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Headlines for Thursday, February 1, 2018

Area news headlines from the Associated Press

New Kansas Governor Open to Education Proposals

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — New Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer is open to a top Republican legislator's proposals for ending ongoing legal battles with local school districts over education funding.  Colyer said Wednesday that the education proposals from Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning are a good place to start.  Ahead of Colyer's swearing-in Wednesday, Denning said the new governor should endorse rewriting the state constitution's provisions on education funding or initiate new settlement talks with the four school districts now suing the state.  The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that the state must increase its spending on public schools.  Colyer also said after his inaugural address that he will be working with legislators on measures to increase government transparency and could issue executive orders on the issue.

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Kansas Governor to Unveil Harassment, Transparency Measures 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — New Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer says he'll outline measures next week to combat sexual harassment and improve transparency in state government. Colyer said during a news conference Thursday that he wants a change in tone at the Statehouse. He took office Wednesday after fellow Republican and former Governor Sam Brownback resigned to become U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Colyer had been lieutenant governor. Top lawmakers plan to revise the Legislature's policy on sexual harassment, which has been in place since 1994. They've also had sexual harassment training sessions for legislators, staff and interns. Colyer said he plans to issue an executive order on harassment but did not provide further details. Legislators also are pursuing open-government measures. Colyer said he will work with them and have measures of his own.

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Outgoing Kansas Governor Decries Underfunding of State Facilities

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Outgoing Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says the state's prisons, hospitals and other facilities are in disrepair after years of underfunding.  The Kansas City Star reports that Brownback raised concerns about the buildings last week after the State Finance Council approved a 20-year, $360 million building project at Lansing Correctional Facility.  The state's psychiatric facility in Osawatomie just regained its federal Medicare certification last month after a nearly two-year process that required the state to make a slew of updates. Brownback described it as a "pit" and said that a state hospital and training center for the developmentally disabled in Parsons is "worse."  Brownback pushed back on the suggestion that he had responsibility for the underfunding. He said: "For 155 years? No." Kansas marked its 157th year of statehood Monday.

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Kansas Senator Supports Immigration Fix with Border Security

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — U.S. Senator Jerry Moran listened to some tough talk from his constituents at a town hall meeting in Wichita that drew supporters of protections for young immigrants brought to this country as children.  The Kansas Republican told about 100 people who came Wednesday to the event that he is on the side of fixing the soon-to-expire Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, to bring certainty to the lives of these younger immigrants. But he also said there is also a need to do something with border security, although that doesn't necessary mean a brick-and-mortar wall.  He says keeping a deal simple provides an opportunity to find common ground.  Moran also says more needs to be done to make sure Russia does not interfere in the midterm elections.

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Ex-GOP State Representative Ed O'Malley Drops Out of Governor's Race

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Former Republican state Rep. Ed O'Malley says he is dropping out of the race for Kansas governor. O'Malley announced Thursday that he is reluctantly leaving the race because his campaign hasn't been able to raise enough funds to remain competitive. He is the first candidate in a crowded GOP field to end his campaign. O'Malley, CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita, said in a statement that he hopes the state finds elected officials who are willing to listen to differing perspectives and find new ways forward. O'Malley's departure leaves several GOP candidates, including Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, former Sen. Jim Barnett, Wichita businessman Wink Hartman, former Rep. Mark Hutton and three high school students.

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Kansas Collects $165M More in Taxes Than Expected in January

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is reporting that it collected $165 million more in taxes than expected in January, and its top tax official sees the surplus resulting from changes in federal tax laws. Revenue Secretary Sam Williams said Thursday that federal tax changes enacted late last year encouraged people to pay state and local tax bills before 2017 ended. The Department of Revenue reported that Kansas took in nearly $747 million in taxes last month. The state had expected tax collections of $582 million. The monthly surplus is more than 28 percent. It was the eighth consecutive month tax collections have exceeded expectations. Since the current fiscal year began July 1, the state has collected $3.9 billion in taxes. That is $249 million more than anticipated and a surplus of 6.7 percent.

