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Headlines for Thursday, July 4, 2019

Here are the news headlines for our area, mostly from the AP, as compiled by KPR staffers.

Judge Tosses Kansas Senate Leader's Lawsuit Against Paper

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A judge threw out a defamation lawsuit filed by Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning against The Kansas City Star over a column criticizing him for opposing Medicaid expansion. Johnson County District Judge Paul Gurney ruled that Denning, an Overland Park Republican, didn't show that The Star acted with malice in publishing then-contributing writer Steve Rose's column in January. The judge ordered Denning to pay the newspaper's legal fees, which Star attorney Bernard Rhodes estimated at $40,000. Denning alleged that The Star and Rose defamed him because Rose attributed statements against Medicaid expansion to him that he never made. Rose contends the statements came from a 2018 conversation between them, but he resigned as a contributing columnist after Denning's staff questioned his work. Denning and other top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate blocked a vote this year on a House-passed Medicaid expansion plan favored by Democratic Governor Laura Kelly but have publicly committed to a debate next year. Star editorial page editor Colleen McCain Nelson called Denning's lawsuit "a political ploy" and said the judge's decision affirmed that it was "entirely without merit."


Kansas GOP Congressman Pleased with Treatment of Migrants

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A Republican congressman from Kansas says he is pleased with the quality of medical attention and housing for migrants in federal facilities at the southern border. The Kansas City Star reports Representative Roger Marshall toured several sites in the McAllen, Texas area. He says the trip re-solidified his support for President Donald Trump's border wall proposal. His assessment differs from the one reached by Democrats who this week visited separate facilities in the El Paso area. A report released by Department of Homeland Security Acting Inspector General Jennifer Costello raised concerns of overcrowding at some of the same McAllen area facilities Marshall visited. Marshall traveled to Texas as a member of the ``Doc Caucus,'' a group of Republican doctors in Congress.  He has said he might run for U.S. Senate.


Ex-Prosecutor Running for U.S. Senate in Kansas as Democrat

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former federal prosecutor who's been an executive in a company that invests in medical marijuana has launched his campaign as a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Kansas. The Kansas City Star reports that Kansas City-area attorney Barry Grissom entered the race Monday after months of hinting that he would run. Four-term Republican Senator Pat Roberts is not seeking re-election in 2020.  Grissom served as U.S. attorney for Kansas from 2010 to 2016 as an appointee of Democratic President Barack Obama. He has since served as corporate counsel and a vice president for Nevada-based Electrum Partners.  Grissom jumped into the race after state Senator Barbara Bollier said she may seek the Democratic nomination. Bollier won her Kansas City-area district as a moderate Republican and switched parties last year.


Former Kansas Legislator to Represent U.S. to Promote Peace in Ireland 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A former Kansas legislator who also served on a federal parole board will represent the U.S. in meetings of a group that promotes peace in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Former state Senator Ed Reilly says he expects to attend meetings of the board of the International Fund for Ireland in November. He was appointed as a U.S. observer last month by President Donald Trump's administration. The 82-year-old Reilly is a Leavenworth native who now lives in the Washington area after serving as a member and chairman of the U.S. Parole Commission. He served 29 years in the Kansas Legislature as a Republican. He was appointed to fill a vacancy in the House in 1964, won a Senate seat that year and served there until 1992. 


KDOT Rejects Suggestion It Is to Blame for Bluestem Invasion

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A road maintenance official is pushing back against suggestions that the Kansas Department of Transportation is to blame for an invasion of a plant threatening native grasses. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that KDOT's potential role in spreading bluestem grass is a point of contention as the state Department of Agriculture contemplates quarantining invasive varieties now in 103 of 105 of the state's counties. Ranchers and others attending a Department of Agriculture comment session last month on a possible quarantine said KDOT's mowing regimen carried seed for invasive grasses to new roads. KDOT maintenance chief Clay Adams said the agency includes bluestem varieties in seeding mixtures applied beside highways but not the invasive varieties targeted by the Department of Agriculture. KDOT mows from April to October to improve visibility for motorists.


Study: Kansas Benefits Most from Federal Disaster Grants

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A study has found that Kansas saves more money, on average, than any other state that uses federal grants to mitigate natural disasters. The Pew Charitable Trusts recently released its data analysis showing that for every $1 of federal funds spent on protecting against flood and tornado damage, Kansas avoided $6.81 in potential recovery costs. Researchers drew from a previous study of federal disaster mitigation grants between 1993 and 2016. The data shows Missouri trailed close behind, with each federal dollar saving $6.72, the Kansas News Service reported. The findings come after Kansas saw heavy rain and flooding this spring, delaying wheat harvests. A May tornado near Pittsburg damaged buildings and toppled power lines and trees. The mitigation programs in Kansas and Missouri only addressed threats of wind and flooding, but the projects had a large payback in the two states. Federal programs typically have a match — typically 25 % — that must be paid by the state or local government receiving the grant. Researchers found Kansas and the federal government spent roughly $220 million on wind and flood mitigation, which netted about $1.5 billion in savings.

"The mitigation projects that the Kansas Division of Emergency Management are able to support or implement are largely reliant on the federal grants," said Bryan Murdie, director of the Planning and Mitigation Branch at the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.

