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Headlines for Monday, March 26, 2018

Here's a look at area headlines from the Associated Press

"March for Our Lives" Rallies Draw Huge Crowds

WASHINGTON (AP) — High school students led thousands of protesters on Saturday in Kansas City, Wichita, Topeka, Lawrence and other cities and towns across the state. They joined a nation-wide day of protest demanding tighter gun regulations in the wake of the recent school shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead. Kansas City, Missouri police estimate between 5000 and 6000 people protested in a park there. About 500 protesters gathered near the state capital in Topeka and organizers in Lawrence reported about 1,700 people participated in an anti-gun violence rally and march. Similar "March for Our Lives" events were held in at least 800 cities across the country Saturday by demonstrators led by high school students prompted to demonstrate in the wake of a spate of school shootings and other gun violence. Speakers encouraged the protesters to register to vote and to vote against state and federal leaders they say are beholden to the National Rifle Association and the group's large campaign donations. The NRA responded Sunday that the marches were not spontaneous demonstrations by students. They say the students but were manipulated by what the NRA calls "Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites" as part of a plan to eliminate citizens' Second Amendment right to own and use firearms. 

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Ex-Militia Member Testifies in Kansas Bomb Plot Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former militia officer has testified he left the group following a mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub out of concern some of the other members were plotting to attack Somalis in their small Kansas community. Brody Benson took the stand Monday in the trial of Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein and Curtis Allen. They're charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction to detonate truck bombs in Garden City. Benson testified Stein often talked about Somalis as cockroaches who should be exterminated, which he initially dismissed as "just blowing smoke." That changed following a June 2016 meeting after 49 people were killed. He said he became concerned the talk of using explosives was escalating into "actual action." Benson said he didn't want any part of it.

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Kansas Legislators Try to Save Law Against Boycotting Israel

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators are trying to salvage a law prohibiting state contractors from boycotting Israel after a federal judge blocked its enforcement, advancing a bill Monday to narrow the ban so it no longer would apply to individuals or small contracts. The state House approved the measure, 93-30, sending it to the Senate. Enacting the bill's changes would resolve the federal lawsuit that led to it being put on hold, according to an attorney involved, but lawmakers in both parties said they believe the narrower law still would violate free-speech rights. Two-dozen states have anti-boycott policies, from liberal California to conservative strongholds such as Alabama and Texas, as a movement protesting Israel's policies toward Palestinians has grown increasingly visible. The Kansas law had bipartisan support and took effect in July, and the new legislation says Israel has a "dynamic" business culture and is a "prominent" trade partner for Kansas. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit in October on behalf of Esther Koontz, a math and science curriculum coordinator in the Wichita public schools. She was denied a state teacher-training contract after refusing to sign a statement that she wasn't participating in a boycott of Israel or Israeli products. In January, U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree blocked the state from enforcing the ban while the lawsuit proceeds and ruled it "highly likely" that the Kansas law is invalid. Doug Bonney, an ACLU attorney, said if the bill passes, the state law's restrictions would no longer apply to Koontz. "We would have achieved all of the relief that we could for our client," Bonney said. As for the law, he said, "It still seems liked it would still be unconstitutional." Though Kansas has in the past prohibited investments by its public pension system in South Africa or Sudan, it does not prohibit contractors from participating in boycotts against nations other than Israel. The 2017 law prohibits the state from contracting with sole proprietorships, companies, partnerships or for-profit associations participating in boycotts of Israel. The ACLU lawsuit said Koontz is a Mennonite who decided to boycott Israeli products and services to "support the Palestinians' struggle for equality." Under the bill, the anti-boycott law would no longer apply to sole proprietors like Koontz or contracts of $100,000 or less. It also would apply only to boycotts of goods and services that are "an integral part" of trade or potential trade between Kansas and Israel. In voting for the bill, conservative Republican Representative Trevor Jacobs, of Fort Scott, quoted a verse from the Bible's Book of Genesis, where God tells the future patriarch Abraham, "I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you, I will curse." "I choose this day to bless and stand with the nation of Israel," Jacobs said.

