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Headlines for Thursday, March 8, 2018

Area news headlines from the Associated Press

Kansas Firefighters Mopping Up Last of Wildfires

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Crews have extinguished 50 wildfires and are now mopping up the remains of another seven amid an outbreak that has blackened more than 42 square miles across Kansas. The Kansas Adjutant General's Office said Thursday that no fire-related injuries have been reported in the state. A barn and outbuilding were destroyed in Elk County. Its spokeswoman, Katie Horner, says the fire risk has eased for now. But she adds the state remains dry and there is a fire danger every day, particularly this weekend in western Kansas. As many as nine Black Hawk helicopters with water buckets were deployed at one time this week to assist with firefighting efforts. Most of the acreage that burned was in northwest Kansas where five fires charred more than 23 square miles.

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Kansas Senate Rejects Convention on Revising US Constitution

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators shot down a resolution in the Senate that would have had the state join a dozen others in calling for a convention to propose changes to U.S. Constitution. The final vote Thursday was 22-16 in favor, but supporters needed a two-thirds majority, or 27 votes in the 40-member Senate. Calling a Convention of States requires the legislatures of 34 states to pass resolutions outlining what changes would be discussed. States have never called such a convention. Republican Senator Ty Masterson of Andover expressed disappointment in the result. He said the federal government remains "out of control" and if it doesn't change, such proposals will be considered again. But Democratic Senator David Haley of Kansas City said a Convention of States could "take a hatchet" to the Constitution.

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Kansas Official Says Law Halted up to 18K Noncitizen Votes

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach defended his state's voter registration law Tuesday in federal court, claiming the measure he championed has prevented between 1,000 and 18,000 noncitizens from casting ballots. During opening statements in a federal lawsuit challenging his authority to implement the requirements, Kobach said one of his experts will testify that the higher end of that range is more likely. He argued the law, which requires people to provide documents such as a birth certificate or passport at motor vehicle offices to register to vote, was much more effective than previous policies that required registrants only to check boxes saying they were over 18 and a U.S. citizen. "Just having to sign something saying you are a U.S. citizen is nothing," Kobach said. Kobach said his office has been able to document 129 noncitizens who voted or tried to vote since 2000, although documentation earlier to the court had the number at 127. He said that number is "the tip of the iceberg and we know the iceberg is much larger." Dale Ho, director for the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, argued in his opening statement that the law has kept an estimated 22,000 people from voting — most of them young or independent voters. He said of the 127 cases Kobach cited earlier, 43 successfully registered since 2000 and only 11 actually voted, most through clerical errors or misunderstandings. He said even if Kobach's numbers are true, only 0.007 percent of Kansas's 1.8 million registered voters should have voted illegally. "This case is about the most fundamental right in democracy and a law that has deprived thousands in Kansas from using that right," said Ho, who compared the law to "taking a bazooka to a fly." Charles Stricker testified Monday that he thought he was registered to vote until he showed up to the polls in 2014. He told the court how he felt confused and embarrassed as he filled out a provisional ballot at a designated table. His vote didn't count. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that Stricker testified he made two trips to the local motor vehicle office on the final day he could register for the 2014 general election. He was initially told he needed additional documentation such as a birth certificate and a piece of mail showing he lives in Kansas. When he returned, nobody asked him to provide the documentation and he left assuming he was registered. He testified that when he called the Sedgwick County elections office to ask if he could vote in 2016 an employee told him his status was "complicated" pending unresolved legal issues. That experience motivated him to participate in the trial. "I don't think the average Kansas citizen should have to sue the secretary of state to get registered to vote," he said. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson must decide whether Kobach has legal authority to demand the documentation. The lawsuit requires Kobach to show that Kansas has a "substantial" problem of noncitizens registering to vote and the definition of "substantial' is the central legal question of the case. Kobach, the vice chairman of President Donald Trump's recently disbanded commission on election fraud, argues the law is necessary to prevent voter fraud and says even a small number of noncitizens voting could sway a close election. Plaintiffs in the case say incidents of noncitizens registering to vote are extremely rare and argue that such Republican-backed laws hurt voter registration efforts and disenfranchise minorities and college students who may not have the documentation readily available. Since the law took effect in 2013, about one in seven voter registration applications in Kansas were blocked for lack of proof of citizenship — with nearly half for people under the age of 30, according to court filings. Robinson in May 2016 temporarily blocked the law's implementation for people who register at driver licensing offices, a ruling that was upheld by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Follow daily developments from Kansas News Service reporter Celia Llopis-Jepsen here.

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Kansas Legislators Advance Bill to Restore Teacher Tenure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A bipartisan group of Kansas lawmakers is pushing to restore job protections for public school teachers that conservative legislators previously stripped from them.  The House gave first-round approval Wednesday to a bill that would guarantee tenure for thousands of teacher statewide. The 72-48 vote advances the measure to another, final vote Thursday.  The bill would require school districts that do not want to renew a three-year teacher's contract to allow the teacher to have the matter decided by an independent hearing officer.  Teachers statewide had such a right before conservative Republicans enacted a 2014 law leaving the issue to local school boards and most decided against such reviews.  GOP conservatives argued that the change made firing bad teachers easier. But the bill's supporters said Kansas needs to respect teachers.

