UPDATE: Kansas Senate Approves $274 Million School Funding Plan
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate has approved an education funding proposal despite bipartisan skepticism that it increases spending on public schools enough to satisfy a state Supreme Court mandate. The vote Thursday was 21-18 on a bill that would phase in a $274 million increase in education funding over five years. The measure goes next to the House. But the House has approved a plan to phase in a roughly $520 million increase over five years. Top Senate Republicans do not believe the state can afford the House plan without increasing taxes within two years. The final version of the plan will be drafted by negotiators for the two chambers. The Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's current education funding of more than $4 billion a year is not sufficient.
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An education funding plan backed by top Republicans in the Kansas Senate faces bipartisan skepticism over whether it increases spending on public schools enough to satisfy a court mandate. The Senate debated a bill Thursday that would phase in a $274 million increase in school funding over five years and target some of the new money to early childhood education. Republicans backing the bill weren't sure they had enough support to pass it because the Senate's GOP majority appeared split. Democrats doubted that the plan is large enough. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's current education funding of more than $4 billion a year is not sufficient. The House has passed a plan to phase in a roughly $520 million increase over five years.
Kansas Senate GOP Leaders Drop Demand on Schools
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Senate's top two Republicans have dropped an ultimatum that lawmakers move to curb the power of the courts before increasing spending on public schools. Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita and Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park said Wednesday that their chamber will debate an education funding plan Thursday. Wagle and Denning had said the Senate would not consider any plan until lawmakers put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot to strip the courts of their power to declare the state's total education funding inadequate. But House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe said his chamber would not debate such an amendment this week. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's current funding of more than $4 billion a year was insufficient.
Wagle Unsure Plan Will Satisfy Top Kansas 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.
Bill Barring Guns from Domestic Abusers Goes to Governor
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bill that would bar people convicted of domestic violence from owning guns is on its way to Kansas Gov. 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.
Chinese National Sentenced in Theft of Engineered Rice from Kansas Company in Case of Industrial Espionage
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, 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.
Victims Identified in Triple Homicide in Kansas City, Kansas
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police have identified three men who were found shot to death inside a Kansas City, Kansas, duplex. The victims found Tuesday were 51-year-old Edward A. Rawlins, 46-year-old David C. Rawlins and 40-year-old Addrin C. Coats. Police say the men were all found inside the duplex early Tuesday. The bodies were found after a woman told police she came to the house and saw someone who appeared to be dead. Kansas City, Kansas, police have not released any more information in the case.
Man Freed from Kansas Murder Case Charged in Missouri Death
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man who was released from jail after two juries couldn't convict him in a 2015 Kansas killing is now charged with a homicide in Kansas City, Missouri. Jackson County authorities announced Wednesday that 30-year-old Antoine Fiedler was charged with first-degree murder in the December death of Rosemarie Harmon. He's also charged in the shooting of a male friend of Harmon's. Fielder was released from the Wyandotte County (Kansas) jail after a second mistrial last July in the shooting death of 22-year-old Kelsey Ewonus, of Overland Park. Two juries couldn't reach a unanimous verdict in the case. The murder charge was dropped in September. The Kansas City Star reports Fielder was back in the Wyandotte County Jail January 3, facing charges in other cases including a robbery and alleged carjacking.
Special Education Aide Arrested in Sexual Exploitation Case
BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a southern Kansas teacher's aide has been removed from his position after he was arrested on suspicion of sexual exploitation of a child. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Belle Plaine special education paraprofessional was arrested Sunday. The 22-year-old was booked on suspicion of unlawful voluntary sexual relations. He had worked for a special education cooperative that serves five school districts within Sumner County. Sumner County Education Services director Jon Mages says the cooperative and the Belle Plaine school district are conducting internal investigations. He says the paraprofessional will no longer be around students. No details about the investigation were released.
St. Joseph Businesswoman Sentenced in $1.5 Million Tax Fraud
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — A St. Joseph woman who led a $1.5 million tax fraud scheme has been sentenced to two years in federal prison. Dinorah Lynn Stoll-Weaver was sentenced Wednesday and ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution to the government. She owned Homeward Bound Health Services in St. Joseph. Between 2001 and 2010, she collected employment taxes but did not pay them to the federal government. She also withheld employees' IRA contributions, medical and dental insurance payments and child support but kept those withholdings for herself and relatives. Stoll-Weaver pleaded guilty in July 2015. Her sister, 60-year-old Dawn Langlais, previously pleaded guilty to failing to pay employee payroll taxes to the government and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison without parole.
Kansas Reports Fewest Abortions in 30 Years
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A new report shows Kansas has recorded its lowest number of abortions in 30 years. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment released the preliminary report Tuesday. It shows 2017 data gathered through a state law requiring physicians and hospitals to report abortions to the department. The report says more than 6,700 abortions were performed in the state last year. Of the abortions performed, 11 percent of patients were teenagers, including three girls younger than 14. Nearly 70 percent of the patients never had a previous abortion. The most common method of abortion was the medication Mifepristone, which was used by 58 percent of patients. Data figures also show 3,372 women were Kansas residents and 3,377 were from other states, including Missouri.
Governor Signs Bill to Boost Kansas National Guard Numbers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer signed a bill granting National Guard members free, full college tuition in response to a dwindling number of recruits. The new law will take effect in July after Colyer signed it Wednesday, but legislators still need to allocate funding for the program. Bill author and Republican Representative Diana Dierks of Salina said the Guard has shrunk by 16 percent over the last 10 years. She said offering to cover the entire tuition expense may increase the appeal of joining the branch and bolster recruitment. The Guard previously would cover only a portion of tuition costs. Dierks in the Army, Air Force and other branches of the military, it is known that the Kansas National Guard has had more difficulty recruiting.
