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Headlines for Thursday, March 29, 2018

Area news headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Officials Identify 3 New Cases of Measles
OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials have identified three new cases of measles, bringing the state's outbreak total to 13. The Kansas City Star reports that the outbreak began earlier this month at a daycare center that health officials have declined to name for privacy reasons. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says the new cases are residents of Johnson County, which is now home to 11 of the state's cases. Officials say people could've have been exposed to the viral infection in the past week at a Chuck E. Cheese's and a Chick-fil-A in Olathe, as well as at a Walgreens in Kansas City, Missouri. The department advises people who have been in the exposure areas to monitor themselves for three weeks for symptoms like fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes.


Kansas Schools Would Get $500 Million Boost Under New GOP Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have proposed a $500 million increase in school funding to satisfy a state Supreme Court mandate.  The legislation that a House committee advanced Wednesday night would phase in the increase over five years, The Kansas City Star reports . The plan emerged one day after Senate Democrats endorsed a $600 million increase for schools that was rejected by Republican senators. The state's high court has given lawmakers until April 30 to respond to its ruling that found schools are inadequately funded.  "I think this represents a good-faith effort to try and get our state education system back on track," said Representative Melissa Rooker, a Fairway Republican.  Representative Ed Trimmer, a Winfield Democrat, suggested $500 million may not be enough to satisfy a group of school districts that are suing for additional funding. He noted a study commissioned by legislative leaders released earlier this month that said up to $2 billion more may be needed to improve academic performance.  The study included a range of possible increases, including a $450 million boost. The study authors said that amount would be enough to raise the state's high school graduation rate to 95 percent, up from 86.9 percent, but would not otherwise improve academic performance.  "I think we're rolling the dice if we do this," Trimmer said.  It wasn't immediately clear how many Republicans support the measure. Even the lawmaker who offered the proposal expressed reservations, saying his own projections indicate the Legislature won't be able to increase funding in other areas if they follow through with the plan.  "I didn't have the money for a judicial increase. I didn't have the money for higher education. I didn't have the money for other things I wanted to do," said Representative Steven Johnson, an Assaria Republican.  Senate Republican leaders have previously denounced potential funding increases for education. Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, has said new funding would require a tax increase or significant cuts.

Meanwhile, in the Kansas Senate, one Democratic lawmaker says no progress has been made on school finance.  Senate  Minority Leader Anthony Hensley has chastised his colleagues for failing to make progress on a school finance plan.  This week, he urged them to come to grips with reality.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that during the debate lawmakers said they were interested in negotiating with school attorneys. They also expressed frustration with the Kansas Supreme Court.  They rejected Hensley's efforts to inject hundreds of millions of dollars into public schools.  Hensley says lawmakers have made no progress and are now a week and a half before adjournment of the regular session.  The Legislature is scheduled to begin a three-week absence at the end of next week. It has until April 30 to submit a proposal to the high court that properly distributes enough money to address concerns with underperforming students.


Kansas Regulators Seek to Take Over 15 Nursing Homes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas regulators are seeking to take over management of 15 nursing homes after the operator of the facilities advised the state it will not be able to make an upcoming payroll.  The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services said Wednesday it has asked 13 district courts to put the facilities in their jurisdiction into receivership while arrangements are made for them to continue providing care for about 845 residents in them.  KDADS Secretary Tim Keck says the most pressing concern is stability so residents can continue to get care and staff continues to get paid.  The facilities are managed by Skyline Health Services, based in Wood Ridge, New Jersey. The company acquired the Kansas nursing homes in 2016.  Mission Health Care has agreed to oversee operation of facilities.


Kansas School Safety Bill Passes House, No Mention of Guns

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Legislation designed to harden Kansas schools against gunmen passed in the House Wednesday, though some lawmakers say the bill remains weak.  The bill would set aside $5 million for schools to upgrade infrastructure to slow or thwart a school shooter, and require schools to work with state agencies to develop guidelines to prepare and respond to mass shootings. The bill passed 119-5 and heads next to the Senate for consideration.  Supporters say fostering relationships between schools and state agencies will ultimately save lives, but some critics say the bill is a way for gun-rights supporters to take the focus off of guns.


