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Headlines for Thursday, February 14, 2019

Winter Weather Advisory Issued for Much of Kansas Friday

A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect for north central, east central and northeast Kansas from 6 am through 6 pm Friday.  An upper level disturbance will move east across the state on Friday, bringing a chance for light to at times moderate snowfall. The heavier snowfall will be along and north of a Concordia, to Topeka, to Lawrence line.  Total snow accumulations of 2 to 4 inches are expected.  The National Weather Service says drivers can plan on slippery road conditions.  A Winter Weather Advisory means that snow will cause travel difficulties. Expect slick roads and potentially hazardous driving conditions. Allow extra time to reach your destination and exercise defensive driving.  The latest road conditions for Kansas can be obtained by calling 5 1 1 or visiting kandrive.org.

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Small Hospital, Clinics in Southeast Kansas Will Close

OSWEGO, Kan. (AP) — A hospital in a small southeast Kansas town is closing immediately, in part because it doesn't have enough money to pay employees.  The board of directors of Oswego Community Hospital announced the decision Thursday. The board said the Oswego Community Hospital, the Oswego Community Clinic and the Chetopa Community Clinic will all close.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the hospital is one of three Kansas hospitals owned by EmpowerHMS, which has struggled to pay its bills at rural hospitals across the country. Its other two hospitals in Kansas are in Horton and Herington.  The board also said Kansas officials' refusal to expand Medicaid contributed to the closure.  The Oswego hospital is a 12-bed critical access hospital. According to its website, the hospital and its clinics employ 65 people.

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Kansas Man Who Threatened to "Blow Up" White House Sentenced to Prison

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man accused of threatening to "blow up" the White House has been sentenced to 10 months in federal prison.  A court filing shows Brandon Koss of Wichita was sentenced Wednesday on a misdemeanor charge of willful interference with the protective work of a Secret Service agent.  Prosecutors agreed to drop a felony charge of threatening the president after Koss pleaded guilty in December to the lesser offense.  Koss admitted in his plea deal that he called the White House in January 2018, used a profanity when addressing the woman who answered the phone, and said: "I'm going to blow up the White House." He also admitted that he lied to a Secret Service agent about who made the phone call to the White House.

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Updated! Kansas Ends 2 Child Welfare Grants, Reviews 4 Others

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has canceled two grants to private agencies for services for troubled families and plans to renegotiate the terms of another four grants for services for foster children.  Democratic Governor Laura Kelly announced actions Thursday that undo key decisions made by the Department for Children and Families under former Republican Governor Jeff Colyer. His administration's grants were set to start July 1.  Kelly said the grant process wasn't open enough and the grants were flawed. One agency chosen to provide family preservation services earned low scores in an internal review.  Kelly said existing contracts for family preservation services will be extended another six months so DCF can take competitive bids.  She said existing contracts for foster care services will be extended three months for negotiations with the agencies that won bids to provide the service next year.

Kansas awarded millions in grants to a troubled Florida agency to provide child welfare services, even though it earned low scores in an internal review and didn't apply for some of the work.  The Kansas City Star reports that Eckerd Connects was selected last year to provide services in the state's east, west and Wichita regions under a grant process. In the past child welfare funds were typically distributed through contracts.  For the western region, Eckerd Connects was awarded $17 million, even though it didn't initially apply. Documents show that in the other two areas its bids were considerably lower than the agencies the review panel recommended.  The Department for Children and Families officials says it's reviewing the family preservation grants awarded during the previous administration.

(-Earlier reporting-)

Documents Raise Questions About Kansas Child Welfare Grants

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas awarded $38 million in grants to a troubled Florida agency to provide child welfare services even though the agency earned low scores in an internal review and didn't apply for $17 million of the work, according to newly released documents.  Eckerd Connects was selected last year through a grant process to provide family preservation services in the state's east, west and Wichita regions over a four-year span. In the past, child welfare funds were typically distributed through contracts that were overseen by the state Department of Administration, The Kansas City Star reports.