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Retired Banker Running for Congress in Kansas 3rd District

LEAWOOD, Kan. (AP) — A retired Kansas City-area banker is running as a Democrat for Congress for the Kansas 3rd District seat held by Republican Kevin Yoder. The Kansas City Star reports that Sylvia Williams of Leawood announced her candidacy Wednesday in a video posted online. The 52-year-old said she worked for Commerce Bank, U.S. Bank and the Overland Park office of First Tennessee bank before retiring last year. Yoder first won the seat in the Kansas City-area district in 2010 and is seeking his fifth term. Williams's website says she favors reinstating a federal ban on assault-style weapons and making annual cost-of-living increases in the federal minimum wage. Other Democrats running include 2016 nominee Jay Sidie, lawyer Sharice Davids, nonprofit executive Mike McCamon, teacher Tom Niermann and labor attorney Brent Welder.

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Lawsuit: Special Needs Student Sexually Assaulted on Bus

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A lawsuit alleges a special needs student in Kansas was sexually assaulted by another student on a school bus. The Kansas City Star reported Thursday that the lawsuit filed against First Student alleges the company was negligent by not having an adult monitor on the bus when the assault occurred in April 2016. A message seeking comment from First Student was not immediately returned. The teen was a Lenexa resident and student at Shawnee Mission South High School. The lawsuit filed in Johnson County District Court alleges an adult monitor on the bus got off before it left the school. It contends the girl was seated two rows behind the driver and "continually molested" by another student who sat down beside her.

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Highway Patrol Motorist Assist Driver Dies After Collision

PARK CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a Kansas Highway Patrol motorist assist driver has died after his vehicle was struck by a semi-trailer truck near Park City. The patrol says the motorist assist truck was in the median Wednesday afternoon when the driver pulled into the inside lane of southbound Interstate 135. The truck was hit from behind by a semi-trailer truck. Authorities say the assist driver died at a hospital. He was identified as 69-year-old Ricardo Torres of Augusta. The semi driver wasn't injured. Trooper Chad Crittenden says the collision occurred south of a hill and it's possible the victim either didn't see the semi or misjudged its speed.

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Immigrants Say Working at Kansas Ranch Was 'Like Slavery'

SYRACUSE, Kan. (AP) — Immigrants working on a remote Kansas ranch toil in type of servitude to pay back their employer for the cost of smuggling them into the country.  That's according to five people who worked at Fuller Cattle Co. One former worker shared a pay stub with The Associated Press showing that he took home a little over $200 for two weeks of nearly constant work, or just over $1 an hour. The company deducted a $1,300 cash advance repayment.  Rachel Tovar is another worker who spoke to the AP. She says the company's practices were "like slavery."  A company attorney says the allegations are simply not true. He says company policy was to give pay advances to workers who have no credit so they could buy vehicles or homes.

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Kansas City Firefighter Charged for Spitting on Child

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City firefighter faces charges for an incident in which witnesses allege he called a child a racial slur and then spat on him in a restaurant. The Kansas City Star reports that 42-year-old Terrence J. Skeen has been charged with battery, assault and disorderly conduct involving a February 26 incident at a Hooters restaurant. Witnesses told police that a customer used a racial slur and spit on a child. Police say the case also has been referred to the FBI for further investigation. A Kansas City spokesman says Skeen has worked for the fire department for more than 15 years. City officials declined to comment on individual personnel or discipline issues but stated that the city "values diversity and expects all employees to treat others with respect."

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Kansas Ex-Officer Takes Plea Deal in Sexual Assault Charge

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) — A former police officer in southeast Kansas has pleaded no contest to charges of sexually assaulting a woman he arrested during a domestic disturbance. The Joplin Globe reports that 22-year-old Jessie Davis took a plea bargain on Tuesday in Crawford County District Court. Davis surrendered himself to authorities last year on charges of aggravated sexual battery and official misconduct after a Crawford County Sheriff's Department investigation. He was later fired from the Pittsburg Police Department. County attorney John Gutierrez says Davis will likely be placed on probation for two years and will not have to register as a sex offender if the court follows the plea agreement. The woman who says she was groped in Davis's patrol car filed a lawsuit last month alleging her civil rights were violated.

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Discovered Body Identified as that of Missing Kansas Teenager

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say they have positively identified a body found Saturday near Haven as that of a Kansas teenager missing since last summer.  The Hutchinson News reports that a landowner found the remains Saturday on his rural property. It was identified through dental records as that of 17-year-old Laura Lee Dorey of Haven.  Dorey had been reported missing by her family on June 13.  The Reno County Sheriff's Facebook page says the cause of death is still under investigation.  A posting on the Kansas Missing & Unsolved Facebook page at the time of her disappearance said that the teen was "clinically depressed and does not have her medication."