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Kansas Passes Controversial Poultry Processing Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Governor Jeff Colyer has signed into law a bill aimed at luring large-scale poultry processors to set up shop in Kansas. The bill passed in the Senate last month and in the House March 12.  It greatly expands the number of chickens growers can house in confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, before they would be required to obtain a state environmental permit. The Kansas Department of Agriculture and other agribusiness groups strongly support the bill, arguing it would enable Kansas farmers to produce more "value-added" meat products for consumers. The bill came in the wake of a recent controversy in northeast Kansas where Tyson Foods proposed building a large-scale slaughter and processing plant in Tonganoxie, sparking widespread public opposition. Tyson would rely on large-scale CAFOs such as those provided for in the bill to supply its chicken plants. Those facilities are owned by individual growers who buy and raise chickens on contract with Tyson. Growers using what's known as a dry manure processing system could house up to a third of a million birds at one location before being required to obtain a permit from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.  Such a permit would impose several requirements, including minimum set-back distances between the barns housing the chickens and other inhabitable buildings or property lines.

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Kansas Candidates Debate School Funding Issues

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The major candidates for Kansas governor are all being drawn into the Kansas debate over public school funding. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's $4 billion a year in spending on public schools is not sufficient. The court didn't set a specific spending target but hinted in its decision that it might have to rise by $650 million a year. Republican leaders commissioned a cost study by two out-of-state consultants, only to be stunned when it said improving public schools might cost as much as $2 billion more a year. Some of the gubernatorial candidates say higher taxes are the only solution. Democratic candidate Carl Brewer says the state should legalize and tax marijuana as some other states have done, to raise extra money for schools. Republican candidate, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, said that the court's demand for more money is "unwarranted."  Education funding is considered the biggest financial issue facing the state before the August 7 primary election. The major Republican candidates are Governor Jeff Colyer, Kobach, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and former state Senator Jim Barnett, a Topeka physician. The major Democratic candidates are Brewer, the former Wichita mayor; state Senator Laura Kelly, of Topeka; former state Agriculture Secretary Joshua Svaty; and Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita. Olathe businessman Greg Orman has launched an independent campaign for governor.

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Kansas Considers Regulating Antipsychotics in Nursing Homes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill that would require nursing facilities to get written permission from residents or their guardians before administering antipsychotic drugs faced stiff opposition from groups representing doctors, hospitals and skilled nursing homes during debate in the Kansas Legislature. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned that antipsychotics increase the risk of falls, stroke and other potentially fatal side effects for people suffering from dementia. Since the federal government started tracking off-label use of such medications in nursing homes in 2011, Kansas has been at or near the top in percentage of medicated residents. Rachel Monger, a lobbyist for LeadingAge Kansas, told legislators recently that the law "would be by far the broadest and most restrictive law on antipsychotics in the country" and would penalize nursing homes for funding and staffing shortages they can't control. The Kansas Hospital Association and the Kansas Medical Society, which represents doctors, also oppose the bill. Mitzi McFatrich, the executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, said her group doesn't think the federal regulations are adequate and wants state laws to protect nursing home residents. Kansas also leads the nation in the percentage of skilled nursing facilities cited by the federal government for several medication-related violations, some of which relate to antipsychotics. The law includes and exemption for use of antipsychotics in emergency situations.

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Kansas Governor Signs Bill Protecting Tribal Regalia Rights

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer has signed a bill protecting the right of native Americans to wear tribal regalia and other cultural objects at public events. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the bill was sponsored by Representative Ponka-We Victors. The Wichita Democrat is a member of both the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma and the Tohono O'odham Nation in Arizona. She contends some states have enacted similar laws in response to policies enforced at events like high school graduations where officials sometimes insist on strict dress codes. The new law bars any state agency, school district or local government from prohibiting any individual from wearing tribal regalia at events or meetings.