Eckerd Connects didn't initially apply for the work in the western region for which it was awarded $17 million. And more than 13,000 pages of records released to The Star this week by Department of Children and Families show that in the other two areas, the agency's bids and review scores were considerably lower than the agencies the review panel recommended.  "This is certainly disturbing and quite frankly bizarre," said Benet Magnuson, executive director of Kansas Appleseed, a nonprofit justice center serving vulnerable Kansas residents. "This process raises a lot of red flags, and frankly doesn't make a lot of sense."  The concerns were so great that days before taking office, Governor Laura Kelly requested that the child welfare grants be put on hold and asked providers not to spend any money until the controversial process was reviewed. Kelly planned to examine the grants with newly appointed DCF secretary Laura Howard. Updates about that review are expected soon.  "It is vital that we determine whether these grants are in the best interest of Kansas kids and families," DCF said in a statement Wednesday.

The discovery about the grant process at DCF comes as Kelly is promising to crack down on no-bid contracts across state government. No-bid contracts proliferated under former Governor Sam Brownback's administration, and the state now has about 7,300 such contracts.  Documents show the only review team recommendation that was followed was awarding a contract for the Kansas City region to Cornerstones of Care. The team also recommended Cornerstones for the east region, and St. Francis Ministries for the west and Wichita regions.  But all three were awarded to Eckerd, even though the review team gave it a score of 37 on a 100-point scale, compared to 97 for Cornerstones and 88 for St. Francis.

Eckerd came under fire last year in Florida after it was discovered that foster children in the Tampa Bay area were sleeping in offices, a problem that has plagued the Kansas system for about two years. An Eckerd spokeswoman on Wednesday referred questions about the grant process to DCF.  "The procurement of family preservation services in Kansas was administered by the Department of Children and Families and as such they are best suited to answer questions as it pertains to their processes and procedures," said Ellen Standlee, operations director for Eckerd programs in Kansas.

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Sedgwick County Recovers Stolen Property Worth $170,000

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office is looking for the owners of a huge cache of stolen items.  The sheriff's office received information Tuesday from the Sumner County Sheriff's office that stolen property was being kept in a Wichita storage unit.  Detectives found stolen property worth an estimated $170,000. Police say the property apparently was taken in at least eight burglaries in Winfield, Bel Aire, Wichita and other parts of Sedgwick County. The items included power tools, golf carts and cameras.  Ten people, most from Wichita, have been arrested.  Colonel Greg Pollock said Thursday about $70,000 worth of property has been returned to the owners. Authorities are working to identify owners of the rest.

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Man, Woman Indicted in Attempted Sporting Goods Gun Theft

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man and woman have been indicted on charges of using a car to smash through the exterior door of a Cabela's sporting goods store in Kansas City, Kansas, and trying to steal firearms.  The U.S. attorney's office says federal grand jurors returned the indictment Wednesday against 29-year-old Kyle Mendez and 27-year-old Brenda Tosh, of Kansas City, Kansas. They are charged with conspiracy to steal guns from a federally licensed firearms dealer. Mendez also is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and transporting a stolen car across state lines.  The indictment says that after smashing a car into the store, Mendez broke into a secured area and loaded several shotguns and rifles into a shopping cart. But police arrived and arrested Tosh. Mendez was arrested later.

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Kansas: Security Upgrades Not Made to Unused Voter Database

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A top election official has told Kansas lawmakers that a database that checks if voters are registered in multiple states hasn't been used since 2017 and won't be used again this year.  Kansas elections director Bryan Caskey said Tuesday his office under former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach also chose not to make $20,000 in security upgrades to the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program it administers.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Caskey told the House Elections Committee that Secretary of State Scott Schwab has ordered a review of Crosscheck to determine whether to entirely abandon it.  Twenty-eight states exchanged 98 million registration records using Crosscheck in 2017.  Crosscheck aims to clean voter records and prevent voter fraud, but has drawn criticism for its high error rate and lax security.