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Kansas Revenue Spike Raises Legislator Hopes on School Money

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas collected $165 million in taxes more than expected in January, raising some legislators' hopes that they'll have more money than they thought for meeting a court mandate to increase spending on public schools. The state Department of Revenue's report Thursday of a more than 28 percent surplus in monthly tax collections came a day after new Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer took office facing a contentious debate in the GOP-controlled Legislature over education funding. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October that spending on schools is inadequate under the state constitution. Lawmakers in both parties have little appetite for increasing taxes after boosting income taxes last year by an estimated $600 million annually to help stabilize the budget. They also oppose making deep cuts elsewhere in the budget so that new dollars can be transferred to public schools. A surplus in tax collections could help them avoid either unpalatable choice, though key legislators said they want to see whether the trend sticks or whether they're seeing a temporary spike tied to changes in federal tax laws. The department's report came with a warning from Revenue Secretary Sam Williams that the surplus in revenues is tied to the federal income tax cuts and accompanying changes enacted by Congress at the end of last year. One change will limit the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes. Williams said the change encouraged filers to pay state and local taxes early, by the end last year, before the change took effect. The Department of Revenue said Kansas took in nearly $747 million in taxes last month, when the state's official forecast issued in November projected tax collections of $582 million. It was the eighth consecutive month tax collections have exceeded expectations. Since the current fiscal year began July 1, the state has collected $3.9 billion in taxes, or $249 million more than anticipated for a surplus of 6.7 percent. House Taxation Committee Chairman Steven Johnson, an Assaria Republican, agreed that federal tax changes are a key reason. He said the state's tax increase last year may also have prompted some business owners to make early payments, too. Kansas ended its personal income tax exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners and raised tax rates.

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House Advances Bill Lowering Age for Concealed Weapons to 18 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House advanced a bill that will allow people as young as 18 to carry concealed weapons. Currently only those 21 and older can carry concealed weapons. The new law would require those between 18 and 21 to get a gun permit, which is not required after age 21. The bill advanced Thursday by a vote of 85-35 and could come to a final vote Friday. The Kansas City Star reports lawmakers rejected a proposal to allow the state's six public universities to prohibit concealed weapons. However, those taking guns onto campuses would need to get permits. Public universities have been required to allow guns on campus since last year. The legislation also requires Kansas to recognize the concealed carry permits of other states.

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OSHA Says Spirit Aerosystems Exposed Workers to Chemical

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal safety agency says Spirit AeroSystems has exposed some employees to a known carcinogen. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration said Thursday it is proposing a $194,006 fine against the company. The Wichita Eagle reports the agency says the company exposed employees to concentrations of hexavalent chromium at nearly two times the permissible levels. Spirit AeroSystems said in an email Thursday that it doesn't believe employees were exposed to improper levels of the chemical. It says the allegations focus on one area on a third shift. It plans to ask OSHA to reduce the penalties and classifications of the citations. OSHA says the company has taken sufficient steps to prevent more exposure, conduct monitoring and provided training for employees. Spirit Aerosystems is a parts supplier for Boeing and Airbus.

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Man Sentenced for Child Abuse Murder of Shawnee Baby Girl

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A 27-year-old man was sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison for the child abuse-related death of an infant girl in Shawnee.  Aaron Peck pleaded no contest in November to intentional second-degree murder in the 2015 death of 7-month-old Analeece McHenry-Widmer.  The Kansas City Star reports Peck was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years and 11 months in prison.  Peck shared an apartment with the baby's mother.  Paramedics called to the apartment said the baby was having convulsions. Doctors determined she suffered severe head trauma.  Peck initially told police that a 2-year-old child in the home injured the girl but doctors said a young child could not have inflicted the injuries she suffered.

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Former Kansas Student Charged with 18 Felonies After Hacking

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A former University of Kansas student is facing 18 felony charges in crimes involving the university's computers.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports Varun Sarja, of Olathe, made his first court appearance earlier this month after being charged in November.  University spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said Sarja was a freshman in engineering when the computer crimes occurred from December 2016 to May 2017. He is no longer a student at the school.  Court records accompanying the charges say Sarja pretended to be with the university IT department when he tried to use a USB stick on a computer on May 2, 2017, but he was prevented from completing the crime. Other records provide no explanation for the allegations.  Sarja was freed after posting $2,500 bond. His next court appearance is February 13.