Kansas House Backs Bill Pertaining to Child Abuse Deaths

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A measure that would require a Kansas agency to release information regarding child abuse deaths will now go to the state Senate. The state House unanimously approved the bill Thursday, The Kansas City Star reported. It would require the Kansas Department for Children and Families to share information after a child dies of abuse or neglect, including a summary of previous reports to the agency and any department-recommended services provided. The bill also would require the department's secretary to release the age and sex of the child, the date of death and a summary of the facts surrounding the death. Department Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel worked with lawmakers to draft the bill after taking over the agency in December. She has vowed to be more transparent. The House vote comes after several high-profile child deaths in recent years. Some lawmakers and child advocates have said the state needs to share more information about these cases to protect other children and improve the system. "It's always been my belief that transparency allows a system the opportunity to improve," said child advocate Lori Ross. "As long as people are covering up something that went wrong, it doesn't allow anything to get better."


Kansas Bill Lets Agencies Deny Adoptions to LGBT Couples

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Adoption and foster care organizations contracting with Kansas welfare officials would be allowed to refuse placements to gay and lesbian couples based on religious beliefs under a bill that has passed the Senate. The bill that passed Thursday on a 28-12 vote now heads to the House, where nearly identical legislation has also been introduced, The Kansas City Star reported . "It's sick discrimination. And these are people who can love and adopt children and are doing so. So to say it is not discriminatory, I beg to differ," said Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills. Opponents also expressed fear that the bill could result in fewer adoptions. In other parts of the country, the American Civil Liberties Union has taken adoption agencies to court over similar policies. ACLU of Kansas says it would be willing to do so as well. But supporters of the bill said it is needed to attract more organizations to help in adoptions. The bill would simply put existing practice into law, supporters said. Some senators took offense with Bollier's comments and saw them as an attack on Catholicism, which opposes same-sex marriage. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said the legislation would protect Catholic Charities and other religiously affiliated groups. "It is not a discriminatory bill. This is the right thing to do," Wagle said. The legislation would prohibit Kansas Department for Children and Families and other parts of state government from denying contracts to agencies that refuse placements on religious grounds. Agencies also could not be denied licenses because of a refusal to make placements. The legislation would not apply to DCF's case management contractors, KVC and St. Francis Community Services. That allows DCF to require its case management contractors to place with LGBT couples. A different version of the bill would have exempted only the current case management contractors. The bill the Senate passed would apply the exemption to future contractors as well. DCF supports the bill. It has said that passing the bill provides an opportunity for some organizations that have had concerns in the past to work with the state. DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel has also promised that the agency will not discriminate. But some senators indicated they were disappointed in Meier-Hummel's support of the bill. "Many same-sex families have not had the same freedom of what someone termed traditional families because they haven't been allowed to be foster parents in some cases. There are some inequities in the system," said Sen. Lynn Rogers, D-Wichita.


Texas Man Guilty in Kansas Crash that Killed Mom and Her Two Young Children

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Texas man has pleaded guilty to murder and involuntary manslaughter for the 2016 crash deaths of a mother and her two children on Interstate 70 in Kansas.  Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a written release Wednesday that 45-year-old Steven Johnson, of Houston, pleaded guilty Monday in Geary County District Court to one count of second-degree murder and two counts of involuntary manslaughter while driving under the influence.  Investigators say Johnson was driving a large box truck that crossed the interstate median on November 15, 2016, hitting a car head-on. The crash killed 26-year-old Jessica Michelle Thompson, 6-year-old Jaydon Allan Thompson and 5-year-old Leah Michelle Thompson.  Johnson is set to be sentenced on June 1.


Informant: Plot Against Muslims Began After Orlando Attack

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas militia member started trying to recruit other members to kill Muslim immigrants after the 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, an FBI informant testified Thursday. Dan Day told jurors that Patrick Stein called him a couple of days after the attack in which a man who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group killed 49 people in the Florida attack. He said Stein told him he was "ready to take action" against Muslims and wanted to see who else in the militia group was with him and who wasn't. "They were outraged that a Muslim was killing all these Americans," Day said. "I was outraged too."

