Brownback Announces Resignation Timetable; Colyer Looks to Mend Relations with Legislators
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Latest on the change in the Kansas governor's office (all times local):
Incoming Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer begins his tenure needing to mend relations with fellow Republicans in the Legislature, whose clashes with his GOP predecessor intensified in recent months. The ill will Colyer faces now stands in sharp contrast to lawmakers' generally positive mood last fall after President Donald Trump nominated outgoing Gov. Sam Brownback for an ambassador's post. Colyer was lieutenant governor and promised to be more open. Lawmakers warmed to the prospects of working with him after years of financial distress under Brownback. But earlier this month, Brownback proposed phasing in a big increase in spending on public schools. Many Republican legislators view the plan as financially reckless. The incoming governor must quell an open revolt among GOP lawmakers. Brownback is stepping down as governor at 3 p.m. Wednesday, elevating Colyer to governor.
Sam Brownback plans to step down as Kansas governor at 3 p.m. Wednesday following his confirmation by the U.S. Senate to an ambassador's post. Brownback sent a letter of resignation Thursday to the Kansas secretary of state, detailing his plan to step down next week. Fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer will be elevated to governor. Brownback's office has yet to release the details of Colyer's swearing-in ceremony. The Senate voted 50-49 along party lines Tuesday to confirm Brownback's appointment by President Donald Trump as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie to ensure Brownback's confirmation. Brownback is a former U.S. senator who was elected governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, both times with Colyer on his ticket.
Kansas Ethics Database Taken Offline over Privacy Questions
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has taken an ethics database offline over questions about how it allowed access to forms for hundreds of state officials listing part of their Social Security numbers. Secretary of State Kris Kobach said he took the database down Thursday because of privacy concerns. Users could pull up annual financial disclosure forms that included the last four digits of officials' Social Security numbers. News reports said Kobach acted after the tech website Gizmodo posted a story about it. Gizmodo called not redacting the information "beyond reckless." Kobach said he believes partial Social Security numbers should not be accessible but state law requires him to make the disclosure forms available to the public. The data has been accessible online since 2005 and paper copies of disclosure forms remain available for inspection.
Top Kansas Lawmakers Approve Building New Prison
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is moving forward with a plan to have the nation's largest private-prison operator build a new state prison. Top Kansas legislators gave their final approval Wednesday to the project during a meeting with Republican Governor Sam Brownback. A state law authorizing the new prison in Lansing required a final go-ahead from the Legislature's top eight leaders. Tennessee-based CoreCivic will build a new, 2,400-bed prison to replace the state's oldest and largest prison in Lansing. Kansas will pay for the project over 20 years through a lease with the company and spend a total $362 million. The state will oversee day-to-day operations. The legislative leaders split 5-3 over the project. The department has faced skepticism about whether the lease-purchase deal is the most cost-effective option.
Senate and House Leaders Want School Finance Chief Suspended
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House and Senate leaders are asking that the state's longtime top school finance official and his immediate staff be suspended while auditors determine if the Education Department has improperly allocated up to $405 million in school transportation costs to the state's school districts. Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ron Ryckman contend Dale Dennis, the deputy education commissioner, wrongly allocated the transportation funds during the last 45 years, citing a state audit that said the Education Department doesn't have the authority to set minimum funding levels for transportation, The Wichita Eagle reported. Dennis responded that he has calculated transportation payments to school districts the same way for decades, following directions he was given by legislative leaders. He noted no one has questioned his authority to do so in the past, despite numerous school finance-related lawsuits, his testimony before several legislative committees and audits of school financing. The State Board of Education scheduled a special, closed meeting for Friday afternoon to discuss "non-elected personnel." The complaints about Dennis come as the Legislature is scrambling to find money to respond to a state Supreme Court ruling that Kansas has unconstitutionally underfunded its schools by as much as $650 million a year. The demand to suspend Dennis prompted an immediate backlash Thursday, including an #ISupportDaleDennis hashtag on Twitter.