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KBI Says Western Kansas Sheriff Arrested for Second Time

NESS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says a western Kansas sheriff was arrested for the second time in little more than a month for allegedly violating his bond on a previous case.  KBI spokeswoman Melissa Underwood says 47-year-old Ness County Sheriff Bryan Whipple, of Ness City, was arrested Monday. She says he is accused of contacting a person associated with his initial case.  Whipple was initially arrested Dec. 21 on suspicion of perjury, making false information, criminal distribution of firearms to a felon and official misconduct.  The KBI has declined to disclose any more information about the initial case.  Whipple was elected sheriff in 2000.

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Construction Company Owners Guilty in "Rent-a-Vet" Fraud

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The owners of a Kansas City area construction company have pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to obtain government contracts by falsely claiming a veteran ran their company.  Federal prosecutors say 53-year-old Jeffrey Wilson, of Belton, pleaded guilty Wednesday to government program fraud. And 57-year-old Paul Salavitch, of Kansas City, pleaded guilty Tuesday to making a false writing, a misdemeanor.  Wilson, who is not a veteran, managed the daily operations of the Patriot Construction Co. Salavitch, a disabled veteran, falsely claimed to participating in the company's activities when he was a full-time U.S. Department of Defense employee.  Because of Salavitch is a disabled veteran, Patriot fraudulently won 20 government contracts worth more than $13.8 million.  The two men will have to forfeit about $2.1 million.

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Report: Midwest Business Conditions Index Slipped in January

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A report says a business conditions index for nine Midwest and Plains states slipped over the past month but still pointed to continuing improvement in regional economic conditions.  The report released Thursday says the Mid-America Business Conditions Index dropped to 57.3 in January from 59.0 in December. The November figure was 57.2.  Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the survey, and he says manufacturing and other business sectors in the region are adding jobs at a solid pace.  The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth in that factor. A score below that suggests decline.  The survey covers Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa, Arkansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

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Kansas Man Charged with Threatening to 'Blow Up' White House

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Investigators say a Kansas man has been arrested after threatening to "blow up" the White House. Court documents show that Wichita residents Brandon Koss was taken into custody Wednesday. He's charged with making a threat against the president. A Secret Service agent wrote in an affidavit that Koss called the White House last week, used a profanity when addressing the woman who answered the phone, and said: "I'm going to blow up the White House." The affidavit says the agent went to Koss's home but Koss refused to open his door. Instead, Koss agreed to talk to the agent on the phone. The affidavit says Koss admitted calling the White House but denied making a threat. The agent says Koss claimed he was trying to report terrorism. Koss's public defender didn't immediately return an email seeking comment from The Associated Press.

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2 Arrested in Death of Eudora Man Found in Burning House

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Two women are charged with first-degree murder in the death of a 34-year-old Eudora man whose body was found inside a burning house near Lawrence. The Douglas County District Attorney said 38-year-old Tria Evans, of Lawrence, and 37-year-old Christina Towell, of Leavenworth, were charged Thursday. They are being held on $1 million bond. Joel Wales was found dead November 3 in the home south of Lawrence. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Evans is the mother of Wales' child, and the two had several past domestic disputes. Towell does not have a record in the Douglas County court. The sheriff's office said it would not release further information about the homicide while the investigation is ongoing.

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University of Kansas Police to Carry Stun Guns

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Police officers at the University of Kansas will soon start carrying stun guns as a safe option for situations when lethal force isn't appropriate or necessary. University Police Chief Chris Keary tells the Lawrence Journal-World that all department officers will be trained and armed with a stun gun by the end of the spring semester. Keary says most campus police departments in the Kansas Board of Regents system already carry stun guns, as do local law enforcement agencies. He says he wouldn't be surprised if people had assumed the department was already carrying them. The cost of the conducted-electrical weapons, including holsters, cartridges, batteries, training supplies and other related equipment, totals to nearly $68,000. Keary says the university's Public Safety Office is covering the cost.