As a precaution in case they were being monitored by law enforcement, Stein held the first recruitment meeting in a shack on the property of another member of the Kansas Security Force, Day said. That June 2016 meeting was the first one Day recorded as an FBI informant. Day, who was given the code name "Minuteman" by his FBI handlers, said that as he and Stein drove to that meeting, he worried that others might know he was working with the FBI and that his life could be in danger because there was nobody nearby who could help him. Prosecutors say that over the next five months, Day gave the FBI secret recordings of other meetings and conversations in which a plot formed to bomb a mosque and an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived in the meatpacking community of Garden City, which is about 340 miles west of Kansas City. They say the defendants planned to carry out the attack right after the 2016 presidential election and hoped it would inspire attacks on Muslims throughout the country.

Stein and two other militia members, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen, were arrested in October 2016. They have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights. Stein also faces two additional weapons-related charges and Wright faces a charge of lying to the FBI. Day testified that Stein and Allen held two more meetings to try to recruit other members to their plot. He said Stein called himself "Orkin man," a reference to the pest control chain, because he wanted to exterminate the Somalis, whom he referred to as "cockroaches." Day recounted one recruitment meeting in the living room of a militia member's house in Lakin, Kansas, during which the homeowner, Trish Burch, adamantly refused to join them, arguing that militias are only for defensive actions. Prosecutors played a recording for jurors in which Stein could be heard saying "better not be a f------ word said nowhere by nobody." Day said he understood that to mean the lives of the two people who had refused to join would be in danger if they talked to anybody. Those who did not join them were not given any details of the plot.


Kansas Water Park Indictments Highlight Patchwork of Rules

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A second-degree murder charge against the co-designer of a giant Kansas waterslide in the decapitation death of a 10-year-old boy is highlighting the patchwork of inconsistent rules for amusement parks across the country. As parks prepare to open for the summer season in many states, at least seven don't require annual inspections of rides. The giant Verruckt waterslide was a big attraction for the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City, Kansas, until Caleb Schwab's death in August 2016 forced the ride to shut down. Federal officials know of 12 deaths at water parks since 2010. Verruckt was the world's tallest waterslide and was built under nearly non-existent Kansas rules. The boy's death spurred lawmakers to pass a law but a safety expert says the state still is lax compared with many others.


Kansas City, Kansas, Water Park Co-Owner Won't Oppose Extradition from Texas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The co-owner of a Kansas City, Kansas, water park will not oppose his extradition to Kansas, where a 10-year-old boy died on a water slide in 2016.  For now, Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeffrey Wayne Henry will remain in Cameron County Jail in Brownsville, Texas, without bond. However, Magistrate Judge Luis Sorrola said he'd entertain a request to grant Henry bond if Kansas officials don't pick him up by Tuesday.  Henry is charged with murder, aggravated battery and child endangerment in an indictment in Kansas. He and water slide designer John Schooley are charged in an indictment in the decapitation death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab at Schlitterbahn's Kansas City, Kansas, water park.


Funeral Services Planned Next Week for Linda Brown

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Funeral services are planned for next week for Linda Brown, who as a Kansas girl was at the center of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down racial segregation in schools.  Brown died Sunday at the age of 75.  Peaceful Rest Funeral Chapel says the first visitation for Brown will be from 10 am to 7 pm April 4 at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in Topeka.  The celebration of life service will be held at 7 pm after the visitation at the same location.  Her father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll the family in an all-white school in Topeka. He later became lead plaintiff in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court that ended school segregation.


