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Headlines for Monday, September 24, 2018

Kansas Child Welfare System Faces Sexual Assault Case

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas' troubled child welfare system was beginning to make progress after months of issues when rape allegations were made public last week involving a teen in the state's custody. The Kansas City Star reports that a 13-year-old was allegedly raped in May while at a child welfare office in Olathe. A young man also in the state's care was charged with assault in the case earlier this month. Both were waiting to be placed in a foster home or facility. The department was in the midst of making changes following missing runaways, foster children sleeping in offices and high-profile deaths. DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel says that the department investigated the incident and cited the office. She says officials are disappointed the assault happened but are making changes to keep more families together and to improve the department.

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Kobach, Colyer Headline GOP Fundraising Pheasant Hunt

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Secretary of State and candidate for Kansas governor Kris Kobach will team up with current Governor Jeff Colyer for a $15,000-a-person pheasant hunt in October to raise money for the state Republican Party. The Kansas City Star reports that Colyer and Lieutenant Governor Tracey Mann are headlining the event with Kobach and his running mate Wink Hartman. Kobach defeated Colyer in the GOP primary by 343 votes. Colyer spokeswoman Kara Zeyer said the governor is committed to GOP victories in November. The fundraiser comes as Kobach's candidacy has been spurned by prominent Republican centrists. Former Gov. Bill Graves and former U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum both said this month they support Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly's run for governor. Independent Greg Orman is also seeking the office.

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Northeast Kansas Conservative State Senator to Retire

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas state senator who gained attention for comparing Planned Parenthood to a Nazi concentration camp plans to announce his retirement from the Legislature within a few days, he confirmed to the Kansas City Star. But his announcement was pre-empted by the man who defeated him in the August GOP primary in the 2nd Congressional District. State Senator Steve Fitzgerald, a Leavenworth Republican, said he was preparing to resign when he heard that Steve Watkins had sent a press release congratulating him on his retirement. Fitzgerald, a senator since 2013, belongs to the conservative wing of the party that resisted the repeal of former Governor Sam Brownback's tax cuts and expanding Medicaid. Fitzgerald said he didn't know how Watkins knew his plans. Watkins didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Salina City Commission Violates Kansas Open Records Act

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas attorney general's office has determined that the Salina City Commission violated the state's open records law.  The Salina Journal reports that the finding comes after former Salina City Commissioner John Blanchard made a request in November for copies of documents concerning a contract between the city and the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce for economic development services. Blanchard says he received some of the requested documents but one contained redacted information.  The attorney general's office declined to pursue formal enforcement action, but requested the city commission release the unredacted copy of the letter Blanchard requested.  Blanchard has since received the document. He says the commission "disregarded the rights of the press and public to know the business of their government."

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Repair of Deadly Concrete Weir Near Topeka on Hold Because of Cost

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka's government is considering alternatives to fix a low dam on Kansas River where three people have drowned since 2007.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports city officials intended to start work on the concrete weir last month. But the cost estimate of $4.4 million was nearly $2.5 million more than the city expected.  Larry Wolgast, a member of the Topeka and Shawnee County Riverfront Authority, said the city's government is considering options that might allow for the project to start next year, including finding additional bidders and/or ways to reduce the project's costs.  Two men drowned in 2007 when their canoe capsized near the weir. A man in a kayak drowned at the same site in 2011.

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Some Question Kris Kobach's Proposal to Cap Property Valuation Hikes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach is proposing capping property appraisal increases, which he said would give taxpayers a more predictable property tax bill, but some experts say the change likely would require changes to the state constitution.  Kobach's plan would cap property appraisal increases at no more than 2 percent a year, regardless of how much the property increases in actual fair market value, The Lawrence Journal-World reported . He said the change would especially help the elderly and those on fixed incomes.  "Those individuals need to be able to plan out their retirement and have some knowledge that their home value is not going to be jacked up by 50 percent over a four- or five-year period, which is not unusual in some parts of the state," Kobach said.  Property taxes determine how much tax each property owes, with the higher values meaning higher tax bills for property owners. The taxes are based on annual property appraisals.  Linda Terrill, a Johnson County attorney who has practiced property tax law for about 40 years, said Kobach's plan might violate a constitutional amendment that requires the state to have "a uniform and equal basis of valuation and rate of taxation of all property subject to taxation."  She said capping increases would mean properties that appreciate in value over time would no longer be valued or taxed at their actual fair market value, while others would be, and that could cause problems for local governments and some taxpayers.  "The more you move away from uniform and equal, the more difficult it is to fix it when you finally realize it wasn't a good idea," she said.  Kobach said he hasn't decided whether his plan should cap appraisal increases for all time, or whether the state should allow the sale of a property to trigger a new appraisal. He said the Legislature should make that decision.  It is also unclear whether the Kansas Supreme Court would allow any kind of variation from the fair market standard for any extended period of time. In 2016, the court struck down a law that imposed a similar kind of cap for people who successfully protested their appraisal values and had the values lowered.  Kobach said he doesn't believe that case would apply to his proposal.  