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Hill's Plans $20 Million Expansion to Shawnee County Plant

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Hill's Pet Nutrition plans to spend $20 million to expand its plant in Shawnee County during the next two years.  The expansion announced Wednesday by economic development leaders will create only six new jobs, which reduced the incentives given to the company for expansion of its Pet Nutrition Center.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Hill's was originally offered a maximum incentive for $212,000, but that dropped to $196,000 when the number of created jobs decreased from 12 to six.  The Joint Economic Development Organization approved the contract Wednesday.  The expansion of the Pet Nutrition Center will allow the company to do nutritional research on the animals kept there. The center currently holds 900 cats and dogs.  The six new jobs are for animal research technicians.

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Kansas Prisons Chief Declares Staffing Crisis at Facility

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas' corrections secretary has declared an emergency at the state's most crowded maximum-security prison because of what the state calls "serious staffing shortages."  Governor Laura Kelly's office released a statement Tuesday announcing Interim Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz's declaration for the El Dorado Correctional Facility, but it provided few details about what actions will follow.  Past declarations have allowed the prison to force employees to work longer shifts. El Dorado saw multiple inmate disturbances in 2017 and 2018, and the state spent nearly $177,000 repairing damage from a July 2018 riot.  Kelly said she met Tuesday morning with legislative leaders to discuss problems at the prison about 30 miles east of Wichita.  It was holding 2,029 inmates as of Monday, or 74 more than its stated capacity of 1,955.

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Colorado Man Pleads Guilty to Enticing Child in Sex Scheme

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 42-year-old Colorado man has admitted that he traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, in an effort to have sex with a 7-year-old girl.  Ryan Edward Mausner, of Basalt, Colorado, pleaded guilty Wednesday to enticement of a minor.  Prosecutors say Mausner thought he was communicating with the girl's mother over several months in private chat sessions during which he said he wanted to have sex with the mother and daughter. Mausner was actually talking to an undercover agent.  Mausner was arrested after he flew to Kansas City in May 2018 intended to engage in criminal sexual activity with the child victim.

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Abortion Law Uncertainty in Kansas Fuels Response to New York's Abortion Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas abortion opponents are as eager as ever to impose new restrictions but aren't sure of their options because the state's legal climate is uncertain. So in the meantime, they're putting their energy into condemning New York's new law protecting abortion rights.  The Kansas Senate is expected to pass a resolution today (THUR) decrying the New York law as harmful to both "unborn children" and women. Twenty-seven of the 40 senators are sponsors, all but one of the chamber's Republicans. GOP leaders were so eager to send the message that they dispensed with committee hearings and set a vote three days after the measure was introduced.  Abortion opponents across the nation have criticized the New York law because they say it allows abortions up to the moment of birth, with one resolution introduced in South Dakota calling it "barbaric." The law permits women to end their pregnancies after 24 weeks for health reasons, when the state's previous law said a woman's life had to be at risk.  

But in Kansas, the public condemnation also highlights abortion opponents' anxiety over what the future holds in their state. The Kansas Supreme Court is considering whether the state constitution protects abortion rights in a lawsuit that threatens to upend nearly a decade's worth of restrictions and stymie new ones. The court hasn't ruled — thwarting work on a response.  "Why are we sending this message to New York? Because we want to our let our Kansas Supreme Court know that we would find this abortion mentality in our state as totally unacceptable," state Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook, a conservative Kansas City-area Republican, told her colleagues during debate on the resolution.

The New York law was designed to codify protections for a woman's right to obtain an abortion granted by the U.S. Supreme Court's historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and other court rulings at a time when abortion-rights backers fear a more conservative high court might strike down Roe. The New York legislation replaces a 1970 state law legalizing abortion.

In Kansas, Democratic senators are likely to send their own statement to counter their state's formal resolution, which would be sent to New York's governor and all its legislators. Senator David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, told his colleagues during their debate that New York "really doesn't care" that Kansas legislators oppose the law.  Criticism of other states' laws can spill over into formal action. A handful of liberal states have restricted travel by government employees to states with laws viewed as discriminatory against LGBTQ individuals. Kansas is on a list of nine states targeted by California.