Ex-Wichita Officer Charged in Dog Shooting, Child Injury

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A former Wichita police officer has been charged with felony aggravated battery for shooting a dog and injuring a 9-year-old girl.  The Wichita Eagle reports that Dexter Betts was called to a home for a domestic issue in December when he shot the family dog. The family's attorney, Charley O'Hara, says the dog was wounded from bullet fragments and the girl from ricocheted fragments.  Betts was fired following the shooting.  The felony charge against Betts says he "unlawfully and recklessly" caused bodily harm to another person when he fired "a handgun at a dog while a child was in the room."  Betts' attorney, Jess Hoeme, says he believes his client didn't act recklessly "and we look forward to presenting our defense in court."  His next court appearance is April 11.


Kansas Post Office Receives Suspicious Envelope

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas post office temporarily shut down after receiving a suspicious envelope that authorities later deemed a hoax.  The Salina Journal reports that streets near the Salina Post Office were blocked off most of the day Tuesday before the Riley County bomb disposal squad determined the envelope didn't contain an explosive.  Police Capt. Paul Forrester says an investigation is ongoing into who left the envelope, which contained some wires and was addressed to the police department. The police department announced on its Facebook page that investigators have identified a person of interest and are working toward formal charges.  Delivery Supervisor Corey Pierce says mail carriers were out on their routes before a customer discovered the envelope.  The incident comes after of a series bombs hidden in packages killed two people and injured four others this month in Austin, Texas.


4 Transgender People Sue for Changes to Birth Certificates

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Four transgender people who say Ohio won't allow them to change the gender listings of their birth certificates to properly reflect their identities sued the state on Thursday. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the plaintiffs, said the state's requirement prevents them from obtaining documents essential to everyday living and subjects transgender people to discrimination and potential violence. "Ohio's categorical bar stands in sharp contrast to the approach of nearly all other states and the District of Columbia, which have established processes by which transgender people can correct the gender marker on their birth certificate," the lawsuit says. The action, which lists the plaintiffs as three females and one male, claims the birth certificate rule imposed by the Ohio Department of Health and the state Office of Vital Statistics is inconsistent with the state's practice of permitting transgender people to correct gender markers on their driver's licenses and state identification cards. "A birth certificate purports to tell the world about who we are," said Susan Becker, general counsel for the ACLU of Ohio. "Ohio's birth certificate policy, however, refuses to provide transgender individuals — and only transgender individuals — with a birth certificate that accurately conveys their gender identity." Becker said the lawsuit, filed by the ACLU, the ACLU of Ohio and Lambda Legal in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, could take a year or two to make its way through the courts. The state attorney general's office said it was reviewing the lawsuit, which asks the court to declare the birth certification policy unconstitutional and to prohibit the state from refusing to allow transgender people to make adjustments. The state Department of Health declined to comment. The plaintiffs in the case are Stacie Ray, Jane Doe and Ashley Breda, women whose birth certificates indicate their sex as male, and Basil Argento, a man whose birth certificate indicates his sex as female. Ray insisted "I am a woman" and called the lack of an accurate birth certificate "humiliating." "Ohio's refusal to correct my birth certificate is a constant reminder that my home state does not recognize me as a woman," she said. Ray said a co-worker threatened her with violence when a human resources employee questioned the gender listing on her birth certificate loudly enough for others to hear. Lacking a birth certificate that matches her gender identity also caused delays in her obtaining a hazardous-materials endorsement needed for her promotion as a truck driver. Argento said trouble with his birth certificate has caused delays in him gaining Italian citizenship and in being able to get married. "Basically, what I want is to just have my birth certificate in my hand that says the right gender," he said. The lawsuit comes just weeks after a federal judge ruled Idaho's bar against changing one's sex on a birth certificate violated equal protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. In her March 6 ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale said the rules by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare served no rational government purpose and put transgender people at risk by forcing them to disclose their gender statuses when they present identification documents. Idaho had been among the few remaining states with policies or laws prohibiting such changes. Ohio, Kansas and Tennessee are the others. Most states allow people to change their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity rather than the gender they were assigned at birth.


