two deaths.

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2 Kansas Men Die After Golf Cart Collides with Pickup Truck

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Dickinson County sheriff says two men are dead after a golf cart they were using collided with a pickup truck. The crash Saturday night killed Lucas Hicks, of Herington, and Casey Schardein, of Hope. Both men were 28. Undersheriff James Swisher says the crash occurred on a country road about 3 miles southeast of Hope in rural Dickinson County. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports a preliminary investigation indicates the golf cart turned abruptly in front of the truck for an unknown reason. Hicks and Schardein were pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the pickup truck, 27-year-old Craig Banman, of Hillsboro, was uninjured.

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Plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education Case Honored

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Springfield, Missouri, is celebrating a man whose civil rights case changed the course of American history. Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Rev. Oliver Brown — the lead plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The 1954 case led to desegregation of schools. The Springfield News-Leader reports that the Brown family moved to Springfield in 1959 when he became pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In fact, it was in Springfield where he saw the impact of the Supreme Court case bearing his name — his oldest daughter graduated from Springfield's Central High School in 1961. Oliver Brown died unexpectedly later that summer. Drury University on Sunday hosted a ceremony honoring Brown's legacy. Mayor Ken McClure declared Sunday Rev. Oliver Brown Day.

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Missouri Deputies Seize Nearly $1 Million Worth of Marijuana

PLATTE CITY, Mo. (AP) — Sheriff's deputies in northwestern Missouri's Platte County say they've seized more than 200 pounds of marijuana from a van that led them on a chase.  The Kansas City Star reports that the incident happened Friday afternoon when a white van refused to pull over, despite a squad car's lights and sirens behind it.  Authorities say when the van finally pulled over, deputies searched it and found the marijuana, valued at $922,000.  A man and a woman in the van were arrested on suspicion of felony delivery of a controlled substance. The woman, who was driving, also faces traffic charges.

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Topeka Family Works to Help Children with Cancer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka couple whose 2-year-old son died of cancer has found healing in supporting other families through a nonprofit founded in their child's memory.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Team Blake has already donated $18,000 to five local families with a child fighting a life-threatening illness. The nonprofit has also prepared hundreds of Easter and Christmas baskets for children at Stormont Vail and Children's Mercy hospitals, sends care packages each week to children and has given more than $10,000 to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeast Kansas.  Jaclyn Cazier's son Blake underwent 15 months of treatment after he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, which affects the blood and bone marrow. He died last year.  Cazier says "it's a blessing" to help lift the burden cancer has on other families.

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Man Who Shoved Teen Referee No Longer with Wichita Police

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita police captain who was recorded shoving a teenage referee during a youth basketball game earlier this year is no longer with the department.  Officer Paul Cruz tells the Wichita Eagle that Kevin Mears' employment with the Wichita Police Department ended Monday. Cruz didn't say whether Mears was fired or resigned.  Mears was found guilty in July of misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct, sentenced to six months' probation and ordered to pay $450 in fines.  Mears was placed on leave shortly after video of the January game in Augusta appeared to show Mears shoving the 17-year-old female referee. Mears testified he didn't shove her and was just trying to get to his son, who was injured.  The referee testified Mears ignored her orders to leave the court and was shouting obscenities before he pushed her.  

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Drought Takes Toll on Missouri Farmers' Crops, Cattle

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Parts of Missouri are so dry that corn crops are suffering and hay for cattle is in short supply, as water becomes increasingly scarce.  Missouri has had below-average rainfall since winter. The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows that nearly all of Missouri is experiencing drought, with several counties in northern and southwestern parts of the state especially hard-hit.  Much of the western U.S. is also experiencing drought. But Missouri is the only Midwestern state with such severe conditions.  It's troublesome for Missouri farmers who compete with farmers in neighboring states such as Nebraska and Illinois, which are mostly drought-free.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture says soil moisture is below normal in four-fifths of Missouri.

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Missouri School District Embraces Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

(NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo.) — A Kansas City-area school district that garnered national attention when a transgender student was crowned homecoming queen in 2015 has installed gender-neutral restrooms at two new elementary schools and in some existing locations.  The individual bathroom stalls at Rising Hill Elementary and Northview Elementary in the North Kansas City School District two new elementary schools are enclosed with floor-to-ceiling walls and lockable doors, the Kansas City Star reported. The restrooms still have an open alcove area with a common trough sink. Both male and female symbols adorn the same sign on the wall outside the bathrooms.  The elementary schools opened Wednesday. The district also used a gender-neutral design in renovated bathrooms at two sixth-grade centers and at North Kansas City High School.  The district first tried the design at its Northland Innovation Center for gifted students in 2016, a year after one of the district’s four high schools, Oak Park High, crowned a transgender student as homecoming queen.  “We had such positive feedback from students, teachers and parents,” said Rochel Daniels, the district’s executive director of organizational development. “Since then we have decided to replicate the concept in any new construction.”  Daniels said the bathroom design was suggested by a district team comprised of parents and students.  “Students said they like these restrooms better because they are more private,” Daniels said.  She also said teachers can better monitor students because they can stand in the common area while the bathrooms are in use.

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Sunflowers in Bloom a Little Early in the Sunflower State

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — It's an early sunflower season in the Sunflower State.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that sunflowers are blooming a couple of weeks early in parts of Kansas. Hunsinger Farms Sunflower Patch owner George Hunsinger blames "strange" weather. He says Labor Day weekend is typically prime bloom time.  The town of Tonganoxie is hosting its second annual "Sunflower Stroll" on Labor Day weekend, with arts, crafts, a fun run and other activities. The town is already getting into the spirit with large sunflowers adorning downtown light poles. Artists and volunteers also have painted sunflowers in windows of various businesses.

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Kansas Changes Process for Manufacturing License Plates

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is changing how it manufactures license plates for the first time since the state began issuing the plates more than a century ago.  The Wichita Eagle reports that the state will no longer have plates embossed with raised letters and numbers printed in bulk for non-commercial traffic. Kansas changed its system this week to print license plates on demand using a digital printing process.  The printed numbers and letters are applied to a flat sheet of aluminum and stamped out in the shape of a license plate.  John Kalal is director of government products at Center Industries in Wichita, which makes all of the state's license plates. Kalala says the process is much faster and more efficient than stamping out and embossing the whole plate.

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Police Arrest 2 Men in Topeka Homicide

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say two men have been arrested in the death of a man who was shot several times in a Topeka alleyway. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that that first arrest was made early Sunday when officers spotted a suspicious car. The second suspect was arrested later in the death in the death of 20-year-old Gianni Sabastian Noriega. Officers found Noriega unresponsive Thursday night while responding to a report of a shooting. He died later at a hospital, marking the city's 13th homicide of the year.

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2 Shot, Killed in Confrontation Between 2 Groups in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police are investigating a shooting that left two men dead. Investigators say the shooting early Saturday was not gang related and the two victims didn't know each other. Officer Charley Davidson identified the men Monday as 24-year-old Manuel Otano-Hernandez and 36-year-old Jesse Villalobos, both of Wichita. Police say Otano-Hernandez and two others were shooting a weapon in an alley near a home where Villalobos and several other people were gathered. Davidson says the two men were shot by an unknown suspect during a confrontation between the two groups. Otano-Hernandez died from a gunshot to the abdomen and Villalobos died from a gunshot to the leg. No one else was injured.

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