In Missouri, a resolution introduced this week in the state Senate urges GOP Governor Mike Parson to boycott New York and other states with similar abortion laws and prevent state workers from traveling there except in emergencies.  "Many, many of my constituents have reached out to me and said, 'What can we do about this?' Well you know, sorry, there's not a whole lot we can do about it," said the resolution's sponsor, Senator Paul Wieland, a conservative St. Louis-area Republican.

Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Wichita Republican, said New Yorkers'  celebration of their new law "just made a lot of people cringe."  "We believe in Kansas in a culture of life, and most people in America believe in protecting life," Wagle said during the debate on her state's resolution.

In other red states, officials have condemned the New York law as they've pursued new abortion restrictions.

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Massage Parlor Owner Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy Charge

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 54-year-old woman has admitted that she operated a prostitution business out of massage parlors in Lawrence and Topeka.  U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said in a news release Tuesday that Weiling Nielsen pleaded guilty to conspiracy.  She owned and operated Naima Asian Massage and Serenity Health Spa in Lawrence, and Jasmine Massage in Topeka.  In her plea, she admitted the massage parlors provided sexual services to customers for payment in cash. The services were advertised on the internet.  Prosecutors say Nielsen and her husband deposited cash into various bank accounts and bought money orders to deposit in bank accounts in California.  Nielsen agreed to pay a $650,000 judgment.  She will be sentenced May 15. Both parties are recommending three years on federal probation.

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Kansas Library Will Keep 3 Challenged Books in Kids Section

ANDOVER, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas public library has rejected a request to move three children's books with LGBT characters out of the children's section.  The Andover Public Library board of directors voted Wednesday to keep children's books "George," "Lily and Dunkin" and "I am Jazz" in the juvenile section. All the books included characters that are transgender.  Andover resident Marci Laffen had asked the board to move the books to the adult section because of their content. In her written challenge to the books, Laffen argued the books were part of a "sexual revolution agenda, indoctrination of children."  The Wichita Eagle reports there was little discussion before Wednesday's vote. About 55 people attended a January meeting to discuss the issue.

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Wildlife Advocates Push Protections for Prairie Birds

Wildlife advocates have begun legal proceedings against U.S. officials for allegedly failing to protect a ground-dwelling bird species that's seen its habitat shrink due to farming and energy exploration.  The lesser-prairie chicken roams portions of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.  It was listed as a federally-threatened species in 2014. That was reversed two years later under court order.  The Center for Biological Diversity and two other groups on Thursday filed notice they intend to sue the U.S. Department of Interior for not acting on their 2016 petition to restore protections.  Aerial surveys show lesser-prairie chicken populations trending upward in recent years and topping 38,000 birds in 2018. But the survey also raised concerns that drought over portions of the birds' range could lead to a downturn in 2019.

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Kansas Students Send Sweet Notes to Florida Students

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Students in suburban Kansas City have sent thousands of sweet notes of encouragement to students in Parkland, Florida, on the first anniversary of a shooting rampage that left 17 people dead.  The Kansas City Star reports that Missy Pint, of Lenexa, began planning the surprise weeks ago. She encouraged students at several schools to write words of encouragement on a candy label for "The Sweet Note Project."  Pint flew this week to Florida, where she and a friend spent 18 hours applying labels to 400 pounds of chocolate. They delivered about 3,500 chocolate bars Tuesday to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Pint saved 2,000 for the Kansas City community.  One note read: "You are brave." Another charmingly misspelled message proclaimed: "Your a treashore to the world."

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Potholes Rampant After Brutal Winter Freeze-Thaw Cycle

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Crews are working to fix a growing number of potholes in Kansas and Missouri after a brutal winter.  Kansas City, Missouri, has received more than 1,400 pothole reports so far this year to its call center. The Kansas City Star reports that City Hall spokesman Chris Hernandez says that's about five times as many calls as City Hall received during the same period a year ago. The city counted 256 pothole calls during the first six weeks of 2018.  The Kansas Department of Transportation says the number of potholes reported in the state jumped about 43 percent over the same period. Potholes are caused when water seeps into cracks in the pavement, freezes, expands and pops out pavement chunks. This winter's freeze-thaw cycle has been rough.