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Kansas Woman at Center of 1954 School Segregation Ruling Dies

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Linda Brown, the Kansas woman who, as a girl, was at the center of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down racial segregation in schools, has died at age 76. Topeka's former Sumner School was all-white when her father, Oliver, tried to enroll the family. He became lead plaintiff in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court that ended school segregation. Peaceful Rest Funeral Chapel of Topeka confirmed that Linda Brown died Sunday afternoon. Funeral arrangements are pending. Her sister, Cheryl Brown Henderson, founding president of The Brown Foundation, confirmed the death to The Topeka Capital-Journal. She declined comment from the family. Kansas Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis says her legacy is not only here but nationwide. He says the effect she had "on our society would be unbelievable and insurmountable."

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Report Says Water Park Firm's Co-Owner Arrested

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) —  A newspaper report says the co-owner of the company operating a Kansas water park has been arrested in connection with a criminal case arising from a 10-year-old boy's death on a giant waterslide. The Kansas City Star reports that Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts co-owner Jeffery Henry was arrested Monday in Cameron County, Texas. A captain in the local sheriff's department told the newspaper that Henry was arrested by U.S. marshals on a Kansas warrant. A grand jury in Kansas last week indicted the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City, Kansas, and its former operations director on 20 felony counts. They included involuntary manslaughter over the August 2016 death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab. The boy was decapitated while riding what was billed as the world's largest waterslide.

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Kansas Water Park Operator Promises to Fight Charges Aggressively

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas water park's operator says it will open again as scheduled this spring and aggressively contest criminal charges arising from a 10-year-old boy's death on a giant slide. Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts said in a statement Monday that a grand jury indictment's allegation that the 2016 accident was foreseeable is "beyond the pale of speculation." The company also promised to respond to the allegations in the indictment "point by point" in coming weeks. A Wyandotte County grand jury indicted the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City, Kansas, and former executive Tyler Miles on 20 felony charges. Miles's attorneys also said he is innocent. The charges include involuntary manslaughter in the death of Caleb Schwab in August 2016. He was decapitated on the Verruckt waterslide, touted as the world's largest.

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Topeka Mayor Leads Domestic Violence Task Force

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka's mayor says experiencing domestic violence firsthand gives a different perspective on the work being done by her newly-formed task force. The Mayor's Task Force Against Domestic Violence announced last week includes representatives from programs and agencies, including the Topeka Police Department and the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. YWCA Director Michelle McCormick said the task force will work on looking at policies and best practices. "We've asked for people from each of those agencies to be someone who can exercise influence over policies and procedures," said McCormick, a longtime Topeka domestic violence victim advocate. Mayor Michelle De La Isla said she experienced abuse by her ex-husband for seven years before realizing she needed to leave the relationship permanently. She said she wishes more people understood the gradual progression of domestic violence. McCormick said having De La Isla lead the task force will give the group a "victim-centered focus" for positive change. She said of the 30 homicides in Topeka last year, six of them were classified as domestic violence-related. "Domestic violence homicides are preventable if we have some key things in place," she said. "Our ultimate goal is to decrease domestic violence incidents with high risk." McCormick said the task force hopes to achieve that goal by updating individual domestic violence protocols used by agencies with domestic violence caseloads.

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Report: Nearly Half of Kansas Wheat Crop Faring Poorly

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The latest government snapshot shows that nearly half of the Kansas winter wheat crop remains in poor to very poor condition despite some recent rainfall. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 49 percent of the wheat in Kansas was in poor or very poor condition. About 38 percent was rated as fair with 12 percent good and 1 percent excellent. It also reported topsoil moisture supplies remain short or very short across 69 percent of the state.

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Kansas Prison System Veteran Takes Helm at El Dorado

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 25-year veteran of the Kansas prison system will take over as the warden of a maximum-security prison that had multiple inmate disturbances last summer. Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood announced Monday that Paul Snyder will become warden at El Dorado Correctional Facility April 8. James Heimgartner stepped down as warden of the El Dorado prison in July after several inmate disturbances. Snyder is currently a deputy warden at Winfield Correctional Facility and began his career in Kansas prisons as a corrections officer in El Dorado in 1993. Snyder also worked at Ellsworth Correctional Facility and the Wichita Work Release Facility.