Kansas Man Convicted of Killing Estranged Wife Sentenced

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man convicted in the killing of his estranged wife last summer has been sentenced to life in prison. Television station KSNT reports that say Pedro Enriquez pleaded guilty last month to first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated battery in the death of 33-year-old Viviana Vazquez. Enriquez was sentenced Thursday. Prosecutors say Enriquez abducted Vazquez on June 7 from a Topeka home, where their 10-year-old son said he saw Enriquez drag her outside by the hair. Viviana Vazquez's body was found the next day in a wooded area. An autopsy showed she had been strangled.


Soybean Acres to Exceed Corn for the First Time in 35 Years

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Corn has been dethroned as the king of crops as farmers reported Thursday they intend to plant more soybeans than corn for the first time in 35 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its annual prospective planting report. Profitability is the primary reason farmers indicate they intend to plant 89 million acres in soybeans and 88 million acres in corn. Corn costs much more to plant because of required demands for pest and disease control and fertilizer. When the profitability of both crops is close, farmers bet on soybeans for a better return, said Chad Hart, an agriculture economist at Iowa State University. "We're hearing a lot more folks talk about when they've looked over the past couple of years beans have performed better than corn in terms of farm returns," Hart said. "When they're feeling a little pinched they do tend to look to control their cost side and that's where beans have an advantage over corn." Soybeans cost about 60 to 70 percent as much as corn to plant, he said. The report is an estimate based on farmer surveys and could change depending on weather and commodity prices at planting time. The only year that soybean acres beat corn in recent memory was 1983 but it was due to government manipulation as the USDA pushed farmers to plant fewer acres in an effort to boost prices in the midst of the nation's worst farm crisis. Hart estimates at prices prior to the report Iowa farmers could turn a profit of between $8 and $15 an acre for both crops which explains why the acreage intentions between the two are very close. Narrow profitability explains why total acreage planted for all major U.S. crops will fall by about 1 million acres this year. Much of the land will likely be removed from production and used for pasture or remain unplanted, Hart said. Corn acres nationally will be 2 percent lower, about 2 million acres, and soybean acres will be down 1 percent, about 1 million acres. Some of the previous corn and soybean land will be planted in wheat, which is growing by 3 percent in acreage planted and cotton, which will be up 7 percent this year or about 858,000 acres. Ray Gaesser, who grows corn and soybeans on 6,000 acres in southwest Iowa near Corning said planting intentions often change and acres devoted to corn and soybeans could rise from the estimates. "We'll probably see those total acres go up at planting time but probably not as large as folks were thinking a month ago because the market is telling us to do something different," said Gaesser, who also is chairman of the American Soybean Association. Farmers in Iowa, the top corn producing state, expect to plant 13.3 million acres, the same as last year. Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota all plan on fewer corn acres. Ohio is the only state expecting an increase, the USDA said. Illinois, the top soybean producer, will plant 10.6 million acres, the same as last year. North Dakota also will plant the same as last year. Decreases of 100,000 acres or more are anticipated in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Ohio. Prices for benchmark December corn rose 13 cents after the report's release to $4.10 a bushel and the benchmark November soybean futures price surged 30 cents to $10.46 a bushel.


NCAA Latest: Azubuike's Mom to See Him Play for First Time

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Udoka Azubuike's mom will get to see him play for the first time since he left Nigeria six years ago. U.S. Representative Kevin Yoder of Kansas said Thursday that Azubuike's mother, Florence, had her visa approved, clearing the way for her to watch her son play for the University of Kansas against Villanova. Azubuike, a sophomore center for the Jayhawks, left home in the ninth grade to play basketball in the United States. He has not seen his mother in person since then. "It's going to be an emotional moment for me," Azubuike said. The NCAA provides a $3,000 stipend for families to travel to Final Four games and Kansas officials have been working to get Florence a passport and travel visa so she could watch her son play at The Alamodome on Saturday. The Nigerian government approved her visa on Thursday, paving the way for a long-awaited reunion. "We want to win the game, but is winning the game more important than to make sure there's not a little distraction for Doke? Of course not," KU coach Bill Self said. "It will be worth it. Can you imagine, you've never seen your son play basketball and the first time you do it is in front of 70,000 people at this thing? I can't even imagine what's going to be going through her mind."


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