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.
Man Who Shot 3 Members of a Kansas Family Sentenced to Life Without Parole
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man who shot and killed three people inside a Kansas City, Kansas home was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The Kansas City Star reports 29-year-old Jason Tucker pleaded was sentenced Thursday for capital murder in the May 2017 deaths of Vincent Rocha; his wife, Bernadette Gosserand, and his adult son, Jeremy Rocha. Wyandotte County authorities 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.
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 p.m. 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 (160 kilometers) west of Wichita.
Man Who Fell Through Ex'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 of 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.
Central Kansas Police Chase Ends After Car Hits Deer
GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a central Kansas police chase ended after a driver hit a stop sign and then a deer. The Wichita Eagle reports that the chase started early Wednesday when a Barton County sheriff's deputy tried to pull over a car with a broken light near Great Bend. The sheriff's office says the car's driver lost control in the southern part of the county, where he struck a stop sign. Sheriff Brian Bellendir said video of the chase later showed the car hitting the third of four deer that were crossing a road. The car continued a few more miles before stopping, likely because of engine failure or a ruptured radiator. The driver was arrested on outstanding warrants and suspicion of fleeing, criminal damage to property and other traffic violations.
University President Approves 25K Cut from Student Newspaper
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The president of Wichita State University has approved the student senate's proposed $25,000 cut to the school's newspaper, but says he plans to restore the paper's budget through other university resources. The Wichita Eagle reports that university president John Bardo announced the plans for The Sunflower in a newsletter Wednesday. The final decision will be made by the Kansas Board of Regents when it reviews the proposed Student Fees Budget. If approved, the paper's budget would drop from $105,000 to $80,000 in July. Bardo says the student government's proposed cut was "part of an announced effort to keep an overall student fee increase to 1 percent." But he says he supports restoring the budget. Sunflower editor Chance Swaim says Bardo's support for the First Amendment is great, "but actions matter more."
Indicted Oklahoma City Officer Faces New Conspiracy Count
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma City police officer charged with concealing a federal crime and lying to investigators looking into an interstate theft ring now faces an additional charge of conspiracy. An indictment filed Tuesday says a grand jury added the conspiracy count against 25-year-old Weston Slater. Slater is one of six people charged with stealing various vehicles in Texas, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska and bringing them to Oklahoma to sell. Slater has pleaded not guilty to the earlier charges and is on unpaid leave from the department. A message left with his attorney Thursday wasn't immediately returned. The indictment alleges Slater used a police computer to determine whether a pickup truck had been stolen in Texas, warned a co-defendant of the law enforcement investigation and lied to the FBI during the investigation.
Oklahoma Teachers Union Leader Says Revenue Proposals Not Enough
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A leader of Oklahoma's largest teacher union says he doesn't think two revenue bills pending in the Senate are enough to prevent a teacher walkout from stretching into next week. Oklahoma Education Association Executive Director David Duvall said Thursday that union officials still are crunching numbers on the proposals to expand tribal gaming and tax certain Internet sales that would generate about $40 million dollars annually. Duvall said that union members will decide when to end the walkout that has shuttered some of the state's largest school districts all week, but that he expects teachers to return to the Capitol next week. The Senate is expected to take up the two measures on Friday and send them to the governor for her signature.
Oklahoma's two largest school districts have canceled classes for the fifth consecutive day as striking teachers demand lawmakers approve more funding for education. Oklahoma City schools, the state's largest district, and Tulsa Public Schools said Thursday they will close again on Friday as teachers return to the state Capitol for protests. Many smaller school districts have previously said they would close on Friday. The state House and Senate will convene on Friday to take up revenue-raising measures. A Senate leader says lawmakers plan to consider "substantive" legislation. Legislation granting 15 to 18 percent salary increases for Oklahoma teachers was approved last week, but teachers say more funding is needed for their classrooms. Teachers haven't said when the walkout will end.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thousands of Oklahoma teachers, students and their supporters staged massive demonstrations at the state Capitol for the fourth straight day Thursday as Republican lawmakers struggled to find a way to placate the chanting masses and bring an end to school closures in some of the state's largest districts. State House and Senate leaders announced they would take up money-raising bills Friday — a rarity for Oklahoma lawmakers who typically don't go to the Capitol on the final day of the workweek. "Friday will be an important day," Senate Floor Leader Greg Treat said. "There will be substantive legislation." GOP Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation in late March granting teachers pay raises of about $6,100, or 15 to 18 percent. But many educators said classrooms also need more money, joining a movement of teachers that has ignited protests in other Republican-led states including West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona. Teachers now are pushing lawmakers to pass several more revenue-raising measures, including one that eliminates the income tax deduction for capital gains that would generate about $120 million annually. Another to expand tribal gambling would bring in about $20 million, but both of those measures face broad GOP opposition. It's unclear whether these bills, or another to require certain online vendors to pay sales tax, will be enough to stop the strike. Fallin on Wednesday called on teachers to return to classrooms, but in one interview Tuesday, she likened striking teachers to "a teenage kid that wants a better car." "That was kind of a slap in the face," said Donita Goforth, an elementary art teacher from Grove, Oklahoma, who drove three-and-a-half hours to rally at the Capitol on Wednesday. Many teachers already are back at work, especially in rural communities where local boards didn't vote to shut down. Still, schools in the state's largest districts remain shuttered, including Oklahoma City, Tulsa and many suburban communities.