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Kansas City Med Students Push for STD Partner Treatment

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City University medical students are pushing for a partner treatment plan for sexually transmitted diseases amid rising local and national STD rates.  The Kansas City Star reports that students Mianna Armstrong and Megan McMurray are bringing attention to the legal limits of expedited partner therapy in seven states, including Kansas and Oklahoma. The students and their professor John Paulson published research this year about the treatment plan to write prescriptions for both a patient diagnosed with an STD and their sexual partners.  Missouri law explicitly allows licensed doctors to use expedited partner therapy to treat chlamydia and gonorrhea. But Kansas law doesn't say whether doctors can prescribe drugs to patients they haven't seen.  The American Osteopathic Association has since drafted a resolution to endorse the legalization of expedited partner therapy in all states.

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Director: Kansas Stem Cell Research Center Needs More Money

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The new director of a stem cell research facility at the University of Kansas Medical Center says the center needs more money, not more space.  Sunil Abhyankar, an oncologist who specializes in blood cancers, was introduced to the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center Advisory Board as the center's new director this week.  His predecessor, Buddhadeb Dawn, left this summer for a new job. Dawn told lawmakers in March that a decision last year to reduce the lab's size from 8,200 square feet to about 3,860 square feet hurt research efforts.  The Kansas City Star reports Abhyankar said the center has enough room for now, but needs more money from the state.  The center was established in 2013 by conservative legislators who wanted to highlight alternatives to embryonic stem cell research.

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In Governor's Races, Trump Emerges as Defining Issue

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Governor's races are on the ballot in 36 states this year, and the common thread running through many of them has nothing to do with state policy: It's President Donald Trump.  Most of the races expected to be competitive in November are in states where Republicans now serve as governor. Trump's relative unpopularity presents another challenge for Republicans trying to defend those seats.  In Michigan, Trump has supported Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette in his run for governor against the Democrat, former legislative leader Gretchen Whitmer.  That may have helped Schuette in a competitive GOP primary, but it could cost him some support in the general election.  A similar theme is playing out in other states.

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Manhattan Group to Reopen Building Where Mold Was Found

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The Manhattan Housing Authority will move its office and residents back into apartments for low-income housing where black mold was found five years ago.  Authority director JoAnn Sutton said administrators are likely to move into the Apartment Towers in the first week of October. The Manhattan Mercury reports residents will return in the second and third weeks of October.  The mold was discovered in August 2013 and the towers have been vacant since 2016. Black mold is considered a sign of poor air quality.  The federal government provided $5.4 million for mold and asbestos removal, HVAC replacement and replacement of furnishings, but would not fund window replacement and sanitary sewer improvements.  The city gave the housing authority a $1 million loan to complete the project.

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Ben & Jerry's Creating "Take Back Congress" Flavors: Kansas Candidate Among Those to Benefit

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The founders of Ben & Jerry's ice cream in Bernie Sanders's home state are putting their ice cream expertise to work to support seven congressional candidates they call progressive. Vermont's Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are working with political action committee MoveOn to create ice cream flavors that reflect each candidate. They are asking for help in naming the flavors. Cohen says he will then make by hand about 40 pints of each to be raffled off to support the candidates. The candidates are Jess King in Pennsylvania, Lauren Underwood in Illinois, Aftab Pureval in Ohio, J.D. Scholten in Iowa, Ammar Campa Najjar in California, Stephany Rose Spaulding in Colorado and James Thompson in Kansas. Cohen says they all support "Medicare for all, debt-free public college and getting big money out of politics."

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Police: Woman Found Dead in Car Died from Crash Injuries

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police have ruled that a woman found dead inside a vehicle after a police chase died of injuries suffered in the head-on collision that ended the pursuit. The Kansas City Star reports that police on Monday disclosed the cause of death of 29-year-old Chrissy Saale. Her body was found early Thursday on Interstate 70 in Kansas City, Kansas. She was a passenger. The driver, a 24-year-old man, faces several charges. The chase began when police followed a car onto a dead end street before the driver struck a police car and drove off, crossing into Missouri before returning to Kansas. The car eventually drove the wrong way on the interstate and collided with another car. The other driver had minor injuries.