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Kansas Prosecutor Creates Women-Only Diversion Program

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A new diversion program in Kansas is working to keep women with addictions out of jail by helping them get clean. The Douglas County Women's Substance Use Disorder Prosecutor-Led Diversion and Treatment Program started this month. The program is only for women who live in the county, have at least one prior offense on their records, have a diagnosed substance abuse disorder and agree to participate in a treatment plan for at least a year. The program is meant for women with nonviolent misdemeanor charges, but felony or violent charges will be considered based on individual cases. "Their crimes are usually felonies but of a nonviolent nature," said Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson. "Because of the nature of the crime, often they are released on bond and reoffend, or fail on bond before their original court case is concluded." The program includes a collection of wraparound services, such as detox, inpatient or intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, housing assistance and child care. "The ultimate goal is to stop the revolving door of incarceration," Branson said. The program will accept up to 12 participants a year.

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Kansas Gets Past Duke in OT Classic to Reach NCAA Men's Tournament Final Four

Omaha, Neb. (AP) - KU's Malik Newman scored all 13 of the Kansas Jayhawks' points in overtime, and the top-seeded Jayhawks are back in the Final Four for the first time since 2012 after beating No. 2 seed Duke 85-81 in overtime in the Midwest Region final in Omaha Sunday night. The Jayhawks had failed to get out of the Elite Eight for the last two years. This time the Jayhawks broke through thanks to a huge performance from Newman, who scored a career-high 32 points. Kansas will play top-seeded East Region champion Villanova in the second national semifinal next Saturday in San Antonio. Duke was trying to get to the Final Four for the first time since it won the national championship in 2015. The Blue Devils' Trevon Duval scored 20 points to lead Duke. Marvin Bagley III scored 16 in what probably was his last college game.
    
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Kansas Nonprofit's Easter Egg Hunt Raises $7K

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas nonprofit has raised $7,000 through its first-ever adult Easter egg hunt. Karen Baker is the director of finance at Good Samaritan Society Hutchinson Village. She tells The Hutchinson News that 200 adults participated in the event Saturday at the Carey Park Shelter in Hutchinson. Three-thousand eggs were hidden loaded with candy, raffle tickets and other ID markers for a prize. All of the 200 prizes, including Kansas City Royals tickets and restaurant gift certificates, were donated. The money raised will go toward a wheelchair accessible swing at the organization's assisted living home. Baker says she plans to host another egg hunt next year.

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Teen Dies in Shooting in East Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating a homicide in east Wichita. Police said in a news release Sunday that the 17-year-old victim was found in the back of a residence while officers were responding to a report of a disturbance and gunfire. Emergency responders pronounced the teen dead at the scene. Police say the suspect is unknown and didn't immediately release the name of the victim. Anyone with information is urged to call authorities.

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Authorities: Woman Dies After House Fire in Lawrence

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a 29-year-old woman has died in an early morning fire at a rental house in Lawrence. Fire Marshal James King of says a passerby called about 6:10 a.m. Monday to report the fire. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that first responders encountered heavy fire when they arrived. The entered the house where they found the woman in a bedroom. She was taken to the hospital where she died apparently of smoke inhalation. The fire gutted the one-story, wood-frame house and burned through a large portion of the roof.

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Volleyball Coach Arrested on Suspicion of Sex Crime

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita youth volleyball coach has been arrested on suspicion of sexual exploitation of a child. The Wichita Eagle reports that records show Jeffrey Sanders was booked Friday into the Sedgwick County jail and released on bond the same day. He was arrested on suspicion of electronic solicitation of a 16-year-old victim, and the incident report shows the alleged offense occurred in February 2017. Sanders formed the Wichita Volleyball Academy in 2014 and it operates as a competitive club team for Wichita-area volleyball players from ages 10 to 18. The academy's website says Sanders offered private and semi-private lessons. Sanders coached at Wichita State for 10 seasons, but left the program after an arrest of suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
 

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