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Kansas Bill to Require Transparency Regarding Child Deaths

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Officials with the Kansas Department for Children and Families are pushing a transparency bill amid criticism of the state's handling of abuse-related child deaths.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the House Judiciary Committee heard on Tuesday a bill proposed by Governor Jeff Colyer that would require the release of basic information after an abuse-related child death.  The Department for Children and Families disclosures would include a summary of previous reports of mistreatment, the department's recommendation of services for a child, date of the fatality and the child's age and gender.  Shayla Johnston is an attorney representing the family of Evan Brewer, a deceased Wichita boy whose case documents agency officials admitted to altering. Johnston says the bill is a smoke-and-mirror attempt to obscure the state's failure to prevent abuse-related deaths.

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1 Killed in Shooting in Kansas City, Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Authorities are investigating a deadly shooting in Kansas City, Kansas.  Police say the shooting happened Wednesday. The victim was taken to a hospital, where he later died. Police say the man was in his 30s but his name wasn't immediately released.  Authorities are urging anyone with information to come forward.

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Shawnee County Inmate Sentenced for Attacking Officer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An inmate at the Shawnee County Jail who attacked an officer will spend an additional 25 years in prison.  Twenty-seven-year-old Allen Thomas Schroeder Jr. was sentenced Wednesday for attempted second-degree murder for attacking corrections officer Lacy Noll with a shank in April 2017.  Noll suffered cuts and facial injuries.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports at the time of the assault, Schroeder was awaiting sentencing in an unrelated attempted aggravated battery charge. He was sentenced to 16 months in that case, which Schroeder must serve before the 25-year term.  Noll testified earlier that Schroeder became upset because everyone in the module was on lockdown. She told him she was going to write him up for screaming at other inmates to file grievances and Schroeder attacked while she was on the phone.

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Kansas Man Sentenced for Fatal Drunken Driving Crash

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man was sentenced to nearly 12.5 years in prison for a drunken driving crash that killed woman who was riding on his motorcycle. The Leavenworth Times reports 48-year-old Steven Harris was sentenced Wednesday for a September 2015 crash in Leavenworth County that killed 48-year-old Dawn Caruthers. The Kansas Highway Patrol says a motorcycle driven by Harris went into a ditch and he and Carruthers were thrown from the vehicle. Caruthers died at the scene. Harris pleaded no contest to manslaughter in January. Prosecutors said Harris was drunk when the crash occurred. He also had 15 previous convictions, which prosecutors said showed he had a history of driving when he shouldn't have been.

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Man Pleads Guilty to Murder in Death of 6-Month-Old Son

EUREKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man has pleaded guilty to murder and child abuse in the death of his 6-month-old son. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says 23-year-old Benny Clark, of Reece, pleaded guilty Thursday to second-degree murder and child abuse. Prosecutors say Greenwood County authorities were called to a hospital last August to investigate a possible child abuse. Investigators determined injuries suffered by the child, named Cooper, weren't consistent with the parents' story of what happened. The boy's mother left him with Clark when she went to work. When she returned home, the boy was having trouble breathing. Cooper died two days later at a Wichita hospital. Sentencing is scheduled for July 5.

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Kansas Considers Allowing Self-Service Beer Taps

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Self-service beer taps could soon be coming to Kansas bars to give patrons a new drinking experience that supporters say a bartender just can't match.  Automated beer taps are prohibited in Kansas, but a new piece of legislation under consideration in a Senate committee this week aims to change that.  A trio of Topeka entrepreneurs is behind the bill and hoping to open a self-service bar called the Brew Bank downtown if it passes.  Self-serve establishments exist all over the country, including Missouri. In Springfield, Zach Campbell owns and operates the 417 Taphouse and sees self-service taps as more convenient.  He said, "It's like a beer buffet."  Committee chairman and Sen. Bud Estes said he has no issues with the bill and doesn't think anyone else on committee does either.

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Jayhawks' Azubuike Injures Knee, Out for Big 12 Tourney

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas forward Udoka Azubuike sprained his left knee during a scrimmage this week, ruling him out of the Big 12 Tournament and putting his availability for the NCAA Tournament in question.  Jayhawks coach Bill Self said after a scrimmage at the Sprint Center that Azubuike sprained his medial collateral ligament near the end of Tuesday's practice. Azubuike was going for a rebound and a collision occurred under the basket, leaving the 7-footer with a "Grade 1" sprain.  "We did an MRI as soon as practice was over," Self said Wednesday. "It's similar to an ankle or whatnot, there's obviously a ligament that's sprained or stretched and right now it's too loose to put him out there, but these are injuries, I've been told, the healing process begins quickly."  The ninth-ranked Jayhawks (24-7) open the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday against Oklahoma State, and Self said his sophomore big man won't be examined by doctors until Sunday.  That means backup forward Mitch Lightfoot will start in the post, and freshman Silvio De Sousa — who became eligible a couple months ago — will be forced to play more meaningful minutes.  The Jayhawks are the No. 1 seed for the league tournament after winning the regular-season crown for a record 14th consecutive year. But they are hardly the clear-cut favorite in Kansas City, and the injury to Azubuike may not even make them the favorite in their opener.  They'll face Oklahoma State, which swept them quite easily this season (for the first time in the Bill self era).

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