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Lawrence School District Reacts to Gun Incidents on Campuses

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Lawrence school district is taking steps to respond to two students bringing guns to Lawrence High School in the last week.  District spokeswoman Julie Boyle said Tuesday night that the district had activated its Crisis Support Team at Lawrence High. She said the district also will have more adults present during late arrival and has asked for increased police presence at the school this week.  The Lawrence Journal-World reported school staff is being asked to identify students who need more counseling and a gun safety campaign will be at basketball games on February 19.  Boyle says no one was endangered during the two incidents, one on February 6 and the other Tuesday. Three other gun-related incidents were reported this calendar year at Lawrence High and Free State.

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Lawrence Considers Sharp Reduction in Marijuana Penalties

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lawrence city commissioners appear open to a proposal to significantly reduce the fines for possession of small amounts of marijuana in the city.  During a work session Tuesday, the commission reviewed a draft ordinance that proposed reducing the minimum fine for possessing 32 grams or less of marijuana from $200 to $50 for first-time offenders. The Lawrence Journal-World reports commissioners indicated they were interested in reducing the fine to $1 for first- and second-time offenders. Court costs would remain $63.  Mayor Lisa Larsen said she is in favor of doing anything to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. And commissioner Matthew Herbert suggested the $1 fine as a way to send a message to state leaders to consider a growing national trend toward lower fines for marijuana possession.

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Wichita Girl Dies, Days After Ending 457-Day Hospital Stay

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita girl has died just days after going home following a 457-day hospital stay.  The Kansas City Star reports that Zei (pronounced "Zay") Uwadia's mother says her daughter died Tuesday, less than two weeks after returning to Wichita . She left Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, on Jan. 31 — a day before her 17th birthday.  Uwadia was hospitalized after her lungs failed without explanation. During the hospital stay, she became the first patient to walk on an invasive form of life support at the hospital. Hundreds of thousands of people watched her walking on videos posted online. Hospital staff lined her path, applauding and wiping away tears.  The hospital said in a statement that everyone there was heartbroken by Uwadia's death but inspired by her "fighting spirit."

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Satanic Temple Member Loses Fight on Missouri Abortion Law

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Supreme Court has dismissed a member of the Satanic Temple's challenge to one of the state's abortion laws.  Judges on Wednesday ruled against Mary Doe, an anonymous Satanic Temple member.  Doe alleged that her religious rights were violated by a Missouri law requiring that women seeking abortions be provided with a booklet that says "the life of each human being begins at conception." Abortion providers also must give women a chance to view an ultrasound and hear the fetal heartbeat.  But Supreme Court judges ruled that Doe didn't have to read the booklet and could have declined the ultrasound.  Satanic Temple members don't believe in a literal Satan but see the biblical Satan as a metaphor for rebellion against tyranny.  Doe's attorney says they're disappointed.

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Militia Members File Appeals in Kansas Bomb Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Three militia members facing decades in prison for their roles in a foiled plot to massacre Somali Muslims in southwest Kansas have all now appealed their convictions and sentences.  Attorneys representing Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen on Wednesday filed separate notices of appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Patrick Stein filed his appeal on Monday.  Jurors convicted them of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights for a 2016 scheme to blow up a mosque and apartments housing Somalis in Garden City.  A judge last month sentenced Stein, the alleged ringleader, to 30 years in prison. Allen, who drafted a manifesto for the group, got 25 years. Wright, who helped make and test explosives at his mobile home business, received 26 years.

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Former Post Office Contract Driver Admits Stealing from Mail

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former contract truck driver for the post office in Rose Hill has admitted to stealing items from the U.S. mail.  U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said in a news release that 30-year-old Manuel De La Cruz, of Wichita, pleaded guilty Tuesday to three counts of stealing from the mail.  He admitted the items he stole were worth more than $6,500. The stolen items included a Lenova laptop computer, an upper receiver for an AR 15 rifle, an AR 15 rifle barrel and a gas block for an AR 15.  Sentencing is set for April 29. He faces up to five years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.

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