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Ex-Priest Still Holds Medical Licenses in Kansas, Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A former Kansas priest still holds medical licenses in Kansas and Missouri despite being defrocked this year after Archdiocese of Kansas City leaders determined that he abused three minors decades ago. The Kansas City Star reports the Missouri Board of Registration for the Healing Arts is investigating the allegations against 71-year-old John Wisner, who remains a licensed psychiatrist in both states. The Kansas board declined to comment on whether it was looking into Wisner's case. Wisner declined to comment on the allegations or the investigation. It's unclear if he's still practicing medicine. Patrick Wall is a former Catholic priest who works as an investigator for a law firm that represents sexual abuse victims. Wall says the Kansas archdiocese should've reported Wisner to licensing boards when it learned of the allegations six years ago.

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9-Year-Old Accidentally Shoots, Wounds 10-Year-Old Sister

MERRIAM, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a 9-year-old boy has accidentally shot his 10-year-old sister in the leg in suburban Kansas City. Police in Merriam, Kansas, said in a news release that the shooting happened around 8:30 p.m. Saturday after the gun was left unattended. Police say the girl's wound wasn't life threatening. She was taken to a hospital. No one has been arrested. The shooting remains under investigation. Police urged gun owners to properly secure their firearms.

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Keystone XL Developer Says Construction to Begin in 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The developer of the Keystone XL oil pipeline says it plans to start construction next year after the U.S. State Department concluded last week that major environmental damage from a leak is unlikely and could be quickly mitigated. TransCanada spokesman Matthew John says the company remains committed to moving ahead with the project following years of reviews from federal and state regulators. But the report issued Friday from the Trump administration drew criticism from environmental groups.

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Pittsburg State Receives $1 Million Pledge

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — The Kelce College of Business at Pittsburg State University has received a $1 million pledge toward its renovation and expansion project.  The university said the pledge comes from the Sunderland Foundation. It is part of a drive to raise money to create larger and more flexible classrooms for the business college.  The Pittsburg Morning Sun reports Kathleen Flannery, CEO of the Pittsburg State Foundation, said the school has raised more than half of the $18 million needed for the project. That includes a $3 million pledge from university alumni John and Susan Lowe.  Paul Grimes, dean of the business college, says the grant will help allow the college to offer the most professional and up-to-date facilities.

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Dan Glickman to Receive Kansas State Honorary Doctorate

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State University plans to give former Kansas congressman and U.S. secretary of agriculture Dan Glickman an honorary doctorate.  The Manhattan Mercury reports Glickman will receive the doctorate during fall commencement December 7 in Bramlage Coliseum.  Glickman represented the state's 4th Congressional District from 1977 to 1995. He was appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in 1995 and served until 2001.  Since leaving his cabinet post, Glickman has remained active in several organizations involved with agriculture, public health and others.

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Kansas State Fair Reports Uptick in Attendance

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State Fair officials are crediting good weather and concerts for an uptick in attendance.  The Hutchinson News reports that preliminary tallies for the 2018 fair show nearly 330,000 people came through the gates during the fair's 10-day run from Sept. 7 to Sept. 16. That's a 1.76 percent increase over the 2017 fair. Initial reports also show growth in revenue.  Interim General Manager Bob Moeder said in a news release that the fair is "at a pivotal turning point."  Starting in 2017, tickets were counted more accurately using a scanning e-ticket system. Previous tickets were weighed. Because of the previous way the fair measured attendance, there is no way to know if totals before 2017's are accurate or compare correctly.

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St. Joseph Group Suspends Annual Art Festival

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — An arts festival that has been operating in St. Joseph for 26 years is coming to an end.  The Allied Arts Council announced Friday that it is suspending the Trails West! Festival.  The St. Joseph News-Press reports the decision was made because of changes in how people consume their art and an increasing number of outdoor arts experiences.  The council's executive director, Teresa Fankhauser, said increasing costs of performers and infrastructure was another factor.  The three-day festival, held annually since 1993, was the largest arts festival in northwest Missouri. More than 45,000 attended at the festival's peak but attendance has been dropping in recent years.  Fankhauser says the numbers were down "a lot" this year.

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Water Released from Dams on Missouri River Reduced

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The amount of water being released into the lower Missouri River will be temporarily reduced because of recent heavy rains in southeastern South Dakota and northwestern Iowa.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it is reducing the amount of water being released from the Fort Randall and Gavins Point dams to allow area rivers to return to normal levels.
The Corps says the releases from Gavins Point dam will be reduced until the Missouri River crests near Sioux City, Iowa, which is expected in the next several days.  The releases will be restored to near 60,000 cubic feet per second after the river level recedes.

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