California, which is prone to earthquakes and fires, ranked near the bottom of the list, with every dollar of mitigation saving $3.26. Colin Foard, one of the study's authors, said governments should find ways to fit mitigation costs into their budgets.

"The takeaway for policymakers really should be that investing in mitigation saves," Foard said.


Kansas Inmate Ordered to Stand Trial for Attack on Jailer

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas prison inmate serving 50 years for a brutal murder has been ordered to stand trial for attempted rape last year of a female correctional officer. The Hutchinson News reports a judge found sufficient evidence to bind 42-year-old Tanner Lee Green over for trial on Wednesday on alternate counts of attempted rape, aggravated sexual battery, and battery on a law enforcement officer. The corrections officer testified Green grabbed her and pushed her to the ground. The two struggled until she was able to push her panic alarm on her belt to summon help. A prison investigator testified cameras in the cellblock captured the assault. Green was convicted of first-degree murder in 2000. His lengthy criminal record includes aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, aggravated escape and other crimes.


Key Witness in Kansas City Killing, Dismemberment Found Dead

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Authorities suspect foul play in the death of a man who was assaulted and shot at less than two months ago at a suburban Kansas City home where a man's dismembered remains were found. The body of 56-year-old Floyd Wood's body was discovered Monday night in the Kansas City suburb of Claycomo. Police haven't said how he died. He was a key witness in the first-degree murder case against 30-year-old Colton Stock. Court documents in that case say Wood fled in May after Stock assaulted and shot at him. The gunfire led police to Stock's house, where officers saw a fire. After firefighters extinguished the flames, police found the remains of Matthew Calkins of Gardner, Kansas. Stock is jailed on $1 million bond. He's entered a not guilty plea.


Group Launches Hotline to Take Complaints Against KCK Police

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A social-justice advocacy group says it is launching a hotline in Kansas City, Kansas, for people to report police misconduct. The Kansas City Star reports that Wednesday's announcement by the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity comes about a month after it marched on local government offices. A federal lawsuit against the department alleges that now-released Lamonte McIntyre spent 23 years in prison for two 1994 murders he didn't commit because of police misconduct. Another federal lawsuit was filed by a former police cadet alleging she was dismissed after reporting reported sexual harassment and assault by a supervising officer. The police department says it has received complaints relating to only 0.1% of police calls. Local officials say police have a complaint line and there's a Wyandotte County ethics hotline.


Kansas School Secretary Made 174 Unauthorized Credit Card Purchases

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Court records say a former Johnson County school district employee fraudulently used the district's credit card to make community college payments for her child and to buy clothes, food and gas. The Kansas City Star reports that the charging affidavit was released Tuesday for 42-year-old Mikita Watson-Burton, who is charged with felony theft. Her attorney didn't immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press.  She left her job in August as the secretary of elementary services for the Shawnee Mission School District.  Court documents say another employee discovered odd expenditure in August, triggering an audit. The affidavit says 174 unauthorized charges totaling $12,500 were found, including five community college payments.  The affidavit says she met with a detective in January and admitted to making the purchases.


Parents of Slain Girl Help Warn Against Celebratory Gunfire

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A couple whose daughter was killed eight years ago by celebratory Fourth of July gunfire is joining Kansas City police as they go door-to-door warning residents of the dangers.  Michele Shanahan DeMoss says that it remains "incomprehensible" that her 11-year-old daughter, Blair Shanahan Lane, was hit in the neck and killed by a stray bullet that had traveled the length of three football fields. One man pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.  This is the fourth year police have canvassed neighborhoods. Police Sergeant Jake Becchina says that firing off a gun in city limits is "irresponsible" and that people shouldn't "be subject to experiencing gunfire around their home."  Data shows that the effort appears to be making a difference in the neighborhoods police visit.


Competing Rallies Planned in Southwest Kansas

DODGE CITY, Kan. (AP) — Competing rallies are planned this weekend in southwest Kansas that will pit conservative Christians against LGBT and abortion rights supporters. The Wichita Eagle reports that a group called Kansas Revival will hold a church rally Saturday aimed at opposing abortion and "protecting faith, family and freedom," followed by an afternoon march through the city streets. The church event will feature Republican Congressman Roger Marshall, of Great Bend, State Treasurer Jake LaTurner and Kansans for Life President Mary Wilkinson. About the same time, members of a group called the Kansas Unity Coalition will gather at a city park for a counter-demonstration in support of "equality, justice and equal rights." Its speakers will include state Representative Susan Ruiz, a Democrat from Shawnee who is one of the state's two openly gay legislators.


Zookeeper Hurt in Tiger Attack Returns to Work at Kansas Zoo

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A zookeeper who spent two months recovering from a tiger attack at a Kansas zoo is now back to work. Topeka Zoo director Brendan Wiley says that Kristyn Hayden-Ortega returned to work earlier this week. She was seriously injured in the April 20 attack by a 7-year-old Sumatran tiger named Sanjiv. The zoo released a lengthy report last month that said "multiple" protocols and procedures concerning spaces occupied by tigers had prevented any similar attack at the zoo for decades. Its report says protocol was not followed when the keeper entered the tiger's outdoor habitat without ensuring that the animal was locked inside. Other zoo employees lured the animal away with meat so emergency responders could treat Hayden-Ortega.

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