McAllister Sworn in as New US Attorney for Kansas
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A new U.S. Attorney for Kansas has taken office. Stephen McAllister was sworn in Thursday in a private ceremony on the University of Kansas campus. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas administered the oath. McAllister clerked for Justice Thomas and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White. He was nominated by President Donald Trump. He will oversee a staff of more than 100, including 50 attorneys who work in Topeka, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas. Tom Beall, who was interim U.S. Attorney since former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom resigned in April 2016, will return to his position as First Assistant U.S. Attorney. McAllister previously was Solicitor General of Kansas and a professor of law at the University of Kansas, where he taught constitutional law and federal civil rights law.
Washington's Bickering Motivates New U.S. Nonpartisan Groups
DENVER (AP) — The constant fighting in Washington is giving new motivation to groups trying to reduce the partisanship in U.S. politics. A group called Unite America is recruiting candidates to run as nonpartisans for various U.S. Senate and governors seats. Another group called No Labels is raising funds to spend in campaigns defending people in Congress who push bipartisan legislation. The Serve America Movement is recruiting members who would support a presidential bid from someone outside the regular two-party system. Even though there's new money and energy behind these groups they face huge obstacles. Most significant is there are signs that voters themselves like the U.S.'s polarized political system and want the fighting to continue.
Kansas Region Warned of Increased Wildfire Danger
HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Weather officials are issuing a red flag warning for central and south-central Kansas, cautioning of extreme grassland fire danger. The Hutchinson News reports that the National Weather Service says the warning period is in effect from noon to 6 p.m. on Thursday. A warning issued through Reno County Emergency Management says the danger of wildfires is high due to above normal temperatures, low relative humidity and gusty winds. There should be no outdoor burning because any fires that develop are likely to spread rapidly and be difficult to control. Temperatures are predicted to climb into the low and mid-60s on Thursday, with sustained afternoon winds of 20 to 25 mph and gusts of up to 40 mph. Relative humidity will be as low as 20 percent.
Third $1,000,000 Lottery Prize in Kansas This Month
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lottery officials say the state has had three $1 million lottery winners in January. Lottery spokeswoman Sally Lunsford said someone in northeast Kansas bought a $1 million winning ticket in Wednesday night's Powerball. On January 3, a Wichita couple won $1 million in the Holiday Millionaire Raffle grand prize. And a Pottawatomie County resident claimed a $1 million prize in the Mega Millions drawing in Randolph Jan. 12. No one has come forward yet to claim Wednesday's winning ticket. The numbers were 5-9-11-33-64 Powerball 21.
"Tide Pod" Doughnuts Are Irreverent Response to Harmful Trend
CAROLINA BEACH, N.C. (AP) — Bakers in several cities are responding to the "Tide Pod challenge" with sweet and savory irreverence. Wake N Bake Donuts in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, and Hurts Donut in Wichita and Kansas City, have both made pastries decorated to look like the laundry detergent pods, which are at the center of a dangerous social media trend. A New York City pizzeria even launched "Pied Pods," offering rolls stuffed with cheese and pepperoni and topped with dyed cheese made to look like the laundry cleaner. The North Carolina doughnut shop said on its Facebook page last week that an employee came up with the idea to show what to eat and what not to eat. Commenters on social media have had a mixed response. Some think the businesses of being irresponsible, while others think the pastries are funny.
Former New Jersey Pastor Sentenced for Choking Kansas Baby
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A former New Jersey church pastor was sentenced to about 1.5 years in prison for an unprovoked attack on a stranger's baby inside a Kansas Walmart. The Kansas City Star reports 55-year-old Oleh Zhownirovych was sentenced Thursday to 11 months in prison and six months in the Johnson County Jail, to be served consecutively. Zhownirovych pleaded no contest in December to felony aggravated battery and misdemeanor battery. In October 2016, Zhownirovych walked up to a woman waiting in a checkout lane at a Walmart in Overland Park and began choking her 4-month-old daughter. The woman screamed and several people came to her aid and got the baby away from him. The child was not seriously injured. Zhownirovych is the former pastor of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Clifton, New Jersey.
Police Asks FBI to Help Investigate Girl's 1978 Kidnapping
JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police are asking the FBI to investigate the nearly 40-year-old disappearance of a 13-year-old girl from the bedroom of her Junction City home. The Daily Union in Junction City reports that Beverly Ward was reported missing in the early morning hours of July 4, 1978. Police believe a suspect came in through the bedroom window, cutting the screen and throwing it aside. Ward was wearing a green night gown when she disappeared. She was planning on attending a summer camp that day. Her bags were packed, and her money was where she left it. Nothing else was taken. Junction City Police Captain Trish Giordano recently asked the FBI to look into the case. The department is waiting for a response and urging anyone with information to call police.