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2nd Suspect in Kansas Homicide Arrested After Chase

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a second suspect in a Kansas City, Kansas, homicide has been arrested after a police chase. The pursuit began Wednesday afternoon in Kansas City, Missouri. Police say it appeared drugs and guns were tossed from the speeding vehicle before the chase ended about 20 minutes later in Kansas City, Kansas. Police say three people were taken into custody, including a woman wanted in connection with the Aug. 30 shooting death of 29-year-old Kevin Fowler. Another suspect, Zachary Barnes, was arrested in September south of the small Republican County town of Cuba, Kansas, and charged with second-degree murder. The search for Barnes caused several schools and public agencies to be placed on lockdown in two other towns in the area, which is near the Nebraska border.

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Kansas Congressional Representative Roger Marshall Among Lawmakers to Treat Injured After Train Crash

CROZET, Va. (AP) — Kansas Congressman Roger Marshall was among the Republican lawmakers with medical experience to put their skills to work after a train carrying dozens of them crashed into a garbage truck in rural Virginia. One person in the truck was killed and two others in the vehicle were reported seriously hurt in the Wednesday crash. No serious injuries were reported among those aboard the chartered Amtrak train, which set out from the nation's capital with lawmakers, family members and staff for a strategy retreat. Marshall is an obstetrician from Great Bend. He said in a tweet that he performed CPR on the truck's driver. He said it was a "hard day," adding that "today we were not politicians, we were doctors helping patients, trying to save their lives."

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Kansas Hometown Helps Basketball Legend Stiles Fight Cancer

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — The tiny Kansas hometown of a legendary former women's basketball player who set college scoring records is raising money to help its favorite daughter fight a rare form of cancer. The Springfield News-Leader reports that the farming town of Claflin, Kansas, is helping raise money for Jackie Stiles as she prepares for surgery Friday to treat eye cancer. Students at Central Plains High School set up an online fundraiser Tuesday to help Stiles with some medical costs her insurance won't cover. The goal is $5,000. Stiles's father, Pat Stiles, says he's "surprised and humbled" that students who don't personally know his daughter would raise money. Jackie Stiles put Claflin on the map playing for Missouri State University and later in the WNBA. She currently coaches the Missouri State University women's basketball team.

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Death of Pregnant Kansas Woman Investigated as Homicide

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Friends say a pregnant Kansas woman whose death is being investigated as a homicide had expected to learn the gender of her baby on the day she died. The Kansas City Star reports that 23-year-old Ashley Harlan was found dead Tuesday inside an Olathe townhome. She had moved to the Kansas City suburb from Manhattan, Kansas, to be nearer to her baby's father earlier this month. Her friend, 23-year-old Tabitha Brown, said she was to be the godmother to Harlan's child and planned to go to the ultrasound appointment with Harlan. She said Harlan never did learn the sex of her baby. Another friend, 22-year-old Kaitlin Beeton, says Harlan had been "doing so well, working hard on her future." Police didn't immediately say whether a suspect has been identified.

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Landscaping Can Stay, Judge Rules After Costly Legal Fight

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City man whose legal battle with his homeowner's associations cost hundreds of thousands of dollars can keep his landscaping project but must pay a fine. A Johnson County judge ruled Wednesday that the Avignon HOA treated Jim Hildenbrand unfairly when it denied his application for a low accent wall that runs the length of his Olathe home. The Kansas City Star reports that the HOA described it as "over the top." The judge also ordered Hildenbrand to pay a $25,000 fine to the HOA for failing to fill out the proper application before it was installed in 2013. Hildenbrand says his legal bills surpassed $300,000. Documents posted on the HOA's site indicate it's spent more than $330,000 in legal fees since 2013. No other lawsuits are mentioned.

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Ex-Topeka Car Dealer Can't Do Business in State Anymore

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former Topeka car dealer who didn't keep a promise to donate to a memorial fund for a slain Topeka police officer can no longer do business in the state. The Kansas attorney general's office said Thursday that Justin Bogina, of Tecumseh, and his Topeka business, Auto Acceptance Center Corp., also must reimburse more than $25,000 to consumers. Attorney General Derek Schmidt said shortly after Police Cpl. Jason Harwood was killed in the line of duty in September 2014, Bogina advertised that he would donate $100 per vehicle he sold during a specific time to the memorial fund. But he didn't track sales during the time period and didn't make a donation until an investigation began in April 2016. A lawsuit claimed Bogina also repeatedly violated consumer protection laws over several years.

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