Woman Fatally Shot in Wichita Neighborhood
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating a deadly shooting in a Wichita neighborhood. KWCH-TV reports that police responded to the shooting early Thursday. Officers say someone from outside of the home shot at the 37-year-old woman who was inside. The woman died at the scene. Her name wasn't immediately released. Numerous shell casings were found outside the home. Police say they are talking to possible witnesses and neighbors but don't have a suspect in custody. Investigators say they aren't sure what led up to the shooting.
One Dead After House Fire Near Emporia
EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) — Lyon County authorities say a person has died in a house fire near Emporia. Sheriff's deputy Jacob Welsh says the fire was reported Wednesday morning about 4 miles southwest of Emporia. When firefighters arrived, the home was completely engulfed in flames. The identity of the person who died in the fire has not been released. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.
Kansas Man Pleads No Contest After Several Arson Fires
HORTON, Kan. (AP) — A Horton has pleaded no contest to nine felonies connected to the burning of homes and cars last May. The St. Joseph News-Press reports 27-year-old Dustin McCulley was scheduled to go on trial next week for charges filed after three homes and several vehicles were set on fire in Horton on May 9.
No one was injured in the fires. Brown County Attorney Kevin Hill says McCulley surprised officials on Jan. 18 when he said he wanted to plead no contest after reviewing the evidence against him. He was charged with several counts of arson, theft and burglary. Sentencing is scheduled for February 23.
Kansas Leads State Universities in Four-Year Graduation Rate
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas continues to lead the state's six public universities in the rate of students graduating in four years. The Lawrence Journal-World reports a report earlier this month to the Board of Regents found Kansas had a 41.1 percent four-year graduation rate in the reporting year of 2016. The data comes from the National Center for Education Statistics. Kansas State was second, with a rate of 31.1 percent. Pittsburg State University's rate was 25.6 percent, followed by Emporia State University at 22.7 percent, Wichita State University at 21.5 percent and Fort Hays State University at 18.1 percent. Kansas spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson says the university's top rate reflected leaders' concerted efforts to emphasize recruitment beyond the region and seek more students likely to succeed at college.
Former President of Lawrence Art Guild Pleads Guilty in Theft Case
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The former president of a nonprofit Lawrence arts organization has pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor after stealing from the group. Thirty-six-year-old Amanda Monaghan was scheduled to go to trial Monday for felony theft after more than $1,000 was stolen from the Lawrence Art Guild in April 2014. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Monaghan instead entered a no contest plea to misdemeanor theft. She will be sentenced Monday. Judge Kay Huff said she plans to order Monaghan to repay $1,125 to the guild. Prosecutors say Monaghan used the organization's bank account for personal expenses, including a payment for her daughter's preschool tuition at the Lawrence Arts Center.
Authorities: 4 Children Die in House Fire in Pratt
PRATT, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say four children have died in a house fire in Pratt. Pratt police Detective Jeff Ward said four children died and a fifth person was hospitalized from the fire Thursday morning. The Pratt Daily Tribune reports the children, ranging in age from 4 years to 4 months, were trapped in the basement of the home. Their mother was flown to a Wichita hospital with severe burns. A state fire marshal's office is on the scene investigating the cause of the fire. Pratt is about 80 miles west of Wichita.
Suspected Kansas Bank Robber Arrested at Kansas City Casino
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man suspected of robbing a Kansas bank has been arrested at a casino in Kansas City. The Kansas City Star reports that 39-year-old Timothy Karpovich, of Kansas City, Missouri, was charged in federal court Tuesday. Prosecutors say he fled Monday from KCB Bank in Bonner Springs with about $1,050 in cash after handing a teller a handwritten robbery note. Police later received a tip that he gambled regularly at Harrah's Casino in North Kansas City, Missouri, where an employee identified him from a surveillance image. Investigators found that serial numbers from bills used at the casino matched those of bills from the bank heist. Court records say Karpovich admitted to the robbery. The FBI says no weapon was shown during the robbery and no injuries were reported.